SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech is a linear turn-based strategy campaign with RPG elements rolled into a card game.
On paper, that’s about as over-complicated as a video-game can be.
It’s a huge departure for makers Image and Form Games, who’ve built a reputation on the back of simple, yet rewarding gameplay loops in the fantastic SteamWorld Dig, SteamWorld Dig 2 and SteamWorld Heist.
You play as Armilly; a young knight desperate to be recognised by the ‘Hero’s Guild’.
When her town is attacked and the Guild heroes turn out to be useless, Armilly takes matters into her own hands with the help of an expelled student and a basement dwelling frog.
At the center of SteamWorld Quest’s 10-15 hour campaign is card based combat.
Before battle, you can assign each of your three team-members with up to eight cards; some can be used freely, but more powerful cards cost “cogs” which build up during battle.
How you balance your deck is critical.
Focusing too heavily on attack will leave your health bars exposed.
Lean too far toward defence and you won’t have the fire power to beat some of the game’s tougher foes.
And stockpiling attacks that can hit multiple enemies become costly against bosses.
At the beginning of a battle you’re dealt a hand of eight cards.
You can play three cards per turn, and if all three are attached to the same character, you’re rewarded with a fourth attack.
In practice, it’s easier than it sounds and deciding which cards to use at which time is engaging and challenging.
Unfortunately, it can also feel a little random.
While this isn’t an issue for the majority of the game, victory against the game’s final string of bosses can feel a little too dependent on the hand you’re dealt rather than your skill in using it.
Winning battles earns your characters get stronger with experience points.
It’s a system that grants a sense of progress, but ultimately it’s irrelevant to your ability to complete the game.
With no side-quests and only combat challenges to complete outside of the main story, grinding to power up your team simply isn’t a factor, which in turn, renders a large number of expensive items and cards unobtainable from merchants.
SteamWorld Quest’s biggest problem is that there’s not enough game to flesh out its layered mechanics.
Image and Form has once again crafted a beautiful world through a unique art-style, music that hits fever pitch during battles and endearing characters.
By game’s end you have five characters to construct your three-man-team, but without enemies that demand special tactics to defeat them, there’s little need to deviate from the original trio.
It’s an illusion of choice that never really delivers and hurts what is otherwise a well crafted tale about what it truly means to be a hero.
We give SteamWorld Quest three stars, or a ‘Good Play.’
SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech is available now from the Nintendo e-Shop.