It’s awfully dark and my guard has gone way up. Yet, I bypass almost all manner of caution as the draw of unexplored territory continues to pull me under. Deeper than I ever thought my lungs could withstand.
There was a period in history when veering deeper into physically uncomfortable yet treasure-bearing climates was more reality than dream. I’ve long fantasized about such things, but in trying to put myself there, I can only imagine my dreams surviving in the absence of fear, even with an active desire for marvel.
With an entirely different motive, things wouldn’t be so uncontrollable.
When toils aren’t for mere personal fulfilment but instead to sponsor growth of a town, a community, an economy, reservations lessen for what you were dispatched to do. So you press forward, only to find that what should be energising — openness and relative freedom — actually constitute conditions defined by your foremost fears. Difference being, bowing under pressure is no longer an option.
Trading gaze-demanding treasures for wads of nothingness — a pocket full of sunshine for a fistful of dirt clods — is SteamWorld Dig. Thinking myself to be delirious and cowardly to accept entry to conditions I wouldn’t brave outside the game world, I quickly found myself wondering why it is that I welcome staggering through the dank quarters of a monolithic dungeon, yet am frightened to put myself in the abyssal confines of what is essentially a reverse tower with palatial-sized corridors.
I may be armed with the right supplies for navigation and health, but my biggest threat — excess freedom caused by exposed ground — transforms a case of get-in, get-out spelunking into a more thorough search. The thrill of what awaits me at the furthest depths should supply boundless motivation. But what I can only describe as selfishness prevents me from acting, feeling as though my arms were being twisted backward – to be subdued, and then thrown in against my will.
Indeed, the deeper I headed into the belly of the beast, the more my fears dispersed from my strong inclination to explore and absorb. After much resistance, my adventurous spirit had returned.
20,000 feet underground
Playing SteamWorld Dig feels like something out of Jules Verne’s mind, not only for being set in a steampunk universe, but because the experience resembles that of a deep-sea venture. As if taking on the role of a coal miner, the above-surface western plane acts as your hub, with three underground entry points and stations through which tool enhancements can be obtained, treasures can be appraised, and post-death tips are freely offered.
In scaling back its inner RPG drive, SteamWorld Dig maintains a superb disposition of subtle straightforwardness without being primitively linear. There’s the goal of “journeying to the centre of the Earth,” of course, but to reach this core much has to be accomplished and preserved along the way.
Dirt patches and slabs of rock are to be destroyed, not to reveal a set pathway, but to forge your own routes. The initial tedium of this — having to slash at material multiple times before it crumbles — is allayed very quickly through the provision of a snappier and more damaging pickaxe, introducing the prospect of added upgrades and less delayed navigation as the experience progresses.
Loot bags dropped by enemies and other collectibles are to be cashed in for shopping money, with more vendors setting up shop as the town’s market grows. After some time, tool upgrades will reach a benchmark where Orbs are also needed, found in more periodic supply down below. Water is another essential resource, by which some tools are powered and the later use of the Steam Jump ability relies on, requiring balance and cautioning against frilly use of your abilities.
But perhaps most essential of all these is light, for without it, you’re left with a view restrained to only what’s directly around you.