SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech Review
SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech is the 5th game in the SteamWorld franchise and the first true RPG in the series. The game debuted on the Nintendo Switch and was recently released on Steam (PC).
SW Quest actually came about when developer Image & Form put out a Twitter poll asking what type of genre fans would like to see for the next SteamWorld game. The fans overwhelmingly voted for an RPG, and less than two years later we have SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech.
The story follows our heroes Armilly and Copernica as they're on a simple quest to find a special mushroom as our game begins. Once they return home to their village, they find that something terrible has taken place while they were away. They meet up with one of their other friends Galleo back in the village, and an encounter with The Void Army gets the adventure going. Side note, I found it absolutely hilarious that two of the henchmen are named Wiggs and Budge. Any Final Fantasy fan will know that these names look awfully familiar.
You'll travel to several locations throughout the four acts and 19 chapters in the game. Along the way, you'll meet five playable characters, each with their own unique abilities and stats. The five characters are Armilly, Copernica, Galleo, Orik, and Tarah & Thayne (two in one).
Without spoiling the story, I'll say that it was fun, and the writing and character dialogue are the best parts. It's nothing particularly groundbreaking and uses some well-known tropes, but it's still entertaining.
The gameplay is a mix between dungeon exploration and a turn-based RPG with a card-based battle system. Admittedly, I was a bit concerned when they announced that the game's battle system would involve cards. I've generally preferred more traditional turn-based battle systems that include Attack, Magic, Items, etc. But to my surprise, the card system is by far the best thing about SteamWorld Quest. And that's not to say there aren't other things to love, but I got hooked on the game's battles and thoroughly enjoyed every enemy encounter from major bosses to the first goblins (named Coglins) and lowly henchmen.
The player builds decks in the game. Each character will unlock multiple pages of cards throughout the game. And each character can set up eight cards to be in their active deck.
There are three different types of cards a character can get: Strike, Skill, and Upgrade. Strike cards are the primary attack cards in the game and are used to set up stronger Skill card attacks. Skill cards are usually high offensive attack cards that require a specific amount of gears built up (more on that shortly). Upgrade cards are stat boosters (buffs and debuffs). They don't cost any gears, but they also don't add any gears to the gear bar either.
What are gears you may ask? Well in each battle there is a bar at the top that fills with up to ten gears. Each Strike card will grant the player one gear in their gear bar. Some of the Skill cards require three and four gears to be saved up before you can use them. This requires even more strategy as you can't fill your deck with just a bunch of high-powered Skill cards that require four gears as you'll need a bunch of Strike cards first before you can ever use them.
Part of the challenge of the game is figuring out what types of decks work best. I did some experimenting with different decks and characters, but admittedly stuck with what worked best for me and kept a lot of that throughout the entire game.
One of the very few complaints I have about the game is that a lot of the Skill cards that required 3 or 4 gears to use never really felt worth it. I always felt some of the two gear Skill cards were just as good if not better than ones that required significantly more gears to use. Armilly's Brave Buster (requires two gears to use) was a card I kept in my deck throughout the entire game. The same goes for Tarah & Thayne's Twin Combo.
Among the five playable characters in the game, you can play as three of the heroes at one time. This also adds to the strategy of the game as some characters are heavier attackers, while others offer healing and regen cards. Fortunately, you can change your party on the fly (as long as you're not currently in a battle) and shuffle your party often. This is great because there are areas where you absolutely need a healer on your team and other areas where you want to go with your most aggressive attackers.
As with all good RPGs, the game allows you to level up your characters to increase their stats. There are four categories associated with your characters. They are Health, Strength, Magic, and Luck. The heroes gain one single stat boost every time they level up, so going from Level 1 to 2 might boost your HP by 30 points and going from Level 2 to 3 might increase your Strength by three points.
The Heroes also have equipment that is comprised of their specific weapon and two accessories. As with most games of this genre, the accessories give additional stat boosts like defense against specific elemental magic or +20% to total health, etc. Players can generally purchase new weapons for their characters at the Merchant's shop with each new chapter. Weapons give a boost to the Strength stat like +30% but also include a special card that is used for combos.
Combos are a neat addition to the card battle system and something I really enjoyed. If you get the luck of the draw and place three cards from the same hero, it'll activate an automatic combo and place a 4th card for an extra bonus. So if the player can use three of Armilly's cards in one turn, she'll use an extra card to deal even more damage. There are also some cards that work well together between two heroes.
The player's deck will consist of 24 total cards (3 heroes x 8 cards), and your hand consists of six cards at one time. The player is also given the option to shuffle one card for a card from the deck one to two times per turn. Shuffling helps you place cards back into the deck that you can't play and potentially pick up a card that allows you to complete a three card combo. Of course, if you get a bad roll, you could end up throwing away a useful card for one you can't play, so it's a gamble!
Beyond the game's battles, player's will find themselves exploring the world in a mostly linear manner. Each chapter is essentially a dungeon (think dungeon rooms from The Legend of Zelda games), you explore one room to the next as you can keep track of your progress with the mini-map. Player's will encounter treasure chests throughout their journey, and some of them are hidden pretty well and will take some effort to find. Other rooms will consist of enemies that will throw players into battles. There are no random battles in this game, all the enemies appear on-screen.
Similar to the Mario & Luigi RPG series, players can attack the enemies prior to the battle starting, to deal an initial blow to the enemy. One other issue I did have with the game was that sometimes my attacks wouldn't connect with the enemies and then they'd get me before I was able to strike them. It wasn't a huge deal, but it happened enough times that I felt something was off or could have been improved.
The environments vary a good amount from forests to caves, snowy mountains, a school for witches, a gladiator arena, and more.
Enemies and bosses have a solid variety to them. Designs are unique, the colors work well, and the enemies change things up enough to force the player to continuously update their strategy so that it isn't just spamming physical attack over and over again. For example, some enemies will deal massive damage to your character when you strike them with a physical attack. So you have to be extra careful and use long-distance magic attacks against these foes.
The 2D art is beautifully drawn and really helps the game stand out. It may be Image & Form's best-looking game to date.
At 19 chapters, the game took me a little over 20 hours to complete. I wish the game was 5-10 hours longer, but that's just a credit to how much I enjoyed my time with the game. It definitely doesn't outstay it's welcome or put the player through any unnecessary remedial tasks.
Who Should Play This Game?
Players who love card-based games like Magic the Gathering, Pokémon TCG, Hearthstone, etc. Anyone that enjoys traditional turn-based RPGs and enjoys beautifully 2D hand-drawn art style. And lastly, anyone who has been playing through the SteamWorld universe of games: SteamWorld Dig 1 & 2, SteamWorld Heist, etc.
What Makes the Game Worth Buying?
Flat-Out the card-based battle system is by far the best thing about SteamWorld Quest. It is so much fun to play with the different characters and to try out all their unique cards, performing card combos, and countering all the unique monsters in the world.
At $24.99 the price is on the higher end of most Indie Games; however, you're definitely getting good bang for your buck. Expect the game to take around 20 hours to complete and even longer to 100%.
The card-based battle system is unique, extremely fun, and the best part of the game.
Five playable characters with a variety of different cards makes each character very unique and fun to play.
Absolutely beautiful 2D art style.
Witty banter and dialogue between the heroes.
Attacking enemies pre-battle can be hit or miss.
Story is fun but nothing spectacular or new.
High-Cost Skill cards never felt worth using.
Disclaimer: A Switch review code was provided by the developer.