Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor more than does justice to the name | Early Access impressions

by on February 15, 2024

Whenever a new genre comes along and really sets its roots, one of the most interesting things to do is watch all the big, established names throw their hats in the ring. In the case of the Survivor, or “reverse bullet hell” genre, we’re still teetering on the cusp of that. We’ve had Pathfinder: Gallowspire Survivor launch into early access, which is based in the Pathfinder universe. And now we’ve got Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor – which is arguably the first since Vampire Survivors to really take the concept and run with it.

Rather than just release a version of the concept with a Deep Rock skin, Funday Games have taken every core mechanic in the game and moulded them to fit Ghost Ship‘s universe. The result is a game that feels comfortable and familiar while at the same time fresh and inventive.

Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor

All four classes of Dwarf miner are present, though you’ll need to unlock them as you play, with only Scout available to begin with. You’re dropped into each stage of the mine with a single goal: kill enough enemies to spawn the Elite. Once the Elite is dead, you’ll move to the next stage. It’s a simple concept and one we’ve seen many times in this burgeoning genre.

The twist here is that this is Deep Rock Galactic, and so you’ll also be mining. You can pick-axe your way through any wall, creating choke points and escape routes even as the swarm closes in. Not only that, but you can mine valuable resources such as gold, Bismor, and Jadiz. Hoarding these resources is key to upgrading your stats between runs, which – along with playable classes – are permanent meta-unlocks.

At the time of its launch into early access, Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor has three mission zones but not a huge variety in its actual gameplay. It has a simple, addictive charm like most games in the genre, but it won’t take long before you feel you’ve seen what it has to offer. It mixes in other challenges such as collectibles and kill counts, while certain power ups will imbue your weapons with elemental damage, which also count towards their own tally and rewards.

Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor

At set levels you’ll be able to add a new weapon to your auto-rotation, such as shotguns, grenades, sniper rifles and high-calibre pistols. You can increase reload speed, fire rate, maximum HP or movement speed – among others – with every level you earn. Periodically you’ll need to clear an area to allow a supply pod to drop in, which will grant a stackable buff for the duration of the run. You can increase the number of these by completing challenges.

Being purely single player, you’ll also have Bosco with you for the whole time, providing support when the swarms pile up. Everything about it from the aesthetics to the voice work is so quintessentially Deep Rock that fans of the franchise won’t keep the smiles off their faces. But it is limited by the genre itself. Because the arenas are fairly small and you’re always being mobbed by a swarm, you’ll need to keep moving, and mining for specific upgrade materials is tricky.

Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor

Also, with so many weapons, all the classes, and three missions zones included already, it makes one wonder what Funday intend to add during the early access period. In many ways, Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor already feels complete. There’s enough game here of high enough quality that it almost hangs a question mark over the choice to go early access at all.

That aside though, for a spin-off in a completely different genre, Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor more than does justice to the name. The tight, addictive gameplay loop feels exciting and rewarding, and the meta-progression means you’re always working towards something. There’s still a lot of room for this genre to grow and evolve, and this is a great step in the right direction.

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