I can remember picking up SteamWorld Dig when it was first released and instantly getting addicted to its perfect combination of exploration and upgrades. It’s rare that a game hooks me so completely, but it happened again with Dig 2 and then again with Heist. Image & Form Games has quite the track record for me in that department. When I saw the first tease of Quest I was intrigued, would the addictiveness of the earlier games really port over nicely to a game that was a deck building turn-based RPG? Thankfully that answer was a resounding YES. Sorry if that spoiled the rest of my review…
SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech takes place in a fantastical world filled with knights, monsters and, of course, steampunk robots. You start off as the duo of Armilly, a warrior with dreams of joining the Hero Guild, and Copernica, a recent dropout from the local alchemical college. The two of you are on an adventure to find a Peppermint Puffer Mushroom to help out in town, well at least Armilly is on an adventure based on all of the narration that she does — much to Copernica’s chagrin. After recovering the mushroom the adventurers return to town victorious, only to find that their town is on fire. The Void army is attacking and your third party member, Galleo, joins the group to assist with saving the town. After battling with the enemy who caused the fire in the first place you learn of the greater danger to the land and set off on your adventure to save it. After all, what else would a wannabe Hero’s Guild member do?
SteamWorld Quest is a role-playing game with a turn-based “Punch Card” battle system. Each turn you can play up to 3 cards from the ones you currently have in your hand. These cards are drawn from a deck that is made up from eight player chosen cards for each member of your squad. As the battle plays out, should you find that you ever lack usable cards in your hand you can also redraw up to two cards each turn, replacing an unwanted card with a random one from your deck. Each of your team member’s cards are based on the standard RPG archetypes: warriors, rogues, mages and the like. So there is a lot of flexibility in how you build your team and your deck.
The cards in your deck consist of three types: Strikes, Upgrades, and Skills. Strikes are basic attack cards to do direct damage, Upgrades consist mainly of health or stat buffs and Skill cards are your big powerful special attacks. The Skill cards all have a Steam Pressure (SP) cost to play them. You build up your SP by playing Strike and Skill cards, each card that you play adds one SP to your pool… think of it as mana that your Skills require to be played. You’ll also learn of two more advanced mechanics as you make your way through the story: Heroic Chains and Tag Team Combos.
To use a Heroic Chain you have to play three of the same character’s cards in the same turn. If you manage to do this you will receive a useful follow-up effect that is based on your equipped weapon. This effect triggers after your three cards are played and could do extra damage, cast debuffs on your enemies, heal your party or provide useful stat boosts. This proves to be a very useful skill at the start of the game since Copernica’s starting weapon has the Mana Barrier effect that will cast a shield on your entire party essentially giving them extra temporary hit points for three rounds. This is a perfect skill for when your party is very low leveled. Tag Team Combos, on the other hand, are a little harder to explain. Some cards for a particular adventurer will show the face of a different character on them. If you play the Tag Team Combo card after a card from the displayed party member, you’ll get a boost. It’s tough to explain and it didn’t turn out to be very useful for me. I assume that you could create some devastating decks based around this mechanic, but I didn’t find the need to do so in my playthrough of the game.
In each chapter of the adventure, you are always able to find the wagon of the Mysterious Merchant. She will sell you consumable items, new weapons, accessories and even buy your unwanted loot if you so choose. She is also the best source of new cards for your deck. As the story progresses new “Craft Card” recipes will appear in her wagon. You can use some of the useless junk items that enemies drop along with some coins to craft new cards for your adventurers. She will also allow you to spend that same junk to upgrade certain cards in your collection to make them even more powerful. The combinations are nearly infinite, and there is a party and deck that will work for everyone’s playstyle.
Also strewn throughout the levels are Statues of Gilgamech. These statues will allow you to heal and save your game but have the side effect of causing nearby defeated enemies to respawn. This isn’t as bad as it sounds though as you can use it to quickly grind for items and XP to level up your characters. You’ll know when you are too high of a level for the current area as your gained experience will drop off by a high percentage. Hundreds of XP gained per battle will turn into dozens letting you know that it’s time to move on and continue your quest.
The game’s story plays out through 19 chapters of exploration that are broken up with boss battles. There are secrets to be found, loot to grind and awesome writing to giggle over. Even on normal I didn’t find any battles too difficult, but you can play on easy or hard if you so choose.
While making my way through the game I was always smiling due to the amazing soundtrack I was hearing. It set the tone wonderfully in each chapter and never grew old for me. One thing that was a little odd is that your steampunk adventurers always say some nonsense battle phrase when attacking. It’s meant to be gibberish, but is close enough to sounding like real words that I was always left trying to figure out what these little guys were saying. Just goes to show how engrossed I was with this adventure I guess.
SteamWorld Quest was a gem. From the initial boot all the way to defeating the final boss, I was hooked. The game has a perfect blend of challenge, strategy, and collecting that made it near impossible for me to put down. Even after defeating the final boss I jumped right back into the game to track down the final few missing chests, grind my way up to level 50 and to work on buying and upgrading every card that was in the game. SteamWorld Quest is one of my favourite games that I’ve played so far in 2019, and it’s right up there with the some of the best games I’ve played on the Nintendo Switch.
If you’ve enjoyed the previous games in this franchise or if you enjoy card battlers or turn-based RPGs, don’t sleep on this one. It’s a gem on the Nintendo Switch, and at least for the next little while SteamWorld Quest is a platform exclusive. I just hope that this isn’t the last time I am able to explore the fantastical steampunk worlds of SteamWorld Quest.
I played a digital copy of SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech that was provided by Image & Form Games. If you have any questions on our review scale please see our About page.