It’s a little ironic to be mentioning this game so soon after mentioning its prequel (the Carrion review). Steamworld Dig is one of my least favorite Metroidvanias. It wasn’t like it was a bad game (like Carrion), but it was just aggressively average. The exploration was average; the story was average; the graphics looked like a cell phone game (so average). It was at the bottom not from being bad, but from not being particularly good.
Where does that leave its sequel?
Steamworld Dig 2 takes up its narrative a short time after the first. We follow Dorothy, a female displaying steambot who was a shopkeeper in the first game. She’s now journeying to find Rusty, the hero of the first game, who mysteriously vanished. Her journey takes her through a forgotten temple where she makes an interesting friend in a floating spirit named Fen, and then to the almost forgotten town of Machino. From there, Dorothy learns she must dig downward to find her friend, who has been acting unusual (hint: he seems to be wanting to destroy the world).
So the plot is a little bare bones; that happens with a lot of Metroidvanias. The story is more in the exploration and discovering the world, and Steamworld Dig 2 does a pretty alright job with this. The basic mechanics don’t change much from its prequel. You’re given a pickaxe which you can use to melee most enemies, and to also dig into certain tiles of ground. This latter bit is the big difference in the game: In this one, you mine for minerals as you journey downward.
For me, mining in games just isn’t fun. It feels a lot like mining in real life: tedious and time consuming. The Dig series here at least tries to make it fun, and Dig 2 felt more fun than its predecessor, but there were still times when I felt less like a grand adventurer and more like a miner going to work.
Fortunately, the game does have those exploration elements I was talking about. Dorothy can jump in addition to swinging a pickaxe, and she immediately starts with a wall jumping ability. As is the case with games like this, more and more abilities are added on, until Dorothy can transverse the area with the greatest of ease. This is one area where the game definitely succeeds: you feel quite powerful when you go back to earlier areas, and the exploration feels natural and rewarding.
In addition to the joy of filling up your map, the game also rewards you for exploration in other ways. Killing enemies nets EXP, which gains levels, which makes Dorothy stronger and allows her to sell those minerals she finds at greater prices. Selling loot results in upgrades to make things easier. And you can find special artifacts and the like to get unique blueprints that unlock “cog upgrades,” essentially a badge type of system where you plug in a number of cogs to get slightly better upgrades. The major upgrades are also sometimes tucked away, and usually give you the abilities that will completely change your transversal method (i.e. running faster or shooting).
This cycle works. It feeds into itself and makes for engaging gameplay. I wanted to kill enemies and explore because the rewards would be worth it to me… or at least, I did, right up until the end points of the game.
That’s sort of where this game doesn’t quite live up to itself. It hints toward several cool plot twists throughout the game. There’s doubt cast over whether Rusty is actually the good-bot that Dorothy knew. There’s hints that the world may be ending anyway. But most of all, Dorothy’s companion Fen has access to a different world that appears highly technologically advanced and spooky as heck.
I loved this section. Scary robots would come to life and chase you, and there was this feeling of uncovering a mystery you shouldn’t have access to. I genuinely felt scared at times (and I play survivor horror games from time to time), and I also felt, again, like I was learning something new and interesting about the world.
The game never really explains this area. It drops the hints and then forgets about it.
Which is why it doesn’t quite resonate as well with me as I’ve seen it do with others. It’s still a good game: the plot disappointment doesn’t stop the good gameplay or the fact that the plot is interesting for the vast majority. The sense of humor got some wry chuckles. I do wish there were more upgrades toward the end, but that happens with nearly every Metroidvania. It’s just that some provide me reasons for exploring beyond upgrades (Ori had special achievements; Hollow Knight, lore).
Still definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in the genre, and not a bad place to start if you’re interested in exploring, as a lot of its mechanics are unique.
6 Too many negatives hold it from being truly great, but it’s still got some good gameplay and a partially engaging story