SteamWorld Quest, a card-based RPG, is an all-around pleasure: challenging but not too complicated, accessible but not too simple, fun at every point.
Casual RPGs must strike a delicate balance: They must avoid being too demanding while providing a satisfactory degree of challenge and complexity. SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech, a card-based RPG set in the SteamWorld universe, puts forward an exemplary model of how games can straddle that line. Its lovable characters, rewarding but straightforward mechanics, wonderful art, and overall pleasant tone make the game a joy to play through.
In SteamWorld Quest, players guide a party of robots through a fantasy journey of evil armies, dark lords, and ancient relics. Gameplay is split up into two primary modes. There's exploration - running around levels, finding treasure chests and otherwise interacting with the environment - and there's combat, which initiates upon making contact with an enemy on the field. Up to three members of the robotic band of adventurers can participate in fights, and on their turns, players can use (in most cases) up to three of the cards they have in their hand, which draws cards from the combined decks of the three party members. Each character has a customizable deck of eight cards; as the game progresses, players can discover and craft new cards as well as upgrade the ones they have.
SteamWorld Quest's gameplay systems keep battles compelling for the game's duration. Basic cards generate cogs, the resource that more advanced cards use, and players must balance cog buildup with the advantages that powerful, costly cards offer. And if players use three cards belonging to a single character on a single turn, that character will execute a chain ability whose effect depends on their equipped weapon. Copernica the alchemist, for example, can create a magic barrier around herself and her allies. There are also a few cards whose strength is augmented if they follow up a specific character's action. That last feature is underutilized - such cards seem exceptionally rare - but combat doesn't suffer too much as a result.
The game benefits tremendously from its atmosphere and personality. The banter between party members is often genuinely funny, and the characters themselves are fun riffs on RPG archetypes - Armilly is a Don Quixote-esque knight; Galleo, the engineer-type, is a homebody who has only reluctantly joined the adventure. Each member of the crew has their moment in the spotlight, and while the plot isn't particularly inventive, its moments of interpersonal connection are handled admirably. Plus, the chapters that break the game up into levels are never too long, keeping momentum building all the way to the final boss.
A small number of shortcomings, all of them related to combat, mark what's otherwise a great title. Enemy types are relatively limited - there are plenty of palette swaps - and toward the end of the game, a few enemies make battles more irritating than challenging. Some bosses, meanwhile, act as hard counters to certain party members because of the elements they're immune to or strong against - a potentially frustrating development if you have the wrong team composition for a fight. But these flaws are far from deal-breakers. The overriding feeling that SteamWorld Quest imparts is one of simple, sincere joy. The game is a pleasure to play, almost unconditionally.
SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech releases on Nintendo Switch on April 25, 2019. Screen Rant was provided with a download code for the purposes of this review.