Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech is a turn-based deck building role-playing game where you control a group of up to three heroes in a series of adventures through a fantasy world inhabited by robots who look like animals and act like teenagers.
If a deep story and serious worldbuilding is your thing, you can skip past this one. But if you like inventive combat, card collecting, and tongue-in-cheek humor, then you’re in for a treat.
It’s worth starting this review by talking about the combat because I felt it was, by far, the best thing about the game.
Every turn, you get six random cards from the composite decks of your heroes, and you can select up to three of them to play. Upgrades and Strikes can be activated for free, but Skills require that you spend the game’s “mana,” which here is called Steam Pressure. How much SP a Skill cost is informed by the cog-like icon you can see in the card’s upper right part, and how much SP you currently have available to spend is displayed on the upper-middle part of the screen.
Each character has their own cards, but you can play any three you want in a single turn. If they are all from the same character’s deck, you activate a Chain ability, which is a fourth card that is defined by the weapon the hero has equipped. Managing when to activate a Chain and how to combo different abilities can change the tide of battle in your favor, and adds another layer to the game’s strategy.
There are many ways to customize the moves of your heroes with different cards. You can focus on healing, generating SP, applying damage over time, sacrificing HP to increase your attack, buffing and debuffing, reflecting spells, etc.. If you are the type of player who enjoys coming up with powerful combos, you will likely spend a lot of time building your deck. Although each character can only have eight cards equipped at a time, the combinations are many, and there are always new cards that can be acquired, forged, or upgraded as the game progresses.
When you are not fighting enemies, you are traveling through the maps of the game. Those usually linear segments do not seem particularly inspired, as most of what you do is move between rooms, cut down things in your way, find treasures, and maybe solve a few puzzles. It is not bad or anything, but compared to how polished and full of possibility the combat is, it does feel lacking. Wandering around and exploring is rarely a worthy experience; it’s just something you do between one battle and the next one.
There isn’t much to say here that can’t be evidenced by the screenshots themselves. The crayon-like digital art style is excellent, but I personally felt it could have explored more the unique possibilities of a medieval fantasy world inhabited by steam robots. I had the impression the game tended to play it safe with its visual elements, and that the majority of the non-character assets were hard to discern from a generic RPG.
I’ve saved the worst for last. I was not too fond of Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech’s plot, characters, or dialogue. The humor didn’t connect with me, the mystery didn’t make me curious, the worldbuilding didn’t lure me into the game. The more I played, the more I noticed the story had nothing to do with why I was playing. In fact, sometimes it almost made me wish I wasn’t.
But that’s a very, very personal opinion. I care a lot about the in games, and I’m honestly biased toward a particular type of narrative. To entice me, games have to either take themselves seriously or make very good use of their humor, and this one did neither.
You shouldn’t let this influence your opinion of the game too much, though. It’s hard to argue that, in the end, Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamesh is a good game. It might not be for everyone, but it seems to be for most people. The question is: is it for you?