I didn’t intend to spend hours in the caves beneath my Dwarven village. In fact, I maintain Below the Stone magically transforms day into night as soon as you start playing. So, when players look up, the sun has abandoned its post in what feels like five minutes.
Part of this magic is undoubtedly the irresistible urge to look for just a bit more ore, complete one last quest for stacking rewards, and explore a new biome…even if it’s being guarded by an impossibly strong troll. The game is currently headed into Early Access, but the game loop, whimsical undertone, and solid mechanics are all already in place.
What makes the game so playable? The devs have made a lot of smart choices to keep my delving ever deeper. The first is the quest system. Before entering the caves, an elderly dwarf lounging just the the entrance’s side offers me a long list of objectives.
From these, I can pick three, each with differing difficulty and payouts. Completing just one nets a small bag of valuables, but checking off all three tasks in one run — and then making it back to the surface safely — means large treasure chests await my return. However, if I do promise to fulfill a quest, I have to finish at least one before the game allows me to return to the surface.
This is how they get you. Often, I pushed on despite dwindling healing items and a bulging inventory simply because I only had one more slime to kill or a single tin ore to pick up in order to earn a treasure trove. Almost as often, that decision left me dead on the cave floor with nothing to show for my next run.
But while this could be frustrating, the game has a built-in way for players to secure their most vital resources. If I was able to leave the caves with rare ore — like, say iron or platinum — I can head over to the bank and deposit them. Anything in the well-guarded vaults carries over from run to run. The first thing I did was create a full copper armor set and an iron pickaxe to lock away in case I perish in the deep.
The iron pickaxe is especially important because a big portion of exploring the caves is mining. Given a strong enough mining tool, I can cut my way through the mountain’s walls, blazing a new path through the depths, discovering previously unseen biomes, and digging out more ore that I can use to create better equipment in the world above.
I just have to avoid dying, which is were the armor comes in. Equipping a set of armor lends my resistance from the hostile creatures of the deep. In the starting areas, these include things like bats and slimes. However, the farther in I go — and as I have more things to lose — the enemies transform into skeleton archers and spear-wielding kobolds.
Getting out alive is its own challenge. I can call down a rescue pod to retrieve me anytime after I’ve finished a quest. But there’s a catch. Before it it can find me, I have to defend the landing zone from a set amount of time from waves of foes taken from my biome. If I try to escape will in a skeleton liar, that means taking on a bunch of undead warriors before a can escape.
The feeling of successfully calling the pod and leaving with my pack stuffed with materials is energizing and enough to help me forget any past failures. I’m eager to see how Below the Stone evolves during this Early Access period because its foundation is rock-solid.