SteamWorld Dig 2 is a beautiful and charming game with a satisfying mixture of exploration, puzzles, and mildly challenging platforming. The more treasure you collect, the more abilities you unlock, which in turn, lets you collect even more treasure. It’s a simple yet addictive loop that pushed me forward until I beat the final boss. Unfortunately, the lack of a compelling end game meant I didn’t have much motivation to continue past the ten-hour mark.
You play as Dot, a robot searching for her pal Rusty, the protagonist from the first game. He was last seen in a nearby town however he disappeared at around the same time as weird explosions started going off underground. It’s not a particularly engaging story and I won’t remember any of the characters by the time this review is published. That doesn’t bother me too much. I’m here to dig.
Digging starts off tense. Dot carries a lamp but it quickly runs out of power, leaving you shoveling away in dim light, not entirely sure where the exit is or if that glow you see is treasure or any enemy. Watching your lantern fade out is tense. Do you go back the way you came or keep going down, hoping to find a fast travel point to return to the surface? If you die, you return to town and lose some of the hard-earned treasure you use to buy upgrades to your gear. It’s enough of a punishment to keep you focused while also not being particularly frustrating.
While underground, you collect treasure, cogs, and new gear. You spend the treasure to make basic upgrades to your gear, for example, quicker digging, more light from your lantern, and a bigger backpack for treasure. In true Metroidvania fashion, new gear is introduced slowly to let you access new zones or secrets in areas you’ve already visited.
Most gear can be enhanced with cogs. Unlike the basic upgrades, cogs offer completely new abilities, such as making treasure glow or getting health from defeating enemies. After just a couple of hours, these cogs completely change the feel of the game and not necessarily for the better. You can equip cogs to stop your lantern running out of light, fast travel back to town from anywhere on the map, and regain health from pools of water. With these abilities, the tension from the first few hours completely disappears, leaving you only concerned with exploring caves for more cogs and upgrades.
This isn’t inherently a bad thing. The lack of challenge doesn’t make SteamWorld Dig 2 less fun, it just makes it less tense. Once the pressure is off, you can relax and clear a path below you, trying to collect as much treasure as possible and creating paths to secret areas. There’s always something new on screen to head towards; a new enemy to beat, a cog to collect, or a piece of treasure to dig free from the earth.
When you’re not digging, you’re exploring caves for collectibles. These caves typically contain either light puzzles or skill-based platforming. The puzzle rooms require a bit of creative thinking to reach hidden areas, such as luring explosive enemies to a broken wall or pushing trolleys around to activate switches and open doors. Most of the secrets feel fair although there are a couple that I only found by wandering into a random block that happened to disappear.
The platforming sections are moderately tricky and usually require mastery of one piece of gear like the grapple hook. Occasionally there are bonuses for completing an additional task like getting through the entire area without touching the floor. Without wanting to sound too greedy, I would have loved more of these sections to take advantage of the tight controls and the array of gadgets at Dot’s disposal.
There’s a decent variety of underground areas to explore. You start off digging through plain old dirt but quickly move into an aquatic area, a volcanic region complete with temples, and another that I won’t spoil. These locations are absolutely stunning to look at. They’re bright, colorful, and crisp on both PS4 and PS Vita.
Unlike the first game, SteamWorld Dig 2 has hand-crafted levels instead of procedurally generated ones. You can be digging through dirt one minute and the next find yourself in front of a huge jewel-encrusted door that can only be opened by lighting fires dotted around the region.
Eventually, you encounter the final boss. It also happens to be the first boss. The fight is out-of-place as it doesn’t build on what you’ve been doing for the previous seven or so hours. It’s also incredibly tough if you aren’t appropriately leveled. There’s no recommended level or skill set, however it’s easy enough to go away and come back when you’re stronger.
After defeating the boss, you can continue collecting treasure and finding secrets, but there’s little motivating you to do so. I was a long way from 100% complete when I beat the boss and would have loved a new game plus mode or an obvious incentive to keep leveling up my character. The ending of the story even hints at one further location to visit but you never go there. You unlock challenge trials if you find all the artifacts, but they should have been available earlier as a new way to level up instead of as an incredibly late addition that most people will never reach.
SteamWorld Dig 2 is addictive in all the best ways. It keeps you smiling as you explore beautiful environments, collect treasure, acquire upgrades, and solve puzzles. There’s always the temptation to push on through to the next cave or find one more secret. It’s excellent until you reach the endgame at which point it falls a little flat. Still, for at least ten hours, SteamWorld Dig 2 is hard to put down and easy to pick up.