steamworld

SteamWorld Heist 2 Hands-On Preview – Dead Bots Tell No Tales

I/O, Captain

Having played SteamWorld Dig quite a bit, it was with some arrogance I strolled into an appointment for SteamWorld Heist II. I’d figured all of the team’s games were copies of one another, interchangeably skinned to meet the brief. As it turns out, I was a flipping fool. Not only do each of their steampunk spin-offs deliver on a theme, western or otherwise, they represent several genres. Dig is a traditional action-platformer, Quest is a realisation of the team’s grand role-playing game vision, and Heist, as it happens, it’s a turn-based tactics game. 

So it’s on a humble knee I admit to the team behind these wonderful SteamWorld titles: I’m so sorry, I was not familiar with your game. 

steamworld

One thing that these games always manage to do is establish a great sense of place straight off the bat, and Heist II is no exception. Set aboard a rock, adrift in space, a band of steampunk robot pirates are forced to deal with a water crisis that threatens to rust and corrode their precious circuitry. It caught me off guard that a game as tongue-in-cheek as this could broach certain, salient societal topics. Heist II manages to skirt them at a surface level but one could definitely draw parallels, staggeringly, to real world politics. 

And stashed neatly within this broader narrative of power abuse and resource conservation is a tale of Captain Leeway, a pirate who very much exists in the shadow of his mother, a legend of the high seas. As he helms her equally notable submarine through treacherous seas, enlisting crew mates at watering holes along the way, it’s his reticence to fulfil his potential amidst the great expectations of him that are shaping up to be the most interesting through line of the entire game. After four hours, my main hope is the game can see the arc through and that it builds as satisfying as it begins. 

steamworld

As I alluded to, the run of Heist games really feeds into the high-seas, pirating fantasy and, much to my surprise, play like a turn-based tactics title, with all that implies. If I had to draw a comparison to something, it might be Worms except set within the confined hulls of warring ships and oil rigs. It’s a game that does feel like it’d be more palatable on mouse and keyboard as movement is very much a point-and-click exercise as each area is made up of habitable squares. However, with that said, it does work fine on the controller once you’ve got a handle on it. The free-aiming felt great, and the game gives enough control over the camera to make cross-room lobs more than achievable. The only thing that kept tripping me up, and it’s my fault because the game makes it very readable, was giving up a turn by simply moving too far and exhausting both actions in a crew member’s turn. 

But admittedly, it was a demo I walked away from overwhelmed and partially perplexed at how robust so many of the game’s systems are. It’s a lot to pack into a truncated, sub-hour long presentation, though it’s fortunate I’ve been able to, at my pace, play the game’s first few hours again and absorb everything as intended. I’ve now got an appreciation for what Heist offers that’ll propel me through the game’s remaining hours. 

RELATED:  Funko Fusion Preview – More Than A Mash-Up

steamworld

Throughout the first few hours, your aim is to pull together a crew, rescue a mechanic that’s imprisoned by the corrupt navy, upgrade your vessel, and build up enough of a reputation for yourself to escape the walled off Angler’s Reef. It’s a lot, but the game hand-holds with the best of them, and I never felt like I was sinking. 

There’s a terrific variety in the missions, whether they’re integral to the plot or they exist to milk bounty and renown off of, I found I wasn’t constantly scouring levels for epic booty. While collecting treasure is a key part of the game and its currencies, I also found myself escorting hostages through levels, surviving wave after wave of naval guards after tripping an alarm, and scrapping higher-ranked officers. So I didn’t get a sense that things were repetitive, at least judging from the first four hours. In fact, thanks to the need for bounty and loot, there’s a modicum of replay value to be found in each level thanks in large part to how brief they can be. You’ll carve a path through three or four rooms, completing whatever the objective is, before coming out the other side covered in glory. 

Although I haven’t found that team composition is enormously paramount based on the first few hours, each crew member will play slightly differently as they’re funnelled into “jobs” which are determined by their equipped weapon. While assigned these jobs, experience earned will go towards unlocking skills that’ll be useful for that class—for example, one you’ll unlock for the sniper class grants a perfect aim, meaning for a turn the shot’s guideline will be steady and true. There’s a bit of freedom found here as you’re able to flip a crew member’s job at will, they’re never pigeonholed into a certain role meaning a favourite character doesn’t need to be left behind for the sake of a level’s requirements. 

I also loved how the game presents its overworld as it places you into an almost tabletop-like overview of the vast sea you’re in, where you turn navy boats into flotsam and explore for treasure. It’s like sailing on the colourful pages of an atlas. It’s reminiscent of getting around in Funky Rentals’ hovercraft from Donkey Kong Country 3, albeit far more interactive. Upgrades to the tub improve its offensive and defensive power, and story-related upgrades like boosters make the once-insurmountable currents a non-issue as the map opens up beyond the reef your journey begins in. 

steamworld

I generally have a fair bit of time for tactics-based games like this—I gravitate towards XCOM and Into the Breach is one of my favourite indies of the last decade. Despite missing the first game in this Heist spin-off, there’s plenty about this sequel that I’m really enjoying early on. Its place in the wider SteamWorld legend gives it plenty of personality and humour to compliment the fun, surprisingly robust mechanics that make up the core experience.

SteamWorld Heist II launches for Switch, Playstation, Xbox, and PC on August 8th and pre-orders are live now. Find out more here.