My week has been full of survival games. Having recently jumped back into the absolutely fantastic S.T.A.L.K.E.R. G.A.M.M.A mod pack and also convincing my friends to give 7 Days to Die a go, it’s been all scrounging, all the time. Dome Keeper is more like these games than I had realized until sitting down for this review in one key way — through a looming threat, it rewards (or punishes) players for their (un)preparedness.
Whether the sudden and lethal emissions in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. or the scheduled weekly Blood Moon Hordes in 7 Days to Die, the itch in the back of my brain always compelled me to stockpile just a little more, scavenge a bit more ammo, just in case. Dome Keeper takes this feeling and miniaturizes it, making for a game that’s all about quickly alternating between survival combat and prepper-esque maintenance.
The player guards a dome (formerly their spacecraft) against alien hordes that come in waves every minute or two. Below is a plethora of ore and alien relics to be mined up and brought to the ship to invest in upgrades. You begin armed with a painfully slow laser cannon and a dinky drill, and choosing how and when to upgrade your combat capabilities, movement speed, or drill strength is an ever-present decision that can make or break your chance at survival. If you aren’t careful you’ll end up with the world’s best drill but absolutely no way to carry all the goodies you mined back up to the surface in time to survive the onslaught.
The goal of the game’s main mode is to find and secure an alien artifact — one strong enough to ward off the waves of aliens for good. Smaller artifacts act as the game’s bigger upgrades, granting specialized tools like a conveyor lift that automatically lifts minerals from the depths into your ship. Locating the final artifact is only half the battle since you’ll have to dig it out and activate it by locating three power nodes.
On the game’s medium settings, I found this final node and secured it right when I felt like my ‘build’ was really coming together, cutting my adventure short. I could’ve simply not collected it, but artificially extending a run when there are goodies to be unlocked felt too risky. Luckily, by ‘winning’ runs you can choose to unlock new modes and gadgets — including larger maps and an endless mode.
One of Dome Keeper’s biggest strengths is the modularity of its difficulty. There’s not only a normal difficulty option, you can also choose how big to make the map and, in turn, how long and difficult a run will be. Medium-sized maps sport runs of about 30 minutes, while larger ones will have you spelunking for well over an hour. Tweaking these options before a run, as well as choosing what Dome gadget and weapon you’d like, greatly increases Dome Keeper’s replayability.
At its core, Dome Keeper is a time management game. The combat isn’t particularly exciting, and the traversal is about as thrilling as optimizing a strip mine in Minecraft, but these elements come together to reward forward thinking. Choosing to leave some minerals to resurface and fight rather than risk damage to the Dome by trying to haul them up is a tough call you’ll be making constantly. It’s a game that punishes greed and encourages long-term investments, forcing you to slow down and take a more measured approach. I very quickly found that runs can snowball in either direction following one or two good (or bad) decisions.
Dome Keeper is a tightly designed experience with a litany of ways to engage with its small but focused content. Every block broken is a chance for ruin or redemption, every choice to dig a little deeper is rewarded or reproached. Few games can match the tension I felt when scrambling toward the surface while my undefended dome cracked above me, all because I spent a little too long in my labyrinthian mine. It’s a title well worth digging into.
This review is based on the PC version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Raw Fury.
Dome Keeper is a well-disguised time-management game with a great atmosphere and plenty of ways to engage with its content.