SteamWorld Dig 2

A game by Image & Form for PC, Mac, Linux, Switch, PS4, Vita, and 3DS, originally released in 2017.
SteamWorld Dig 2 picks up after the events of the original SteamWorld Dig. In the original game, players took on the role of Rusty, a steambot whose father passed away while working in his mine. Rusty takes over working the mine and finds that it is not only filled with valuable minerals but also mysterious artifacts which grant him new abilities. But time has passed and Rusty has not returned to the surface, so a young steambot named Dorothy goes looking for her friend.

The SteamWorld universe is comprised of SteamWorld Tower Defense, the SteamWorld Dig series, and Steamworld Heist, and these games follow an alternate timeline for Earth in which 19th century humanity creates simple steam-powered robots and mechanical computers to perform basic tasks. But the rise in technology eventually leads to humanity’s destruction, forcing the remaining survivors underground while steambots continue living on the world above, largely unaware of the ancient technology that exists beneath their feet.

The original game offered a unique take on the mining genre (which gained popularity by way of Minecraft) by mixing the slower-paced mining segments with platforming action, randomized layouts, and a touch of metroidvania. While the original game was well-designed, the new game improves on it in every way possible, most notably in the way in which each new design element supports the increased pacing.

First off, the game’s economy has been overhauled. As in the original, the player must manage three resources while exploring beneath the surface: health, water, and light. Health is self-explanatory, and getting killed returns the player to the surface with his steambot rebuilt at the cost of some of the resources he was carrying at the time. Water powers all of Dorothy’s extra gear (more on this in a bit). And light allows Dorothy to see her surroundings as she digs, with her view narrowing as the light in her lantern diminishes.

In the original game, returning to the surface automatically replenished the player’s light source, but not his health or water. In order to heal, the player had to speak to an NPC and purchase health (although health restoratives could also be found while digging and by killing enemies). Water could only be replenished by entering pools underground, but these pools drained as water was drawn from them. In the sequel, all three of these resources are filled automatically upon returning to town, keeping the player from wasting his money to buy health or backtracking to find pools of water.

The original game had two types of currency that came in the form of gold coins and blue orbs. Players could cash in their minerals for gold, but blue orbs could only be found by exploring the subterranean world. The more powerful gear upgrades required these blue orbs, effectively limiting the player’s upgrade progression until he had made it further into the game. Here, blue orbs are tossed out in favor of an experience system in which the player earns XP for each enemy killed, and certain upgrades can only be purchased once the player achieves specified XP thresholds.

As in the original game, players can purchase stronger equipment to allow them to dig through tougher dirt and even through brick walls, while also upgrading their health meters, lanterns, water tanks, and mineral carrying capacity. The original game’s drill has been replaced with a jackhammer fist, the flying fist has been replaced with explosive-tipped arrows, and dynamite has been replaced with bouncing grenades. Each of these abilities drains Dorothy’s water tank when used, and the water tank can be filled to capacity in pools of any size, or by returning to the surface. The ease of refilling water means that players can take regular advantage of these abilities to make progress – or destroy blocks above them to move back to higher ground – to navigate the world more quickly.

Players must be careful how they dig in order to leave a path that allows them to move back up, and to avoid missing precious minerals by digging around them in such a way that they become inaccessible. In the original game, players regularly needed to go back to the surface, but the opportunities for doing so were limited to the placement of linked pneumatic tubes. As such, players were forced to spend their precious blue orbs to buy teleporters that allowed them to warp back to the surface. Keeping a teleporter in inventory was all but required as it was possible to become “stuck” with no path upward, forcing players to risk their haul by digging downward to the next pneumatic tube entrance. The risk of getting stuck was offset by the fact that players had the ability to charge a high jump – at the cost of water – to reach high points.

Manually-placed teleporters are no longer part of the equation, but getting stuck is less likely due to the fact that players can move more quickly and jump higher by default, pneumatic tube warp points are more frequent, and players are free to warp from one pneumatic tube entrance to another instead of only warping the surface and back. There’s also a low-cost upgrade that allows the player to warp back to town from any safe location without penalty. Additionally, the charged jump is replaced by the addition of a hookshot and a jetpack that allow for increased mobility.

The hookshot uses no resources and allows the player to move quickly in four directions, all but preventing him from being trapped in a low area. Not only does the hookshot have a high speed and long range, it acts as the basis for a variety of environmental navigation challenges that lead to valuable minerals, artifacts, and cogs. The jetpack, earned later, allows for free flight in any direction but overheats quickly until some costly upgrades are applied.

The upgrade system has been vastly expanded, as players no longer just upgrade their basic gear but also add secondary improvements. Each piece of gear has numerous upgrade slots, each of which requires a certain number of cogs to activate. These cogs are found through largely optional exploration and often tucked behind false walls or destructible bricks. Their locations are hinted at by the sound of the cog turning when you get near.

Examples of these upgrades include enhancements to the pickaxe to grant additional XP or money when killing enemies with it, as well as a faster swing speed and more powerful attacks. Furthermore, the backpack can be upgraded to hold more items per slot or pull minerals toward you, the lantern can be upgraded to make certain items more apparent, armor can be upgraded to damage enemies on touch or deflect projectiles, and the list goes on. There are dozens of upgrades in all, and players are free to swap upgrades in and out at the workbench in town in order to take advantage of these abilities. There are also several upgrades that can only be unlocked by finding blueprints, most of which are obtained by discovering artifacts and showing them to a fellow in town.

The world has been greatly expanded. No longer is progress made by simply digging downward; rather, there are multiple interconnected themed areas to explore, with travel made in all directions (but still mostly downward). The metroidvania elements offer opportunities for some layered level designs, allowing players to return to previously explored areas to access new routes or uncover new treasures. Even the game’s opening tutorial area is packed with goodies once the player has the proper equipment.

The overworld has been drastically improved and expanded. Where the original game offered a single town on a flat surface with a handful of NPC’s, the new game offers a more substantial overworld experience. There is a desert area to the west that is filled with jutting rocks, which leads the player to the tutorial area. The central town is now multi-leveled, with NPC’s spread throughout, and even some that are inaccessible with the player’s default abilities. There is a vertically oriented section east of town that extends down the side of the mountain, which you are otherwise digging through. And there are windswept plains to the east that prevent the player from fully exploring them until later in the game.

The underworld consists of not only dirt and rocks, but also caves filled with bioluminescent plants, ancient ruins, large underwater caverns, acid-filled depths packed with exploding plants, lava-lined tunnels, and a strange technology-filled dystopia. Graphically, the game has taken a large step forward in terms of overall detail and has a more robust lighting engine. Players encounter a number of NPC’s – some of which are hidden – including some members of the failed human race living in an old sewer system who spend their days drinking “moon juice”.

As players explore the depths, they encounter numerous caves that lead to standalone challenge areas, with rewards coming in the form of cogs, artifacts, and high-value minerals. There is a good deal of variety between these challenges, and a handy checkmark indicates whether everything in a given cave has been discovered. The player’s more versatile equipment allows for cleverer and more complex puzzles that put the player’s environmental navigation skills to the test. While many of these challenges are optional, some lead to new equipment that is necessary for making progress, and the value of earning upgrades offers plenty of reward for adventurous players.

Steamworld Dig 2 was developed by Image & Form, a studio based in Gothenburg, Sweden and founded in 1997. The studio originally focused on developing games for children, but has turned its attentions toward adult gamers in recent years. The studio has developed SteamWorld Tower Defense, Anthill, SteamWorld Dig, and SteamWorld Heist.