At the heart of SteamWorld Dig 2 is a core mystery: what lies below the surface?
This question drives both the gameplay and the story. The mystery serves as both the narrative and mechanical driver, and the journey the game sends the player on is far less predictable than one might think.
Anyone who’s played similar games, or even played the previous SteamWorld Dig, might expect a consistent and foreseeable progression. While there is progress, the nature and pace of that progress is bound to catch the player off guard. The unlocks come fast, bestowing on Dorothy abilities that feel almost overpowered until the places where they are meant to be used are discovered.
The narrative, meanwhile, is kicked off by the misguided whims of a Trump-like mayor (there is no way this is a coincidence) who refuses to acknowledge obvious scientific evidence that the earthquakes his town is experiencing are man-made rather than natural. Some in the town are on to him. Others not so much.
On her journey, the determined Dorothy often collides with the borders of her map. She’s confronted by dead end after dead end, and left with few choices other than to find another way. Later, she uncovers new methods to dig even farther than before, blasting past what at first appeared to be dead ends. If she (or the player) chooses to dig meticulously, she may unlock more specific abilities that pay off later in unexpected ways. What she’s doing is paving the way to guarantee future victory whenever she is challenged.
At times, Dorothy’s torch dies, or her health is low, and she is forced to come to the surface. It’s here that she is, time and again, confronted by the Mayor and his town. As often as Dorothy is reminded of her weakness, she is also reminded of what drives her quest.
The metaphor is a little too obvious, but it’s also effective. Dorothy’s digging sends her on a wild-goose chase that leads her to wildly satisfying discoveries. She never really takes down the mayor, but that’s besides the point. She finds truth, upends deception, and ultimately uncovers the way toward safety and progress.
Beyond this, the gorgeous and varied mines of SteamWorld Dig 2 convey an even more startling and paradoxical truth. Even if the mayor is our primary enemy, the player’s impulse isn’t to grow bitter at him for forcing us to dig—in fact, we relish the opportunity. We find joy in the work of exposing corruption in the world. We begin to notice the beauty of the mines below us. Every time we go under, we experience wonder more than disgust.
Whatever lies below the surface, no matter what we dig up, is good and true. And it wants to be plunged into the light.