How Deep Rock Galactic Season 5 drills back down to basics

By admin Jun5,2024

Dwarven co-op caper Deep Rock Galactic has spent years raising the stakes. Where its offworld mining concern once dealt merely with steep drops and irate bugs, it’s since had to face down the robotic army of a rival mineral corp and an omnicidal alien plague. If the subsequent question is “It used to be about the rocks, y’know?” then DRG’s imminent Season 5 update, Drilling Deeper, is the answer.

While matching previous seasons in scope, and even serving as a tie-in to the upcoming roguelike spinoff Deep Rock Galactic: Rogue Core, Season 5 is also a refocusing of sorts. Those newer threats are put on pause, in favour of a renewed emphasis on the deadly spelunking and freeform digging that had previously established DRG as one of the most unique shooters around. It’s why the new mission type, Deep Scan, is all about venturing further into the crunchy crust of Hoxxes IV than ever before – even if it means hitching a ride on a wildly unsafe “Drillevator” to get there.

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Season 5 will also bring the usual side gubbins, including a free battle pass, cosmetics to fill it, and some new weapon overclocks, but having played a round of Deep Scan, I can say that the biggest cut of Drilling Deeper is also the choicest. Accompanied into the darkness by Ghost Ship Games’ lead game designer Mike Akopyan and marketing manager Aaron Hathaway, our task was to gather Morkite Seeds from a geode hidden deep underground. So deep, in fact, that to pinpoint it we’d first need to locate and scan a trio of buried crystals, only after which we could haul our tiny arses down to the triangulated geode.

In parts, this was classic Deep Rock: scoot through a cave to an objective, plant some cartoonishly oversized mechanism on it, and wait for a bar to fill up while space insects tried to nibble our beards. Yet there were plenty of new cogs in the machine, including the cave itself, the result of a new proc-gen design that turned the usually spacious sand biome into a discombobulating ants’ nest of twisty tunnels. I’m not too ashamed to admit I got lost numerous times, though five seasons in, the injection of a little navigational uncertainty isn’t the worst thing in the world.

A Glyphid Stalker breaks its cloak to attack a dwarf in  Deep Rock Galactic Season 5.
This is usually the most you’ll see of a Glyphid Stalker: an outline, next to a dwarf about to be relieved of his shields. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Coffee Stain Publishing

Since Hoxxes IV is an ugly planet – a bug planet – the local fauna have been evolving too. The Vartok Scalebramble proved short on extermination thrills, mainly just sitting on cave ceilings waiting for us to shoot its weak points off, but the Glyphid Stalker made for a much more formidable opponent. It’s a cloaked ambush predator, like Helldivers 2’s Stalkers, except much better camouflaged, only giving off the slightest shimmer that’s easy to miss in DRG’s hectic fights. As such, they nailed me, repeatedly, delivering the added punishment of a shield-sapping EMP effect that opened me up for their weaker brethren to munch on.

They’re devious little bastards, though the Stalkers aren’t the grossest of Season 5’s foes. Those would be the Core Spawn Crawlers, an uncomfortably humanoid mix of man, bug, and mineral that swarmed us during an attempt at the new Core Stone event. Like Korlok Tyrant-Weeds, Core Stones are randomly occurring, optional side-targets that yield valuable resources at the cost of starting a potentially ammo-draining battle; in this case, against a gang of slinking rockpeople rather than a sentient plant. They’re quick and tough, and while they ultimately couldn’t stop us breaking through the Core Stone monolith to grab the goodies within, the fact that they so barely resemble any other creature in DRG did leave me both unsettled and curious.

Core Spawn Crawlers attack during a Core Stone event in Deep Rock Galactic Season 5.
Creepy crawlers indeed. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Coffee Stain Publishing

This, it turned out, was the point. Season 5’s links to Rogue Core are more subtle than overt (there’s no, say, post-game cutscene where an eyepatched Mission Control tells your dwarf he’s putting a team together), but hints are dropped that you might be drilling too deep for your own good. The Core Spawn Crawlers, who Akopyan tells me will also appear in the spinoff, simply represent the first sign that the company might soon have a self-inflicted mess on its hands – one that will need cleaning up in Rogue Core.

Back in the anthill cave, though, we still had a Morkite geode to find, which was soon revealed after the third successful crystal excavation. It was too far down to reach by conventional means, but that’s where the Drillevator came in: a circular platform that could bore us the last few hundred metres in style, if not in comfort.

What followed was DRG’s version of every slow-moving funicular defence setpiece you’ve ever played in an FPS, as a horde of rattled Glyphids swarmed out of the freshly drilled rock and onto our claustrophobic metal ring. Familiar, perhaps, but I loved it. The constantly moving platform and lack of escape routes made the descent feel dramatic and desperate, much more so than the static action sequences that the game usually trades in. Especially when the drill jams on a particularly stubborn rock layer, forcing one dwarf’s gun to go quiet to fix it. I play DRG pretty much weekly, and this was the first time in months that I felt on the verge of drowning in a mandible sea – deep enough in the depths that my body would never be found, buried in a perfectly circular grave next to two game developers.

Holding off Glyphids as the Drillevator descends in Deep Rock Galactic Season 5.
Watch the skies while on the Drillevator. Or, at least, the higher-up dirt. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Coffee Stain Publishing

Survive we did, though, and our reward was a surprisingly soft landing inside the promised geode. A few moments of seed collection and gawking at the (strangely beautiful) crystal cavern later, it was time to extract using another work-related expense: souped-up jet boots that could propel us all the way back up the Drillevator hole. This, too, was fun as heck, and after a battle that intentionally nullified our team’s movement abilities, gaining the power of flight felt like the perfect climactic turnabout.

Basically, I now want to go on many, many more Deep Scans. It’s just a merry, flowing, mining-focused mission type of the sort DRG hasn’t gained since 2020; I know Season 1 added Industrial Sabotage missions, but those focus on the fighting the robots, and are thus not good. Besides, even if we’re on the verge of digging up something truly horrific, a pivot back towards rockbreaking does make a lot of sense. I mean, look at these bearded lads. They’re not master hacking technicians or virology experts. They’re miners. They mine.

A Gunner using his grenade launcher overclock in Deep Rock Galactic Season 5.
Cluster rockets make short work of Mactera swarms. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Coffee Stain Publishing

I suppose they shoot as well, as Season 5 has a few promising overclocks for that vocation. Judging by the ones I saw in the preview, I’d say the Gunner class is the luckiest recipient, gaining overclocks that turn his missile launcher into an arcing grenade rifle or a lobber of rock-shattering cluster bombs. Scouts beware the splash damage, though he gets some interesting toys of his own, including an M1000 rifle overclock that marks targets for additional follow-up damage. I was personally hoping for more ‘movement aid’ overclocks, in line with the one that lets Scouts shotgun-jump, though Akopyan tells me these are “a little tricky” to keep balanced in light of how essential that shotty upgrade can feel. Ah well – at least Season 5’s new weapon mods keep the fine tradition of making drastic changes to gun behaviour, and not just adding or subtracting to stats.

As a whole, Season 5 isn’t quite as concerned with reworking the fundamentals. Indeed, in many ways it’s returning to them, after successive high-concept detours from the core mining concept. Even so, it does look like another quality update, working in the Rogue Core link without turning into an advert and adding plenty of new things to see, do, and thwack with a pickaxe. It’s out officially on June 13th, with an Experimental Branch release on June 4th.

By admin

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