SteamWorld Quest Review: Putting Your Best Hand Forward

SteamWorld Quest Review: Putting Your Best Hand Forward
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The SteamWorld series has offered players a variety of experiences in a number of different genres throughout the years, from tower defense to a pair of Metroidvania-style exploration games to a 2D tactics-based game. In SteamWorld Quest, the latest entry in the anthology series, developer Image & Form Games explore the traditional turn-based RPG genre, while mixing in a collectible card game. The result is an incredibly addictive, infinitely customizable experience that is sure to keep you entertained for hours.

SteamWorld Quest opens with your typical JRPG-inspired story of good vs. evil, where your heroes are tasked with saving the world from an ancient beast that has recently been awakened named Behemoth. Along the way, you’ll meet a host of characters all sporting that signature SteamWorld look that Image & Form have used throughout their games, blending steampunk and robots into a beautifully hand-drawn art style. The environments you’ll traverse are vast, from peaceful meadows to snow-capped mountains and everything in between. Each area has a very distinctive vibe that, although looks wildly different from one another, still feels like a cohesive world.

SteamWorld Quest Dragon

Gameplay centers around turn-based battles that involve a deck of “punch-cards.” Each of the three members of your party can bring in eight individual cards in their deck, for a total of 24 cards. Your deck is then shuffled together and six cards are randomly drawn at the start of each battle. Each turn, you can select up to three cards to play—all with varying abilities. Some cards offer attacks or magic that can be cast, others are more defensive in nature, while some offer healing, buffs or debuffs. But, you can’t just play any card that’s dealt to you immediately. Some of the flashier cards, known as Skill Cards, require a resource during battle called Steam Power—or SP. This is effectively your “mana” that you use to cast these cards. The other two types of cards, Strike and Upgrade, are necessary to include in each deck to help build your Steam Pressure during battle. Decks must be built with this in mind, or you’ll find yourself losing a fair share of your encounters. If you happen to play three cards from the same character during a turn, you’ll invoke a combo chain which rewards you with an additional special ability or attack determined by the weapon you have equipped. This creates some interesting scenarios during battle where you’ll have to decide between playing potentially weaker cards in order to pull off a given combo.

SteamWorld Quest features over 100 unique collectible cards that can be obtained or crafted throughout the game. As you explore the world, cards can be found in chests that are often hidden somewhere off the beaten path. Many cards are obtained as part of the main story, while others can be crafted using gold and other resources collected from battles. With decks consisting of only 24 cards, you’ll have plenty of options to experiment with as you look to craft the perfect deck. Each character has multiple roles that they can fulfill during battle depending on how you build their deck. For instance, the main character Armilly is the archetypal knight and includes many sword-based attack cards. But, later in the game you can build decks that feature fiery elemental attacks, as well as team-based buffs or enemy debuffs that affect their elemental resistance. There are synergies between different cards and characters, as well, which adds another layer of complexity to the deck building experience. Thankfully, the actual card collection is extremely intuitive and easy to navigate. It is designed in a way that feels very similar to a game like Blizzard’s Hearthstone, with your card collection organized into a book and pages limited to just eight cards at a time. Even though there are a lot of cards with many different costs and abilities, it never feels overwhelming to navigate.

SteamWorld Quest Card Manager

As with any great RPG, SteamWorld Quest has an incredibly diverse cast of characters that you’ll adventure with. You begin with Armilly, the aforementioned knight, and Copernica, the typical mage character who wields elemental cards. As you make your way through the game, you’ll be joined by three other characters: Galleo, your tanky healer, Orik, a ninja who can change masks during battle for different effects, and the twins, Tarah & Thayne who feature an arcane and poison-based set of cards. Each character feels extremely balanced, and I found myself constantly shifting my party around throughout each chapter to try the different combinations. The characters all have their own personality that is clearly expressed through the game’s dialogue, along with plenty of that quintessential RPG banter between them throughout the story.

Speaking of story, SteamWorld Quest seems to play it very safe, sticking to the stereotypical good vs. evil tale we’ve heard time and time again. There are a few minor twists within the story beats, but for the most part it feels like a very generic story. Thankfully, the writing is witty and lighthearted, akin to previous games in the series. The characters are all charming, including enemy characters. There are plenty of jokes and puns throughout the game that will have you letting out at least a few chuckles. While the generic story isn’t terrible, it’s the addictive card battling gameplay that really stands out.

SteamWorld Quest Battle

Graphically, SteamWorld Quest carries a familiar style that’s used in previous games in the series. The hand-drawn characters are animated beautifully, full of life and color. Cutscenes—while limited—feel like they are straight out of a storybook. Battle animations are magnificent, full of vivid spells and incredible detail. Overall, the game carries a level of polish that is to be expected from this franchise at this point.

The music in the game features your typical fantasy-based tunes that compliment each individual area and are highlighted by an accompaniment of flutes and harps. Some areas feature better tracks than others, but overall the music is a pleasure to listen to. The only gripe I had during my playthrough was that the battle music got repetitive. This happens in just about every JRPG-style game that features turn-based battles, but it would have been nice to see it change with each environment, even if it was just a slight variation. The only unique battle music happened during boss encounters, and even then it was primarily just an electric guitar riff that wore out its welcome rather quickly. If you enjoy the music in previous SteamWorld games, then you’ll feel right at home in SteamWorld Quest.

SteamWorld Quest Overworld

If you’ve played other JRPG games, then there are some quality of life features present in SteamWorld Quest that you’ll appreciate. First, there is a fast-forward button, which I basically ended up holding down for the entire game. This not only allows your character to run throughout each area, but also speeds up the battle animations considerably, which cuts down on the overall time. Another feature that was welcomed is the abundance of save points, which also heals your entire party. There is a tradeoff, however, as every time you heal your party you also respawn all the enemies into the world. This creates some interesting strategy as you navigate certain levels.

Overall, the team at Image & Form have poured so much passion into this game, and it’s clear that their love of old-school RPGs is present throughout the roughly 15-hour campaign. For instance, early on in the story you meet a duo of soldiers named Budge and Wiggs—a clever nod to many classic Final Fantasy games. The game also requires a great level of strategy, as enemies and bosses all have strengths, weaknesses, and immunities to take into account. This often requires building specific decks that—quite literally—give you the upper hand in battle. The turn-based card battle system is brilliant, and I found myself just wanting to battle endlessly. In most JRPGs, I’m often trying to avoid battling, but in SteamWorld Quest, I found I was actually seeking them out. From the incredibly addictive card-battling system to the gorgeous hand-drawn artwork, SteamWorld Quest is one of the best games in the series—and I’m eager to see what genre the team at Image & Form tackle next.


The Good

  • Over 100 unique collectible cards
  • Card battles are addictive and engaging
  • The artwork is some of the best the series has seen

The Bad

  • Story feels very generic
  • Battle music can become repetitive
  • Certain cards feel unbalanced

My name is Matthew Adler. I am a Freelance Video Game Journalist and also the Host and Creator of In Your Element: A Gaming Podcast. In Your Element is a general gaming podcast with an emphasis on indie games. I feature a variety of different guests each week for discussion around specific topics. Check it out on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other major podcast services!