In Dig or Die you aren’t a space marine, the chosen one or a noble. You’re just a guy or gal trying to sell parts in outer space who crash-lands onto a particularly hostile planet. All alone save for the scrap metal of your crashed ship and a marginally helpful AI personality, you’ll have to use your surprisingly thorough knowledge of construction to make a shelter and survive. The premise from there is simple: survive the dangerous nights and build a ship to leave. While it doesn’t sound like much, and, at the end of the day, it really isn’t, the added narrative does a bit to separate Dig or Die from its more open-world focused kin in the genre.
The general UI and concept will look familiar to anyone who’s played any of the Minecraft inspired 2D platforming games. You’ll walk around, pick up resources, move resources between an inventory and action bar, and use those resources to build a base, defenses and eventually your ship. Unlike some of those other games, though, you won’t have to fiddle with different tools to mine and clear the environment. This is the future, after all, and your handy miniaturizer can make quick work of just about anything standing in your way. While this streamlines the process of play, there’s no doubt that keeping track of menus and boxes can be a bit much at first, especially for people like me who haven’t spent more than a few casual sessions with games like Terraria, Starbound etc. Related to this, one area I think Dig or Die could improve is in how it goes about teaching you to play. When you first start the game you’ll be prompted to scroll through some tutorial screens, but at seven pages they’re a little overwhelming, and looking/reading still images doesn’t do as good of a job sinking things into your brain as actually doing them. I’d love to see a short playable tutorial in a game like this which has a lot of options and elements to manage.
Build and Fight
One area in which Dig or Die sets itself apart from some other crafting games is that you’ll actually have to worry about the physics of anything you build above the ground. Without proper anchoring, things won’t be able to stand, forcing you to put a bit of thought into the actual structure of your base and defenses. It can definitely be annoying sometimes when you’re trying to reach a new platform or cross a gap only to have things fall down beneath you, but I like the idea overall. That won’t matter as much underground, though, as your parts “anchor” to the surrounding dirt. Water and fire (er, lava) will also have to be dealt with, and they work surprisingly well. You’ll have to pay attention to water in particular, whether coming from the sky or the ground, which can either ruin your playthrough or be harnessed to help.
I found combat to be a pleasant surprise. Far from the clunky afterthought I expected in a crafting platformer, shooting actually feels pretty nice. You’re able to craft a few different guns and each feels unique and useful. Moving and shooting feel tight and I never felt like I died because of floaty controls or wonky gunplay mechanics. This is a good thing, because you’ll be shooting a lot. There’s an interesting catch-22 when it comes to fighting the creatures in Dig or Die. Each night you’ll be attacked by waves of baddies. There won’t be much of a variety at first, though, because any given species won’t attack you until you’ve killed one of their kind. It creates an interesting balancing act which has you weigh the pros and cons of attacking any new creatures. Attacking something big and nasty means having to protect yourself from it, but it also might be the fastest way to get the resources you need. It’s a small touch that goes a long way to adding some unique identity to the game.
Not a Looker
While the game plays pretty well, I can’t say I particularly enjoyed looking at it. Simple pixel graphics can certainly have their charm, but that isn’t the case here. The environments and character models are simple, and most look fairly muddied. Monster design wasn’t bad, per se, but nothing really blew me away either, and none of the animations are very detailed or fluid. Things seem to kind of just move around the screen without a sense of weight. Graphics aren’t particularly important in a game like this, and they don’t detract from the core gameplay, but I certainly wouldn’t have complained if things were a bit more crips or engaging to look at.
Dig or Die isn’t going to revolutionize the genre, and I don’t think it’ll turn into an indie darling the way games like Terraria have. That being said, it’s a fun game that’s worth sinking a few lazy nights into. The largely procedurally generated nature of the (surprisingly big) playable map keeps things fresh for multiple playthroughs after death, which is good, because you’ll quickly find Dig or Die living up to the second half of its name.
Slight narrative focus adds direction, construction physics add a twist to building, having to kill an enemy for them to attack you at night adds a layer of strategy to progression.
Tutorial needs a revamp, graphics leave a lot to be desired.