Do not hire me to dig a tunnel. If you put me in an actual mine equipped with an actual pickaxe, I'd collapse the entire thing in a matter of minutes. My first few hours with SteamWorld Dig 2 have proven that. I've dug straight up and dropped boulders on my head. I've dug straight down and plummeted to my death. I should've checked, but I was in a hurry. There was loot.
As you may have figured out, this is a game about digging tunnels. You play as Dorothy, a twin-tailed robot miner on a mission to find Rusty, the protagonist of the first SteamWorld Dig. Armed with an upgradeable pickaxe and an ever-expanding array of gadgets, you plunge deeper and deeper into the earth in search of Rusty's last known whereabouts—and anything shiny that isn't nailed down. It's Metroidvania at heart, but SteamWorld Dig 2 is as much about carving your own path as it is navigating an item-gated platforming adventure.
There's a hidden skill set to digging tunnels. You have to keep your eyes peeled for ore and enemies, yes, but you also have to dig cleanly. Your tunnels leading down are also your footholds going up, so if you blindly dig out everything in sight, you'll find yourself with unruly scaffolding that's tough to traverse.
After tearing up the first cavern I got my destructive metal clamps on, I started to think carefully about how my tunnels would turn and how I'd go up them. "I'll wall-jump up that section," I'd tell myself, feebly justifying digging straight down again, "and sprint-jump across that gap." It might sound tedious, but digging a single, snakelike tunnel that's navigable, hits all nearby treasure and looks nice on the minimap really is fun. It's every bit as cathartic as digging The Perfect Mineshaft in games like Minecraft and Terraria.
You'll also want a clear goal each time you head underground. Are you going to stop to explore caves containing bonus items, or just dig as deep as possible in order to reach the next fast travel point? Technically, you can mine for as long as you want, but it becomes incredibly hard to see once your lantern runs out of fuel. You're likely to overlook traps and loot digging in total darkness, so it's important to refuel regularly and budget trips by lantern light. And sure, you can always come right back, but it just feels good to earn as much experience and money as possible in one go, like bringing all the groceries from the car to the house in one trip.
Enemies sometimes drop fuel, but time spent killing enemies is time not spent digging deeper. Plus if you take too much damage from enemies, you might want to back out anyway, lest you die and lose some hard-earned money. A rhythm starts to emerge as you subconsciously assess risk and reward. Should I kill those enemies for experience and fuel, or tunnel around them and snatch the ore they're guarding? I've almost got enough money to upgrade my pickaxe, but would I rather top off my experience and level up? Little decisions like these keep exploration fresh.
That being said, the thing that really set the hook for me was SteamWorld Dig 2's abundant upgrades and collectibles. You're constantly showered in new stuff which often totally changes the way you approach exploration and combat. Buried machines routinely spit out new items and abilities—like a grenade launcher to break far-off blocks or a jackhammer to cut through tough blocks— which you can then upgrade with money earned by selling ore. And items can be further customized with mods, which are purchased with cogs found in optional caves and secret areas. There are also ancient statues to find and trade in for special mods, like one that destroys adjacent blocks whenever you harvest ore.
Everything feeds into everything else. You quickly wind up in this addictive, satisfying cycle of digging tunnels, finding loot, upgrading your gear and then digging more efficient and varied tunnels. You're incentivized to explore because upgrades are actually useful, and exploring gets you items that unlock new areas to explore. Nothing feels wasted. SteamWorld Dig 2 is gorgeous and tightly designed, and I'm looking forward to delving deeper.