SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, iOS
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: Thunderful
Developer: Image & Form Games
Release Date: April 25, 2019


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Switch Review - 'Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on April 23, 2019 @ 9:00 a.m. PDT

SteamWorld Quest is a strategy/RPG where you lead a party of heroic steambots through a beautifully hand-drawn world and intense battles, using only your wits and a handful of cards.

Buy Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech

The Steamworld franchise is one of the hidden gems of the past generations. The games have shifted genres and timelines as they have progressed, but each one has shown a genuine excellence in design. Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech represents the developer's first foray into RPGs, using a Slay The Spire-inspired, card-based combat system. It was very easy to imagine it turning out sour, but instead, it's another feather in Image & Form's cap.

Steamworld Quest deviates from the Wild West styling of the previous Steamworld games in favor of a medieval fantasy setting. Players take on the role of Armilly, a good-natured young womanbot who idolizes the legendary Gilgamech, a hero who slew the deadly Behemoth. Armilly longs to be a hero, but her lack of social status (and her dim-witted personality) leave her wishing in vain. One fateful day, an army attacks her hometown and carries off the members of the hero's guild. Armilly and her friends set off on a quest to rescue them, and before long, she finds herself in the midst of the greatest danger the world has known since the days of Gilgamech.

The story in Steamworld Quest is simple but fun. It feels like a Saturday morning cartoon with a large cast of colorful characters who largely communicate in jovial ways. Don't expect anything too poignant, but I enjoyed the cast enough that the occasional moments of pathos worked for me. It's a fairly predictable plot, and if you've played the previous Steamworld games, you'll know what to expect.

The combat system in Steamworld Quest is interesting. You create a party of three characters, each of whom has a deck that consists of eight cards. At the start of a round, you draw a hand of cards that are selected semi-randomly from each of the three character's deck. You can then choose to play three of those cards in any order. Some cards can be played without cost, while others require you to build "Steam Pressure" by playing no-cost cards before you can use them. Once you've selected your cards, the battle plays out, with player cards being followed by enemy cards.

It sounds simple, and on the surface, it is. The trick involves properly managing resources and setting up card combos to deal the maximum possible damage without letting the enemies beat you down. There are a lot of things to consider. If you play three cards from the same deck in a single turn, you'll activate a special fourth card that's unique to the character and determined by the weapon they have equipped. These cards are often extremely powerful, and it's worth trying for them. On the other hand, some cards gain a bonus if played after a card from another deck. You have to sacrifice the custom card (unless you use an ability that lets you play extra cards in a single turn), but the benefits are often worth it.

The neat thing about the deck building is that it allows for a ton of customization. Every character can be built in different ways, and the different ways can work together. For example, Armilly starts off as a standard heavy bruiser, with cards that focus on dealing absurd amounts of physical damage. You can also start building her as a fire mage, with cards that reduce enemy fire resistance and buff Armilly's own fire damage. This allows her to coordinate with Copernica, whose fire-based spells are incredibly powerful and who has the ability to further buff the fire damage of the entire party.

Armilly is the most simplistic character in the game. Galleo, the third character you recruit, is far more flexible. He can serve as a tank, with free cards that reduce damage or allow him to absorb physical attacks, and he can also provoke damage toward himself. He can also be a healer with a wide variety of health- and status-restoring cards. Alternatively, he can be a massive physical powerhouse. He can even be a water-based mage who lowers enemy resistance. My favorite is Orik, a mask-wearing samurai whose cards swap the mask he's using with different effects.

The character design in Steamworld Quest is excellent, and I constantly found myself wanting to swap builds and characters not out of necessity but because I enjoyed it. It's possible to find some extremely powerful combos. The fire-based build I mentioned earlier is strong, but it can be thwarted by an enemy who is immune or absorbs fire damage. There are all sorts of powerful combos to find, but the game is good about providing enough enemy variety that you never feel like you've completely solved it.

Like heroes, enemies have their own decks, and it's interesting to figure out the optimal way to deal with them. Nothing is too punishing on the standard difficulty, but there are situations where going in half-cocked will seriously damage your party. Healing is plentiful, but it involves either risking going into battle at low health or using health-restoring items, which can be surprisingly costly when you have so many other things to spend gold on.

One of the coolest things about Steamworld Quest is that the card system means pretty much every treasure chest you find contains something that's worthwhile and potentially game-changing. While there is a clear build-up of power as you progress, there are a lot of cards that amplify, modify or otherwise enhance your builds. Cards also can be purchased and upgraded at stores, but the cards you find in chests aren't available in stores, and vice versa. The maximum number of cards for each character is fairly large and includes a diverse assortment, so there are plenty of reasons to search.

My only complaint about Steamworld Quest is that it ends. The game is well-paced and is a fun adventure with a good amount of content for the money, but I couldn't help wishing for something more. The Colosseum, which is unlocked about halfway through the game, offers a lot of interesting bonus challenges, which add some extra value and fun challenges. Now that I had a fully optimized deck, I couldn't wait to tackle more challenges. Like Heist before it, the content is fun enough to wish for more, but it helps that the game's pacing is strong enough that it doesn't overstay its welcome.

Visually, Steamworld Quest is a neat-looking game. The character sprites are well animated and contain a lot of cute details. It's obviously somewhat limited in budget, with the backgrounds looking rather plain most of the time, but it does a good job with what it has. The soundtrack is also excellent, and it contains a lot of memorable tunes that got stuck in my head. The penultimate boss theme is a favorite of mine.

Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech is an excellent addition to the Steamworld lineup and a fantastic game on its own merits. The story is simple but charming, and the gameplay alone is strong enough to carry players to the end. The sheer amount of customization and variety in character builds and combat offers a lot of enjoyable content to players both casual and hardcore. If you're a fan of RPGs, then you should try out Steamworld Quest. It's one of the most enjoyable indie titles on the Switch to date.

Score: 9.0/10

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