Have you ever had one of those evenings where you can’t quite decide what to watch, read or play? The odds are that you likely ended up sat re-watching an old series on Netflix, or jumping between games you beat long ago. Sometimes though, just sometimes, you might stumble upon something new. The original SteamWorld Dig was a ‘something new’ for me in 2013, and quickly became one of my favourite independent games of recent years. Four years later, SteamWorld Dig 2 revives the charm of the original, and propels the franchise from indie darling to absolute must-play. It’s because I have such affection for this series that writing a review for SteamWorld Dig 2 has proved rather difficult. Internet forums will tell you that no game is perfect, and I’m not claiming that Dig 2 is, but there’s certainly something special about this indie sequel. You can read the next 900 words as a review if you’d like, but if you’re looking for a critical analysis of Image & Form Games’ latest title then I’m sorry but this is the wrong piece for you to read. I’m going to begin this article with the verdict: You should DEFINITELY BUY SteamWorld Dig 2, and now I’ll explain why. This is less of a review. It’s a love letter.
Whereas many of the year’s biggest games may fill themselves with intricate systems and designs, the cue for your actions in the SteamWorld Dig series’ is in the game’s title: ‘dig’. Playing as Dorothy, an NPC from the first game, you establish camp in the town of El Machino and begin your quest in search of Rusty, the protagonist from the original. Below the surface of town is a series of intricate mines, dungeons and most excitingly, rewards. The route to find these treasures is not simply laid out for you however, this is no typical Metroidvania. Instead, you must forge the path Dorothy follows by digging below the surface, and creating paths yourself. This simple change opens up a whole world of gameplay possibilities, and is what makes SteamWorld Dig 2 so unique. Every journey you make through the depths of the underworld creates a number of dilemmas; should you focus on progressing the story or make quick trips to the surface and ensure you don’t lose any of your gathered items? Should you search for a new route, or speed things up by jumping down a previously generated tunnel and risk taking fall damage? The resources you collect are essential to progression in the game, with each selling for a profit in town and increasing your ability to purchase upgrades for your assortment of equipment. This gameplay loop is exactly what made me love the original so much, and is even better with Dig 2’s increased assortment of kit to collect and update. Your travels are aided by a series of fast travel points throughout the map. These are frequent discoveries, but don’t count on there always being one around when your health is running low.
The most noticeable change in this sequel, one that stuck out to me as soon as I started playing, was just how purposeful and designed every aspect of the game now feels. When I spoke with Community Manager Julius (@ghoulius) at EGX Rezzed in May, he told me how the team at Image & Form hired new designers to provide new platforming and puzzle elements for the player to overcome. There’s a feeling of purpose that underlines every single part of this sequel, right down to the order in which I found myself unlocking each upgrade for my pickaxe, bag or any of the assorted collectables you discover along the way. Now there’s seemingly no way that the developers could have programmed this, surely grinding would have allowed me to unlock these sooner, but it’s likely a credit to the placement of valuable ores as I progressed through the story, and a sign of just how well planned out this world is.
This new focus on intricate design makes Dig 2 feel a world beyond it’s predecessor and adds an increased requirement for skill and logical thinking. What really impressed me however is that despite this new direction, the game never feels linear, or lacking the freedom that makes the series unique; even within the platforming sections, I have free control to swipe at tiles with my pickaxe and redesign the area, with some puzzles even requiring this, and punishing you should the wrong tiles be destroyed. The difficulty curve is well designed, and I never felt that the game was unfairly punishing me. Just as with the exploration aspects of the game, SteamWorld Dig 2’s platforming and control is so successful that any of my failures were probably deserved. Whether digging, wall jumping, or swinging around maps using the new hook shot, SteamWorld Dig 2 consistently feels great to play, and is especially comfortable when playing on the Nintendo Switch.
It would be an awful shame if a well designed game that plays great were to be let down by lacklustre presentation, and so it’s lucky that Dig 2 is a massive visual step up from its predecessor too. Characters are more detailed and beautiful to observe in the steampunk world they inhabit, and the variety of gizmos and collectables also being interesting and well suited to this awesome art style. Whilst the music and sound within the game at times felt somewhat repetitive, this was never irritating in any way either. The game looks and sounds great everywhere I’ve played it too, with an art style clearly designed to scale many screen types.
Is SteamWorld Dig 2 a perfect game then? I’m struggling to think of anything that sticks out as being a glaring issue. Maybe characterisation of Dorothy isn’t as strong as perhaps it could be? I honestly struggle to highlight any gripes with the time I’ve spent playing this game. No game, film or book can ever claim to be perfect and there are others who I’m sure will find flaws in everything I’ve ever loved. This game though? Yeah, it’s pretty awesome.
Disclaimer: Image and Form games provided me with a copy of the game on both Steam and Nintendo Switch, and my gratitude goes out to them. Please explore the SteamWorld universe by purchasing the game on its variety of platforms!