Available On: Switch, PC (Steam, May 31)
Over the last several years, Swedish indie developers Image & Form Games have been quietly and expertly expanding their colorful robot-filled SteamWorld universe. Impressively each of these games embodies completely different genres, such as action-platformer with SteamWorld Dig and turn-based tactical strategy in SteamWorld Heist, while still maintaining lovely 2D artwork and funny robot heroes.
SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech features a full on fantasy world – but still starring quippy robots, and adds yet another new genre to the SteamWorld library: deckbuilding RPG. The card-based combat is intuitive and rewarding, bolstered by the colorful SteamWorld art design.
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The adventure begins with naive and heart-breakingly earnest hero-in-training Armilly and her alchemist friend Copernica. An evil army attacks their village , and it’s up to our heroes to gather allies and battle bad guys on their quest to save the Guild Heroes. The plot isn’t exactly ground-breaking, and it takes until the end of Act 2 to get going, but what SteamWorld Quest does well is focus on its excellent cast of characters.
Armilly and Copernica eventually meet up with reluctant shut-in Galleo, and their antics and banter remains fun and fresh throughout the 20 hour campaign. The party expands to five (well technically six) heroes, with each having their own motivations and fighting styles.
Our heroes explore the world in each chapter via a series of 2D screens, which can contain treasure chests, wandering monsters, and the occasional vine or crate to smash for gold. Exploration is limited, and avoiding a battle with an enemy is nearly impossible. Several of the chapters employ an egregious maze layout that I found archaic and frustrating, though thankfully they’re mercifully short.
The 2D dungeon crawling does an excellent job showcasing the classic SteamWorld 2D art style and animation. In combat card attacks are quick and fun, which is important when you’re using the same abilities over and over again. It wasn’t until I neared the end of the game that I finally began holding down the fast-forward button to make combat quicker.
As a deckbuilder RPG, picking and choosing which heroes to bring to the fight, and which of their ever-expanding card pool to use is a major party of the strategy. In combat I’m limited to three heroes, and each hero must have exactly eight cards to form my 24-card deck–though they need not all be unique cards.
Armilly is a warrior with mostly physical damage attack cards, while Copernica is a traditional mage, capable of flinging elemental spells and casting a very useful party-wide force-field. Later I built my strategy around Orik’s Cyclone Slash card, which is capable of generating extra hits per Steam spent.
Steam is the only resource I have to worry about, and there are only two types of cards: those that generate steam (basic attacks and abilities), and those that spend it (skill cards). It’s a very easy system to understand and build a deck around, and it’s rewarding to discover each hero’s strengths and combos.
Each turn I can play three cards from my hand. If all three cards are from one hero, that hero performs a combo attack based on their equipped weapon. Copernica’s force-field was a favorite of mine, and useful throughout the entire game. Some individual cards will also combo with other heroes if you play a card from a different hero in the same turn, leading to more interesting possibilities. Later in the game I went all-in with fire damage, synergizing Armilly and Copernica’s fire attacks to great success–until I ran into a fire immune enemy.
My biggest beef with the combat is trying to anticipate which resistances and weaknesses the enemies will have. I won’t be able to cover them all, but hopefully I can discover a weakness for most enemies in a chapter, and build my deck around it. For regular enemies it’s a nice bonus but for boss battles it’s a huge difference between a breezy fight and a complete struggle, or a loss. Building tiny, efficient decks for each hero is fun, however, and the generous checkpoint system makes swapping cards and trying new strategies more interesting than frustrating.
SteamWorld Quest, like other SteamWorld games, has been rated E10+. It’s a swords-and-sorcery fantasy world with plenty of combat, though there’s little actual violence. The story is easily digestible for kids and touches on themes of friendship and heroism.
While I appreciate many of the classic fantasy tropes and beats (Final Fantasy in particular), having to fight through multiple repeat bosses at the end became a slog. SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech ultimately lasts a bit longer than I would have liked. The weakest areas were all in the beginning, where I have fewer card options and enemies barely put up a fight. Pacing issues aside, SteamWorld Quest does a fantastic job with the deckbuilding RPG genre, crafting a lovely card battler that’s easy to learn and rewarding to master.