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Image & Form has, for almost a decade, created their own unique alternative universe, filled to the brim with steampunk robots loaded with character. The team now takes everything that we’ve come to expect and injects it into a fantasy realm with their new RPG card battler SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech.
Known for their humour and their knack for jumping genres the latest outing from the Swedish developers takes the form and functionality of a traditional turn-based RPG akin to classics like Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior and fuses it with the trappings of Baten Kaitos from the Gamecube. What we are left with is a beautifully hand-drawn world filled with lively steambots, dragons, and a few surprises to keep you engaged throughout its 20+ hour campaign. While delivered in a linear way the story never takes a break and offers up enough secret areas and hidden items to have you come back for more.
The idea of an RPG smashed together with a deckbuilding card battle system initially sent a shockwave through the gaming community. Many were turned off by the idea of playing a card game dressed up like an RPG. SWQ delivers in every conceivable way. Each of the playable characters (3 in a party) is allowed to hold a hand of 8 cards. The 24 playable cards create the deck that will be used during battle. These cards include your basic attacks which generate steam power (SP) which is in return used to play the more powerful spell and attack cards. The depth of this system lies in creating a strategy that best suits the player but also fits the situation. Additionally, being limited to 3 cards per turn until this is upped to a 4th special card if 3 consecutive cards are played by the same character resulting in a multitude of offensive or defensive abilities also forces the player to make choices that not only help the current situation but set you up for future turns. Through the course of the journey, you can find cards hidden in chests as well as craft new ones with the materials gathered in the world. These materials are also used to level up the cards you already have making them more powerful for offensive and defensive plays. Managing the multiple pages of cards you have in order to find the 8 per character you want to use is rewarding as different varieties offer up unique and interesting results. Each dealt hand allows the player a chance to reroll up to two cards in hopes of getting the elusive health card or spell card to paralyze the enemy for 3 turns. Leveraging your SP in order to cast protection or deal a death blow becomes tense as the enemies bring their own decks to the battle with their own unique strategies all geared toward thwarting your progress. In addition, players will be able to purchase new weapons and accessories that will help you on your quest. Finding a proper loadout for each of your characters, while not essential, helps strengthen their offensive and defensive capabilities.
Visually the game is striking. Feeling like a painting come to life, the highly detailed world bursts with colour and personality. The character models themselves, larger than those from previous Steamworld entries are intricately detailed machines that at times through conversations have you forgetting they are not human. Through the course of the 4 acts, you are treated to a variety of settings with each pulling off the illusion that this is a world we could explore if only we were brave enough to battle the dangers that lay ahead. The animation is fluid and raises the standard set by the previous games in the series. The lights flicker off the walls as the cinder drops from the torches as you progress down the dungeon halls. The still images used during the dialogue give you an up-close look at the character models in all their glory.
Audio wise, Image & Form has done it again. A near perfect soundtrack scores this tale as you stalk quietly in the woods only to crescendo when a boss encounter explodes on the screen. The main narrative is delivered through text on the screen but the bots delivery the garbled gibberish language that they have always used in the past. The small amount of voice work that is here is believably delivered and adds to the fantasy nature of the story by almost evoking a sense of a wise sage guiding the journey. Each of the playable characters has their own set of grunts and groans as you slash brush and land preemptive strikes on enemies. The added ability to switch which character you control in these segments is a nice touch and doesn’t change your party layout when engaged in combat. The combat sounds equally good with the clanging of metal against each other with interspersing effects like the roaring of fire and zapping of electricity.
Steamworld Quest is a triumph of game design, storytelling, and world building. Taking the foundation laid with their previous works Image & Form have now succeeded in crafting a whimsical fantasy world that fits snugly into the timeline created while leaving it just as open for more to fill in. SWQ succeeds in mashing up the RPG and deckbuilding cards battling genres together while leaving you satisfied with the journey but waiting for what the future holds.