Deep Rock Galactic: The Intricacies of Storytelling

We constantly strive for context and meaning in our own world, and this desire seeps its way into the games that we play as well. Even if it is not provided for us, we are unconsciously compelled to seek it out. Therein lies a crucial part of crucial part of storytelling that one may overlook if they are shepherded down a narrow, predetermined path as is common in most story-driven games. It is only through the absence of this path that we may be able to fully appreciate the finer details of the world around us and what happens within it. These details form an integral aspect of a game’s storytelling capability, and when they’re done well, will capture the imagination akin to how a well-done plotline can.

Diving Deep

Deep Rock Galactic is a four-player co-op FPS, the debut title of Danish studio Ghost Ship Games. Players take on the role of dwarven space miners on the payroll of the eponymous mining company and tasked with the extraction of valuable resources from beneath the surface of Hoxxes IV. From their orbital platform high above the planet, the dwarves select their mission and deployed down into fully destructible, procedurally-generated cave networks of varied size & complexity with various objectives to complete within. Hampering them in their work lie a series of hazards that include, but are not limited to: little light, cramped spaces, sheer drops, flame vents, smoldering rock, earthquakes, exploding plants, sandstorms, ice storms, lightning-arcing crystals, poisonous fungus, sticky goo, ionizing radiation, acid-spitting flies, and a race of extremely hostile arachnoid aliens known as the Glyphid. Braving all of this and completing the objectives usually leads to a final, desperate sprint back to a randomly determined extraction point with a horde of angry spiders in tow before a five-minute cut off point. When they reach the pod, it takes off and returns to the space rig, wherein another mission may be chosen.

And that’s the lot of it.

Fan art by Tim Murray.

There is no traditional story mode in Deep Rock Galactic. The closest thing there is lies at the very start & very end. You are welcomed as a new employee of D.R.G & walked through a simple mission in order to be cleared for further work in the form of an Assignment: a series of designated missions with unique rewards for completing them. You progressively unlock more mission types and regions of the planet and are fully welcomed aboard upon completing the whole series. This is the most one gets of a firm narrative until a dwarf manages to reach level 25, which requires a substantial amount of gameplay to achieve. These bookends are all the structured narrative to be had.

But it is not all the narrative.

Stone to Steel to Stars

Deep Rock Galactic manages to tell its story via the world you play in rather than through a structured journey. It all stems out from the obvious: dwarves have achieved space travel and are now a galactic power. How long they have been capable of this is never stated, but certain details help hone it down. First, they’ve reached a point in advancement past our own, able to construct large, sophisticated orbital structures above planets other than their own. It is also within the capacity of a private company instead of a national government; both feats beyond our current capabilities. You may also observe several PSA screens across the station which read “Space Rig 17”, implying that there exists at least 16 other rigs akin to it. These tidbits all tell that space habitation is extensive and routine; it is nothing new and seen as an extension of terrestrial dwarven civilization. Speaking of civilizations, very few are mentioned within the context of the game. One can gleam that other races – namely elves and humans – exist and are known to the dwarves, gleamed through a couple of cosmetics descriptions and a brand of non-alcoholic, “buzzkill” beer called “Leaf Lover’s”. But there’s a deafening silence on the matter otherwise; one never sees or hears from someone who isn’t a dwarf. It speaks to an insular instinct amongst the dwarven race; more interested in what’s theirs over what’s others. That is, unless what you have is particularly valuable to them…

A less-than-subtle jab at elven expense.

