Burrowing into a cave network among a team of dwarven warriors isn't your typical set up for a mining operation, especially when armed with miniguns, flamethrowers and an abundance of high-tech gadgets. After being plunged underground in a drop pod, Deep Rock Galactic presents players with a single goal: bring back a trolley of sought-after minerals without dying. Heading into the darkness may be reckless but it is the price to pay to keep your place at the mining corporation.

This establishes the main objective of Deep Rock Galactic, an upcoming cooperative game built around exploration and combat. First conceptualized under Microsoft's now-shuttered Press Play studio, the title started life as "Project Dwarka," and now falls under a new label from former members, Ghost Ship Games. With the game currently on track for an Xbox One and Windows 10 debut via the Xbox Game Preview program, we went hands-on with our first excavation tasks.

Venturing into the dark

Throwing a team of up to four dwarves into the mines, you'll need to dig down, grab your resources and get straight out. With exploration and combat being primary pillars of the experience, players need to work together to complete these objectives as quickly as possible. Taking clear inspiration from icons in the cooperative space, Deep Rock Galactic's core mechanics put teamwork as a focus.

Exploration plays a key role in Deep Rock Galactic, requiring players to descend into the depths in search of their objectives. Each level is procedurally generated around a range of parameters, meaning there's a constant level of unpredictability to cave layouts. Among these caves you can expect a variety of environmental challenges, with different biomes also sporting unique features.

How you approach the environment and shape your path through the cave network heavily revolves around the classes in your team. The Driller, Engineer, Scout, and Gunner all have their own different styles of play, with strengths ideal for overcoming specific landmarks. Whether drilling through a dead end, ascending a rock face by spawning platforms, or using a zip wire over a ravine, your team composition determines how to approach the level.

Deep Rock Galactic also places a heavy focus on lighting – an aspect of level design often taken for granted. While each player has a torch mounted to their head, flares and other light sources increase visibility on a wider scale. This helps discover paths throughout the caves and provides improved situational awareness against incoming foes. However, with a limited supply and short durability, you'll need to keep on the move for a constant light source.

You're not alone

While exploring the caves of Deep Rock Galactic you're eventually going to wake the "Glyphids," insect-like creatures hidden throughout the cave networks. As the sole enemy in the game's current state, swarms of Glyphids will interrupt mining sessions, requiring you to fortify your position on the fly.

Glyphids come in various forms, ranging from faster, lightweight enemies, to heavier classes that require a stronger dosage of lead to kill. Each of these enemies has their own unique attributes, which coordinated teams will need to account for. The game's developer may even implement large-scale boss battles later down the line, which will place an even greater emphasis on teamwork.

Similarly to mining, each of the classes requires its own strategy in battle. While the Gunner and the Driller bring heavy firepower, the Engineer's deployable sentry turrets deal damage from a distance. Success can be found by calculating a synergy between classes, adapting to enemies and the environment itself.

Upon collecting the minerals you need, teams will need to call in an escape pod to complete the mission. Dropping near the surface, a frantic vertical race through the enemy-filled caves follows. Backtracking through previous tunnels, or carving entirely new paths, you'll need to race upwards within the allocated time to complete the mission.

Players are rewarded with experience points after missions, leveling up both as a player and in your current class. In turn, unlocking new character upgrades, collected resources can be exchanged to improve your effectiveness in the mines. Progression mostly upgrades existing gadgets right now, maintaining the balance between the four current classes.

Deep Rock Galactic is also set to get additional progression outside of performance upgrades, with the groundwork already laid for character customization, collectible cosmetic items, and various other activities within a social space. Although still in early days, the developer plans to explore deeper end-game content for long-term players.

What's next for Deep Rock Galactic

Deep Rock Galactic might not deliver a hugely revolutionarily concept, but it brings together highlights of established successes of the past decade. With elements reminiscent of Minecraft's cave exploration and combat drawing clear inspiration from games like Left 4 Dead, the game currently offers an interesting amalgamation of several genres.

Deep Rock Galactic is currently on track for an Xbox One and Windows 10 release, starting an Xbox Game Preview on February 28. The game should also support Microsoft's Play Anywhere initiative, enabling cross-platform purchases, saves and multiplayer between the two platforms. Xbox One X enhancements will also be available for the title, including a 1800p resolution, 60 FPS and High Dynamic Range (HDR).

What do you think of Deep Rock Galactic so far? Make sure to drop into the comments section with your thoughts.