Being honest, when the first SteamWorld Dig game came around, I was not sold on the idea, but by the end I was desperate for more and now that SteamWorld Dig 2 is here, does it fill that steambot shaped hole in my heart?
The story picks up sometime after the events of the first game, with Dorothy, or Dot as she prefers, scouring the world to locate Rusty, the bot from the first game and after falling into a hole, she discovers that things are not quite as peaceful out away from Tumbleton. After getting some speed boots, Dot discovers that there are cultists who are worshipping Vectron tech, which was the giant evil of the first game and when that tech turns upon them, it then targets Dot, but after a hard fort victory, the tech named Fen teams up with Dot and they head on out and continue the search for Dusty. The pair then arrive in El Machino and discover that something is causing terrible quakes and that they started not long after somebot matching Rusty’s description passed through town.
The story is pretty straight forward from there, but it is only one small part of the package and thankfully, the largest part, the gameplay is near perfect. Much like the first game, you can dig with your pickaxe, letting you unearth gems and jewels of varying qualities, which in turn lets you upgrade your items. As you dig deeper, you will discover many more valuable items, which will come in handy as some of the upgrades can become expensive, but the deeper you dig, the more dangerous things become. The world itself is broken up into 5 distinct parts, the main tunnel, which branches off to other locations, the Yarrow, which is a subterranean bio-luminescent jungle, the temples, the surface and the Vectron and each has an appeal that the others don’t bother trying to replicate.
As you explore the main shaft, you will begin to discover upgrades that will help Dot out in her quest, from the simple pressure bomb, to the jetpack, to the grappling hook and beyond, each item has a purpose and combining them is what you need to do, to discover the games many hidden items. Much like the first game, there is only a finite amount of time that you can remain underground, before you head back to the surface, when you do, you will want to cash in what lives in your bag, but you will also want to trade in any artefacts you have found. They are one of the two new types of collectables, which when you collect enough, the towns artefact enthusiast will trade you a blueprint and this is where the game becomes something even bigger.
Blueprints allow you to modify the game to suit your play style, as you move around the world, you will find cogs, sometimes they are at the end of the puzzle rooms, other times they are lying just out of reach. As you collect enough, you can use them to equip whatever upgrade you want and as you do this, new abilities or options will change how you explore. One of the easiest ones to recommend adds another slot to each pouch in your bag, which means you can mine for a little bit longer, later there is an upgrade that stops your light from dropping past 50%. You can also improve your swing speed, reduce the amount of fall damage you can take, there are dozens of options and the best part is, if you realise that you have mined the world dry, you can remove the extra slot cog and use it to upgrade something else. What this system allows for is a lot of repeat visits to the game, as each time you come back, you can choose different upgrades, changing the game completely, there are even options to enable or disable the games navigation system, letting you explore without the game directing you.
And explore you should, because the world that the studio has crafted is so artfully designed, that it begs to be explore and it does not hurt that it looks stunning as well. The game provides plenty of chances for you to explore, without too much risk to yourself, before the world starts to unleash the dangers. But exploring is key, because hidden behind fake walls, cracked walls or small rooms are plenty of things to discover and no matter what I found, I never felt that I was cheated, that my effort was wasted. Visually, it kind of mixes 2d, with 3d planes and it looks incredible, the Yarrow, with its bio-luminescent landscape standing out as just stunning, but even Vectron, with its dark and ominous landscape looks amazing.
Each of the games explorable locations also has a compatible musical companion, from the melodic and choir backed temple music, to the Vectron world, where music is almost non-existent, each track works in partnership with what you are seeing on the screen. The best example I can use to prove this is when you run out of light, your lamp, early on at least, will run out a lot and when it does, the music fades out, leaving you to enjoy the location, with only the effects of the surrounding space. So it is not just that the music that works incredibly well, but the lack of music and the games other sounds, even the random chatter noises from the Steambots in town, everything works together to give you something special. Sadly, I did not enjoy the track for El Machino, it seems bland, compared to the rest, there is nothing wrong with it, it just did not click with me and considering that is the first negative thing I have said, that shows how incredible this game is.
While SteamWorld Dig 2 is not a long game, even collecting everything, it is so artfully crafted that it matters not, give it a weekend and lose yourself to this game and you will come away impressed. Image and Form are not the biggest studio, but I will be damned if they don’t make some incredible games.