Image & Form Games has been absolutely killing it lately. The surprisingly unheralded indie dev from Sweden is basically batting a thousand with its terrific SteamWorld series, which takes the light rumor of its robots and applies it to different genres. SteamWorld Quest is its latest effort, and I'm happy to say that it's looking every bit as strong as SteamWorld Dig and SteamWorld Heist.
Where SteamWorld Tower Defense, SteamWorld Dig and SteamWorld Heist were respectively a tower defense game, platformer and tactics game, SteamWorld Quest is a turn-based fantasy RPG. Like SteamWorld Heist, SteamWorld Quest looks quite simple at first, but its hidden depths are soon revealed through its complex deck-building mechanic. You will find yourself having to use all of the systems at your disposal to achieve victory. If you don't, you will be quickly defeated.
On that front, I felt like the representative from Thunderful Publishing, Image & Form's development partner, was trolling me a little when they dropped me into a boss fight near the middle of the game. Given a mostly offense-oriented deck to work with, I found my attacks repeatedly bouncing off the armor of my opponents while they rapidly ground down my HP with poison and other attrition effects. It felt like SteamWorld Quest's way of saying, "If you don't take the time to build up the right deck, you will be punished."
The basic gist of the gameplay is this. You get three characters per party, who are drawn from a much larger pool of characters recruited as the game progresses. These characters all have access to different cards, and you can choose from those cards to build up a deck that best exemplifies their role (mage, support, attacker, and so on).
In combat, you choose from up to three cards, which consist of attacks, buffs, and so forth. Regular attacks buid up a steam gauge, which is required to access more powerful attacks. If you use three cards from the same character, you get a unique ability that will either buff your party or do large amounts of damage to your opponents. Card draws are random, but you can reshuffle and draw up to two additional cards per round.
It's not all that complicated on paper; but in practice, the interlocking components offer a lot of interesting opportunities. Depending on which cards you choose, and how you choose to power them up, you can potentially fashion any number of interesting roles for individual party members. You will have to think had about your approach too, because attrition from even normal encounters is high, which makes brute forcing your way through even basic enounters pretty high.
Into this wonderful stew of interesting mechanics, Image & Form stirs in its trademark humor and high-quality art. SteamWorld Dig and SteamWorld Heist were both very nice looking games in HD, and SteamWorld Quest is no different. Characters like Armilly, a rather dumb but energetic warrior, all have distinctive designs that play off the fact that they're ramshackle robots, and personalities to match. Image & Form has perfected this approach over the course of multiple games now, and SteamWorld Quest looks like more of the same in that regard.
With all that in mind, I'm very excited to play the final version of SteamWorld Quest. I was a massive fan of SteamWorld Heist when it came out, and the RPG genre seems like an incredible fit for a developer with such talent for intricate systems. At around 20 to 25 hours, it may come off as a little short to some, but there are plenty of amazing RPGs that clock in at that length. After all, Chrono Trigger was only about 20 hours long.
With only about a month to go before release, SteamWorld Quest is definitely on my radar, and it should be on yours as well. Look forward to my full review when it comes out on Switch on April 25. And Image & Form, if you're reading this, hurry up and make a sequel to SteamWorld Heist already. We all need more SteamWorld in our lives.
Disclosure: USG is owned by ReedPop, which also owns and operates PAX East.