Some gamers were a little untrusting when Microsoft launched their Early Access program. For those of you unfamiliar with the system, Microsoft allow developers to release an unfinished game, who then carry out the final stretch of development with gamers actively playing it. In return gamers get to buy the game cheaper than a full retail release and can have a small amount of influence on the games final trajectory. Deep Rock Galactic is part of that program, is it a shameless cash in to get gamers to play a buggy mess or is it a genuine attempt to form the final parts of the game in a public arena? Spoiler alert: the game is a real unpolished gem.

The game puts you in the shoes of a dwarf who has been employed to mine asteroids. You pick a class, choose a mission and then head out with up to 3 other players and must mine a certain amount of a specific mineral. The game plays out as part platformer, part puzzle game and part first person shooter. You need to find paths up to the minerals or form tunnels with your trusty mining pick. Or you could use your characters special move to aid you. Gunners can install zip lines, engineers can use a gun that creates platforms, the scout has a grappling hook and the driller, well, drills. Mined materials are placed in your trusty robot companion M.U.L.E, which serves as a portable storage unit.

As you are exploring the caverns you will encounter arachnid alien enemies who will attack you. These enemies in isolation are not really a problem and are quickly killed. The challenge comes when mission control inform you of a swarm. A swarm is a huge wave of arachnid of various shapes and sizes doing their utmost to destroy you. This can happen several times in a mission. To add to the challenge the game isn't very generous with ammo and you can easily find yourself running out. You can mine a resource called nitra which allows you to call in a supply drop giving you additional ammo. The difficulty is the longer you spend looking for nitra the longer the mission, meaning even more swarms to contend with. Once you have found the relevant resources you have to evacuate, you push a button on the M.U.L.E and then follow it back to a drop pod for extraction. During this period you face the equivalent of a never ending swarm.

Light also plays a significant role in the game. Your dwarf is equipped with a head torch which only lights a very small area in front of you. You can carry up to three flares which can be thrown to illuminate the area. Flares do recharge in your inventory meaning you do have a relatively constant supply, but in return thrown flares don't last long at all.

Strangely enough the game reminds me of the Left 4 Dead games. Whilst Deep Rock Galactic has a more indie low polygon aesthetic instead of the gloomy and realistic Left 4 Dead style, the gameplay experience is very similar. There is panic and frustration and if you separate from other players you could quickly and easily be killed.

I personally find the game quite challenging, but in a good way. The times that i've been slaughtered have normally been caused by not taking the swarms seriously. The game feels more achievable when played as a group as you can rely on a variety of gadgets to help you through. In fact the times i've enjoyed the game the least have been my attempts at playing solo. When playing with strangers the game does give a number of communication tools outside of the regular voice chat. Players can ping their location and also place markers using their handheld scanners.

One area that the game absolutely nails is the use of sound. The soundtrack adds a huge amount of suspense and wonder to the game. It seems inspired by some of the background music found in the hit series Stranger Things which itself is highly regarded in terms of its musical style. It's not just the music that gets it right, the voices in the game have character and add to the overall feel. The game does have a lighthearted feel which is almost exclusively delivered through the use of funny voice lines.

The main technical issue i have experienced with the game is players dropping through lag. Every game i've played so far has ended in either myself or my gaming partner suffering severe lag or being dropped from the game completely due to losing the server connection. In fact 45 minutes into my first game i was dropped and therefore lost all materials and xp. It wouldn't have felt as bad if I'd walked away with something. This is exactly the kind of issue i expect to be ironed out during the early access process.

My main issues with the game relate to the content and structure. Clases feel a little short on customisation and it also feels like there should be more classes. I would like to see alternative weapons or a choice of gadgets. A skill tree would be an excellent addition to the game. The game's structure outside of the mission is poorly put together. You get to choose from a small selection of missions that rotate after a period of time. The system feels like it lacks structure and meaningful progression. Again this is something that could be addressed before too long. Also the environments don't feel as varied as they could be. Despite their being different types of environment everything does feel a little samey and familiar. It would be nice to see a wider variety of environments and include man/alien made structures. It would also be nice to occasionally see the surface of the asteroid, though i doubt the game has been coded with that in mind. Also, whilst there are a number of different types of arachnid, it would be nice to see a completely different type of enemy to mix things up. I can easily see the developer delivering most of what i feel the game is missing so i have no real concerns about that. If they fail to add in more content and variety then the game could lack longevity and the lack of a more traditional structure would almost certainly put off a very large number of gamers.

Despite the niggles I have with the game, the feeling you get when evacuating to the escape pod at the end of the mission is nothing short of thrilling. In fact the game does a fantastic job of getting the adrenaline pumping where it needs to.

As early access titles go Deep Rock Galactic is a definite success. A game that is enjoyable, and for the most part stable, is a sign that the developers have chosen the right stage to deliver the early access to members of the gaming public.. As I've stated above the game needs to be fleshed out before it could be considered a complete experience but that appears to be the developers aim. I really hope they achieve this because based on my playtime so far, Deep Rock Galactic could be a highly respected and enjoyable game. The game is a huge credit to both the developers and the early access program and i hope to see more success from both in the future.