The SteamWorld franchise is a weird one. Personally, when we think of SteamWorld, we think of the excellent SteamWorld Dig and its sequel: spelunking metroidvanias with roguelike elements. But there’s more to the world of SteamWorld than that. There’s been turn-based strategy game SteamWorld Heist, and card-based battler SteamWorld Quest. And now, there’s SteamWorld Build, a city builder with mining elements. And while it’s not SteamWorld Dig, it might just be one of the most accessible and enjoyable city builders we’ve played in a while.
We’ve only put a couple of hours into SteamWorld Build so far, via a preview build provided to us by the publisher. That means there’s still plenty of the game we’re yet to experience, but based on our time with it, we’ve come away very much looking forward to play more. Thrown into an empty desert wasteland, you’ll need to build a thriving robot civilisation from scratch. That means building homes, factories, amenities and more. Starting with workers, you’ll need to meet a number of basic requirements for your economy to thrive: they’ll need access to a general store, a parts store and somewhere to live.
Eventually, your workers can be upgraded to Engineers and beyond, with each new class of residents having greater demands that you’ll have to meet. Of course, building everything your citizens need means resources, which can be gathered through production chains, traded for, or found in the mines. Because along with your budding town above ground, you also need to consider your underground world.
In your mines, you’ll need to build areas for your mine workers to live. Initially, they can only mine through dirt, but as your town above ground grows you’ll unlock new resources and tools that’ll expand your mining capabilities. The first notable upgrade is a pickaxe, which allows you to cut through sandstone. As you progress, you’ll gain more and more abilities, and eventually, a fully automated mine is possible. But we’re a long way from reaching that point yet.
SteamWorld Build doesn’t exactly hold your hand: we’ve still been stumped at a few points. But compared to other city builders, it feels very accessible. Its production systems make sense, and if something isn’t working right, it’s usually easy to figure out why. Our engineers were unhappy, for example, and that means they’re unable to work. We figured out that our moonshine production chain wasn’t working because we’d missed out a crucial step. Once we fixed it, their happiness went up immediately, and our workforce was back in full swing.
That’s not to say there aren’t some learning curves to overcome, though. You’ll need to familiarise yourself with a number of menus, and there are a lot of different resources at play here that you’ll need to keep track of. But a thriving economy takes a lot, and getting everything running smoothly here feels much more straightforward that other games in the same genre.
You can’t simply ignore your town or your mine in SteamWorld Build, either. Both require equal amounts of attention, and both need to be working smoothly for your town to thrive. You see, they feed into each other: resources overground will be needed to expand your underground operations, and resources found underground will be used above ground. This isn’t mining like SteamWorld Dig, though: it’s much more automated. Sure, you’ll instruct your workers where to dig, but that’s pretty much it. If you’re expecting a more hands-on spelunking experience, you’ll need to stick to SteamWorld Dig.
Go into SteamWorld Build with an open mind, and it’s hard to be disappointed. This is something very different from anything else in the SteamWorld franchise, though it still captures the creativity and whimsical worldbuilding that the series has come to be known for. If you’re a fan of city builders and get a kick out of seeing economies blossom under your control, then SteamWorld Build really ought to be high up on your wishlist.
SteamWorld Build is coming to PlayStation, Xbox, Switch and PC “soon”. You can try it out yourself via a free-to-play demo on Steam.