Steam Tactics is a tactical steampunk-themed RPG where you play as a renowned mercenary tactician leading a mission for the queen of the royal family. The turn-based combat has you controlling airships that move within a square grid, like a checkers board. Our cast of characters are made up of anthropomorphic animals, which provides a unique charm on its own to accompany its story. Narrative-wise Steam Tactics’ story is straight to the point: you are a mercenary tactician tasked with guiding the queen’s chosen pilots as they complete their mission. It’s an enjoyable tale to give context to the missions you play through.
Gameplay in Steam Tactics is reminiscent of Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics. Your ships navigate the square grid with the number of spaces they can move dictated by the ship’s weight. The weight of your ships is managed by either adding or removing weapons, and this is where the tactics part of Steam Tactics begins to show. You could load up your ships and have powerhouses that slowly inch your opponents to their doom, or you could give each pilot one weapon that they are best at using and have a hit and run strike force. Enemies are bound by the same restrictions you are, so the choice of how to approach each battle is yours.
Steam Tactics showcases vibrant and vivid artwork on the Xbox One, and boasts Xbox One X enhancements which allow it to show 4K Ultra HD visuals. The sound design contributes to the charm of the game as well, reminding me of some of the games of yesteryear. Classic machine gun and explosion sounds help Steam Tactics deliver retro style in the modern age.
While Steam Tactics gets its core formula of turn-based tactical gameplay right, it’s not without pitfalls. The UI could give more information to the player; better listing effects of upgrades or how different weapon combinations will function together. It isn’t something that will kill anyone’s fun, but part of the tactical gameplay shouldn’t include trial and error. At a glance, upgrades seem to be straightforward, but you quickly realize the UI doesn’t show in any detail how the upgrade will affect the ships and weapons you apply them to.
About halfway through the first chapter you gain access to labs, and these allow you to upgrade the quality of your ships and weapons. Doing so is beneficial as it raises the star rating of your ships and weapons. However, the game does a poor job of making clear the advantages of doing so, as your ships will pretty much feel the same even with upgrades in tow.
The combat in Steam Tactics is solid, but also suffers from the lacking UI. Outfitting ships in a way to allow for multiple attacks in the way the AI does in some of the mid-to-later missions isn’t explained well. This can lead to a bit of frustration as players will want to counter with multi-attacking ships of their own, but the game doesn’t give any hints on how to do that. The AI is capable of providing a good challenge but doesn’t react well in situations where there is no clear beneficial move for it to make. Later game missions are made easier by limiting the AI’s ability to move around the grid, and if my ships were out of their attack range then my attacks went unpunished. While this isn’t always able to be done it does highlight that the AI is more reactive than proactive.
A final critique of Steam Tactics is that the game breaks its own immersion. I find the story quite interesting for what it is, and the narrative will set a certain scene, only for the battle to begin and the backgrounds behind the grid will not fit the scene. Battles over the kingdom are set in the same space as battles on the way to it. The only noticeable changes to the background are a random storm and night variations of some of the proceedings.
As a whole Steam Tactics on Xbox One delivers a solid experience, tactical gameplay and a fairly engaging story. I was invested in our crew of aircraft piloting animals and wanted to see them through their journey. Issues aside, Steam Tactics is an enjoyable casual experience and can be completed in 5-6 hours. With everything on offer here Steam Tactics is a good package at its asking price, and in return players are treated to a gaming experience that is easy to get into and tough to master.