By Josh Speer / April 23rd, 2019
|Title||SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech|
|Developer||Image & Form International|
|Release Date||April 24th, 2019|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone – Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Language|
I’ve been playing the SteamWorld series since the beginning, and I’ve enjoyed them since the first SteamWorld Dig. So of course I leapt at the opportunity to try out the newest entry, SteamWorld Quest. Not only is this the second original Switch game from Image & Form (not counting the re-release of SteamWorld Heist as Ultimate Edition), it’s also the first RPG from them. Better yet, it mixes the RPG genre with deck building card mechanics, which I find completely addictive. So I went into SteamWorld Quest with high expectations. The question is, was it able to meet those lofty expectations? Or was this the game that let the charming series down?
The game starts out with a father figure telling a story of glorious times long past to a young robot. These were times of might and magic, where great heroes felled horrible beasts and became legend. The most iconic one was Gilgamech, who slayed a massive beast by ripping out its very heart. Nowadays things aren’t quite so impressive, but one robot still is inspired by those days. Her name is Armilly, and the perspective quickly shifts to her and her friend Copernica searching for some local flora. One feature which translated from the other SteamWorld games is the great banter. Armilly and her growing group of friends have some great exchanges over the course of the game, with some especially whip-smart one liners. Which is good, since the overall plot is somewhat generic. Which isn’t the same as saying it’s bad, just that it doesn’t do much to defy the usual conventions RPG fans have come to expect.
As the game progresses, you and your team discover something isn’t right in the land, and set out to fix it. Along the way you’ll acquire a team of 5 (and a half) teammates, all of which serve a different tactical purpose. There’s Armilly, who is a well-balanced physical fighter, or her friend Copernica, who is a fragile yet powerful magician. Besides them, you’ll also get a tank healer, a powerful, mask-wielding swordsman and a dark duo of poison spewing thieves. What’s nice about the game is that each character is capable of wearing different tactical hats. Take the tank for example, he’s best at protecting your team with buffs and regeneration spells, but he’s also very capable of casting aquatic spells and getting physical. Likewise, the thieves also can serve as pretty decent healers, and Armilly can even try her hand as a fiery berserker. The big reason they are all so diverse is that each character’s skills are dictated by a deck of cards.
The deck building mechanics are one of the strongest aspects of SteamWorld Quest. Though each character can only equip a deck of 8 cards at at time, you have a shared pool of cards to draw from. Furthermore, each character will come across dozens of different cards as you play. You can even craft entirely new cards and upgrade your existing cards, so there is a wealth of options. During battle, you will always have 6 cards in your hand at the start of your turn, and you can pick up to 3 to play each turn. The cards are helpfully color coded with banners for whomever they belong to, for example, Armilly is red and Copernica is blue. Each time you play a card, you’ll acquire Steam points. These can be used to play more powerful cards. While each character has a small handful of free to play cards, you’ll have many more that cost Steam. So the strategy comes down to how quickly you accumulate Steam and how efficiently you utilize it. Luckily, you’re able to discard 2 cards each turn and draw new ones in their place, which is helpful if you have a hand full of high cost cards. Further enhancing this formula are Heroic Chains. By playing three cards in a turn from a single hero, they’ll get rewarded with an additional special attack. Which attack depends on their equipped weapon. I stuck with the default weapons for a long while, and while that’s a safe bet, you owe it to yourself to try out the more esoteric options. Though I loved the default skill for my masked swordsman, which does a flurry of dagger attacks as a Heroic Chain, he gets another which grants him an extra card play the following turn. So depending on your preferred play style, there are a lot of ways to tweak things to your liking.
Despite the multitude of customization options, the way the game plays out is very linear. In many ways, it reminded me of Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time and Riviera: The Promised Land, which were both full of action but really linear. The entire experience is divided into a few Acts and 12+ chapters split between them. Because there is no HUB area, you just move from one chapter to the next. There are no side quests or optional missions, other than a colosseum you unlock later in the game which provides the bulk of replay value, as well as allowing you to win some great prizes. While that may sound disappointing, it’s far from a short experience. It took me a good 26 hours to beat the game, though a small chunk of that was spent trying my luck at the tougher challenges in the colosseum. And while that may sound short for a RPG, I still felt I got my money’s worth. If you feel you aren’t leveled up enough or lack resources, you can always replay chapters to farm more. Just keep in mind you won’t get anywhere near as much experience the second time around, though the extra materials are always useful for crafting new cards. It can get a bit grindy, especially since once you loot a treasure chest, you won’t find anything else from them in subsequent chapter playthroughs. But so long as you have a little patience, it isn’t too difficult to be have extra resources. Also, do yourself a favor and use the twins when you grind, since they can steal gold to speed things up. Just keep in mind, you’ll never have enough resources to get everything you want, so it pays to be tactical in your equipment, crafting and upgrade choices.
