The SteamWorld developers show time and time again that they can pull off any genre they attempt. I’ll never stop being surprised by their ability to excel across each one. SteamWorld Build is another great example of how well they continue to develop their universe but this time as a city builder.
The story kicks off with a caravan of Steambots trying to escape the planet even though we don’t quite learn why. In an effort to do so, we come across an abandoned town to rebuild and find a way to leave. Instead of only being a city builder, SteamWorld Build goes the path of strategy games like Dungeon Keeper where there’s a strong underground component as well.
This becomes an entertaining experience as you balance the different gameplay of each area. While building your above-ground city you’ll need to take care of your Steambots’ needs. This can be anything from building a general store to creating a casino for entertainment. Over time, their needs become more complex as you attract all sorts of Steambots to your town.
Instead of simple production chains like gathering wood to make boards, you’ll need several refineries later. For example, Engineer Steambots need Moonshine which requires four different buildings to produce. You’ll need a Cactus Farm, a Glassblower, a Sand Sifting Factory, and a Moonshiner. And then going a step further, you’ll need a Saloon to serve the Steambots.
As buildings become more advanced and require a variety of resources, you’ll have to dig deep to gather what you need. Unlike the above-ground area which revolves around your economy, you have more freedom to explore underground. It stops being about fulfilling needs and starts to revolve around uncovering new territory.
While you still need to create rooms for Steambots exclusive to the underground, they’re much simpler in comparison. All they really tend to care about is having enough room to exist. This opens up a whole different game where you’re searching for resources and digging out paths in a mostly dirt-filled cavern.
Even though the above-ground and underground gameplay is vastly different, they’re still heavily connected. To make it further underground, you’ll need to continue growing and expanding your town. But, you can’t do that without the many resources below.
While the underground starts relatively tame, it evolves when enemies are introduced. Instead of worrying about environmental hazards in other city builders, I have swarms of dangerous creatures at my door. Which leads to building up my defenses via enforcers and turrets to keep them at bay.
Similar to the colony sim genre, you’ll have to guide your people since you don’t have complete control over them. For example, marking a tile for miners to dig or placing a turret blueprint that a mechanic can build. Whereas the enforcers/guards will simply act on their own altogether.
As I got deeper discovering new zones, the story kept dropping little bits of new information. However, the same way the plot starts vague continued to be the case. Despite learning more, I never felt the story developed as much as it could have. It’s hard to say much without spoiling anything, but it came across as a little shallow. Although, it was at least a short and sweet story lurking in the background.
Fortunately, the gameplay excels enough that I completed almost four runs across 22 hours. Even though there are minor bonuses for completing the different regions, I don’t expect people to replay SteamWorld Build for those. But rather to enjoy building new cities and seeing how efficiently they can make theirs.
That aside, I can see some players get annoyed with handling their economy since it frequently relies on checking a resource chart. I love having more data to peruse for games like this but it could be seen as tedious. By my second run, I didn’t think much of it. However, during the first one, there was a lot of trekking backward to increase production via early buildings.
Since there isn’t a system for upgrading buildings, I’m forced to consistently duplicate the ones I already have. And this plays into organizing my expanding city which can be a challenge of its own. It’s almost a nuisance when you’re building facilities for a higher-tier Steambot and then have to backtrack to the early phases.
With that said, there is a major mechanic where a train regularly arrives for bartering and provides items you can buy. These items that can also be found underground can help grow your city without having to place new buildings. But, they’re still limited and you may not get the ones you want.
SteamWorld Build Review | Closing Thoughts
SteamWorld Build is an exceptional city builder with hints of Dungeon Keeper. While I wish the story had more to it, I can still appreciate what’s there. If you’re a fan of the SteamWorld franchise, I especially recommend playing this one. Those of you familiar with the story of previous games may notice minor connections. As usual, the developers nail the Steampunk aesthetic that goes with this universe.
Review Score: 9/10
SteamWorld Build was provided by a PR agency via a Steam code.
Jeff is a journalist with over 10 years of experience writing, streaming, and making content about video games. With an associate degree in journalism, he’s a sucker for RPGs, survival games, roguelikes, and more.