Steamworld HEIST Impressions

Steamworld HEIST is one of the top eSHOP games, if not games in general, on Nintendo 3DS this year.

Granted, this is coming from a tactical gamer.  So your mileage may vary.

The Steamworld games are made by Swedish company Image & Form and they are one of the top indie game companies, in my opinion.  I love everything they’ve done.  I relished Steamworld Dig, but lamented at how short it was.  I’m happy to report that Dig’s big limitation (how short it was) is absent in HEIST.

All Steamworld games are different.  Dig was an exploration/puzzle platformer.  HEIST is a turn-based tactical RPG.  It is most similar to XCom games, a 2D version of Code Name: STEAM (not affiliated with Image and Form), and a 3DS launch title: Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars.  This style of game is my bread and butter and I was pleased to see that HEIST is discounted to 16.99 USD through December 31st and comes with a free 3DS theme.  So, after reading this, if you’re inkling for a great tactical game, don’t hesitate to pick this up before the 31st and save some money.

 The first thing that impressed me with HEIST is the fact that it has five difficulty levels, ranging from Casual to Impossible.  I set mine at the mid range of “Experienced” and genuinely had to think through most levels.  The levels themselves are also randomly generated.  There may be a common established thread in a particular level (one fixed room, always same types of enemies), but you can get a board for a level that has more forgiving or more punishing cover.  You can change the difficulty setting at any time.

HEIST follows a very loose story in which you are exploring part of our galaxy while fighting enemy robots.  Your ship serves as your home base between missions where you can organize and sell equipment.  You can sell equipment at any time.  This is a critical feature as the game really makes you make tough decisions of inventory management.  Your weapon and secondary slot choices (two) influence a character’s power.  Your character level influences your character’s special abilities.  There are nine characters that you can acquire over the course of the campaign and every single one of them offers unique and useful abilities.  Many tactical games suffer from character choices that are clearly inferior or clearly better.  The designers have done a stupendous job of making every character interesting, from a tactical perspective.

The designers also made a brilliant choice in making each level about two things:  1) Meeting objectives, and 2) Getting loot.  Characters that survive a mission get experience and that XP has absolutely no connection with the number of enemies you eliminate. In fact, many missions have timers that countdown that just start pumping a level full of enemies to encourage you to meet the objectives, get the loot, and get out.  If you are used to “clearing” a dungeon in action RPGs, you’re going to have to refocus your thinking.  Any game that makes you re-think your base gamer impulses is a good one.

In a level, you move your characters (1-4 depending upon the level) around a 2D multi-level ship with cover scattered throughout.  The objectives vary from eliminating enemies, activating beacons, getting loot, racing a clock, or surviving for a set amount of time.  Tactical use of cover and strategic positioning matters a lot in this game, especially on the higher difficulty levels.  Some cover is static and other cover only pops up if you stand next to it.  Your characters can equip a variety of weapons, from hand guns to assault weapons, to RPGs to sniper rifles, all of which have strengths and weaknesses.  You have to aim them and maintain good angles of fire to be successful.  It works splendidly.

You earn stars for completing missions while obtaining special loot and your characters surviving to the end of the mission.  If you do all of it successfully, you get full stars for that mission.  Any character that dies costs you a star and HALVES the amount of money in your bank.  This is a very nice balance between games that have no consequence for poor play and the brutal permadeath of classic Fire Emblem.  Stars allow you to unlock new pathways to explore and gain access to some items, weapons or hats in shops.

One of the fun aspects of the game that has no bearing on success is the “hats” that each character can wear.  They don’t give you any bonus other than making them look good/silly.  There are dozens to collect and purchase.  Some of them you can only get by narrowly shooting them off enemy’s heads and then picking up off the field.

I was about 25 hours in on Experienced level when I finished the main game.  The New Game+ starts you at the beginning again with all characters and any hats you have collected.  I’m restarting on the second highest difficulty.  I could probably finish the story in about 15 hours if I really just worked at finishing it.  But I like to relish these games: to take longer than is needed.

If you like turn-based tactical games on 3DS, get this game.  Other than Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate it has been a very dry year for awesome content on 3DS and this is a much needed release.

Oh, I pre-ordered Fire Emblem Fates as part my Christmas present from my spouse this year! 😉 Thanks, honey!

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