Developer Image & Form found a way to significantly improve an already great formula.
Rusty (the hero from the original SteamWorld Dig) has gone missing. So, his friend Dorothy (who had a role in the original as the townsperson who purchased all of Rusty's mined ore) sets out to find out what happened to him. Early in her adventure, she'll meet a quirky blue and possibly deranged entity called Fen that joins her on her search. Together, they seek out Rusty and try to find out what's causing the mysterious earthquakes affecting the town of El Machino.
If you played the original SteamWorld Dig (and you should!) then you'll be familiar with the sequel's overall structure. You'll spend most of your time digging in the mines below El Machino and the surrounding temples while collecting the valuable resources hidden within. You'll also come across a variety of enemies who are more than a little annoyed that you've disturbed their underground habitat. Fortunately, your trusty pickaxe can make quick work of both the baddies and dirt/ore blocking your path.
Of course, you can't spend all your time underground. You can only hold a limited amount of resources at a time and your lantern will eventually run out of fuel so you'll need to make regular trips to the surface in order to refuel and sell your recently collected resources. The cash you make can then be used to upgrade your lantern, backpack, pickaxe, armor, and more.
Mining resources in video games is a relatively new trend and one that is bizarrely addictive. This holds true for SteamWorld Dig 2 as each and every resource that you collect gets you just a bit closer to the next precious upgrade that you can't wait to purchase. A stronger pickaxe? A bigger backpack? Just think of how awesome those will be! I found myself regularly making "just one more trip" back into the mine not necessarily to make progress but because I was getting really close to a new upgrade that I wanted.
There's a lot more going on in SteamWorld Dig 2 than just mining. The simple but comprehensive map system creates a wonderful sense of exploration and improved fast-travel makes traversing the world a breeze. Each time you dig deeper or explore a nearby area and fill in a new portion of the map, you feel a satisfying sense of progress. You also get to meet new people, find new worlds, and encounter new enemies. During your digging adventure, you'll also come across about 30 or so challenge caves. These caves generally hold permanent upgrades, upgrade cogs, and other useful items that will make your adventures easier. However, you'll first have to complete a challenge which usually consists of one or more clever puzzles or perilous platforming sections. Caves are spaced out perfectly between mining segments so you'll always be excited to explore a new cave and just as excited to complete it and get back to mining.
SteamWorld Dig 2 is also jam-packed with secrets. Each cave will have one or more hidden walls that you'll need to detect and explore and each of the large mining shafts will be full of them, too. Secrets usually award you with upgrade cogs as well as blueprints that allow you to do awesome new things with your weapons and items. You'll be handsomely rewarded if you spend time looking for these secrets. As you progress, you'll also unlock new abilities like water bombs that stick to walls and destroy them. These make navigating mines easier and can also be used against enemies. There are a few other core ability upgrades but I wouldn't want to spoil them here because some of them are really awesome and noticeably alter the gameplay.
When it comes to tying progress with upgrades, SteamWorld Dig 2 should be used as a model for future games to follow. Just as you feel yourself getting stronger, the difficulty shifts to make things just a bit more challenging. It also does a great job of non-verbally communicating to you when you may want to start exploring branching paths. The upgrades menu even allows you to turn off waypoints which is something that I recommend doing to enhance the sense of discovery.
I could go on and on about SteamWorld Dig 2's strengths. Suffice it to say, it's awesome. It perfectly nails how progression should be incorporated in video games and its gameplay is an addictive marriage of mining, exploration, platforming, and combat.
- + Wonderful upgrades that make significant changes to the gameplay
- + Addictive mining and exploration
- + Great platforming and puzzle challenges
- - It might be a long wait for SteamWorld Dig 3