Review: SteamWorld Dig 2
What makes a perfect sequel? If you ask me (and you implicitly did because you’re reading this), I consider a perfect sequel one that takes everything the previous game did and builds on it in some way. It doesn’t miss any of what made the original good, whether that be in game design, balance, aesthetic, or feel, and only adds more on top of that rock-solid base. There are great sequels that don’t do this, of course, and instead choose to go far afield and make something bold and new that still relates to its roots. But we’re not talking about those games, because SteamWorld Dig 2 is what I call a perfect sequel. Everything that the first SteamWorld Dig did, this one does bigger and better, and then goes on to do even more that I never would have expected.
It’s been a spell since trusty ol’ Rusty disappeared down in the mines, last seen locked in combat with the deadly Vectron. Dorothy, the local shopkeep’s daughter, knows he’s still ticking out there somewhere, and has embarked on a rugged quest to find our wayward hero. The trail leads to an old trading town, perched atop another mine full of beasts and secrets, and we all know what our new heroine has to do there. Digging down through the layers of history, Dorothy discovers forgotten realms and ruins that hold the key to finding Rusty and understanding the strange earthquakes rattling the town. Along the way she’ll find plenty of valuable ores and gems, exactly what she needs to trade for upgrades to keep her tunneling ever further down. But this journey will take her beyond the confines of mine shafts and caverns, and into the clutches of some unexpected foes.
The premise of SteamWorld Dig 2 is definitely similar to the first, with a vast underground world to mine goodies from for the upgrades to mine even deeper. However, the scope of this one is so much greater than the three discrete zones you had to explore in the original. In fact, the tutorial area in 2 already promises a game that will stretch far and wide, with how unexpected it is and also the bits of lore it sprinkles in up front. This is a far more open game, with more creative areas to explore and more to do in each of them, with loads of optional caves and secret alcoves to reveal through clever use of your powers. Even when I made it to the endgame, there were still a load of collectibles and upgrades tucked away in places I never would have suspected.
Your powers and upgrades are a huge part of why this open design works so well. Honestly, this is one of the most fun and transformative arsenals I’ve ever seen in a metroidvania. The difference in capabilities between the start of the game and the end is monumental, and there were no less than three points where I was absolutely gobsmacked that the developers saw fit to give me a certain upgrade. You end up with so much more mobility and so many more options for pathfinding in SteamWorld Dig 2 compared to the first, yet every upgrade feels like a logical progression and fits perfectly into the game’s pacing. The addition of a fully parallel trait system on top of the powers and upgrades from the first is huge, allowing you to swap in new conveniences and capabilities for each of the abilities that you get. And the challenges are designed to push your understanding of these gifts, making them more challenging than before even as your character becomes far more powerful than in the original game.
The gameplay systems aren’t the only parts that got massive upgrades, either. SteamWorld Dig 2 is a gorgeous game, with wonderfully hand-drawn characters, lush environments brimming with color, superb visual effects, and rich sound design. Just running around the world and poking at things is a warm, inviting experience, and makes scouring for secrets more fun that you would ever expect. The story, unsurprisingly, is also a big step up from the first game, with a lot more twists and turns and an ending that I absolutely did not see coming. It’s also a significantly longer game, easily twice as big if not more, and they’ve packed every bit of the experience with something to see, do, or collect.
It’s the easiest recommendation in the world to say that, if you enjoyed the first SteamWorld Dig, then you’re guaranteed to love SteamWorld Dig 2. But even if you skipped the first one, this is a masterpiece of game design. The balance of mining, upgrading, exploring, and progressing is just about perfect, with no low points or frustrations. The new powers and traits flesh out the core gameplay in fantastic ways, and the improved presentation makes this one a joy to play through. I’m a big metroidvania fan to begin with, but SteamWorld Dig 2 has quickly become one of my favorites in the genre, with a sense of depth and freedom that few can match.