Media properties around ‘domes’ have not been especially successful or kind over the years. You’ve got the 1996 film “Bio-Dome” that was panned by audience and critics alike. Then there’s the 2013 television series “Under the Dome” that lasted a handful of seasons, but declined in ratings as it couldn’t find an audience. Thankfully Dome Keeper from Bippinbits doesn’t have either of these problems, with the trifecta of being a roguelike, miner, and defense game. It’s quite the romantik little game, because there’s so much to love. Dome Keeper has my attention with its systems and compelling gameplay loop, that has me excited for how the next run will play out.
Dome Keeper is light on story, so the premise is that you’ve landed on a planet, have built up a dome to now have to keep it unshattered against a hostile planet of monsters that threaten it. Starting the game for the first time, you’re presented with a lot of options, though most of them will be locked away before you can start swapping things out. The first mode you’ll play is Relic Hunt, where you have to dig below the surface to uncover a relic to take back home. Which, sounds pretty easy, but it’s not because you’ll have to dig to gather minerals to invest in upgrades to become more powerful. This time to drill is short, because you’ll be attacked by monsters like clockwork, and have to defend it with manually targeting a laser. And once the dome is broken, then it’s all over for a complete restart to fill out the roguelike aspect. It’s a mash-up of multiple genres that works in varying degrees of survival.
A strategy that I employed was to carve a path straight down, then start digging left and right every three rows, it lets you see resources above and below you easily. This felt the most optimized and efficient way to get through what’s under the dome. Gathering resources never stops, and between defenses I would usher minerals back to the surface to be processed. I’d invest in upgrades that made the most sense, and more often than not I’d come out victorious. For the relic hunt mode on a small map, I’d average around thirty-eight minutes for a run. You’re also presented with an unlock that will be carried over into future runs, which feels really rewarding.
Upgrades are essential, but deciding what are essential upgrades is situational. Ideally upgrading the keeper’s three base abilities like: drilling power, movement speed, and carrying capacity are always great starts. The next thing you do should be to invest into laser power or dome defenses to make waves go by faster. Since you can’t undo or reallocate points, you’re rather committed to a decision once it is made. The resources that you can collect are finite, and in random spots for each run, with some upgrades requiring multiple types. There really feels like a paralysis of choice when it comes to making an improvement to a particular item.
Gadgets are abilities you pop during combat like an electrified dome or extra shielding to deflect projectiles. Other times they can be about improving quality of life, like turning a rare resource like water into a mineral. You can only have two gadgets during a run, so you won’t be able to have everything, and they too are randomized. Once a gadget is found, you’re given a choice between two selections, or scrapping it for cobalt (if you’re low in resources). The cutesy drillbert pet that drills for resources for you, or the elevator that brings resources to the top, or maybe the probe that pulses for resources are just top-tier. As long as I had one of these gadgets unlocked for that run, it seemed I had a better chance of succeeding.
Map size and difficulty are not mutually exclusive. You can have a game that’s on easy, medium, or hard difficulty that’s still set on a small map. Though I’d say none of the game is easy until you start optimizing drilling paths and upgrade trees that are ideal to your playstyle. I really like the puzzle nature of the game as you dig down, trying to seek the relic out with the limited time you have between defense waves. After each successful completion, a new feature or mode is unlocked. The Prestige mode is essentially an endless mode where you send resources back home until you die or decide to leave the planet. While I felt great about completing runs, so having a way to spend more time in the world without starting over was far more exciting to me.
Dome Keeper has a wonderful soundtrack full of ambient music and stingers, but I think where it excels is at its stunning silence. It’s often there’s nothing but the sound of your drilling, or merely the haunting monsters coming to attack you that make up the soundscape. The dramatic shifts between the two are so chillingly good. What compliments all of this is the fact that the color scheme changes on new runs, something I noticed only after I had my first successful run. The color shifts are gentle, and feels organic to the nature of starting over. Visually and aurally, Dome Keeper is pleasing to multiple senses.
Dome Keeper blends resource gathering, defense, and roguelike elements seamlessly. Each run was truly fresh start once you got underground to dig for resources, gadgets, and relics. There’s lots to explore and replay in just a single mode, compound that with other difficulties and configurations, will keep you coming back for more. Bippinbits excels at the micro tactics here, where one small change in how you focus your tech tree can alter the trajectory of the run. Dome Keeper is lovingly crafted, rewards thoughtful play, and has more going on under the surface than it leads on.
A Steam code was provided in advance by the publisher for review purposes