SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech is a classic RPG story that takes place in a self-consciously clichéd fantasy world where magic, dragons and steam-driven robots linger. Armilly is the hero who, against her own ambition of being knighted as part of a well-organised band of heroes, is tasked with saving the world from evil. By her side is the sarcastic magician Copernica, as well as a massive frog called Galleo who, incidentally, would probably prefer taking it easy in his mum's basement over the mission at hand.
The twist to Hand of Gilgamech is an interesting one - you can't, as a player, attack, unleash powerful attacks on your enemies, or heal your companions. Instead, you get to familiarise yourself with a very special deck of cards. You control three heroes on the battlefield, each with eight hero-specific cards in their arsenal. You'll be given six bolts per round that you'll then use to keep your characters alive, buff your team and attack your opponents (think of them as initiative points). There are no stamina or magic bars to keep track of, instead, you'll build up steam pressure as time goes on that you then use to play your more powerful cards. When you get into the game it's very simple to understand the rules of the game thanks to outstanding design choices and it gradually gets more fun as you finally get the tactics down enough to completely annihilate your enemies through fun combinations.
Don't count on every the game looking like a round of Gwent or Hearthstone. The card-based system in SteamWorld Quest leans more towards classic Final Fantasy battles than anything, with a randomised card-deck aspect. This is a card game that can stand on its own. Hand of Gilgamech (and yes, we're spelling that correctly) is genuinely a lot of fun and your three heroes decks have to have a carefully chosen sense of symmetry if you want to go through the entirety of the game. For example, we had issues with one bastard who wouldn't stop spreading disease through his cards, leaving our entire team on the battlefield with enough sickness to fill a medical dictionary. Hidden in our deck, however, we found a card that could turn all the yucky sickness we were now carrying into a massive damage-dealing attack. To rely on a single card in your deck and, at the same time, having enough steam to use it is a hard equation to balance in-game, but by keeping ourselves alive long enough we finally got to use the fabled card, essentially dealing an insane amount of damage on our opponents. We felt smart, invincible even, and that feeling comes often throughout SteamWorld Quest.
The in-game world is linear and has you moving through different rooms that will sometimes have multiple doors to go through. In some of the rooms, you'll find enemies, in others, you'll discover treasure chests. The whole thing is pretty small in scale but it works well and doesn't feel claustrophobic or limited in any way. Image and Form is a tiny studio if compared to the RPG giants they're going up against with SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech, but the concept, albeit being rather simple, works incredibly well, and it's all built around some incredible design choices. The dialogue in-game is also absolutely fantastic and it'll be able to make even the sternest player burst into laughter.
In our quest to halt the end of the world and, in doing so, turn Armilly into a hero, we travelled to a bunch of different areas, moving from room to room, kicking enemy butts and building our decks to perfection along the way. Apart from a neat arena tournament mode where five rounds of enemies are unleashed upon us while the tactical objectives change, there's not much to the game. It's somewhat one-sided and we would have loved to have seen bigger, tougher puzzles, some bigger areas that would break apart the room-by-room structure, and maybe even some stealth-driven gameplay. That being said, the base concept in SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech is clearly well thought out, to the extent that we were hooked by the combat, the narrative, and the fantastic overall design.
Just like in Final Fantasy X, you're best off putting all your resources into three characters and trying to get these to work well together on the battlefield while the rest of your characters stay away from the spotlight. That's certainly how we played, and so we're genuinely curious to find out how others have played the game, and what characters they chose and why.
Image and Form has prioritised cleverly when creating this game. The studio has established a massive audience over the years, widening the horizon of the SteamWorld franchise and showing that the studio can make games in any genre you can care to think of. We wouldn't be surprised if the developer were to give us a serious survival game with Guitar Hero-like mechanics next, and we're guessing we'd give that a high score as well.