After the past three years, I’d have happily never heard the word "plague" again, let alone in the context of one of my favourite co-op games. Yet after an early play around with Deep Rock Galactic Season 3, I’m already sold that this update – which centers around a corrupting, planet-wide infection – could be its best one yet.
After repelling a robot-spamming rival corp across Seasons 1 and 2, your reward in Season 3 – which launches on November 3rd – is to find your mining operating pelted by a meteorite storm. And they’re carrying a nasty payload: Rockpox, a contagion that quickly infects both the caves of Hoxxes IV and the many, many giant bugs living within them. These sickly Glyphids and contaminated caverns will present you and your fellow space dwarves with some new perils, but also new opportunities to turn a management-pleasing profit. And isn’t providing value to shareholders why we’re all here to begin with?
My tour of Season 3, hosted by Ghost Ship Games’ lead designer Mike Akopyan, began with a look at the new battle pass. It’s still free, as in previous seasons, and still comes stuffed with unlockable weapon skins, hats, and beards, though the main armoury upgrade is the set of new "grenades". Again in keeping with previous weapon releases, there’s one throwable for each class: a lethal boomerang for the Scout, a container full of friendly attack drones for the Engineer, a spinning mini-turret for the Gunner, and my personal favourite, a roll of buzzsaws for the Driller that tears up walls (and through bugs) like a jet-powered lawnmower.
Sadly, I was playing as Scout, prompting Akopyan to warn that the boomerang may be bugged in this preview build. And shortly after descending to a plagued Hoxxes, I confirmed that it was – my ‘rangs didn’t fly anywhere near where I aimed them, so were only useful as point-blank Glyphid deterrents. Crikey.
Still, there were bigger things demanding our attention, as we soon came across a cave with multiple Rockpox Contagion Spikes: hellish tangles of spiky rock and glowing pustules. It was our job to clean them up, so Akopyan called in a supply drop with the necessary tools. Not blue gloves and anti-bac gel, but two cleansing foam guns and two dwarf-strength handheld vacuums.
To clear a Spike, two players coat the glowing globs with foam, allowing the vacuum wielders to suck them away. I found the latter especially (perhaps weirdly) satisfying, like I was power-washing a mossy patio, and this kind of purely dwarf-driven mission type is certainly one I’m happy to play more of. A lot of Deep Rock Galactic objectives involve standing in a circle waiting for a bar to fill up, or protecting a piece of machinery while it performs a more important job, so any that depend on more active involvement are fine by me.
Also looking to get involved are the Glyphids, judging by how many times a bug wave interrupted our Autumn cleaning. Season 3 shoos out the rival robots and instead introduces new, Lithophage-infected versions of the basic Glyphid Grunt and the hulking Praetorian. Twisted by Rockpox, these unfortunate souls are covered in bulletproof growths – save for a few exposed pustules. These pop in one or two shots, but take more precise aim than their usual weak points.
Three seasons in, I wouldn’t have objected to some brand new bugs, rather than remixes of existing foes. But in practice, these Rockpox variants change up the combat routine just enough to make them feel like worthwhile additions. As a Scout, it’s always fun enough to grapple hook over a vanilla Praetorian and unload a magazine into its abdomen, but taking down the infected version with just a few well-placed shots is good hunting too.
There’s also one more, even chunkier threat in Season 3: the Lithophage meteorites themselves. A twist on the existing, randomly occurring Machine Events, incoming strikes are heralded by a huge red warning area appearing on the ground. Seconds later, the cave roof is blasted open and the floor is cratered out by a fresh meteorite, naturally making short work of any dwarf that neglected to clear the landing zone. It’s surprising and bombastic in a way that simply walking up to a Machine Event could never be, and the landing is only the start. There’s valuable resources at the heart of these rocks, so after our crew dodged a strike of our own, it was time to crack it open.
This was a more familiar piece of DRG workmanship; the process of calling down two fuel pods, connecting them to drills on either side of the meteorite, then protecting and repairing them amidst bug attacks, feels like a more mechanical cousin of the hacking mini-missions introduced in Season 1. Perhaps a little more deviously designed, though – having to maintain two stations, potentially on completely different levels of cave, splits up your team and weakens your strength in numbers. In exchange, you don’t have to all stand in the same tiny little circle, waiting for the Glyphids to come to you. It’s fine.
Better than fine, really. I had a brilliant time, fending off the new bug types and hoovering up contaminants. I also had a few quick goes with the other throwables: the Gunner’s grenade is a gleefully loud radial sprinkler of bullets, and the Driller’s fire-and-forget saw blade contraption fits perfectly into his arsenal of amusing friendly fire incidents waiting to happen. And I can at least see the intention behind the Scout-a-rang: like the Driller’s default throwing axes, their reusability could make them invaluable for long, tough missions and Deep Dives.
Best of all? Season 3 ditches the bots. Akopyan’s reasoning is that one year is a long time to stick with robot-focused updates, but I was sick of those floating beep-boop bastards within a week. Their excessive health, jerky movement, and lack of animation response to damage made them so unfun to fight that my friends and I started actively avoiding missions where they’d most likely show up - and don’t get me started on their narrow elemental weakness making some fire-based weapon loadouts simply better than others. The Rockpox Glyphids might not be all-new, but they do spice things up without punishing you for lacking a specific damage type.
If you’re less inclined towards enjoying yourself than I am, rest assured that Rival Presence missions will still be available after Season 3, just less often. Otherwise, it’s all Plaguefall from November 3rd, and even with some broken boomerangs to fix, I’m looking forward to mucking in.