Company Audit

The namesake company of the game (which shall be referred to as D.R.G from herein) manages to relay aspects of the world to the players. D.R.G is a mining company first and foremost, and the most basic premise of the game is that they have hired the player characters to extract resources from Hoxxes IV, a planet that ‘their competitors’ are not willing to work on due to the world’s intense hostility. This alone demonstrates that there exists a lively capitalist spirit in future dwarven society, one that you witness at its most extreme via your employers. The zeal demonstrated by D.R.G in their pursuit of Hoxxes’ wealth is nothing short of extraordinary. They exhibit an intensive possessiveness of the planet, seeing it as property with which they may do whatever they please. This is in spite of the fact that Hoxxes already possesses native life of its own; life that has inhabited the planet for countless millennia and has evolved to survive in its bizarre biosphere. But to D.R.G, they are treated as pests to exterminate, perhaps even specimens to be experimented on. As part of which, the dwarves come equipped with a myriad of weapons that, while extremely effective, cause pause for thought on the grounds of morality. Flamethrowers, neurotoxic gas, mines, hollow-point ammunition, poisoned bullets, clustered and incendiary explosives – all banned by international law in our world due to the inordinate suffering they cause – are fair game for the dwarves. No mention is made to similar treaties in-game, but at the very least, one can tell that no mercy is bequeathed upon the aliens of Hoxxes. In every mission, they’re the principal enemy whom are to be ruthlessly and quickly dispatched, and on some they are the primary target. The dwarves may be dispatched for the express reason of killing a certain type of Glyphid called Dreadnoughts, before they grow large enough to interfere in company operations. On other occasions, they may be sent to collect Glyphid eggs from nests, with their contact at Mission Control insisting “Don’t ask why.” In both scenarios, alongside every other, the Glyphid and other native life are granted no quarter as D.R.G descends on their home, which as far as the dwarves are concerned, is their honeypot now.

The moral character of D.R.G is also evident in their actions towards the dwarves themselves. Whilst not outright malevolent, one may observe a certain avarice in their interactions with employees. In example, the dwarves may run low on ammunition & supplies during a mission and require more. D.R.G is capable of rapidly deploying a supply pod which can burrow through the ground and arrive in a precise location with supplies for all the dwarves. But D.R.G will only ever do so once the dwarves have collected a sufficient amount of Nitra, a harvestable red crystal found in the caves. Otherwise they will be left out to languish, even if their situation is dire. It’s never explicitly stated why this is a company policy, but it carries negative implication for D.R.G; that they will only supply their employees with potentially life-saving supplies if they make it worth their while. Another disquieting example appears near the conclusion of missions wherein the dwarves must return to the drop pod for extraction. When the drop pod arrives, it will call back the dwarves’ M.U.L.E: an unmanned droid where the party stores their collected goods. The drop pod will depart the caves once the M.U.L.E and dwarves get on board. But two aspects of this process warrant attention: the fact that the dwarves are not allowed into the drop pod if the M.U.L.E hasn’t docked (the only exception being if the M.U.L.E hasn’t arrived by fifteen seconds prior to launch), and the fact that the pod will leave the dwarves behind if they do not reach it within five minutes. Both these facts contribute to D.R.G’s image as being greedy and materialistic; unwilling to leave valued cargo but content to abandon living employees if said cargo is sufficiently threatened. All of this is discerned not through any action on the game’s part, but is capable of being casually observed in the world in which the players inhabit. It is shown, rather than told.

Background Checks

The final and most intimate element of storytelling in-game are the dwarves themselves. As before, little is stated about the characters you play. Once again, the details lie just below the surface. The game starts with the dwarves joining the company as ‘Greenbeards’ and working their way up the ladder through the missions they complete. From this, one may discern that the dwarves just made a career change. Even though what career they’re departing is also never directly stated, there exists a clue in a less-than-obvious place. When browsing the accessories shop to customize the dwarves’ appearances, there’s a beret hat one may equip whose description reads “A reminder of your service.” Berets are typically associated with military outfits such as the U.S Green Berets, which leads to the conclusion that the dwarves are former soldiers or even retired special forces operators.

This notion is reinforced by their familiarity and aptitude with military-grade weaponry. The ability to effectively wield a minigun or automatic turret sentries typically elude the wider population. There’s also the fact that, despite working beneath the surface of an incredibly hostile alien world for a morally-dubious corporation more interested in the riches of the world than the wellbeing of its employees, the dwarves are remarkably calm. Their banter sounds like that which one may have with their own co-workers in real life:

“Goddammit, there’s a pebble in my boot.”

