Tower Defence games are some of my favourite and most satisfying games to play and now they are starting to borrow or merge other genres of games into them to keep the genre fresh. Digs does this with its innovative approach to mining and dungeon exploration, meaning you’ll need to tunnel out a path to place your towers inside. It brings a unique experience to the genre but does comes with a few caveats with its harsh all or nothing approach.
Each level in Digs starts out as a small space with a wheelbarrow of gold inside that you need to protect. Depending on the difficulty you’ll need to keep the gold safe for a certain amount of enemy waves and you can move it anywhere so long as enemies still have a clear path to reach the gold and steal it. The problem is your inside a mountain and so you’ll need to tunnel the gold into a safe space. You’ll do this in between turns by mining the outer edge of stone blocks and in doing so something will be revealed underneath. Every time you mine something or trigger a special action (more on those later) you create noise and when that runs out, the next wave of enemies will attack. Survive, dig, rearrange and repeat. This is the flow of Digs.
As you mine you’ll notice there are several types of block you’ll come across. There are blank blocks that will reveal either an empty floor space or solid rock that you can’t break up, thus creating problems to work around. You’ll have crystal blocks with grant you a crystal tower and orb blocks that provide orb towers. These attack enemies in their starter state but are quite weak and require upgrading to better towers. These better towers can be found by mining upgrade blocks. These generate 3 random upgrades you’ve unlocked on the overall skill tree to pick from. Largely crystal blocks attack and orb blocks create areas of effect like ice or flame. Each special tower has very unique range, attack and speed stats and working with what you’ve got and adapting your path to match it is key to winning in Digs. There are also trap blocks that give you traps to place on the path enemies take like spikes, ice, poison or lava. Lastly there are chance blocks that might give you a bonus upgrade or curse you by giving the enemy a random advantage. This is tricky because after each round of enemies, the enemies receive a random bonus upgrade themselves. This could be more health, speed, an extra portal to spawn enemies, bonus bosses, destroying one of your towers… there is a lot to choose from. The stakes get high and the competition more plentiful and stronger as the battle rages on. Making your path as long as possible is key and the last block type helps that as it just leaves a pile of rubble that will either get in your way or you can use it as a wall.
Aside from mining your own path and having to constantly deal with the immediate choice infront of you, Digs forces you to rebuild your entire paths constantly. You cannot wed yourself to an idea or strategy as a new enemy portal will open right next to your gold and so that big long tunnel you’ve made is now useless. It pays to try and open up big spirals or snakes of paths to rearrange towers inside to try and stop the enemies advancing. Largely, this keeps the game fresh and interesting as you always have to consider – is this path still the right one to have? The flipside is that sometimes the camera zooms in and out like a banshee and can be fiddly to control. You also have to move towers into valid spaces to actual rearrange things and there is no way to just remove something off the playing area and then relay it. This means rearranging can be a royal pain and sometimes Digs keeps telling you a placement is invalid on larger levels as it doesn’t seem to keep up with you.
Whilst I enjoyed the challenge of Digs, I found that its all or nothing approach and over reliance on RNG meant that I wasted a lot of time on zero progress. Sometimes a run generates 7 enemy portals. Other times it’ll generate 3 and none of them near your gold. Add to that the RNG of mining random blocks, getting random upgrades and then random enemy upgrades and Digs feels like its pulling from too wide of a range of ideas to make playing it consistent. The overarching upgrade skill tree tries to negate this problem by giving you gold coins for completing certain tasks or winning levels. Some of the upgrades includes increasing the chance of a certain mining block or upgrade tier but even then Digs feels a bit too unruly with its RNG. When I won, sometimes it was down to the game giving me an easier ride rather than me feeling like I truly beat it. Then I’d wonder if I’d just had a few really unfair levels in a row. The game feels a bit spiteful even though it is definitely addictive and interesting.
Ultimately there is a lot to do in Digs and the balance has been addressed and tweaks several times since launch. Each time its getting a bit better which is a good sign. I do think most tower defence gamers will get a good dollop of enjoyment from Digs but be prepared to give up on some runs that just seem nasty and unfair early so you can save your sanity! It definitely has a unique spin on the genre though and for that Digs must be applauded.
Review copy provided by developer. Out now on Steam.
Innovative and challenging gameplay is slightly let down by layers of RNG game mechanics that make some runs feel blatantly evil and unfair, and others a bit of a breeze.
Great mash up of mining, dungeon exploring and tower defence.
Overarching skill upgrade tree has lots of choice and you can't buy everything easily so it requires prioritisation and planning.
The very dynamic nature of enemy generation and dungeon exploring means you'll be reworking your strategy every round and often rebuilding/realigning things.
Extremely satisfying when everything goes to plan.
Layers of RNG collide to make a few too many runs feel unfair and frustrating.
The game sometimes glitches out saying a move isn't legal when it clearly is on larger late game levels.
Whilst the rearrangement of everything is great strategically, sometimes actually tidying up your mess every other round can be a bit of chore when the camera is freaking out or the move glitch issue kicks in.
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