Hands On: SteamWorld Heist

SteamWorld Dig was a surprise joy in 2013. Released first on the Nintendo 3DS, then latterly to Steam, it was a side-scrolling rogue-lite mining platformer, which turned out to be a superb combination of elements. If you haven’t played it, dear me, you ought. Developers Image & Form more recently announced their follow-up game, set in the same universe of water-seeking robots, SteamWorld Heist [official site]. This time it’s a side-scrolling turn-based space explorer, part XCOM, part Gunpoint. You can’t accuse them of resting on their laurels. I’ve had a play of one of Heist’s levels, and it’s looking like they’ve created a turn-based combat even a great big dolt like me can enjoy.

It’s worth noting from the start that I’ve only played an element of what Heist has to offer. The full game tells a tale set a couple of hundred years after Dig, where the robot’s home planet has exploded, and they’re scattered into space, forced to pillage the ships of mean enemies for supplies. During my hands on, I did not get to see the space exploration, the supply management, nor how enemy ships are targeted for attack. I did, however, get to plunder my way through one such ship, experiencing the game’s approach to turn-based battling.

Movement and attacking are action point-based, but in an immediately far more accessible way to TBS novices. Rather than a number in a circle by a face, they’re depicted as coloured lines along the floors of the platforms between the character and your mouse cursor. Yellow shows how far you can move and still be able to attack, blue shows the complete distance you can reach in that turn. Boom. Perfect.

Attacking itself offers a slightly more arcade approach. Say you’ve moved one of your robot team into position behind a barrel for defence, you then take aim at a chosen enemy, and their gun (or other weapon) is loosely pointed in their direction. Idle animation causes the weapon to gently drift, the amount according to the skills of that particular character. So you need to time your shot accurately, ensure that the enemy is going to get hit, and indeed which region of the enemy’s body. A weapon with a laser sight makes this an awful lot easier than one without, obviously, so upgrading weapons is also going to be an important factor. Those without offer a greater challenge for aiming, and can lead to escapades if you accidentally catch an exploding barrel or the like.

And hats. The magical ingredient of gaming, hats, are often dropped by baddie bots when killed, and give boosts to your metallic chums. In fact, there are lots of ways to improve your crew, which can all be lost if one of them dies in combat. There were plans, early on, for Heist to always be permadeath, full roguelite complete loss, but they reported testers found it too devastating. You could get too far into your missions, get too attached, and it seemed to be spoiling fun. Permadeath will still feature, for those who want it, but it’ll now be a difficulty setting.

But still, losing a robot is going to hurt. You’ll have to hire a new member for your crew, and they’ll not have the same upgrades, tweaks, etc. With differing sets of skills, it’ll hopefully be easy to become attached to them. While my demo showed me a small gang of bots firing different types of gun (laser-sighted pea shooter, an inaccurate shotgun, and so on), there will also be engineers who can make use of broken machines on enemy ships, and other class types to make things more interesting.

So I certainly didn’t have a deep look, but I very much enjoyed what I played. Which was, I admit, a relief. Never too big of a fan of turn-based combat (I’ve realised my problem with particular game types is a complete lack of a desire to plan ahead), this clicked instantly for me. The sensible visual presentation of your potential moves, and the arcadey fun of targeting foes, made for an entertaining time. It’ll be very interesting to hopefully see more soon, and figure out how it all comes together.

SteamWorld Heist is set for an August release on both 3DS and Steam.


  1. jasta85 says:

    only discovered this game a few weeks ago, glad to see it’s coming out relatively soon unlike so many other games I’m waiting on that won’t be out until next year

  2. Brethren says:

    Is that.. is that Steam Powered Giraffe in the top pic? Oh man, it is. That immediately bumps this game up a few spots in my ranking. It also just looks interesting anyway, so that’s good

  3. JB says:

    The game looks lovely. But bloody hell, the spambots are on a rampage right now. They’ll spoil it for us all soon, and all comments with links will have to wait for moderation, or something equally sad.

    • bonuswavepilot says:

      I wonder if it is linked to the edit button going MIA – perhaps the anti-spam thing has also been disabled as part of their wordpress bug-hunt? You’re right though they are absolutely rampant at the moment.

    • John Walker says:

      The arcane wizardry that keeps our site online is precarious, and that lovely old comments plugin was destabilising the meta-crystals.

      We’re working on getting it fixed, but the downsides are the temporary loss of the edit button, and the admin loss of the “ban and kill all spam” button.

      Soon, my pretties, soon it will all be fixed.

  4. draglikepull says:

    What is it about Steamworld Dig that people find so compelling? I played it for a couple of hours but found it exceptionally tedious and grindy.

    • Kempston Wiggler says:

      I liked it for a while but got distracted away. It’s…average? Nicely put together, charming, but lacking the spark of greatness. In a weird way it feels like it’s trying hard to be quirky and full of personality without just being quirky and full of personality? Could be just my way of reading it.

      And yeah, the grind is a pain.

    • Advanced Assault Hippo says:

      It’s just a nice little game. I didn’t find it grindy at all, since the gameplay mechanics of drilling was filled with interesting decisions to make (especially once you get further into the game and need to weigh up the cost of getting to hard-to-reach stuff).

      It’s a game that keeps getting better and better all the way to the end. It’s not groundbreaking or anything, just a well-made enjoyable game.

    • Sin Vega says:

      Yeah, I felt similarly. I think part of the problem was that I’d played several similar games too, and I’m sort of going through a period of minecraft-alike fatigue.

      This one does look rather promising, though.

    • Bereil says:

      I didn’t find The Dig super grindy. But I picked at it casually a period of a few weeks, which works quite well for the game. There was never any climactic pressure to see what happened next. Just a relaxing getaway from other more frantic games.

  5. Brtt says:

    You “forgot” to mention that Steamworld Dig is also available on GOG, but hey, there’s a theory that says monkeys could write some Shakespeare, eventually, so all hope is not yet lost. I guess.

    link to gog.com

  6. wraithgr says:

    Man, this is completely my kind of game. I enjoyed the original, only slightly annoyed at the fact that sometimes you were stuck for lack of resources and had to find the one mineral deposit you missed just so you could afford to progress (essentially forcing you to tap out the entire map sometimes).

    I’m surprised this new two action point system is touted as such an innovation, though–this is pretty much exactly what xcom and (i think) halfway does with its system, just the colors are inversed…