“When we get back, it’s sandwich time.”

“That guy at Mission Control…he really has a cozy job!”

“Move your tin ass over here and hurry, please!”

If you read this without context, would you think it the idle chatter of intergalactic dwarven space miners on a planet full of alien spiders? This tranquility in the face of danger is a defining characteristic of the dwarves, one that is further demonstrated in a curious quirk of theirs. When on a mission, and one presses the reload button when their weapon is already fully loaded, their character will instead play with it. They may twirl it in the air, spin a spare tank of fuel for their flamethrower, spin the barrels of their minigun, balance a bullet on its tip, etc. The fact that they do this conveys a confident and calm state-of-mind; someone in a dire life-or-death situation fearing for their life would not think to see if they can twirl their revolver around their finger. Such casual & playful acts help paint the dwarves’ personalities in an unspoken way; they feel little danger, and are fully expecting to make it back for cold ones.

Going for the record here.

Assessment Time

Taken all together, one can begin to see a tapestry of narrative woven all throughout the world of Deep Rock Galactic. It’s a world far past our own, wherein the stars themselves are the limit of ambition. To reach up towards them is a great peril, but what may be found there is beyond the grasp of the earthbound. Such promise will draw forth only the most daring of companies and individuals; those willing to eschew near any boundary for their chance at a better life. And in their ranks stand our former men-at-arms; their service long behind them, but the fighting spirit still burns bright within them. They’re not ready to lay in leisure just yet…They’ve got checks to cash.

The full power of storytelling can only be wielded if one utilizes all its aspects. When used well, it may become unnecessary to tell much of anything. Deep Rock Galactic is a game that tells little but can still say a lot. Its deceptively simple premise conceals a deeper narrative that goes largely unspoken. Perhaps therein is its greatest strength; its low-key tone implies that it is simply par for the course within the context of its universe. It’s all background noise to the daily routines of working men, one of whom has gotta go down that tunnel full of hissing noises first, so who’s it gonna be?

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Posted on by
Contributing writer for The Artifice.
Edited by J.D. Jankowski.

Want to write about Games or other art forms?

Create writer account


  1. Watters

    Great piece on explaining the game of its core concept. Articles like these are what helps people get a clear mindset feel of what Deep Rock Galactic is. Rock and Stone, brother.

  2. Noe Baum

    This is really drilling home my desire to buy this game.

  3. Leonida

    This looks amazing! How have I not heard of this before now? The Artifice for the WIN! <3

  4. Jennimo

    I really liked it, I loved the atmosphere and it felt like each class mattered. Unfortunately all of my friends kind of bounced off of it and I couldn’t get any to commit after the free weekend. I keep hoping it will get added to the game pass but until that or it comes in a humble.

    Coop games just seem like tough sells these days, I feel like most of my friends(and I) burnt themselves out on L4D2 and nothing since has had the same staying power. I still dabble though(Vermintide, Contagion, Helldivers,DRG,etc.) hoping to recreate that magic again…

    • I love all things dwarf and I bounced off this pretty quickly. I had 2 problems:

      1. Some of the classes felt like straight downgrades to others. The guy with the shootable platform for example, was just a worse Scout.

      2. The terrible map and the frequency of being reduced to the equivalent of a pixel hunt to find the last piece of ore.

      If they’ve fixed those things, I could definitely be persuaded to try it again.

      • Yes, they did.

        The guy with the platform (engineer) is a really useful class with the highest kill count and best utility grenade. While the scout is agile, no one can use his mobility, while the engineer makes platform for everyone. Scout and Engineer is the best duo in the game because the scout can grapple to hard-to-reach veins but he will fall and die if the engineer does not give him platform. This is what means a good co-op game design. The balance between characters is really good compared to other co-op games. If one class is missing, you will definitely feel it during missions.

        Pixel hunt wasn’t a thing in the first place. There are so much ore on the maps you will even leave some of them without digging, because you are already done with the mission goals and yet there are still ores around. If you can’t find minerals in the dark, your scout does not do his job: make light in the caves and mark things to mine.

