Fun and Tactical Combat, with Plenty of Replayability

User Rating: 8 | SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech PC

SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech is similar to Children of Zodiarcs in that all of the characters' abilities are accessed through "cards", and each turn you only have access to a handful of cards. This means you do not automatically have access to everything a character can do. You have to make do with the hand you are dealt.

The characters are generally very well designed, with strong, relatable personalities and distinct combat styles. There is also plenty of tactical depth in building a party, building their decks of cards, and making use of your hand in combat. There are, however, certain things - mostly about balance - that bug me during my playthrough. They may very well be intended by the developers, but I still find them somewhat questionable.

First, there are a lot of cards in the game for you to find and craft. At the end of my playthrough, most of the characters have around 16 cards each, except one who has 26. There are 34 other cards that I could craft, but never did. There are likely another few more in the treasure chests that I missed from various chapters. However, you can only have 8 cards in each character's deck, making it 24 total for a party of three (you *can* have only one character in the party). This makes it feel very restricted whenever you just feel like trying out some new cards. This also makes cards with "questionable" values even less appealing.

There isn't much point in spending resources to craft a basic attack card that does 452 damage to an enemy AND 120 damage to yourself, when the very first basic attack card you get at the beginning of the game already does 335 damage, unupgraded, without any self-damage. The 120 point difference means next to nothing when, at this point in the game, enemy mobs usually have 2000-4000 HP, while bosses can have anywhere from 8000 to 20000+. That said, in a game where you have too many available tools, it is usually hard to perfectly balance everything.

Except for a very few cases, upgrading generally doesn't feel worth it, either. Without significant farming, you will only have resources to upgrade a few cards for each character after progressing for a while. Why spend resources to get 30-50 points of extra damage for a card that deals 1400 damage, when enemies have thousands of HP? Of course, if you're not using the resources for anything else, you might as well, but it just doesn't feel as rewarding as an "upgrade" should.

In combat, there are some "counter" mechanics going on, such as anti-healing, anti-poison, and so on. However, without knowing beforehand what is going to happen, most of the times this element just doesn't get to come into play, which is a shame. The point of having countermeasures is that you get to use them. In certain fights, if you don't have the right countermeasures, the fight can be much tougher than otherwise. Most of the times you can't tell if the next fight is going to be one such fight. Once in combat, you can't change equipment, either. This means more often than not, you will wish you have brought this card or that card with you, or have that item equipped instead of this. Without a convenient save/load feature, you can't simply reload to before every fight to make a better preparation. Chances are you will just make do with what you have. Or, you will have to quit the game, or lose the fight, to make adjustment to your load-outs.

One QoL feature that could really use an improvement is skipping cutscenes/dialogues. You can only skip dialogues, and only one dialogue line at a time. You can't skip the entire cutscene at once, and you can't skip the parts in which characters move about, either. This means when you want to skip, you would have to hit the skip button over and over. This is why it may get tedious when you go through a previous area again - maybe you want to find that treasure chest that you missed, or retry certain fights, or maybe you simply want to get a bit of extra XP or resources,

Of course, you will most likely find "questionable" balancing decisions if you go hardcore about it. The game is very fun and have plenty of tactical depth, however. There are some extremely powerful card combinations, some are good for clearing mobs, others are good against bosses. Some others are good for countering nasty attacks from certain enemies. There are also some very nice synergies among party members.

By default, each turn you can play only three cards. If three cards from the same character are played in a turn, that character automatically gets to play one more "specialty" card. What this specialty card does depends on the weapon they use. A nice tactical element here is, sometimes you have to decide whether to play certain cards this turn, or save them until next turn for a potential specialty move.

While this is not a strategy guide, I'd still like to note that bosses in this game can be tough, if you don't have good survivability from your characters' decks of cards. Against mobs, you can outdamage and outlast them easily, without relying on healing. Pretty much any party composition and any deck combination will work against mobs. Without decent survivability (barrier and healing), however, you can't outlast bosses, due to their immunities and very high HP. There are healing items, but using recovery items counts as playing cards, and they do not reward any Steam Points. If you use only healing items in the turn, it means you're not doing anything else. Chances are, after a few turns, you will realize you haven't made any real progress toward defeating the boss, aside from having burned through quite a few healing items. Unlike healing items, survival cards can be used over and over without running out. Therefore, having a decent amount of survival cards can make sure your fun won't be ruined because of a boss fight, especially if you're playing on the hardest difficulty.

The game's replayability comes from three factors: 1) You can have only three active party members at a time, 2) You can have only 8 cards in each character's deck, and 3) You won't have the resources to upgrade or craft everything you want, without a lot of farming.You may want to just stick with the characters you like, and spend resources on a select few cards that enhance a specific combat style for each character.

Other than these points, the game also has beautiful visuals and music, and an interesting story with some surprising events.