When it comes to developers, everyone has a few studios that they will support no matter what, because the quality of their previous releases has been amazing, for me that is Image & Form and while I really don’t enjoy card games in digital form, of any kind, I knew that these guys would be able to find a way to make me enjoy it.
Rather than tell the tale of your own adventures, the story is told in the form of a father reading to his son, the story is that of a legendary hero that defeated a great evil, but as time passed, more and more bots forgot the story and legend became myth. While the tale of the hero might be over, other heroes are stepping up in order to attempt to gain their own legend status and it is at this point we are introduced to two of the characters we get to play as, Copernica and Armilly. Copernica is on the hunt for some elusive mushrooms and Armilly is along for the ride as she loves a grand adventure, with Copernica being trained in magic and Armilly longing to be a mighty adventurer, they each bring their own skills and personality to the game. Soon after arriving back to town, they discover that something terrible has happened and with Galleo joining in, with some reluctance, they begin their adventure in full.
As has become quite common with SteamWorld games, the writing is on point and at times quite witty, though, it does vary, depending on the character speaking. Copernica is very straight forward and ends up becoming the straight comic, to the much more boisterous Armilly and while later on Orik joins the group and the twins, Tarah and Thayne, I found myself sticking to the original three members as much as I could, thanks to their interaction. It is not just party interaction that shines, there are some other characters you meet, enemies and friends, that are happy to banter back and forth with you. The biggest problem stems from the characters define quite soon after we meet them, but they never really grow past that, sure they do gain new skills and such, but they are still the same, personality wise, at the end as they were at the start.
The gameplay is a hybrid of two distinct genres, dungeon crawler and card-based battles, which is not uncommon, but a first for the SteamWorld games and it works very well. Each character has a series of cards that they can pad their deck with, with the more of a card in the deck, the more often it comes around. At the start of each turn, you are allowed to play three cards, though if you play the right card, you might get a bonus draw next time, if the card requires no steam power or SP, you can use it at will and you will earn one SP for doing so. Cards that require SP in order to play can use one or more and if you don’t have the required number in your bar, you can’t play the card, it is possible to play two base cards at the start of a turn, in order to play a more powerful card as the closer. As SP banks each turn, there is nothing that requires you to use it, so you can stock as much as you like, but using it depends on the cards you draw.
Each time it is your turn, your cards will be dealt from the pile and should you not like that is provided, you can swap out two cards, for two more, but only twice per turn, there were times when I would do that, only to acquire nothing of use back, it is a risk, but one you don’t have to attempt. As the cards you are dealt are random, you might end up with enough for one character to do all the attacking, and if you do, you will trigger a chain attack. Some attacks will focus on an individual, but the chain attacks will usually hit all the enemies on screen at once, meaning that combining either can be pretty devastating. But you have to be careful, as some enemies will play a counter card, meaning if you attack them, they will jump in and attack back, so caution is the name of the game.
The combat is really easy to pick up and quite easy to master, except for one single problem, the bosses are damage sponges and you get no notice on them coming up. The game allows you to save at statues littered around the world, but that respawns enemies as well, the problem is that those same statues are not always near a boss and once you are in a boss fight, you are in for the long haul. The first boss fight I encountered, lasted 144 turns, thanks in part to one of the enemies just replenishing more of their health than I could take out in a turn, eventually though I was able to win, it began a trend that the game does not want to break. Eventually and with a little advice from another reviewer, I loaded my deck up with as many poison cards as I could and that seemed to help a bit, but boss fights were still ended up being long and boring, even with the game in constant speed up mode.
The other issue is that the world itself has no charm, locations are fine, but as they lack anything to do in them, exploring seems pointless. There are chests that you can find and occasionally, you will need to go and hunt for levers, but for the most part, each level feeds you towards the end of it. Moving between sections is also a little weird, the game will let you just walk between them, if you are going from side to side, but if you have to go up or down, you have to press a button to do it, which is odd.
One aspect that I liked was the visuals, the presentation look is not to different from past SteamWorld titles, which helps sell the connecting themes that the game offers, but there is enough here to make it stand out. Character designs are again similar, but the approach of medieval and fantasy help make each of the characters and enemies stand out and while they don’t really stretch to new ground, they do a great job, nonetheless. In fact the character design is quite a strong point across the board, even the once of characters you meet have a great look to them and that again comes down to the design that has been refined over the years.The overall visuals are given a look that makes the game look like paintings, especially if you stop and take a look at the backgrounds, they have a water coloured effect to them, which helps them standout, even though they remain at the back.
When it comes to the music though, things are a little more mixed, the score suits the games setting, a lot of higher end melodies play out and the game will play the right piece for the right mood. The problem is, with the bosses being sponges, you will hear the battle music a lot and after a while, I had to mute it, as it is quite basic, which I hope is by design and the effect it attempts to provide fails. Character wise, a lot of the dialogue is assisted by the random robot noises that we have come to hear from past games, and again works quite well for the setting, the issue stems from the spoken English words that you hear when the story begins and when new chapters are entered, it is not that it sounds bad, it is just such a juxtaposition that it stands out and not in a good way.
SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech is a solid game, with some wonderful mechanics that I can see being used in more quests, because stories are always being written. Being able to chain attacks together, craft new cards and play how you want results in a game that feels like more of your own adventure than anything, it is just a shame that it is plagued by damage absorbing bosses and bland world exploration. If you are like me and not a card game guy, I highly suggest you give this one a go, it eases you in, but does not hold your hand, giving you plenty of room to try new things.
Review code provided by Image & Form