SteamWorld Dig was a game that felt like it was too short, SteamWorld Heist is thankfully the opposite, and a game I want to spend all the time with. This game was first released on the Nintendo 3DS at the tail end last year, and I’m so glad it has made its way to platforms that can and does really put its beauty on display. SteamWorld Heist combines turn-based strategy, RPG, exploration, and even includes skill-based shots as part of its core gameplay to become one of the best games I’ve played this year.
While the story is a bit shallow, the narrative thread is just enough to make it interesting. The game is set a few hundred years after SteamWorld Dig where Steambots have become more intelligent and have become space-faring. And now, the Royalists and Scrappers are two different factions that have been overwhelming the galaxy. As such, you are on the run from this oppression to become space robot pirates. SteamWorld Heist will have you assembling a menagerie of characters to take control of, but you’ll mostly be playing as Captain Piper Faraday. You have your pilot of your ship, Wonky by your side, who might as well be Wash from Firefly. As you progress, you’ll have opportunities to hire extra help, rescue those who become part of your crew, or recruit new members through other means to join you on your ship. You’ll be ship-boarding and stealing high-value loot from either of the enemy factions, despite being the good guys – the Firefly influences continue.
This is a game that’s played like a sidescroller, but is done with 2D turn-based strategy. The twist here, is that the gameplay is all skill-based, rather than the roll of a dice. You can even perform skill shots by ricocheting shots off of walls, ceilings, and floors to get the kill. When not in a mission, you are able to free roam in real-time aboard your ship or when at outposts and bars. SteamWorld Heist‘s XCOM-like movement outshines XCOM 2 in ways I didn’t think it would – everything from its visual representation to the quickness of the gameplay just feels fast and fluid. Some missions have endless units spewing out of every doorway, so there’s no point in fighting them as the XP doled out is a set number. No death is permanent, but they lose out on XP earned from the mission if completed with the remaining robots. Robots don’t die, they rebuild.
All the robots are steam-powered, so loot is just water, and is key to survival and is the currency for buying weapons, gear, and hats. As such, you’ll be managing an inventory and loadouts. Hard to part weapons when inventory limits reached, odd sense of wanting to keep rare weapons even if they were inferior, wish there was a place to store them permanently. Though, given the situation, it makes sense to make money and get water than hold on to a weak weapon for sentimentality. At times, SteamWorld Heist gets rather difficult. And you may need to revisit past missions to grind to earn supplies and XP to progress. The levels themselves are procedurally generated. Stars awarded for exploration and obtaining everything rather than if people get killed or not. Boss battles are really exciting tactical challenges that make you use your abilities and placement.
SteamWorld Heist‘s gameplay reduces unnecessary clutter onto the HUD, where action points (AP) is represented into the world with movement and capabilities. Be aware, that you can cause team-damage and even team-kill when you use explosive devices, or trigger a barrel explosion. When on a mission, some ships you board have a countdown system. Sometimes there are timers before an alarm is trigger, sometimes it is done immediately. When this happens, turrets come from out of the ceiling and seemingly endless numbers of backup makes their ways from every doorway. It’s a system you will either love or hate, and I loved it as it helped elevate the tension in the room.
The map that’s accessed from the ship is just a level select screen. That said, it is very intuitive and useful to relay information such as where you’re going, how well you’ve done on past missions, and use its open galaxy routing to go back to bars to buy or sell gear. SteamWorld Heist just does so many things right, and something as simple as a map screen is just fantastic.
Just by screenshots alone, SteamWorld Heist has some incredible art on display. Everything is so crisp and clean, is just even better in motion with smooth gameplay. Steam Powered Giraffe is the steampunk band energizing the game’s soundtrack, and is as unique as it is joyous to listen to. The aforementioned hats are purely a cosmetic collectible type, they don’t imbue any bonuses or buffs. There are apparently 100 different hats to find and collect, I’ve only found 5% of that, but is one of the only visual difference between the individually designed robots a part of your crew. Hats can be purchased or claimed after shooting the tip of a head of an enemy within a mission.
SteamWorld Heist‘s excellence permeates through every aspect of the game, and the translation from 3DS to PC and PlayStation 4 is nothing short of exemplary. The aiming mechanic for ricochets or headshots is so satisfying. SteamWorld Heist is a masterclass in turn-based strategy with RPG stylings making it a standout on platforms to display this at higher resolutions. Whether you’re looking for a casual introduction to the genre or a crushing challenge for veterans, SteamWorld Heist offers both in truly stellar ways.
A Steam code was provided by the publisher for review purposes.