Maybe I am just getting old, but more and more I find my gaming itches tend to be better scratched by smaller titles rather than the headline grabbing AAA releases we are bombarded with seemingly every month. As much as I like a good blockbuster, it’s these more focused titles that more and more fill my gaming hours.
One such game that may have slipped under your radar due to the loud revving of post-apocalyptic motorcycles is the latest entry in the Steamworld series by developer Image & Form.
Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech is the sixth entry in the Steamworld franchise and the first RPG in the series. And much like how Image & Form streamlined and de-cluttered the turn-based strategy genre with Steamworld Heist, they’ve taken the core pillars from both dungeon crawler RPGs and modern CCG’s to create something rather special.
Story wise, Quest is a little on the shallow side, but it more than makes up for it with charming characters, witty banter, and some very deliberate on-the nose punnage. Armilly wants to be a member of the Hero’s Guild and accompanies her friend and mage-in-training Copernica on an “epic” quest for mushrooms. Things eventually take a darker and less fungi focused turn and soon the companions are forced into an adventure to save their town and the heroes who failed to protect it.
The core of the experience is the card-based combat, and I absolutely love it. Each of your characters has their own distinct and ever-expanding deck of specialty cards. Armilly is a classic fighter type with melee attacks and buff/debuff skills that can empower her or the party or weaken your foes. Copernica is a mage type dealing elemental damage to individual or groups of enemies. Galleo is a tank who focuses on buffs, heals, and damage over time. There are also two more characters you’ll meet along the way who can help to mix up your strategies. One of the best things about the game is how elegantly you’re introduced to the combat mechanics, and how the team managed to keep a lot of depth while stripping the combat down to its core essence.
There are combos, chains, and synergies to be discovered and unlocked, as well as some satisfying tactical thought required throughout. More powerful skills require you to spend Cogs. These are earned during combat by using the more basic attacks and can be stockpiled in order to unleash a truly massive sequence of spectacular attacks. Knowing which cards to keep, use, or swap out each round will be the deciding factor in most encounters, but occasionally luck will fall the wrong way and you’ll be left with a useless hand.
Thankfully this happens rarely, and you can mitigate a bad draw with careful planning and hand management. While hardcore card battlers will likely find the combat a bit shallow, I never grew tired of it and think Quest could be the perfect introduction to CCG’s for anyone intimidated by the complexity inherent with the genre. Slay the Spire is the only other single-player CCG that I can think of that has given me this level of satisfaction.
As you move through the story and pick up loot you’ll level up your party, pick up more powerful weapons, consumables, and cards as well as crafting materials that will allow you to unlock and craft new cards from the vendor who seems to pop-up at the most opportune of places. Image & Form do a fantastic job of keeping things moving along at a good clip with boss fights and important story points maintaining the feeling of progress throughout.
My only real complaints are that the RPG elements are not quite as well realised as the combat mechanics. Levelling up is basic with just linear core stat increases automatically applied with each level earned. The story is competent, but lacks punch and just like the dungeons you’ll be trekking; is very linear.
Despite the issues I have with Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech I still loved my time with it. Combat was compelling, and it has more personality than any game I’ve played this year. I was never not having fun, and as a biker, gamer, and horror nerd the fact that this kept me away from the big console exclusive that released last week pretty much says everything.