Tuesday, April 23

Review: SteamWorld Quest - Hand of Gilgamech [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Since its somewhat humble origins the SteamWorld series has built quite a stellar reputation for itself, delivering a consistent degree of excellence while somehow generally continuing to explore completely different styles of play. On the Switch it has been easy to fully appreciate the series as, in particular, both Dig 2 and Heist stand out as top-shelf titles that should easily be counted among the system’s best even though they mechanically are from completely different genres. With that pedigree in mind, the radical move to a deck-building turn-based RPG may have been risky but it’s also true to (image and) form (HA!), and thankfully they’ve yet again managed to deliver a polished and engaging experience gamers of all stripes should be able to enjoy.


In the game you’ll take control of what’s ultimately a party of 5 (well, technically 6) different somewhat misfit heroes, though you’ll only be able to work with 3 of them at a time in your active party. That’s the first strategic layer. Next you’ll have very specific control over the cards in each character’s decks, which will slowly continue to add more options that you’ll find along the way (always worth seeking out those hidden spots) or will be able to craft at the shop. While there are certain core affinities to each character’s specific cards there are also usually some that will play against type and can come in handy in a pinch, but you’ll only be able to have 8 per character so as the game moves on that will lead to tough choices. Add to that the fact that each character will be able to equip different weapons that will enable a special combo attack if you exclusively use their cards in a round and you add another layer to consider. Just for giggles you can even throw on some cards that have an additional effect if you’ve played a card for another specific character in the same round. Thus, from a strategic standpoint, the game has you set if your goal is choice, variety, and strategy.


Where it gets tricky is that your decks will need a balance of more basic cards that build up your resource pool (steam, of course) and those that consume it. Making your decks too heavy in either direction can have dire consequences so there’ll need to be some trial and error involved, and some characters can have different concentrations of builders or consumers depending on your strategy. At a minimum you’ll want to have at least one character who can hit heavy and hard and one that can shield, buff, or at least heal your party. The other can be more of the wild card, either playing into one of those roles or striking more of a balance. Since until late in the game there’s not much of a penalty for taking your time to work through foes I tended to go pretty heavy defensively and then had 2 different character attack cards that would deal massive damage by consuming all of the steam you’ve built up. While that served me well, the variety of cards creates plenty of opportunities for creative builds with an elemental focus, weakening the resistance of foes to a specific type of attack and then piling on the damage. The beauty is really that it’s up to you to discover your own preferred style and Quest is obviously quite intent on doing all it can to help give you the tools to work with to do so.


When it comes to flaws there aren’t many to note, in the roughly 13 hours it took for me to roll the final credits (the last 3 Acts of 5 I stopped concerning myself with finding everything hidden in each chapter so there’s still quite a lot I missed out on) I came to really appreciate the variety of the decks as I’d periodically play around with different builds to see which would work under what circumstances. I would say that the jump in difficulty as you approach the end is a pretty big one, up until some of the game’s later battles I generally didn’t struggle much and could stick to 1 primary team and set of deck compositions, but as you try to get to the end you almost need to lose to some of the enemies you’re up against in order to understand what their attack styles are so you can counter them, especially status ailments. Whether you go with cards or items you purchase, or even choose to gut it out, you’ll need to keep in mind all of the options you’ve been accumulating to be sure to put together a deck you can find success with. Outside of the ramp up in difficulty late I’d say my main personal criticism is that the last few hours felt like they dragged a bit, whether because it felt like my decks were set and ready with few viable options being added late (either because of their high resource cost or detrimental effects to my own team) or just in terms of having already been thoroughly satisfied already. The fact that some of the late battles simply feel like an endurance test more than a strategic challenge didn’t help much in that regard. That said, I know there are plenty of people who like to measure their enjoyment of games in raw hours so the respectable length tipping towards 20 hours if you try to find everything is probably welcome for them.


As a whole, despite my personal feeling that it lost some steam towards the conclusion, SteamWorld Quest is easy to count among the most polished and engaging games on the system. Similarly to Heist it has managed to take a style of play that may not be as familiar to people and that may seem intimidating at first and make it highly accessible. There’s just so much potential in the decks you can put together that with some determination not to repeat yourself you could easily replay the game and have it feel very different due to your change in tactics. Yet again Image and Form have managed to take their SteamWorld universe to another very different place and yet deliver the same sort of high quality experience people have come to expect from the series.

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • Manages to go with what on the surface seems like a complex card-based battle system and make it both accessible and engaging
  • In terms of how you set up your active team and their respective decks there’s an enormous amount of variety put under your control, providing plenty of opportunities for people to do things their own way
  • As the game moves to its conclusion your ability to adapt to some challenging enemies will likely take you out of your comfort zone to counter what they throw at you

Cons:
  • Some of the later battles feel more like a test of endurance with their length than of your skills of putting an effective team together
  • When the difficulty down the stretch kicks in it feels a bit abrupt after coasting a bit for awhile
  • The story, while having some charm and some great characters, is a bit on the boilerplate side