Traditionally, someone would have to ingest several alcoholic beverages to get royally ‘steaming’—something we didn’t have to do at Summer Game Fest Play Days this year. Instead, we sat down for an hour-long ‘sesh’ with the upcoming strategy action-adventure, SteamWorld Heist 2. After a brief introduction from Thunderful Producer Petter Magnusson on what to expect from the demo (this being our first time with the Heist series), we popped on our Razer headset and explored a bevy of new and returning features.

So, what did we actually do during our hands-on preview with SteamWorld Heist 2? Well, we traversed an open world map, engaged in light naval warfare, sampled a handful of missions, and enjoyed the musical stylings of Steam Powered Giraffe - who return for this sequel. Throughout the demo, we took on the role of Cap’n Quincy Leeway, the Steambot skipper at the helm of his legendary mother’s submarine. With a point to prove and a legacy to maintain, our deadly captain aims to bring down the tyrannical gas-guzzling Royal Navy. The problem is, o’ captain, my captain is ‘armless—literally, he’s missing his ‘shooting arm’. And in order to scrap some metal, you’ll need guns. Plenty of guns!

SteamWorld Heist 2 Hands On Preview 3 (Pure Xbox)
Image: Thunderful

But before we get into the nuts and bolts of combat, let’s talk about the submarine. Throughout our demo, and in the full game of SteamWorld Heist 2, the sub serves as your home base. Here, you can chat with crewmates, receive hints on what to do next, enhance character abilities, and upgrade and equip your submarine with weapons. It’s important to kit your submersible with machine guns and torpedoes because, in order to dig into that juicy turn-based action, you’ll need to sail an open sea fraught with naval-shaped peril to select missions this time around. We were confined to the Backwater Bay and Angler's Reef regions but managed to come out top-trumps in a number of real-time u-boat skirmishes.

Anyone unfamiliar with the SteamWorld Heist series will find that they differ from Thunderful’s Dig and Build games because they feature turn-based tactical combat. At the time, this was our first taste of SteamWorld Heist’s gameplay (though since then we’ve played a few hours of the original 2015 release) and we found ourselves completely enamoured by the ‘bouncing bullets’. These shots can be intentionally pinged off solid surfaces to supply otherwise hunkered-down enemies with an unholy reach-around of bullets. This tactical ricochet offering felt ingenious to the newbie this writer was at the time, but by the end of our first mission, we knew we’d sign up for anything SteamWorld Heist 2 had to offer.

In SteamWorld Heist 1, characters came pre-designed with their own set of unique skills. For this sequel, Thunderful has introduced a ‘Job’ system that allows deeper control over our Steambot posse, letting us pick and choose abilities as we see fit. We’re not sure if X-COM has broken our expectations surrounding the assembly of our crew and the selection of their skills and abilities, but we will always choose extra control over restricted curation when it comes to building our squad. Jobs can be swapped by equipping our chosen Steambot with a gun associated with that role. For example, Dame Judy Wrench is our favourite ‘Boomer’, not because she actively avoids retiring at the ripe old age of 89, but because she joined our crew wielding an Antique Rocket Launcher to ‘splode all of those bad bots with. However, if we’re just about done with Boomers, we can easily equip our seasoned master with a shotgun, thus shifting her job to Flanker. Much better.

The missions we sampled during our time with SteamWorld Heist 2 including surviving multiple waves of Dieselbots before making a timely escape, assassinating a mini-boss, and pulling off a heist on a Naval base to extract enemy intelligence. The variety of missions felt largely satisfying and somewhat different to tackle. We like to think of ourselves as tacticians, aficionados of dominant conquest, but most importantly, strategic nerds. We mention this because one thing that stood out to us above anything else is that the game is, frankly, a little bit hard. Sure, we picked ‘Experienced’ as our difficulty of choice and expected a bit of a challenge. Of course, this was our first attempt at coming to grips with SteamWorld Heist’s fantastic ricochet gunplay, but that didn’t stop us from feeling a smidge up against it during heists. We like a challenge, so this bodes well for us - and players can opt for an easier ride than the one we took. But yeah, the number of opposing units combined with a decent enemy AI makes SteamWorld Heist 2 a bit of a toughie.

SteamWorld Heist 2 Hands On Preview 2 (Pure Xbox)
Image: Thunderful

With all that said and done, we were so impressed with our hands-on preview that we reckon SteamWorld Heist 2 has the potential to be an all-time strategy great. No kidding. With just over a month to go until SteamWorld Heist 2 launches on PC, Xbox Series X|S, and Xbox One consoles (yep, Thunderful hasn’t forgotten about the last-gen faithful), there’s plenty of time to dive into the SteamWorld universe on Xbox Game Pass, with SteamWorld Dig and Dig 2 joining SteamWorld Build on the subscription service today.

Looking forward to SteamWorld Heist II on Xbox? Let us know in the comments.