Some of the most hardcore tabletop gamers I know spent a good portion of last summer escaping into Vampire Survivors. I read the raves from reviewers, saw the game and its eye-catching minimalism in YouTube channels, and knew it had the stamp of approval from the types who spent days planning out D&D 5e one-shots.
And yet I avoided it because I wasn't sure it was my type of game. I don't enjoy bullet-hell games, and Vampire Survivors looked like one of the lowest levels of Dante's Bullet Hell, painted with a kitschy SNES tile set.
Deep Rock Galactic, on the other hand, is very much my type of game. When the creator of DRG announced a few months back that it would publish a Survivors-like game from developer Funday Games, set in the same universe of mining, shooting, and goofing, it felt inevitable that I'd give it a go. Instead of "a go," though, I've given Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor hours and hours over the past week, and I don't remember them passing at all.
The game is currently in closed early access on PC on a rolling invite basis (you can join the waitlist on its Steam page). It's due for public early access "toward the end of 2023," according to its makers, with "6–12 months" of early access after its February launch. Given its joystick-iness, it seems almost inevitable to arrive on consoles and Switch. For the moment, it makes for a great Steam Deck game or a solid reason to bother pairing your controller to your PC.
I requested and received early access to DRG: Survivor, and it is indeed still quite early. The game will eventually have four playable characters, over 30 weapons, multiple mission types, and a range of biomes. At the moment, though, the earliest players are testing out a Scout with a more limited range of gear and levels.
This is absolutely no deterrence to joy, however. DRG: Survivor cleverly blends the mission objectives of the first half of its namesake with the precision-walking mayhem of the latter. You're a dwarf in space, tasked with getting a certain amount of a familiar DRG resource or killing a certain number of bugs. Unlike vanilla DRG, doing this seems simple: stand next to the mineral and you mine it; get near the bugs and you'll shoot them. More bugs keep coming, you keep shooting them, they drop experience crystals, you pick those up, and you get upgrades to your shooting. More bugs, more XP, more and better weapons.
This basic loop, drawn from Vampire Survivors, can be quite fun, and it's a great way to give your mind an exceedingly direct task in a world full of complication. DRG: Survivor's procedurally generated rocks and mine walls add some strategy opportunities distinct from Vampire. The bugs think they have you cornered, but if you're good enough, you can hack through the wall behind you and then double back on them, picking up all the experience bits they left while you were shooting them on the run. Deciding whether to pause and hack out some bonus minerals, giving the bugs a chance to grow and regroup, is also an interesting consideration.
You've got Bosco, the somewhat helpful single-player flying robot with you, but don't expect him to pull you out when things get heavy. He feels quite underutilized at this early stage of the game design. The persistent upgrades you can unlock between runs aren't immediately exciting, either, though I might not see the bigger chained-ability combos, or they may be yet to come.
DRG: Survivor has a good chance of inviting even more people into an unexpected breakout genre; I know it worked on me. And it could bring more people into the Deep Rock Galactic realm. Because you control almost every aspect of the game with just a thumbstick, pressing three of the four A/B/X/Y buttons has your dwarf yell the kind of inspiring phrase that gets stuck in DRG players' brains.
Listing image by Ghost Ship Games