        If you think the maps are terrible, it is not changed. However the maps are something that everyone who plays loves. The generator makes beautiful, complex, sometimes chaotic caverns which adds insane replayability to exploration feeling for at least 150 hrs.

    • majorlariviere

      I believe that this game managed a feat that many don’t consider the difficulty of: reinventing an old formula. It has the L4D chassis, but has enough unique new elements to make the genre feel fresh again. It’s much scarier and more tense than it’s predecessors, and a model for innovation. I’d encourage you to try it again! 🙂

  5. Camelia

    This looks pretty interesting. I feel like there are not enough games where you and a team go and “do a thing” besides kill another team of dudes just like you. I like some co-op “us against the world” type adventures.

  6. More games should implement “light management” and complete darkness. My favorite is the old X-Com and TFTD. Maps that are not really interesting to play, get absolutely atmospheric and immersive when shrouded in darkness…

    Another great example: The “Valley of Defilement” in Demons Souls!

    • Yeah, I really like this game a lot. Ultimately – this has been my go to game recently. The light effects are really where it’s at and thus why I always want to play Scout so much more than any other class. The procedural generation is pretty good too, I think it just needs a bunch of tweaking and more unexpected interesting random stuff involved with it like hidden caverns, hidden special resources, maybe relics/artifacts, ruins that tell a story etc etc. Well worth the investment.

  7. I really like your gaming articles. Wow.

  8. I really like the idea of this game. I enjoy dwarves, and mining, and space.

    • Sharilyn

      Really loving this game as well. I am super hesitant to play games with Randos online, but all the games I’ve played of Deep Rock Galactic (with voice chat off) have been really good! It doesn’t help other people for you to die, so there’s an incentive to help out other characters, and communicating through gesture is pretty easy

  9. Steffanie

    Tried it with a friend last night on XB1, was fun, however it might be because we really had no idea what we were getting into, found that getting ammo reloaded was near to impossible. So we died. Alot.

    • majorlariviere

      1. A lot of the caves are fairly linear, and the terrain scanner is extremely useful to help find your way.

      2. You get ammo by harvesting Nitra, a jagged blood-red crystal which you use to call in supplies.

      3. I’d start on the “Challenging” difficulty, as the gaps between the settings can be quite severe.

      I hope this is enough to get you to try it again! 😉

  10. Great article. You convinced me to play my first session of this game and I loved it. Luckily a random player joined our squad and helped us work together… it doesn’t exactly hold your hand. Can’t wait to play more!

  11. The main issue my wife and I had was a severe lack of progression. The core game is great, but needed borderland gun options and more variation in enemies.

  12. Glennis

    Ok, I don’t get it. I played the tutorial and it just felt ‘meh’ though the game performs beautifully . Is there more to it than mining procedurally generated levels and killing hordes of monsters? I’m totally up for coop action and have been enjoying Vermintide 2 a lot this last few weeks.

    Genuine question: what am I missing? I’m clearly missing something as people I trust really enjoy the game but so far I don’t see a hook – just grind?

    • Read the article, it outlined this very well. It gets really intense and complex. The alien types are nicely varied (the flying jerks that like to lift you high into the air and drop you on rocks are evil), and there’s lots of environment types.

      Sometimes it’ll be a claustrophobic tunnel crawl where you can establish chokepoints, other times you’ll be in a verdant cavern full of glowing plants where swarms could come from any direction, and mining requires careful navigation with ziplines, temporary platforms and improvised staircases.

      It’s like trying to build stuff in Minecraft while also playing Left 4 Dead at the same time.

      • Glennis

        Thanks for answering. Sounds cool. I’ll give it another crack. And amazing article!

  13. Smarter

    I really like the look of it but will I get enough out of it solo? The likelihood of me gathering friends to buy it and play it with any regularity are slim to none.

