The SteamWorld universe is ever-expanding. The series’ first entry, SteamWorld Tower Defense, displayed real-time strategy mechanics, while SteamWorld Heist explored turned-based strategy from a side-scroller perspective, and the SteamWorld Dig series combined mining/crafting with Metroid-like exploration. Image & Form Games’ latest title, SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech, fuses card-collecting and turn-based RPG elements to create comprehensive deck-building combat experiences set against the backdrop of fantastical steampunk-inspired vignettes.
Based on my time with an early preview build, you play as Armilly, Copernica, and Galleo (including other unrevealed party members) – as they traverse various landscapes to clash against robotic adversaries and mythical creatures. These meticulous, hand-drawn environments feature dense forests with fungi-themed monsters, ravaged settlements engulfed in flames, and dark cobblestone dungeons among other locales that haven’t been unveiled.
Navigation through each setting is simple and linear, depending on whether you decide to travel off the beaten path. Basic exploration, however, is rewarded: currency and materials hide behind secret doorways as well as within smashable crates. But most areas are littered with automaton sprites eager to assault your squad. You can initiate a preemptive strike with the push of a well-timed button. This enables instant advantages in battle: you can attack first, and enemies start fights with fewer health points. This mechanic is two-fold, since foes can attempt to engage with a preemptive strike of their own, so watch out!
SteamWorld Quest’s core gameplay relies on carefully planned card strategies. At the beginning of combat, players draw up to six “punch cards,” but they can only play three each turn. Card abilities fall under specific categories: physical hits (strikes), healing or buff magics (upgrades), and charge-up attacks (skills). Relative to these different abilities, strikes and upgrades contribute to a steam pressure (SP) gauge. SP can then be spent to activate skill cards. Armilly, your knight, possesses high-damage sword slashes that require a modicum of SP, while Copernica can unleash skills based in elemental magics.
Sometimes, you may not have enough SP, so skill cards can’t be placed. If this happens, you can redraw to replace individual cards in your hand. This mechanic, however, can only be used twice per turn. Between fights, I rebuilt my deck, equipping more strikes and upgrades and removing several skill cards that felt like dead weight. I appreciated this trial-and-error depth of combat; some enemy bosses are punishing in early chapters of the game if you haven’t properly formatted your card collection.
Combos – called heroic chains – provide your heroes with the strongest bonuses. Companions have eight-card personal decks that are shuffled into a main deck at the start of battle. When three cards that belong to a single party member are placed in the same turn, you are awarded a finisher. These finishers are additional cards that imbue your team with powerful abilities. For instance, Galleo, the brawler-healer hybrid of the group, has a three-card combo that restores a modicum of the party’s health. I found heroic chains crucial during boss fights, as it gave me time to chip away at larger, intimidating health bars.
Other than engaging the enemy, you can use your time outside of combat to purchase and equip weapons, armor, and accessories. Like most RPGs, your attire can apply buffs and bolster your party’s primary stats. Restoration items are bought from shopkeepers or looted after battles, and hero statues can be accessed to fully restore health and save progress.
While the new deck-building elements are a departure from other Image & Form Games titles, fans of the SteamWorld universe will still be in for a treat. The quirkiness and humor in previous entries makes a return, and the latest cast of protagonists will be endearing to old and new players alike.
SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech drops first on Nintendo Switch later this year and will be available for other consoles further down the road. In the meantime, head here, to browse our list of the most anticipated RPGs of this year.