Like most things, Steamworld Dig 2 can be summarized by a Simpsons clip:
Usually when I play a game with such an unvarnished loop I bounce right off, making the arrogant assumption that my mind can't be manipulated so easily. SteamWorld Dig 2 is one of those rare games that reminds me that I can be fully enthralled by just the right kind of progression system. It says something good about the developers (or something bad about me) that I was hooked by a game that is essentially a labor simulator. That’s not a great pitch, but let me explain.
In SteamWorld Dig 2 there is a small story told about a town and the robot you control as she searches for the player character from the previous game. Most of the time that story is backgrounded so you can get to the real meat of the game, digging down to gather resources and turning them into more efficient digging. This is very similar to the first SteamWorld Dig but there are many small additions and tweaks to the movement, the upgrades, and the world itself. When I first saw a trailer, I’ll admit I was not impressed. It looked like more of the same from the first game and I didn't think "quality of life" improvements and a few new gadgets could hook me.
I was so wrong.
Image & Form have refined the loop in Dig 2 to a razor sharp point, and loops don't even have points! It feels like they calculated the ideal amount of time between upgrades for your pigtailed spelunkatron. They probably have some silly internal acronym for it like TTU: Time To Upgrade. The second I started getting bored of digging, I had enough rocks (sorry, minerals) to sell and then buy the next thing to make digging fun again.
The upgrades themselves mostly follow the path of turning a thing that is a pain early on into a thing you never have to think about. Lantern light depleting, running out of water, returning to town, and even dying are all pretty much non-issues after a few hours. That kind of stuff is welcome but removing things that aren't fun doesn't automatically add fun. Weird how that works. For a good time, you have the gadgets. A grappling hook, a steam grenade launcher, and a much improved steam jetpack make the already satisfying movement even better. More importantly, each one feels powerful. The first time you use a new tool, your mind races with new possibilities. That's the mark of a good upgrade.
I highly recommend grappling away from all your problems.
If you need a little break from the mindless digging, the slightly less mindless puzzle rooms are a welcome respite. Dig 2 never forgets the kind of game it is though, so none of these puzzles are too tough. I usually found myself standing still for a few minutes, having that a-ha moment, and getting right back to the grind. The challenges presented are just hard enough to make you feel good about solving them. Maybe not finishing-a-Rubik’s-Cube good, but at least finding-that-last-word-in-a-word-search good.
Every bit of SteamWorld Dig 2 is crafted to be satisfying. Despite being a “make the numbers go up” kind of game, it never disrespects your time. Earning or finding a new way to move around is rewarding, and by the end you feel like you’ve mastered the mine. Games with this kind of loot loop almost always make me feel a little dirty when I play them, like I’ve let my mind quit working and just hooked it to a dopamine IV. Dig 2 avoids this with a little challenge, a little choice, and by not sticking around too long. It’s well worth the handful of hours it asks for, and makes me keep my fingers crossed for a trilogy.