I'm already dreading going back to Hollow Bough. Deep Rock Galactic can be foreboding in general—it's a co-op multiplayer game about fighting giant bugs in dark, underground caverns, lit only by flares and flashlights. But one of two new biomes coming to the game next week, Hollow Bough, adds sentient, thorny vines to the mix. I genuinely jumped the first time I drilled through a wall and saw a vine undulating at the corner of my screen before jabbing me right in the face. I'm gonna need a better flashlight.
I've only been playing Deep Rock Galactic for a month or so, but with its latest update out soon, this feels like a great time to start. The mining game has had a set of eight biomes since it left Early Access last May, and update 33 adds Hollow Bough and Azure Weald, both of which are significantly different from any other area in the game. Some of the existing biomes feel like classic videogame environments: You've got the green Fungus Bogs, the frozen Glacial Strata, the fiery Magma Core. Nothing wrong with that, but it's clear that the extra time Deep Rock's developers had to prototype and design these new areas let them be more creative.
Hollow Bough is like a nightmare bramble patch, so dark that I was intimidated to approach any of the (many, many) vines without throwing out an entire pocket's worth of flares first. They weren't all alive and aggressive, but there were patches of them everywhere, with menacing thorns poking out of even the static brambles. Hollow Bough made me stop sprinting through the environment to nervously creep ahead instead.
Azure Weald is pure eye candy and not nearly as threatening—it looks like a coral reef, full of bioluminescent flora. It's easily the prettiest and most detailed environment in the game. There are a couple fun new environmental additions here, like some brightly glowing stones and flying creatures that you can hitch a ride on and control to glide around caverns. To make room for airborne hijinks, Azure Weald's caves can be generated a bit bigger than usual.
You'll be able to do Deep Rock Galactic's usual range of mission types in the new biomes, so they'll just slot into the rotation as new options to keep the game fresh. But the bigger deal is that update 33 also adds two new types of Dreadnought, Deep Rock's boss aliens. The Dreadnought Hiveguard is a proper boss fight with multiple phases. First, it summons a gang of tough sentinels to harass you while it pummels you with explosive rocks. It's unkillable at first, protected by its thick armor. Get through that phase and it opens up three weak points that you have to shoot before it finally reveals its unguarded butt (ah, a classic weak spot). Do enough damage and it'll armor up again and summon fresh support.
I fought the Hiveguard alongside the development team in a livestream on Thursday, and it was an intense battle requiring more coordination than any of the other enemies I'd fought in Deep Rock Galactic so far. You only have 30 seconds or so to pummel its health bar when it finally reveals its weak spot, so having everyone ready and in position to shoot is critical.
The other new Dreadnought is actually, well, two Dreadnoughts: Sibling bug monsters the Arbalest and Lacerator. The Lacerator is mercilessly in-your-face, super aggressive, while the Arbalest hangs back and attacks with explosive artillery. When you hurt them enough, they start linking up to share HP, making it especially difficult to kill off one before the other.
Hopefully these guys will get longtime players out of their comfort zones a little. You'll typically encounter these dreadnoughts when you go on an Elimination mission seeking them out, but I'm half anticipating, half dreading one of them showing up unexpectedly in a regular old mining expedition.
There are some other smaller changes coming in update 33, which enters the Steam experimental branch on January 25th. You can test it out any time by right-clicking Deep Rock Galactic in Steam and opting into the beta branch from the Properties menu. Expect the update to hang out there for a few weeks for balance tweaks before hitting the live game.