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Ever since Slay the Spire, it seems like everyone and their grandmother is trying to jump on the card game hype train. Someone I would have never expected to grow the list of card game creators is Image and Form, the team behind Steamworld Dig. However, as shown in the past, this team is not afraid to take a step out of their comfort zone and change up the genre and gameplay their creations offer. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about the recently released Switch title, SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech. This is the fifth title in the SteamWorld realm and shakes up everything with its card-based RPG mechanics. But was this right step to take and how did the game actually turn out?
A Byte of Introduction
Before we answer that question let’s dive into what this game is all about. SteamWorld Quest takes place in a time long ago, a time of dragons, knights and wizards (oh my!). You start off as a ragtag bunch of unlikely heroes on a simple quest to find a magic mushroom, only to come back and find that your town has been destroyed. The guild of heroes have been defeated by an evil dark army known as the void and you must team up together to stop them.
Seems pretty generic at first but the story does actually take quite a twist later down the road that, although not entirely impossible to guess, kept things interesting. The characters also make up for this as the banter between them has the same witty humour that is to be expected in a SteamWorld title. You also quickly find yourself getting connected with them as they do go through a few traumatic experiences that might even have you comparing some of the characters to yourself and how you view your mistakes. Regardless if you do have similar experiences, many of these characters are all very likable from the always courageous but impulsive warrior to the quick-witted and often sarcastic alchemist.
Too Complex or Too Simple?
Where this game really shines is in its core mechanic, the card-based battles. Each character you have will bring 8 cards to battle, combining to a total deck size of 24 once you have three characters available. Each turn you will draw a number of cards and then play a total of 3 for your turn. Where this gets interesting, is that each time you play three cards from the same character in a turn, you will be awarded an extra bonus attack, or skill, based on their weapon. Combine that with other cards that require you to play multiple characters in a turn for bonus effects and you have a unique system where you must decide if the bonus effect is worth perhaps shuffling out a powerful card or denying a bonus effect from playing multiple characters on your turn. For example, the alchemist class provides a unique skill that when three of her cards are played simultaneously in a turn, all party members will receive a temporary shield. However, your healer class has a card that does 80% extra damage if you play an alchemist card before their card. Now you must decide what benefits you more. Doing that extra damage and playing a card from each class or playing only cards from the alchemist character so you can obtain a shield. Layer this on with the fact that you don’t always have the cards you need and only have a limited number of shuffling out cards each turn will result in you having to think on your feet if you don’t get that perfect combo.
Throughout your adventure you pick up a number of cards for each character that will have various effects such as damage, heal, shields and status effects but once again keep in mind you only have eight per character. This means that building your deck can be very streamlined because it’s quick and easy enough to assign and remove cards. Cards you obtain are also spread out evenly throughout the game in treasure chests, shops, and story events that occur — a thing I really enjoyed. It made the story feel more engaging and the consistent addition of cards gave you a good reason to try and switch up your combat strategy every so often.
The game in many ways is welcoming to those who might not be a veteran to card-based battles or RPG games but at the same time is not water-downed in a way that makes it undesirable. The game’s aforementioned card selection, straightforward accessories, weapon choices and selection of characters streamlines the game. But at the same time, the number of cards and the different combos that each character can pair with, make it for an enjoyable run for those looking to continuously work at finding that best one.
A World to Explore
The game revolves around fighting those card battles but when you are not fighting you will either be in a cutscene or exploring the level itself. The game has a style similar to that of Paper Mario. You run through a 3D plane as a 2D character and have the ability to strike enemies before they see you to start battles with an advantage — they will be slightly damaged. This mechanic attempts to give the game break in between each battle by having you explore the map, searching for hidden rooms, treasure and solving various puzzles. Although it served a purpose to pace the fights, I feel like this portion of the game fell a little flat. Many of the puzzles felt very similar and most of the hidden aspects were just chests or rooms hidden behind things due to the 2D perspective of the game.
The world, however, does look great! The hand-drawn environment all have a very pleasing atmosphere and immerse you in this medieval world. The creatures fit well with the theme ranging from robot goblins to slime monsters to a unicycle robot with a birdcage for a head. Always silly but at the same time fitting for the environment built in any SteamWorld game. However, as you get further into the game, many of the assets can look very similar. A number of enemies will be recycled for one of the same variety but simply with a color change which makes sense with the elements available but ultimately leading into cases where it can feel a bit repetitive.
A Rather Long Quest
When jumping into this game, just about everything is bursting to the seams with charm and wonder. The only problem is that this can wear a bit thin later into the game and cause a bit of fatigue due to the repetitive nature of the different enemies that you encountered. I did, however, think that the end of the game brought it home with the final bosses and later encounters. I would have hoped for more unique fights and story beats throughout to keep it that much more engaging.
It also might have been stronger with shorter levels to keep a better pace of story and battle specifically for the later stages. In the end, there were times where I felt like the level had gone on forever. This was probably due to the fact that battles could sometimes take a large number of turns especially if there were 4 or more monsters on the screen that you were facing at a time. You put 10 or more of these encounters in a level and after a while it can be taxing to make it through without a nice palette cleanser of some witty banter between the characters.
Some other ways that they could have dealt with this is to push you to experiment more with the characters, cards and adding various effects to the style you must play. A great example of this would be the arena that they included later in the game where you would be pitted against 5 waves of enemies to compete for various prizes. Each tournament would also have various perks such as only allowing you to use a certain amount of resources during the battle. This results in certain cards being useless and forcing you to change your build/strategy. I loved doing these challenges but wished they would have been more accessible early in the game. These various modifiers could have also been added into the main storyline for certain bosses or areas to help spice up the combat and also push people to try new combos.
Overall, this game was a blast! I don’t feel like the few critiques I brought up detract from the game enough to dissuade anyone from giving this title a try and the 17 hours I spent playing the game were enjoyable and flew by quickly. I hope to see a sequel to this game or some of these RPG elements incorporated in the next installment to their SteamWorld series. To come back to the initial question asked in this article, yes, I do think this was the right step for them. This might not be the game many were expecting but it was a great addition to the series.