Developer: Image & Form
Release Date: April 25th, 2019
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC, Switch
Have you ever wanted to get into a card game, but found the plethora of mechanics overwhelming? Well SteamWorld Quest has your back. Coming from developer Image & Form, SteamWorld Quest is the latest entry in the SteamWorld franchise. This time around you’ll be playing a fantasy RPG with a card game twist. Instead of clicking through menus, players have a deck of cards which they play to cast each of their abilities. This unique spin on combat adds a layer of depth to traditional turn-based combat resulting in a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
A big win for SteamWorld Quest is its accessibility. A few different things are done to ensure that genre newbies are never overwhelmed. Firstly, each character in the party can only contribute eight cards to your deck. No more, no less. In doing this, players are forced to weigh their available options choosing only the very best cards. There are several good options, but this limitation helps to push players into discovering what is essential for their strategy.
Secondly is card variety. At the start of SteamWorld Quest there are only two characters each with a handful of cards. This limits the variables the player has when starting out. As you progress through the game new cards can be purchased, expanding the available mechanics for each character. Additional party members also join your quest further increasing the number of unique cards. By slowly ramping up the volume and complexity of cards, SteamWorld Quest never overwhelms the player.
Thirdly is how powerful cards are handled. There are three card types: strikes, upgrades, and skills. Strikes are attacking cards and upgrades are buffing cards, both of which can be used at anytime and grant a charge of Steam Power (SP). Expending SP is how you use skill cards. Skills are both attacks and buffs, but are far more powerful than basic strikes and upgrades. This makes each combat encounter a balancing act of using basic cards to unleash skills. It also dissuades against poor deck compositions that can crop up when players rely too heavily on skills.
Finally is how synergies are handled. Synergies are when any two cards create more powerful effects when used in combination. Card games often use this technique to mask layers of depth for players to uncover. SteamWorld Quest has some basic card synergies that manifest as combo cards. These cards gain additional power, or secondary effects when used after a specified character takes an action. While on the nose, these cards introduce players to synergies and help them to think about what others exist.
These systems are all designed to help make SteamWorld Quest approachable. Deck composition and how to play cards aren’t spelled out for the player in tutorials. Instead, SteamWorld Quest tries to guide players into discovering this for themselves.
Having said that, veterans to card games will find SteamWorld Quest incredibly easy. I played the game on the hardest difficulty and breezed through it. That’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable, but if you’re looking for a deep card game experience SteamWorld Quest isn’t going to be able to provide it.
Another area SteamWorld Quest does well is writing. The cast of characters all have their own quirks, which suits the more lighthearted tone of the over arching story. You’ve got a group of heroes who set out on a journey to save the village and end up stumbling their way into saving the world. It’s not Shakespeare, but the story never becomes tiresome or betrays its tone with random bouts of seriousness.
The other aspect of the writing that stood out was how the mechanics of certain cards tie into character writing. As an example we can look to leading lady Armilly. She is a wannabe hero of the ages willing to take on any quest. Throughout the game she’ll run into danger headfirst without a second thought for her own safety. This combination of bravery and recklessness can be seen through a number of her cards which do a high amount of damage, but also damage her in turn.
I also really like the art-style, but can’t think of anything creative to say about it so I’m using the screenshots from my play-through as a stand-in.
The final aspect that I appreciated was how new cards are acquired and upgraded. The majority of new cards you’ll obtain come from trading gold and resources to a travelling shop keeper. Upgrades are handled identically except you’re improving cards in your collection. There isn’t enough resources to buy and upgrade every card in the game giving weight to each card acquisition and improvement.
Despite all the good, there is one standout flaw for me and that is the enemy variety, or rather the lack there of. Throughout the game’s four acts you’ll encounter several re-skinned foes and bosses. Yes, even the bosses are reused. While changes are made to their elemental attacks and resistances, continually defeating the same foes adds a slight feel of repetition to the game. The campaign isn’t too long (sixteen to twenty hours), so this repetition never manages to root itself too deeply, but I’d have appreciated a greater variety in the foes I fought throughout my journey.
SteamWorld Quest is a great game and one that I’d highly recommend. The game may not be deep enough to satisfy card game experts, but the myriad of accessibility features should help to guide players around common pitfalls of the genre. In combination with enjoyable, albeit lighthearted, writing and meaningful upgrade decisions, SteamWorld Quest has shown that Image & Form understand how to retain the enjoyable elements of a complex genre while making it accessible. The reused enemies can make some combat encounters repetitive, but this is only a minor gripe in the face of all that the game does well.