I can’t say that I was ever expecting a sequel to SteamWorld Dig. While Rusty’s adventure into the depths beneath Tumbleton is an absolute blast, I couldn’t imagine a sequel being anything but a rehash. Not to say I didn’t want one, just that I didn’t expect it to ever happen, especially after the release of the entirely different SteamWorld Heist. Despite my expectations, Image and Form have now released a direct sequel, SteamWorld Dig 2. I dove into it, eager to discover if there was still any treasure to dig up here.
SteamWorld Dig 2 brings back one of the townsfolk from the original, Dorothy, and gives her the mantle of the main character. She has left Tumbleton in search of the original protagonist, Rusty, leading her to the El Machino where mysterious earthquakes have begun to concern the residents of the town. Knowing only that Rusty was seen in town recently and that he was last seen heading into the mines below, Dorothy lives up to the title of the game and begins to dig.
It’s a simple enough premise, with a few twists thrown in to keep it interesting. Having come out the other side of the tale, the story isn’t going to make you rethink your perspective of reality, but the original didn’t and neither one needed to. The game is about digging, getting better at digging, and then digging some more. Between the straightforward narrative and some witty writing, both in character dialogue and overworld text, there’s enough here to justify a sense of motivation and offer some downtime from the on-going mining operation.
Overall, gameplay is very similar to the original. Your goal is to journey ever further down, with your starting tool simply being a pickaxe to dig with and a basic wall-jump ability to get back up. In this, I could not express any stronger gratitude to the developers for knowing how to make a sequel – I will be using SteamWorld Dig 2 as a standard going forward for the clarity of design that is needed to pull this off. The elements I loved about the original are still entirely here: the careful planning of the dug path to ensure not only an efficient gathering of resources but also a means of return, as well as tactical consideration of how to handle obstacles like rocks and explosives. Instead of overly changing this formula, they’ve made some key refinements to set it apart.
The upgrade system has expanded from the original’s fairly basic model of ‘turn money into stronger/faster/better thing.’ The primary improvement system will now frequently unlock a diverse range of upgrades, which are activated using ‘cogs,’ a currency hidden all around the map. Since they can be changed freely from within town, it’s easy to experiment with these, and I can assure you that you’ll want to. There’s a fair number of them, about four to nine for each item, and they can have very significant impacts on how you play. This brings a new level to the naturally expanding repertoire of skills expected in a Metroidvania-style game while adding an extra reward to the original system.
Dorothy also plays very differently from Rusty, as becomes evident once her skillset is entirely unlocked. I don’t wish to give away any of the upgrades you’ll receive, so suffice it to say that compared to the clunky feeling inherent in Rusty, Dorothy ultimately provides a far more sleek impression as she navigates the map. This vastly improves the experience of getting to any given destination and encourages both thorough exploration of new areas and re-examination of previous ones.
This enhanced mobility also gives way to a lot of freedom in the design of zones. While an aesthetic diversity is to be expected, this is taken a step further. Different zones can have a fundamentally different mindset behind their overall layout. Again, I don’t want to reveal too much and spoil some nice reveals, but the game has taken some wise steps to expand on the consistent dig downwards that was so evident in the first game.
As a significant portion of any Metroidvania-style game is about exploring, not only for progression-dependent upgrades but also secrets and bonuses, it’s important that this search is achievable but still rewarding. I think SteamWorld Dig 2 managed to hit a sweet spot here. The cogs and collectables are hidden enough that you’ll miss them if you’re not looking, but with enough clues to be located and some strong incentives to do so, namely further upgrades. According to the post-game screen, I managed to achieve a 99.99% completion for my time with it – one cog managed to elude me despite my efforts.
Personally, I thought the game length was appropriate. I managed to get through the main story and find just about everything there was to find in my 13 hours or so with the game. This is achieved by the excellent pace maintained by the major upgrades. You’re given exactly enough time to enjoy the last one before being presented with another. There’s no unnecessary fattening here to pad out the playtime, even though it could have easily been done so. More appreciation from me here for the designers to resist this temptation.
The overall appearance of zones is necessarily simple, given the importance of being able to look ahead and plan an ideal route forward and occasionally need to act on the fly. While the brown dirt of the main mine zone will take up much of your screen, this visual clarity allows for a significant ease of progression. This is particularly relevant for the Switch, given the dual nature of the console. I found it easy to locate resources and take note of obstacles, portable or docked.
The only gripe I could bring up would be the difficulty. With the sole exception of a particularly challenging trial near the very end, I didn’t find myself pushed for survival in my time in the depths. While the game does offer you a means to toggle specific elements for the sake of difficulty, I have a personal objection to these systems. Maybe it’s an issue with my perspective, in that I distinguish this style from the more traditional startup selection of difficulty. Nonetheless, given how carefully designed SteamWorld Dig 2 is, more attention to challenging the player could have been given, in my opinion.
Without a doubt, SteamWorld Dig 2 is a fantastic example of how to make a sequel. It takes fundamental gameplay elements that were already fun and finds new ways to refine them without losing sight of what was great in the first place. Between an intriguing upgrade system, enhanced movement abilities, and rewards that I was enticed to locate, it’s the most fun I’ve had with my Switch since I finished Zelda. I would encourage you, no matter what hardware you may be playing on, to give this one a chance. You may not realise just how much you want to dig until you get started.