Even though the plot is somewhat generic, I really enjoyed the characters. Every single one of your party members has a distinct personality, and though you won’t get a ton of backstory or any really significant character arcs, they all add a lot to the fabric of the game world. Two that especially grew on me late in my playthrough were Tarah and Thayne, the grungy twins with diametrically opposed personalities. The older sister is an axe-wielding font of sarcasm while the knife-wielding younger brother is seemingly scared of his own shadow, but offers lots of moral support. The characterization also extends to the foes, but my favorite villain was the comically ridiculous Canary Knight. Not only is his design fantastic, but he’s such a pathetic foil that I really enjoyed his inclusion. My only complaint in this regard was that I didn’t get more, but that was something of a recurring theme as I played.
Mechanically the game works really, really well. It’s very intuitive, and better yet, there are plenty of tutorials you can reread if you get confused. I only recall one mechanic which wasn’t really explained, which were Variable skills. Essentially, by playing these cards once you’ve accumulated a ton of Steam, they’ll do additional damage and have more exaggerated effects. The game also didn’t tell me you can use the – button to bring up a more comprehensive mini-map. Other than that, the game was well-designed so things felt effortless, which let me concentrate on my strategy.
The only factor that held things back a little were that I wanted to be able to equip more than just one weapon and two accessories per character, since they provide some real tactical benefits. I would have loved helmets and armor for more choices. This was exaggerated by the fact you can’t buy more than one copy of any accessory or weapon, which means if you want to equip an item that prevents poison, only one character can have it, unless you find a second copy in a chest. So if you’re the type of gamer that likes to protect all your characters from any status ailments, get ready to learn to suffer through a few of them. That said, you can win equipment in the colosseum which helps ameliorate this problem, just at the cost of winning some really tough battles with special conditions.
Visually, SteamWorld Quest is fantastic. I’ve liked the art design of Image & Form for a while, but it has reached a whole new level here. There’s a lush watercolor quality to the art, and each part of the world feels immaculately created. From the characters to the crazy foes, nothing looks uninspired. The only small downside is they do reuse a few enemy and boss designs multiple times with color swaps, which was a little disappointing. I know it takes a lot more work to make every character unique, but given the linear nature of the game, I was really hoping for just a bit more variety. On the auditory side of things, there’s a lot of great sound effects in the game. I like that they brought back the gibberish talking from previous SteamWorld games, as it helps lend a special silliness to the game. There’s also some great narration that happens at the beginning of the game and start of each chapter. The songs themselves were a bit more disappointing, just in that none of them really stuck with me. Having said that, nothing sounds bad in the game, just not all that memorable.
I really enjoyed this game, though there were a couple niggling issues. One was obviously the linear nature of the game and general lack of replay. Another small issue is that the only way to revive your fallen allies is using recovery items. That’s really surprising in a game with this many strategic card options. The tricky thing is, there seems to be a limited supply of each recovery item in the game, and it universally decreases each time you buy things from the only vendor in the game. This wasn’t an issue early on, but when I started grinding and restocking on healing items to try and beat every challenge in the colosseum, I started to worry about running out. Another problem in a game this grindy is that you don’t recover your health whenever you level up. This makes it a lot trickier to grind, since the only way to heal is by using save statues. The wrinkle with those is every time you use one, it brings back all the random encounters in that dungeon.
All in all, I really enjoyed SteamWorld Quest. Despite the linearity and a few small issues, this is a game I can easily recommend. Even though there’s a lot of different teams you can bring to battle, there is no wrong group, though I found Copernica, Galleo and Orik were an amazing team. You can’t go wrong with amazing damage output, shields, regeneration and a magical onslaught. More than anything, I just wanted a little more of the game, though given the way it ends, I expect we may get a Quest sequel. For $24.99, you’ll get a really enjoyable RPG with a lot of customization options. If you’re a fan of Image & Form or just like deck building RPGs, you owe it to yourself to give this a shot.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
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