    • I think I would still find enjoyment out of it in solo mode because I really like exploring the caves, plus you aren’t totally alone they have a robot named Bosco who only comes out to help if you play solo. He’s not a dummy either pretty smart and a good companion. Literally everything is better in multiplayer though and I haven’t ran into a bad group yet but I do still play solo from time to time even with that opinion

    • majorlariviere

      I’ve played almost exclusively in Solo mode and have great fun with it! I strongly advise AGAINST playing with random players though, as I’ve found few will communicate or work together, all the while the game spawns in more monsters for more players. And Bosco is probably the most helpful AI companion in any game I’ve played. Solo is totally worth your time. 🙂

      • Cleotilde

        This game is totally geared towards co-operation – with anyone – I bought it to play with friends, but found I actually preferred playing with random people! Just solo it till you get a hang of the game, then jump into the multiplayer. The game has a weird camaraderie, you don’t have to communicate at all if you don’t want to because the in-game salute has a few barks (“Rock and Stone Brother!” for example) and you can equip a laser pointer which together pretty much cover you for any necessary interaction: Point and grunt, it’s the Dwarven way! You can drop in and out easily as the missions are rarely longer than 20-40 mins, and it’s a blast even if you fail – no time-commitment, organising, or friends are needed.

  14. I do enjoy storytelling in video games – it’s so different from other things of storytelling in media.

  15. Been playin for bout two years now. Best game i played in a while…two years while in fact. Its got everything i want, destructible enviroment, customization, destructible enemies, replayability. Everything. For me at least…but goddamn its worth the money

  16. 1000 hours and counting. I have everything but some cosmetics and STILL like playing it most every day if even for a mission or 2. Play the engineer the most, guess I would call him main though put lots of time in all the classes, they are all awesome in their own ways.

  17. Been pretty tempted on this one since release, was leaning on waiting till summer sale to save a fiver maybe. I’m a sucker for any game with a turret class and some friendly coop but a bit tight on money and not playing many games lately.

  18. Bought it a few days ago and there is literally no other game like it that I’ve played…

    Do you like atmospheric caves with randomization and multiple biomes? Then this game is for you! Do you like exploring with a side of combat? Then this game is for you! Do you like witty dwarves who dance and drink? Then this game is for you! Do you like exploiting the resources from a planet pissing off primitive alien creatures? Then this game is for you! Do you like explosions and cool dwarven tech? Then this game is for you!

  19. This is my favorite co-op game of the century. And now you don’t even have to believe me how good it is, you can go see it for yourself!

  20. My wife and I played this at PAX some year back and loved it as a co-op. Recommend it if you enjoy team strategy games.

  21. Pinckney

    How hard is the game? Me and the spouse are both avid cavers and this looks like it would interest us. Alas, she doesn’t really have the FPS player skillset, but if you had a mode where monsters appear really infrequently, I bet we’d both love this.

    • Aleisha

      You can choose the difficulty level on every mission – higher difficulties offer greater rewards. The lowest standard difficulty is pretty easy – enemies are not that tough and don’t swarm very often – so two people (of whom one is passingly competent) should be able to manage. There’s a “tourist mode” difficulty which I’ve never tried – the UI alleges you don’t get any rewards from such missions. It sounds like it might be what you’re looking for if you just want to explore some procedurally generated tunnels though.

      Each class has different movement-based equipment. The scout has a personal grappling hook they can use to zip around; the engineer has a platform gun that can place platforms to stand/climb on; the gunner has a zipline gun which places a permanent powered zipline (though there’s a maximum angle it can handle beyond which it will not place); and the digger has powered drills to chew holes in the terrain at velocity (everyone has a pickaxe for mining valuables, but using pickaxes to dig tunnels is slow going). The closest you can get to hanging ropes for rappelling is the gunner’s zipline, but it can’t take you straight up or down.

  22. Kimbery

    This game is pretty much a mixture of Minecraft & Team Fortress 2. Two of my favorite games, & this game is definetley on my wish list.

  23. I’ve never in my life seen a early access title with so much polish, love and care that these devs have shown. They listen to the players, they don’t scam players with microtransactions like every other game developer and I’ve been playing since update 15 and every bit of new content has been free and not hidden behind a Paywall

  24. This does look fun, but sadly the group of friends I used to play L4D etc. with drifted apart. I know this one can be played solo, but it’s usually not the same.

