Swedish developer Image & Form have been on a streak as of late, with their SteamWorld series taking the gaming world by storm. After only dabbling with previous entries, I never really had the chance to sit down and enjoy the world the developers created. What I appreciate about SteamWorld is the way the series jumps from genre to genre without missing a beat. Games like SteamWorld Dig and its sequel are wondrous examples of adapting to the Metroidvania genre, while their latest game, SteamWorld Quest is a turn-based card brawler.
A Storybook Tale
SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech puts begins like one of my favourite movies, The Princess Bride, in which the game is actually a story being told by Gabriel Stubb to his son. Within the story, we meet the protagonist Armilly and Copernica, who set out on an adventure. You’ll make friends along the way, each with their own deck of cards and abilities.
Instead of gameplay that resembles games like Gwent from The Witcher series or Hearthstone, SteamWorld Quest resembles a traditional RPG. Using a deck of cards in lieu of commands, each party member can use up to 8 cards in battle. And, as you play, more cards are available in combat.
While the story is forgettable, it is serviceable. I wasn’t keen on paying attention because, after a certain amount of following, I found myself invested in the battles ahead. Learning the ins and outs of the battle system is what kept me going. With most RPGs, you can pretty much spam attacks and get away with it if you’re strong enough. The lack of focus for me leads to boredom in most cases these days. Instead, I found that to be the complete opposite here because of how each deck of cards is randomized. This essentially leads to exciting enemy encounters that need your attention. You’re also able to redraw two cards per turn.
Pick a Card
Also, you can’t attack and expect to win. Learning how each card type works, buffing characters while debuffing enemies becomes a must thanks to the card decks. It’s a fun system, I enjoyed far more than I thought I would. For example, the order in which your turn occurs directly impacts your efficiency in battle. Armilly can cue up to three attacks, which then triggers a skill that deals devastating damage to the enemy. Copernica serves as a mage and her if you decide to chain attacks can lead to a combo of a having a simple magic attack, then a magic barrier spell, and finally an AoE attack damaging all enemies.
With each turn that passes, your character is awarded a cog. These cogs are added to what is called the Shared Pressure meter (at the top of the screen) and build towards using Skill cards. However, don’t only rely on these cards to succeed as you need to learn when to attack or defend.
Corridor after Corridor
Exploration is limited to corridors where you’ll find enemies, hidden chests and occasional a puzzle. Pressing A swings our sword and serves as a pre-emptive attack on enemies. Save points heal you but also respawn any enemies you’ve already cleared out of the level. The music and levels you’ll come across though are wonderful to look at and offer some sort of variety in how they look.
The cast is a highlight in my roughly 15-hour playthrough. How they play off each other and banter left me smiling, and I genuinely love their designs. I didn’t go into this review expecting to like the entire party but by the end of my playthrough, I was sad to see them go.
SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech is a huge win for developer Image & Form. While exploration is straightforward, the combat shines as a hybrid card battler/traditional RPG. The story isn’t deep, and it doesn’t have to be in context – what story needs to be when retelling it to a child? That said, this isn’t a dig (pun intended) towards Quest, but the game is a worthy follow up to SteamWorld Dig 2 and may perhaps allow the developer the opportunity for more games set within this world.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]
- A fun take on card battle mechanics
- Great characters all around
- A beautiful game and soundtrack
- The story isn’t all that interesting
- Little replay value