A promising knight, a dutiful alchemist, a reluctant mechanic, a mysterious warrior, and a pair of mischievous thieves must band together to root out a growing threat to the world. Embark on a globe-trotting quest. Stop a new threat from bringing evil back to a land. Remind the world what it truly means to be a hero. Recruit allies and build decks around their unique skills. Engage in turn-based battles using the cards you’ve collected and strategize to overcome overwhelming forces.
SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech is a deck-building card game RPG developed by Image & Form Games (SteamWorld Heist, SteamWorld Dig) and published by Thunderful Games (Ghost Giant, Hellfront: Honeymoon).
SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech is available on the Nintendo Switch for $24.99.
The game begins, as most RPGs do, with our heroes taking a trip outside their small and simple village. Of course, an invading force reduces their idyllic home to ashes because they left for five minutes. The player begins with Armilly, the courageous and hopeful sword-wielding knight who idolizes the legends of heroes long past and hopes to join the Heroes’ Guild. With her is Copernica, a bright pupil of the Alchemist Academy who is more interested in learning in the field than being surrounded by stuffy books and stuffier teachers. Along the way they’ll recruit other fighters to their quest for justice, including Galleo, a homebody and reluctant adventurer, Orik, a mysterious stranger, and Tarah and Thayne, a pair of twins more comfortable in the shadows than the light.
If this sounds like a typical medieval fantasy RPG (aside from the fact that everyone is a robot), it is, but it’s what the game decides to do with the common tropes that helps it stand out from the rest. Without getting into spoilers, SteamWorld Quest explores the dangers of hero worship, and how, over time, even the best intentions can degrade. Each hero in your party has their own personal hurdles to overcome, and painful truths to face. While the game delights in throwing humor into the dialogue and even some of the designs, at its core is a very real story that is sure to take the player by surprise and keep them invested.
Those familiar with the SteamWorld franchise knows that each game, unless it’s a direct sequel, wears an entirely new hat than the last. The games in this series have dabbled in tower defense, Metroidvania, and something akin to a 2D XCOM. For SteamWorld Quest, the chosen genres are RPG and deck building/card battles. In typical RPG fashion, you build a party of three heroes (benching the remaining two) each with their own unique skills and utilities. Rather than just select from a menu of attacks and spells, however, in SteamWorld Quest you draw a hand of cards from a deck you make yourself.
Each card is assigned to a different hero, and run the gambit of utility from dealing direct damage to healing allies to causing status effects. What cards you draw are random (from the created deck of course), so while there is an element of luck to what you’ll be able to do each turn, you can overcome this by redrawing up to two cards each turn, or saving cards for future turns to set up better combos.
You can play up to three cards per turn, and cards either generate or consume steam power (SP). Managing your SP is one of the key elements you must keep in mind in order to achieve victory. While cards, on their own, deliver direct effects to either enemies or allies, they can also interact with each other in a couple of different ways. The first is through chain attacks. Play three cards from the same hero in one turn to play a fourth card, determined by that hero’s weapon. For example, if Armilly was to use three cards in one turn, she could execute an attack that would deal damage and heal her for a small amount. With a different weapon, she might instead apply a bleed effect to an enemy.
You can also synergize cards between heroes with link cards. Link cards boost their effects if used after a specific hero use any of their own. Link cards are few and far between, unfortunately. Since they need two specific heroes to work, it can be hard to find ones that fit your playstyle.
While your heroes will level up, they do not gain new cards by doing so, just an increase to their stats. Collect cards by crafting, chests, or specific story moments. Crafting can be somewhat demanding of the materials and gold you find in the world, so any hope of crafting every single card in the game, especially when you factor in the fact that you can upgrade cards with those same materials, is a dream only achieved through grinding and farming.
Aside from finding cards in chests, you can also earn cards through story moments. There will be select moments during your quest when a character has a defining or changing moment occur, awakening a new ability (card) within them. This is a dynamite way to introduce new cards to the characters and is one of the coolest and most unique elements in the game. In addition to cards, you can equip weapons and up to two accessories that you will either find in the world or buy from the mysterious merchant.
Your adventure will take you across 19 different maps across multiple chapters and acts. Maps design is like a side scrolling beat ’em up. You’ll enter an area and there may be one or two exits to another part of the map. Heroic statues replenish your health, but also respawn all enemies in the area; think Dark Souls bonfires. Rather than random encounters, the game will show you the enemies onscreen before you engage them in combat, typically patrolling in a small area. Though you can see them in the world before you run into them, it’s next to impossible to avoid them, so it’s best to attack them in order to start the fight with them already having taken damage.
The gameplay loop can sometimes feel repetitive, as many turn-based RPGs can. However, there is a fast forward button you can press that will speed things along. There’s little end-game content, other than a colosseum where you can fight waves of enemies of increasing power for rewards of equal value. You’ll need to grind in past chapters, however, as by the end of the game expect to hit around level 33-35, and the colosseum’s enemies can reach as high as level 50. There is also no new-game-plus feature. The biggest gripe is the game makes a cardinal sin of RPGs: benched characters earn less XP than active party members. You may feel forced to stick with three heroes because your benched ones have fallen behind in levels. Thankfully XP is boosted with an accessory, but it wouldn’t be needed if it weren’t for this flawed design choice.
Graphics and Audio
The familiar artwork and designs of the SteamWorld series are here in full form, breathing life into a unique and interesting world of steampunk and high fantasy combined. Each character’s design says a lot about them on the onset. Each hero has an easily recognizable silhouette helping them to stand out from everyone else. Enemy designs, too, are all incredibly fun and well designed. They try to take a standard medieval RPG monster, such as goblins and ogres, and give them a steampunk twist (for example goblins become coglins). These designs give a fresh take on an admittedly heavily treaded setting. The use of color is especially noteworthy. Vibrant towns, lush forests, dank caverns, and shadow-soaked ruins are all properly illustrated and colored to give them truly eye-catching beauty.
Continuing its trend of bullseye attempts, SteamWorld Quest can also boast a bombastic and exciting soundtrack. You’ll be hearing the same track many times over as you enter into battle after battle; however, each track proved to be enjoyable and engaging enough that they never felt unwelcome. Sword clangs resonated and fire balls bursted with appropriate pop and flavor.