Dig or Die takes an open-ended survival game genre and marries it to a wave-based defense game. What comes out of the pairing is a unique game that hits on a lot of the right notes. On the surface level Dig or Die can feel pretty run of the mill but the more you play the more the unique stands this game out from the crowd.
Unlike many survival crafting game Dig or Die opens with a simple goal in mind. You are stranded on a strange alien planet and must build a rocket to escape. I found this an interesting twist on the more open-ended games. Despite being procedurally generated there is also certain handcrafted portions of the game designed to give a certain direction and narrative. If you get a little lost on what to do there is even a downed ship AI that will give you hints. Progress far enough and you can even craft a little drone to bring the AI with you.
The 2D side-scrolling view seems like a standard take on the survival genre as well, but as you quickly learn the movement has a much more action-oriented feel. Unlike similar games such as Terraria or Starbound, combat feels like it was thought to be an integral part of Dig or Die, instead of a means to an end. The game features only ranged weaponry and the guns you can craft all feel unique from each other. Even the basic pea shooter style gun feels well equipped to handle the early game. Firing with the mouse-aim allows you to keep on the move while still hitting your shots. Guns have no ammo limits but can overheat if fired for too long. A prolonged fire also slows down the rate of fire of most weapons as well. I found myself enjoying the combat more than I have with most other survival style games. It felt very snappy and precise in a very good way.
The platforming and movement flow just as well as the combat. Your character feels like they are pulled from a solid platforming game. They can move quickly, jump high, and swim at a clip that makes the traversal an enjoyable experience. With other similar games, I often found the movement to be slow and plodding. Characters often feel like an afterthought to the bigger design challenge of the procedural world. The controls and movement are even more important in Dig or Die because when night falls here the monsters don’t just come out, the hunt you down.
Every night in Dig or Die you will be bombarded by waves of enemies, so quickly crafting shelter, turrets, and new weapons will be key to surviving the brutal nights. Even deeper than that, you will increase the difficulty of these nights through your actions in the game. Every time you kill an enemy of a new species, that enemy type will also start to show up overnight. This means you ratchet up the difficulty as you see fit. There is also a certain pressure to defeat certain creatures as they will be the only thing that drops a resource you may need to upgrade to a new fabricator which will bring you one step closer to getting off the planet. I found this mechanic really added tension to exploration and upgrading equipment as the power was always in your hand to either bring that challenge or find a way around taking out enemies in your way.
Dig or Die stands out from others even in its environmental physics. Each block has mass and weight. If you build on a background tile, like digging underground, your structures and blocks will be anchored. Their weight is supported and unless something destroys them they will stay there. While building outside of that will start to incur issues with weight and tension. You can only build a platform of concrete so long before those holding it up start to crack and shake. Putting too much onto it without support holding it up will crumble the structure. On top of that, the game has very realistic and quick flowing liquid physics.
Water in Dig or Die rushes and moves in a way I haven’t seen often in games that pride themselves so much on block-based physics. During the day and night cycle, periodic moving rain showers will pour water onto the world, and the movement of it means you could create and drain pools quickly, and power certain base defenses with water power. When lava flows from place to place it isn’t a slow-moving change in blocks, it is a force to be reckoned with. Even digging through the ground you find that water will filter out of the soil and flow through caves you’ve made. I only wish this unique weather system had been used in a few more interesting ways such as lightning storms or sandstorms.
While the premise of Dig or Die is a common one I wish a little more time had been spent early game tutorializing some aspects of the game in a more unique way. When you first drop into a new game there is a pop-up that is nothing more than a few static pages of the basic controls and premise of the game. The AI ship that you can interact with is helpful, but only to a degree until you can build a drone for it so it can attack some enemies.
The only other area I wish could have been improved upon was the graphics. The characters are fairly standard pixel characters and enemies feel about the same. A few frames of animation are the best you can hope for. There are enough trappings in this game that stand out functionally, but the game still feels like it could have used a more unique art style to really stand out in a genre that his a large selection of similar looking choices. It’s easy to overlook the more unique aspects of this game when it looks like many other games in early access currently.
Overall Dig or Die brings a lot to the table that you don’t often see in standard survival crafting games. A wave-based survival game every night, a fun physics playground, a unique building sim, and a solid action platform shooter. I’ve already sunk countless hours in the pursuit of escape. If you’re a fan of the genre, I would highly recommend trying this one out.
Note: GameOctane received a digital code from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing this game. Any code or product intended for reviews is distributed to the team to review and stream for our audience.
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Snappy fast paced platforming controls
Unique liquid physics simulations
Interesting difficulty progression set by player
Graphics still look early access
Could use better tutorialization
More could be done with the story aspect of the game