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Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor brilliantly fuses the IP with auto-shooter gameplay

Impressions from the game’s Early Access launch
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The success of Vampire Survivors spawned a ton of clones hoping to get a piece of the pie and many of them are little more than uninspired reskins even today, offering no meaningful changes to the formula that would make them stand out. Naturally, people were pretty skeptical about the announcement of Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor – there was a possibility of the developers just gluing some beards on one of these mentioned clones and calling it a day.

Instead, Funday Games delivered the most enjoyable entry to the genre I’ve played yet, cleverly fusing many of the core elements that made the original Deep Rock Galactic so popular with the genre’s own core mechanics to create an innovative title that may give Vampire Survivors a run for its money.

Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor keyart.

Digging greedily and deeply is just what dwarves do.

Just like in the original co-op game, you play as a dwarf tasked with delving into the depths and mining precious minerals while you’re beset by a never-ending onslaught of aliens. In the Early Access build, you start off with the Scout class and can unlock three additional characters. On top of that, each class comes with different starting loadouts to unlock, which change their base stats and even which weapons they’ll have access to during a run – so while it doesn’t sport the same number of characters as Vampire Survivors, the title offers great variety.

Naturally, all of these classes have a similar focus as their equivalents in Deep Rock Galactic – so the Engineer gets access to turrets and drones, while the Gunner fields heavy weaponry and is less great for mining, being built more for head-on combat with the swarm, and so on. Funday Games took the class identities from the original game and translated them into the auto-shooter genre smoothly. There is nothing like upgrading the Gunner’s gatling gun with fire damage and advancing towards the swarm, blasting a path through the alien mass, or using the Scout’s dodging abilities to dart close to explosive aliens and get them to blow up, starting a massive chain reaction that blasts half the level into space while you get away unharmed.

Deep Rock Galactic informs Survivor’s mission design as well. While running around on levels, you’ll be able to mine into rock walls to collect gold and other valuable minerals. Some of these are usable during your current run only, paying for upgrades and heals, while others serve as the backbone for the meta progression system – you can invest these between runs to get an array of permanent stat bonuses. This gives you something to aim for on each run aside from winning along with weapon-related goals, which unlock additional upgrades. Bring a weapon up to level 12 during a run for the first time and you’ll gain access to powerful overclock upgrades in any subsequent matches.

Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor shop screenshot.

You gain additional upgrades by leveling up as well as purchasing them at the shop after each stage.

Random side objectives will also have you collect mushrooms and other items for extra XP and resources. Other events, such as drop capsules arriving on the map, break up the gameplay as well. To get the drop capsules to land and obtain an artifact from them, you’ll need to clear out the designated landing zone first, removing all the rocks in the area. Happenings like that are neat side objectives, enriching each run with more structure than simply running around and gunning down aliens. These are little milestones you can reach on each level, making a run more satisfying even if you end up losing at the end.

Speaking of winning and losing, Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor’s games are a lot more time-limited than many of its competitors. There is a strict set of goals and if you’re taking too long the aliens will grow stronger and stronger, eventually overwhelming you. You’ll need to hit a fine balance of sticking around long enough to farm while not letting things get out of hand. Once you’ve killed a level’s boss monster, you have 30 seconds to get back to your pod and advance to the next depth level – fail to make it back and you lose the run. Again, this is informed by what you do in Deep Rock Galactic, thus feeling very thematic and keeping the experience bite-sized.

I haven’t even really touched on the really big innovation Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor brings to the table: digging. As you mine out rock walls, you create new paths though the map, which has the advantage of allowing you to funnel enemies into a constricted space where their numbers mean nothing and your weapons will be all the more effective. Steering the enemy pathfinding and gaining some breathing room with tactical tunneling is incredibly satisfying, not to mention how fitting it is for the IP. Of course, mining slows you down a good deal and large as well as flying enemies will have their own ways of traversing rocks, so it’s not a catch-all solution – it simply adds another layer of tactics to the game.

Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor screenshot showing a dwarf carve a path through rock.

The ability to carve paths into the rock is a massive gamechanger. You can even lean into this style by upgrading your mining speed.

Each of the game’s biomes has some overall goals associated with it, which give your runs some direction. Completing them allows you to unlock additional biomes as well as higher difficulty levels for those you already have access to. Naturally, each of these biomes comes with its own challenges, from fiery ground to explosive mushrooms and unique enemies.

I’ve had a lot of fun with Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor already and this is only the beginning of the game’s journey, as more content and mechanics are sure to be added during Early Access. On a technical level, the game works fantastic on both PC and Steam Deck, though the text of the UI is still a little small on the latter – I expect that to be sorted out soon, though.

Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor screenshot showing permanent upgrades.

Resources gathered on your expedition can be invested into permanent upgrades. You can even sell and buy them.

So far, this has been a textbook example of how you take a popular IP and translate its charm and strength into a completely different genre. Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor is the one to try out for both genre enthusiasts and those who’ve been thinking about getting into it.

Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor is now available in Early Access for PC via Steam.