SteamWorld Heist 2 plays like a perfect follow-up to a great XCOM-style tactics game, and it's borrowing from Final Fantasy to add even more depth

SteamWorld Heist 2
(Image credit: Thunderful)

Back in April, I noted that the SteamWorld series had never seen a bad game, and after an hour of hands-on time with SteamWorld Heist 2 during Summer Game Fest, it doesn't look like that's going to change any time soon. Heist 2 already has all the makings of an incredible XCOM-like strategy game, with just the right blend of tactical depth and pick-up-and-play mission design to keep you coming back for more. 


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Steaming up the seas

The SteamWorld series is a collection of games with a shared steampunk robot aesthetic that are spread across wildly varying genres, and Heist 2 is just the second direct sequel in that lineage. Like the first game, this is a turn-based strategy title played from a side-scrolling perspective. You get your characters into position, take cover, and line up gun shots that can ricochet off walls and bounce into enemies. You still explore an overworld map and take on missions where you're rated based on your performance.

One of the biggest differences is that you now take direct control of your ship on that overworld map, piloting a submarine through the open sea rather than simply selecting a mission from what's essentially a glorified menu. You can equip your submarine with a variety of weapons that each have their own fire rates and directions - meet an enemy ship on the field, and you'll automatically shoot at it as long as you keep your facing aligned to point your guns at the bad guys. In practice, it's a bit like an uber-simplified version of lining up for a broadside shot in a naval Assassin's Creed game, and I found these breaks from the turn-based combat to be a lot of fun.

But turn-based combat remains at the heart of Heist 2, and it doesn't appear that the sequel is lacking for depth. Borrowing from a classic Final Fantasy system, characters can switch between jobs by simply changing weapons, granting them access to unique class abilities. One character I played had a melee-focused build, with abilities like a charge move that lets you get into the front lines and attack quickly, alongside damage reduction and a little bit of healing on every kill. The build customization possibilities get a lot more wild when you realize that you can add some abilities from old jobs to your current build.

SteamWorld Heist II | Pre-Order Trailer - YouTube SteamWorld Heist II | Pre-Order Trailer - YouTube
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I experienced about 15 hours of strategy RPG progression in the space of 60 minutes, jumping between a few save files at early, mid, and late-game points in the progression. That's to say, I don't have a super-firm grasp on how deep everything would feel after becoming more familiar with the game's mechanics and systems. But seeing the ability loadouts of some late-game characters has me fascinated by the possibilities. One character had an option that let them instantly destroy and teleport to the location of any enemy on a 10-turn cooldown, which I put to immediate use as both an offensive and mobility tool. Problems with an unreachable sniper? Not anymore, and now that advantageous perch is yours.

Probably my favorite part of the demo was a boss fight against someone in a giant mech suit. The mech had location-based damage so you could, say, smash apart the cockpit window to make the pilot inside vulnerable, letting you deal with the boss's big health pool much more effectively. All the while, the boss keeps firing big AOE missile attacks that you have one turn to get away from, so you have to keep moving while maintaining cover against standard ranged shots. It was a perfect little morsel of everything that's great about tactical strategy.

Heist 2 has charm to spare, too. As in the first game, you can shoot the hats off of enemies and collect them to wear yourself. Even though they're all robots, the characters are lively and expressive. And there remains some very memorable music with full lyrics playing every time you visit the bar. And I'm already starting to imagine the possibilities of all those classes and powers, and how it'll all work together. If you've ever enjoyed a tactical strategy game before, SteamWorld Heist 2's launch on August 8 looks like one to watch.

SteamWorld Heist 2 seems poised to stand confidently among the best strategy games.

Dustin Bailey
Staff Writer

Dustin Bailey joined the GamesRadar team as a Staff Writer in May 2022, and is currently based in Missouri. He's been covering games (with occasional dalliances in the worlds of anime and pro wrestling) since 2015, first as a freelancer, then as a news writer at PCGamesN for nearly five years. His love for games was sparked somewhere between Metal Gear Solid 2 and Knights of the Old Republic, and these days you can usually find him splitting his entertainment time between retro gaming, the latest big action-adventure title, or a long haul in American Truck Simulator.