    • majorlariviere

      The solo experience in this game is extremely good; it helps lend it towards being something of a horror game. Plus, you have a drone named Bosco who tags along, and he is perhaps the most helpful AI companion I’ve ever seen. I think it’s worth your time! 🙂

  25. Stovall

    I’ve put almost 600 Hours into the game now, and not once have I felt a need to put the game down, I am always itching to get back into those Caves and do another Mission. I am normally not a hard game kinda guy, I like a challenge now and again, but I rarely play on more than Medium Difficulty. Yet Deep Rock keeps pushing me to play on harder modes and I love it! Never looked back since! So Rock and Stone!

  26. The game is honestly fantastic and the devs put a ridiculous amount of support into it. I’ve played for 20 hours or so and I’m miles off the level required to begin the Deep Dive missions. There is an obscene amount of content now.

  27. I’ve given the trial a go with friends but I’m finding the lack of ammo extremely frustrating, you’re frequently being attacked then a swarm will usually completely drain all your ammo. The resource for the supply drops seem quite rare and even then, only reloaded a quarter of my ammo.

    • majorlariviere

      If you can’t find the Nitra on the walls, there are creatures called loot bugs all over the place that give it when you kill them…if you can bring yourself to kill something so immensely cute, you monster. 😉

  28. Carmine

    This looks super fun. Too bad I gave away my Xbox One to my cousins.

  29. This looks like a blast!

  30. Bought this on sale like 2 weeks back and have really been enjoying it, as someone who rarely plays multiplayer online games.

  31. I spent about half an hour with it before deciding to buy it. It’s great fun, pretty decent in solo even. Been having good fun playing with randoms too, unfortunately my game keeps freezing so I’m hoping I can get that fixed.

  32. Picked this up a little while back, been really enjoying it. The community’s remarkably friendly, it’s definitely not a “only with friends” coop game IMO.

  33. Ka Lowell

    This is consensually the best co-op game ever according to my co-op buddies.

  34. I really dig this game, pun intended. Its atmosphere sits snugly between Metroid Prime and the Caustic Caverns from Borderlands 2, and mechanically it’s tight and fun. Most impressive though is its tiny footprint. Thanks to an almost complete eschewal of textures, it takes up less than two gigs of HD space, and has ridiculously fast loading times and modest system requirements, despite some pretty damn elaborate (if still somewhat buggy) procedural map generation.

  35. I’m picky as hell, but this ticks all the boxes – skill is rewarded, but you can make do without. Theme and looks are awesome (not to mention gpu friendly) and the pacing is great. Do stuff, have a little action, do stuff…

    Then risk it all in the end when your mule leaves you to bite the dust in the end.

    Good show. More like this, please. Sorry, having guns while you mine in space is more fun. And dwarves. Dwarves are fun.

  36. Seebär

    My favorite part of the lore and the storytelling is Karl. It is a name mentioned with pride and respect in the game, but there is almost no information about him. However, the community has fully accepted and expanded this myth, speculating the hell out of Karl and what might has happened to him. The most hilarious outcome beeing a list of Chuck Norris style rumors about the most epic dwarf to ever set foot on Hoxxes.

  37. The voice for mission control is absolutely perfect, always a picture of calm efficiency even while you and your team and running for their lives. It really hammers home the fact that, as soon as your quota’s in the mule, the mission is basically over as far as he’s concerned

  38. Joseph Cernik

    A good essay. I’m not much into playing these games, but it is interesting to read how thy have developed since the 1990s.

  39. Gage

    Deep Rock Galactic is such a special game. One that, no matter how long I spend away from it, I can always come back to it like a warm cup of coffee. Truly a comfort game. I really like how you explain that much of the story in the game comes down to how we perceive it. A new player might think a lot of the dialogue is just idle banter meant to lighten the mood, but over time, it’s hard to ignore many of the implications.

Leave a Reply