Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech Review
The always-interesting SteamWorld franchise has taken many forms over the years: Tower Defense, Mining/Platformer and side-scrolling turn-based strategy (wow that’s a lot of wordy genres). Now it’s time for SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech, a fantasy setting mixed into turn-based card combat.
Told as a story from a father to his son, a great evil once vanquished by a great hero in the past is at risk of being reawakened. What was once an age of adventure and heroism has become an age of opportunism and questionable freelancers. But heroes do still exist, even though they are often looked down on or laughed at. Knight wannabe Armilly and Alchemist Copernica are the ‘underdogs’ of this tale, joined by Galleo. They are thrown into the ‘unofficial’ adventurer business when the Void (evil) army messes up their town and kidnap all the adventurer guild heroes. This is only the beginning of a grander adventure where your little group goes up against the ever-increasing odds, right up to saving the world. Along the way you’ll meet some new allies, beat up a lot of robots, and deal so many cards.
While the SteamWorld games have taken place over several genres, this is the first time it has been a roleplaying card game. When you’re not in a fight you’re exploring from room to room, thoroughly searching for chests and secrets while working through to the objective. Most rooms carry an enemy or two you can easily see; if you’re quick and sneaky you can even get past them or hit them from behind for extra damage. When you see an enemy it’s usually in your best interest to fight them – you need that XP, money and all those crafting items. A big plus is you can see what enemy is ahead and prepare accordingly by selecting the best three heroes for the fight. Planning beforehand can be the difference between wiping the floor with the enemy, or not having any cards that can even touch them.
The card combat is where it matters in SW Quest, every fight uses it. Money and resources go towards crafting new cards and upgrading old ones. While you can upgrade your weapons, and buy some equipment and healing items, crafting the punch cards are the main draw… card. Each hero can carry eight cards at any one time, keeping you from stocking up with every powerful card. There is also a cost to using them. Basic cards rarely have a cost, and allow you to generate more steam, which the more powerful cards require. It’s a system you quickly get used to, even if it’s a struggle later in the game when you’re trying to balance the no-to-low cost cards with all the fancy new cards you get along the way. Each turn has you choosing up to three cards (if you have the energy for them) from a hand of cards from the three heroes. You can string together random cards from all three, or get crafty and string cards that increase their effect when used together as a combo. You can also use three cards from one hero that gives you a fourth extra card as part of a hero chain, based on the weapon you have equipped. The further in the game you get, the more you can play around with the effects the combo gives you.
Throughout the game, certain events in the story will provide you with a new related card. Otherwise, you’ll have to find them in chests or craft new cards. There’s a fair few cards per hero, and it can be really tough at first to know where to spend that hard earned cash. Getting pretty attached to some really useful and upgraded cards can make a risky prospect of messing up the deck by changing it too much. I found it to be just fine removing one card at a time. You’ll often find out quickly if it works or not.
As seems to be the standard for a SteamWorld game, SteamWorld Quest looks good, more so because of the robot steampunk style they’ve built up over several games. The music, sounds, and just the small worlds they’ve created for these games are up to the same great quality here. Don’t get me started on how great the narrator for the chapter titles sounds (read out in spoken English and not the robot gibbering sounds). I almost wish they had included more moments for him to narrate.
While the art work is really nice and the sound of the talking robots never gets old, over 12-15 hours the game play never really changes enough. One of the main draws of wanting to see the story play out was to see the band of adventurers interact together, seeing where this grand quest takes them and what they all had to say, and learning more about their place in this world. Once you’re walking around hitting barrels and having card battles, neither part feels as good as the premise around it. Moving room to room is very straightforward. While it gives you a chance to enjoy the lovely hand drawn scenery and robot designs, it’s a shame that, outside of some light puzzles within every few chapters, moving around in those spaces doesn’t feel as fun. The card battles are easily the more interesting aspect of SteamWorld Quest. The deeper you delve, the more important it is to juggle buffs and debuffs, causing status damage, getting past resistances, exploiting weaknesses, and all the usual RPG stuff. Because so much of the game is card combat, it can wind up feeling fatiguing. I would recommend not trying to rush through this game and enjoy it at a more relaxed pace.
It was great to have the five heroes to choose from, selecting three for matches. Each one really brings something different to the table. SteamWorld Quest is even nice enough to give the members in the non-active party XP too, although it’s not enough to keep everyone evenly levelled without having to keep juggling the party around. It’s much more likely that you’ll find three heroes that work best for your strategy, putting your focus on having them optimised as much as you can.
There are also difficulty settings that introduce more accessibility options to the game. For example, you may like card games but don’t have time for grinding, or there’s a fight or two causing you trouble, then you can always bump the difficulty down. You can change this at any time, so if you find it too easy you can always make it tougher. I found the biggest changes when altering difficulty were the card values and amount of damage inflicted. Tough enemies still require you to get your head around the combat system and you’ll always be at a disadvantage if you don’t make the most of status effects and additional forms of damage.
It’s great to see developers like Image & Form Games doing different things with their always-interesting SteamWorld franchise. Both the Dig and Heist games worked very well for their genres, and SteamWorld Quest works for card games. There is a decent card game here and the fantasy setting is charming, but it is a shame when not all of the game is as fun to experience. At the end of the day it’s still a solidly-made game and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of their neat robot designs.
- The SteamWorld robots and world looks good and retains the franchise's charm
- Card Battles are easy to learn, even as more is required of you
- Difficulty settings allow all skill levels to play
- That chapter name narration
- Running around the rooms provide little to do outside of combat
- Card battles can become a drawn-out war of attrition
- Not a game suited for long gaming sessions