SteamWorld Dig 2 (Nintendo Switch) Review

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Welcome to an alternate Earth—an alternate world where humans are all but wiped out, destroyed by the very weapons they created. In their steed, a civilisation of steam and steel has risen. The inhabitants of this alternate land? Industrious robots, powered by steam—Steambots. Stuck on the dawn of the 20th century, these bots live as sheriffs, miners, or as simple citizens. This is the wild west, but not quite how you remember it.

First Impressions

From the very first menu, SteamWorld Dig 2 sets an ironically human tone. Before so much as starting the game, I found myself eager to explore what was available to me, quickly finding an image of the team who had spent so much time, and had put so much passion into this project. It was refreshing, and I couldn’t help but smile when I saw it. I understand this is an incredibly miner addition, but it’s the kind of thing I rarely see attention drawn to; and I feel that’s a shame. Putting this aside, I started the game.

This being my first SteamWorld game, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect; aside from digging and a bit of steam. The introductory segment presents itself well; albeit somewhat slow paced. It ticks every box, introducing the movement, the general feel of the level design, as well as the core aspect of the game: digging. Everything feels fluid, yet lacking. It comes across as though there is a fantastic movement system buried in the game, but just out of reach—stuck behind a rock your pickaxe simply cannot crack.

Obviously, you don’t go into a game expecting it to play all its cards right from the start. A game should tease, tempt, allure you into playing more; show you a string to the heavens and make you want to climb it. While I wouldn’t say SteamWorld Dig 2 necessarily fails in this respect, I struggled to find myself excited to continue. Nothing particularly stands out as a holding it back, yet it has no real driving factor. I would describe the game’s opening as a strange limbo. The end of the opening section is the only part that really strikes me as interesting.

This interest comes in the form of a boss—a strange totem content with zapping deranged cultists. It caught me off guard. A rather out of place, slightly humorous piece of plot; followed by a fun and engaging battle. It gave me hope. The boss battle does everything I look for in an introduction wrap up. It puts to test each of the mechanics and movement techniques the game had previously shown you; adding an air of danger without being overly difficult nor complicated. Despite being a relatively short fight, it provides a satisfying payoff, and acts reasonably well as a check the player knows how to play the game. With this out of the way, players can go into more complex areas, confident of the basics.


From here, the game begins to open up. You leave the confines of the western temple and head to a small mining town, populated by a quite frankly irritating array of characters. You meet such thrilling Steambots as lobster robot, builder robot, and who can forget beloved old robot. I feel nothing for these characters and as the story progresses, I feel no desire to interact with them. They populate the town as background noise; some serving utility, others not. The problem I feel with them is how the game almost wants you to empathise with their situation, but why should you care? Looking back at my experience with the NPCs as a whole, I realise this irritation created a strange conflict of motive when playing. I would like to see the story come to a resolution; I would like to see Dot find her lost friend. Beyond that however, a desire had emerged to see the townspeople suffer, to make their confusion and hardship last that little bit longer. This in itself offers potential to prolong the gameplay experience and encourage further exploration below the planet’s surface.

Deep below is where you’ll spend the majority of the game—picking and digging, drilling and mining. It’s repetitive, it’s tedious, it’s been done before. Looking from the outside in, you have to ask exactly what this game can add to the formula to keep it fresh. SteamWorld Dig 2’s answer comes in the form of augmentations and upgrades, and such a system plays well to the hand it has dealt itself. So often I find upgrades being forced on the player for the sake of progression and while this is still to some degree true here, it at least finds reasonable justification. It feels natural within the confines of this world—you are a robot finding ancient upgrades deep underground. The idea of these sits incredibly well with the overall feel of the game. The upgrades themselves however leave me conflicted.

Freed from the shackles of introductory sluggishness, SteamWorld Dig 2 takes several different approaches in livening up the underground experience. The upgrades can be broken down into two basic categories: those that make it easier to mine; and those that make it easier to move. Each upgrade falling into these categories serves a purpose; be it to overcome wonderfully crafted environmental blockades, or just to break through a hunk of rock a hit faster. Each new ability you find, each new upgrade you work for, you feel a sense of progress, a sense of satisfaction. There is no doubt in my mind this is a well-structured and heavily rewarding system. Where the game trips itself up is in combining these fun and varied upgrades with the relatively samey environments.

I can find no fault in the way the game controls progression. Truthfully, such well executed environmental blockades are something I find particular joy in seeing. The abilities and upgrades required to pass them are quite often incredibly fun additions to Dot’s movement pool—but a question must be asked here: how often will you be able to use them in the confines of a narrow cave system? I understand they might still make movement easier, even in the winding passages, but playing with the toolbox of extended movement abilities in the open space the town provides makes for an entirely different experience. It drives me to want more from the game, and it simply doesn’t deliver. This isn’t to say it doesn’t try to fill this ever-deepening hole.

Caves are a hidden wonder of SteamWorld Dig 2. Sporadic in placement, dotted around the underground tunnels they hide. Akin to the shrines of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, they each offer a unique challenge based around a singular theme. Whether it’s a simple movement mechanic, or something not seen anywhere else in the game, you can be certain it will be pushed to the limit to create something fun, creative, and original. Each cave leaves you smiling, sometimes letting out an overdue breath of relief by the end. They leave you eager to find another, eager to enjoy the upgrades the game seems to enjoy giving you. Each of these caves are masterfully crafted; traps lovingly placed, timings meticulously precise. I often had to take a moment to reflect on just how well they come together. I still find sadness in the lack of meaningful open spaces to utilise some of the later upgrades, but to deny Caves their credit for that would be to deny the joy they brought me.

Let’s Talk About Pacing

I’ve mentioned the slow start. It’s a little irritating, but it isn’t unexpected. The natural progression of most games features a degree of escalation often starting as the world begins to widen. This escalation builds ultimately to a climax, where the game peaks. Plenty of games have a number of peaks, and work to rebuild the tension and excitement as you approach the next. Herein lies SteamWorld Dig 2’s failure.

What strikes me as interesting in this case is how one scene ultimately ruined the game’s pacing. Perhaps the more interesting aspect of this is that I view this scene as the most tense, the most interesting and fun part of the game. It put me through dread, joy, it made my heart race. It had everything in place to be a penultimate scene, the climax this game deserved. This climax never happened. The reward? A new ability. A new ability that ties in with none of the previous dread, joy, nothing that made my heart race. I feel an unreserved disappointment the pacing was thrown so heavily off for the sake of something so trivial. The game builds again after that, but what could have been a fun plot twist is exchanged with an “oh, that’s it?” The game sets the bar too high, and simply fails to deliver afterwards. This by no means makes the game unplayable, but it makes me question whether this scene, regardless of how good it might be, would have been better off not being in the game at all.

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