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SteamWorld Build Review

SteamWorld Build review

The latest game in the SteamWorld franchise is here, and while spelunking plays a part in keeping your robot-powered metropolis up and running, it’s not the focus here. If you’re a big fan of SteamWorld Dig, keep your expectations in check with SteamWorld Build. But if you like the idea of an easy(ish) city builder that provides you with clear objectives, it’s well worth checking out.

SteamWorld Dig 2 is one of my favourite games. And so yes, of course I’m a little disappointed that SteamWorld Build isn’t SteamWorld Dig 3. The spelunking metroidvania has a special place in my heart that SteamWorld Build just can’t match. But that’s not to say this game isn’t without its merits. Once I let go of my dreams of playing a new SteamWorld Dig game – one day! – and enjoyed SteamWorld Build for what it is, I realised there’s an awful lot to like, not least its familiar mechanical setting and its excellently-designed characters.

SteamWorld Build drops you in an empty stretch of desert, with nothing but an abandoned railway station, a disused mine shaft and some old landmarks dotted around. It won’t take long until you’ve got a thriving mechanical metropolis, though, as the robust tutorial walks you through everything you need to do to get your town off the ground.

Building worker homes allows you to build the facilities needed to chop down trees and turn wood into planks, and before long you’ll have production cycles for half a dozen different resources. To keep expanding, you’ll need lots of materials you see. And it’s not all just about building – you’ll need to ensure your residents are happy. They may be made of nuts and bolts, but they have needs just like the rest of us.

SteamWorld Build review
Image: The Station/Thunderful Publishing

Workers are the easiest residents to appease, needing little more than a general store to buy their necessary wares. But you’ll need to upgrade your basic workers to more skilled citizens if you want to progress in SteamWorld Build, and that means developing even more facilities. You’ll need water purification centres, barbershops, moonshine distilleries and bars, and much more. Within only an hour or two of playing, you’ll have quite the thriving metropolis.

Related: Cities: Skylines II is the Ideal City-Building Game for a Beginner – And We’re as Surprised As You

But what’s going on above the surface in SteamWorld Build is only a fraction of the story. Mining was going to come in somewhere, right? And so, once you’ve upgraded enough workers to repair the old, abandoned mine, it’s underground you go, building another layer to your self-sufficient town.

You don’t get to do the spelunking yourself, but by building a campsite for miners you’ll be able to grow your army of pickaxe-clad robots and direct them to where you’d like them to dig. There’s scrap metal to mine, along with various ore veins – all resources that will be sent to the surface to keep your town chugging along.

And just like on the surface, you’ll have to keep building and expanding inside your mine. Along with your miners, you’ll need to house prospectors and mechanics – and have a workshop space in order to build automated mining tools. Eventually, you’ll be able to have machines constantly mining those ore veins for example, taking the heavy lifting out of resource gathering.

SteamWorld Build review
Image: The Station/Thunderful Publishing

One of my favourite things about SteamWorld Build are the clear-cut goals to work towards. First, it might be upgrading 70 workers. Next, it’ll be finding a mysterious machine part in the mines – followed by another, and another. You’ll also need to repair a broken lift in the mines, allowing you access to a new floor – where you’ll have to start from scratch in furnishing the new mine level with workers and equipment. But you’re never at a loss of what to do; there’s always a goal in sight, giving SteamWorld Build a great sense of progression.

It’s that sense of progression that is likely to make SteamWorld Build more appealing than other city builders to newcomers. There’s no steep learning curve here thanks to the robust tutorial. There are no complicated systems to get your head around, either: the biggest hurdle here is making sure your workers have all the resources they need. Once you’ve cracked that, it’s smooth sailing.

I should add, though, that doesn’t mean SteamWorld Build is a doddle. It can be, but if you prefer more of a challenge, you can crank up the difficulty which, amongst other things, makes resources harder to come by. Equally, if you want an easy-going experience where you simply focus on building up a metallic empire, opt for the easiest difficulty level – but you’ll do so at the expense of earning trophies/achievements. It’s up to you.

A great city-building game for beginners who don’t want to be bogged down with complicated systems, there’s a lot to like about SteamWorld Build. It isn’t so simple that it’s boring: the balance between your surface-level town and the mines below means there’s always something to do. Add in the fact that objectives always give you something to work towards, and you’ve got an engaging little timesink with a great sense of progression.

SteamWorld Build Review – GameSpew’s Score

This review of SteamWorld Build is based on the PS5 version of the game, via a code provided by the publisher. It’s available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch and PC.
Editor in chief // Kim's been into video games since playing Dizzy on her brother's Commodore 64 as a nipper. She'll give just about anything a go, but she's got a particular soft spot for indie adventures. If she's not gaming, she'll be building Lego, reading a thriller, watching something spooky or... asleep. She does love to sleep.