Blending Spire style card combat with the zany antics we’ve come to expect from SteamWorld titles, Quest impresses with its exciting new takes on the genre.
SteamWorld developers Image & Form have never been known to hold steadfastly to a single genre, with previous SteamWorld entries including turn-based space shooter (and hat collector) SteamWorld Heist, and two platformer adventures in the Dig series, the latter of which we gave an astounding 9.3. In their latest title, we’re transported to a fantasy setting, following the adventures of a few plucky steambots as they face down an invading army of evil.
Blowing off steam
SteamWorld Quest plays things straight when it comes to gameplay, keeping things simple and foregoing much of the chaff that even casual RPGs tend to offer. The game plays linearly in chapters rather than any kind of explorable map, with each chapter being a self-contained area to explore in a room to room, branching corridor fashion with the occasional hidden room to discover and loot. It’s simple but effective, keeping non-combat downtime down to a minimum and reducing the need to backtrack beyond a desire to make sure each chapter is fully explored and looted.
At first glance, it’s easy to make comparisons with Slay the Spire — and while Quest uses a similar turn-based, cards as attacks system, it manages to carve its own identity with how it approaches combat and keeps each encounter fresh and exciting.
You’ll be capped at playing a maximum of three cards per turn, which encourages more tactical approaches to which cards are played and, thanks to a lack of hand discarding at the end of each turn, which to save for later. Each hero in your party has their own customisable pool of exactly eight cards shuffled into your deck, and playing three cards from the same hero in one turn invokes and plays a special fourth card unique to that character, such as party-wide armor or health buffs. Certain cards also have a combo function, triggering an additional effect if they’re played directly after a card from a different hero.
On top of these strategic decisions, cards either generate or consume a resource called steam. Playing simple attacks or buffs builds up your steam, with strong skills requiring various amounts of steam to play; reliably playing a single hero’s three card chain becomes more difficult as you’ll often lack enough steam to play all of their cards in your hand, particularly if you’re fond of running expensive cards.
In fact, juggling steam and having enough cards to cover most situations becomes a fun art in itself. While deckbuilding feels simple early on, you’ll soon begin gathering a steady stream of new cards from treasure chests and travelling merchants, and the hard limit of eight cards per character makes building a strong deck tricky enough to stay interesting. Where most card games are content with letting you ultimately build a deck with all the best cards, Quest forces you to balance between utilising your favorite powerhouse abilities and having enough basic cards on hand to generate the steam for them.
Poor deckbuilding is quickly punished, too — while you’re able to discard and redraw up to two cards per turn, badly constructed decks will still mean that you’ll have turns where you simply can’t play anything. Furthermore, if a hero’s health reaches zero, their cards cannot be played but are still drawn as normal, cluttering your hand with unplayable skills unless you have and are willing to consume a revive item.
While this all may sound punishing and overly tricky, don’t let me discourage you: SteamWorld Quest‘s combat has a great feel and flow to it. The hard limitations imposed on your deck force you to be creative, and every new card acquisition makes you think whether it’d be worth changing out your (hopefully) solid deck and how to best play around the newfound ability; not to mention when options to rotate party members out for new characters arise, each replete with their own cards and playstyles to explore and combo with.
Those party members are more than just walking decks, of course. SteamWorld games have always embraced witty writing and Quest is no exception, with each character having plenty of bizarre personality — such as wannabe knight Armilly’s penchant for narrating the adventure, or the affable but unenthused Galleo, who just wants to go home and hang out in bed. We’ve all been there, buddy.
Image & Form manage to keep playing the characters off of each other throughout their journey, developing in-jokes and occasional groaners that always manage to raise a smile and help carry the game along in slower moments where progress gets a little tougher.
Fans of the ever evolving SteamWorld universe are in luck, as Quest embraces the lighthearted, quirky humor and lovable characters that the games thrive on. Though the game may be a little short, with the main story taking about fifteen to twenty hours, the journey is full of finely tuned combat and daft party banter, making it worth every penny.