The SteamWorld franchise has sent gamers on an assortment of steampunk-robotic adventures, including a Wild West-style digging escapade, a trek through the solar-system as space pirates, and even a big strategic war against humans to protect robotic mining facilities. The games have always done something unique and no two ever feel the same, even if they are all tied together in one big universe.
The latest release, SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech, follows the trend of each game doing something different, with players sent to a fantasy world to partake in a card-based RPG adventure this time around. Fortunately, it does share one similarity with the rest of the games: it’s a heck of a lot of fun to play.
SteamWorld Quest tells the tale of the wannabe-hero Armilly and her two friends Copernica and Galleo, who after heading out on a trip to find mushrooms (for medical purposes!) find their hometown under attack by the vicious Void Army. With her home in ruins and inspired by the legendary hero Gilgamech, Armilly leads her friends on a journey across the land to try and bring an end to the evil ways of the Void army once and for all.
Much like the other titles in the SteamWorld series, SteamWorld Quest’s narrative is quirky, fun, and offers plenty of subtle references to both the previous games in the series and pop culture as a whole. The characters you encounter across the world are all full of personality and some will have you genuinely laughing out loud with their wit, whilst the strange situations that the group constantly find themselves in will bring more than a few smiles to players’ faces too. Best of all, whilst the game is tied to the SteamWorld universe you don’t have to have played any of them to appreciate the tale, so even complete newbies to Image and Form’s series will feel at home with Armilly, Copernica and Galleo’s antics.
Standard exploration in the game takes place on a 2D-plane in the style of the old side-scrolling beat ‘em ups, so the path you need to take is always clear and simple to follow. Of course, there are plenty of interesting locales to visit during your journey, but for the most part it’s just a case of following one direction. Things are spiced up with the addition of hidden treasures though, with plenty of objects in the environment to smash through to find some useful trinkets – admittedly, this can feel like a bit of a formality at times seeing as everything is typically right in front of you, but it’s nice to have that little bit of extra interactivity with the world.
You’re also able to give yourself an advantage in combat whilst exploring too. Enemies appear in front of you outside of combat and if you give them a swing with your sword you’ll go into battle with a pre-emptive advantage. It’s typically just a case of nudging your enemies’ health down a bit, but hey, every little helps.
Whilst you’ll be partaking in plenty of exploration during your time with SteamWorld Quest, the meat and bones of the experience is found in the combat. As mentioned, it’s all card-based, with each of your party members having a deck of eight cards assigned to them by the player. Up to six cards are then drawn at the start of each turn from all of your characters’ decks – characters can only use the cards from their deck though, so if they’re empty handed they’ll have to skip out until you end up drawing their cards.
There are three card-types that you’ll be using: Strike, Skill and Upgrade. Strike cards are your standard attacks that deal most of your damage, Upgrade cards give you buffs, whilst Skill cards offer you more specialist and powerful abilities. You can’t use Skill cards without spending your Steam Pressure points, with these built up by using Strike and Upgrade cards. It means you’ve got to work towards using your more powerful attacks, which adds an extra bit of strategy to the game given that you don’t know what cards you’ll actually have each turn anyway. It might sound a little over-bearing but it’s actually easy to get to grips with, even if you haven’t had much experience with card-based RPGs in the past.
Of course, there’s a lot more to combat than just simply using cards, with a strategic element attached to using the right ones at the right time. Your Upgrade cards are vital for example, with the buffs not only making your characters more powerful but also allowing you to exploit the weaknesses of your foes. There are elemental types attached to cards too, so you’ll find some might be more effective against specific enemies – it’s the sort of thing you’ll be used to if you’ve played just about any other RPG.
You can also string together combos by using specific cards at the same time (you can use up to three per a turn) and if you use three cards from one character’s deck at the same time you’ll bump up your power with a ‘Heroic Chain’ that’ll activate an additional card to help your party out. There’s a whole lot more to the experience than just playing whatever cards you’re dealt and some strategic thought will be required if you’re going to take down some of the tougher bosses. That being said, as you progress through the game and improve your deck you will find that the game gets a lot easier, but there’ll still be moments where you’ll be caught off-guard if you aren’t well-prepared.
When you beat enemies you’ll earn crafting materials which you can use to upgrade your cards, though you’ll find plenty through exploration and in shops so you’ll always have new ones to play around with. SteamWorld Quest isn’t a particularly difficult game so a lot of players may be fine without changing their deck too much, but players who really want to take advantage of enemies’ weaknesses will find themselves constantly fine-tuning their selection – it can get pretty addictive. You’ll also level up and unlock new gear too, so there are things to consider outside of your card choice alone… it’s definitely got that RPG vibe going on throughout.
However, unlike typical RPGs SteamWorld Quest is pretty short, with it beatable in around thirteen hours. Whilst that’s short for the genre though, it works well in the game – it condenses everything into a worthwhile package that doesn’t require grinding to progress and keeps the action coming constantly. Besides, there are additional difficulty settings and the optional Colosseum full of challenges for players who want a little extra to do, so there’s definitely some replayability on offer.
The biggest flaw that the game has is just how linear it is. SteamWorld Quest never really encourages you to head off the beaten track nor does it offer a grand sense of scale as far as exploration is concerned, with your objective and path to follow made pretty clear throughout. It doesn’t make the game bad by any stretch of the imagination, but some RPG fans might be left a little underwhelmed by how direct the path from A to B can actually be.
Visually, SteamWorld Quest is an absolute delight. The SteamWorld games are known for having their own unique steampunk aesthetic, but SteamWorld Quest really ups the ante as far as the quality is concerned. Seeing all of these mechanised characters and beasts battle it out never failed to impress, whilst the hand-drawn backgrounds were luscious throughout too. It really is Image and Form’s most impressive looking game yet.
Developer: Image and Form
Publisher: Thunderful Publishing
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC