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SteamWorld Heist 2 makes an underappreciated classic even better

A robot shoot a big mech boss in Steamworld Heist 2.
Summer Gaming Marathon Feature Image
This story is part of our Summer Gaming Marathon series.

Back in 2015, developer Image & Form was thriving in the Nintendo 3DS era. Its game SteamWorld Dig had a breakthrough moment two years before, bringing new fans to its unique steampunk world. Rather than following that up with a quick and easy sequel, it would veer into left field with SteamWorld Heist. It wasn’t another Dig Dug-like platformer, but a turn-based strategy game that played more like Worms. Though it may not be as popular as SteamWorld Dig and its sequel, it’s a hidden gem that’s been begging for a sequel.

That’ll happen on August 8 with SteamWorld Heist 2. The sequel builds on the original’s winning formula, while taking it to new heights. I got a sense of just how much bigger it is when sitting down for a demo at Summer Game Fest earlier this month. Imagine the jump in scope between the first two SteamWorld Dig games, and that’s what you can expect from SteamWorld Heist 2.

When my demo begins, I’m quickly reintroduced to some familiar gameplay. I’m controlling a squad of bots who I can move around 2D spaces filled with enemies and loot. Each bot has two actions per turn, which I can use to shoot, reload, or drop a special power. When I shoot, I need to aim my shot, sometimes with the help of a laser sight that shows me my bullet’s path. When I’m not fighting, I can open doors to scavenge for treasure and water, which is a currency used to buy upgrades.

A submarine sails around an ocean in Steamworld Heist 2.

That’s all from the first game, but I get to see the scope shift when I zoom out of battle and find myself controlling a boat. While the original game had players progressing through its story by choosing nodes on a map, this one plops players into an explorable overworld. Players guide a boat through an ocean where they can sail off to objectives and find hidden shops. There’s even a bit of ship combat, as the boat (which can be outfitted with upgrades) will auto-fire at passing enemies. It’s an entirely new layer to gameplay that reminds me of the ways in which SteamWorld Dig 2 turned its predecessor into a full-on Metroidvania.

The new features don’t stop there, though. Combat is much more complex this time around thanks to a new job system. Each bot can be outfitted with a class that comes with its own set of skills. One is more of a sharpshooter that gets improved aim, while another is a tank who can dash into enemies from afar. What’s exciting is that classes can be mixed and matched. Each one has skills that are automatically equipped, but players can allocate points to equip skills from any other class so long as they’ve unlocked them. Maybe you want to have an SMG-toting healer who can toss grenades, or a long-range pistol user who can get up close and personal too. Builds like that are possible, bringing more synergistic complexity to the turn-based combat.

Multiple bots battle in Steamworld Heist 2.

Players will really need to get strategic, too. After playing some early game missions, I was brought forward to a much more challenging late game one. I had to command my crew around a bigger ship and find three control panels. When I tried to split the party to multitask, I got decimated. I expect a lot of challenges like that considering that Image & Form is estimating a 15- to 30-hour experience here.

As someone who has dug just about every SteamWorld game to date, I have high hopes for SteamWorld Heist 2. It looks like a bigger, better version of one of Image & Form’s best and shows that the company isn’t just making sequels for the sake of making sequels. It waits until it has a good idea on how it can evolve a concept rather than just doing it again. I’ve already got my fingers crossed that 2019’s SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech is next in line for an evolution.

SteamWorld Heist 2 launches on August 8 for PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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