SteamWorld Build Review: Full Steam Ahead

SteamWorld Build has the right balance of complexity and relaxing simplicity.

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SteamWorld Build delightfully fuses dungeon crawling with settlement building in a way that doesn’t reinvent the wheel for the genre. But that doesn’t matter. Making Steamfolk happy makes me happy, and the endearing aesthetic never gets old.

Your goal in SteamWorld Build is to, well, build a mining town to excavate long-lost technology necessary to escape a dying planet. While the main aim of the game is simple, playing it is a far more intricate process that drew me in again and again. If you’re a city-building fan — or just have a soft spot for the larger series — there’s a lot to like.

SteamWorld Build Review: Full Steam Ahead

Screenshot by GameSkinny

When I initially started playing, I was hesitant that SteamWorld Build was a bit too easy, and strategic planning wasn’t necessary. You start with a lump sum of money that doesn’t seem to go down and the general feeling in the initial stages is quite laid back. However, as more citizens enter the city, juggling money, citizens, and production levels becomes far more involved and far more challenging.

As the name implies, SteamWorld Build is mostly about building, eventually building a rocket to get out of dodge. You’ll construct houses for your robo-citizens in your designated city across several maps, and the main (and immediate) objective is to keep these citizens happy, leading to positive production and higher taxes.

Providing entertainment and resources is crucial, bringing more money into your coffers for house upgrades and new buildings. This is a cycle that you’ll become well acquainted with as you play, as it forms the foundation of what’s to come. You’ll start with worker residentials that are easy to look after. They don’t have many needs and don’t pay a lot of taxes, but as things become more complex, you’ll upgrade these workers through several tiers, all the way to scientists, who begin requesting more elaborate service buildings — and more resources.

Naturally, these citizens are much harder to appease, and added to how closely happiness is related to productivity, the difficulty levels start to ramp up as more and more steamboats enter your city and request even more services. This turns into a deft balance between appeasement and taxation — we need money rolling in and production booming, after all.

Some robots, like Aristobots, though are bratty and constantly demand casinos, restaurants, and more. While this adds a sense of laughable realism to SteamWorld Build it’s not a necessary component and can often lead to some unneeded frustration.

Screenshot by GameSkinny

It doesn’t help that certain mechanics aren’t very fluid or intuitive. Placing buildings sometimes doesn’t register, as I was often forced to try and place them multiple times over and over again, making it a bit harder to organize the buildings. The trading section in the Train Station is also a bit awkward. When trading, the values sometimes go up by 50 units instead of the single unit you’re trying to increase things by. Unfortunately, it’s random, and you can’t prevent it from happening. While what I’ve played is a review build that will surely get patches to fix these things down the line, it would have been nice if these basic systems received a little more attention early on.

As you progress and grow your settlement, SteamWorld Build will give you many milestones to complete. These can be unlocked by completing certain goals, such as unlocking the aforementioned Train Station or by upgrading buildings and adding more steamfolk to the city. These challenges give you access to different areas that are initially locked when you start a map, such as unlocking additional building areas automatically.

Overall, most locations are fairly condensed. You won’t get wide open spaces as you do in something like Cities Skylines 2. Likewise, you’ll need to construct paths to place buildings, to help workers get around, and to connect to the all-important Train Station, which ships goods in and out. Unfortunately, aside from their unique themes, most maps are mostly the same, and the only other changes you’ll be able to make beyond layout are through the unlockable decorations that make your settlement look a bit nicer.

Aside from city management, SteamWorld Build also gives you access to mining, my personal favorite part of the game. Recalling the underground areas of games like Stardew Valley, you’re able to scavenge for materials, such as Rubies and Ironium, by setting up different quarters managed by different workers. Miners, Prospectors, Mechanics, and Guards all have different jobs, ranging from building machinery to digging resources, and they’re irrevocably linked to the workers on the surface above.

Screenshot by GameSkinny

Looking after the miner bots isn’t as demanding compared to the workers above them (literally). The main thing you have to make sure of is that their quarters are big enough, which can be a tough job in the small confines of the mines. Again, worker satisfaction (something you’re constantly juggling) comes into play, with miners walking off the job if their quarters aren’t right or their happiness levels decrease too much.

As you go deeper into the mines, you’ll discover different resources that are necessary to keep the steamfolk happy and for constructing new buildings. However, as you go deeper, you’ll (unsurprisingly) come into contact with different types of enemies, which will make your life a bit harder when it comes to digging materials and obtaining ores.

Defeating these enemies is sometimes a bit tedious, as while the Guards are meant to be notified when a monster has appeared (which should result in them automatically fighting them), they sometimes won’t turn up for a while, and it can lead to other miner bots being eaten or running away from their designated tasks, putting a massive halt on production.

Illogically, these posts need to be as close to monster nests as possible, which somewhat defeats the point. Neatly, though, is the inclusion of Production Cards, which allow you to put things like flamethrowers on guard towers, burning enemies to a crisp.

SteamWorld Build Review — The Bottom Line

Screenshot by GameSkinny

Pros

  • Extremely detailed resource management and economy.
  • Access to different areas and four different levels (from city to mining).
  • Selection of city layouts to choose from.
  • Notebook for extra detail about the game.
  • A range of difficulty levels.

Cons

  • Placing buildings sometimes doesn’t register.
  • Takes a while for Guards to fight monsters.

SteamWorld Build exceeded my expectations. While simple on the surface, it provides a nice level of complexity that steadily builds as more parts are added on. While some parts are unintuitive and could be improved upon — specifically building placement and how the Train Station menu works — there’s a lot to love about this little settlement/city builder.

Managing the needs of citizens and balancing income and upkeep is often a good time (even if some robo-citizens are brats), and while there’s little story to speak of, I enjoyed the character cutscenes, which infuse a good bit of personality that aligns with the series as a whole. Maps could be more varied, but there’s plenty of replay value with unlocks and trying new designs and layouts in free-build mode.

Overall, SteamWorld Build is worth checking out, and shouldn’t be one you sleep on if you’re a fan of the genre.

[Note: Thunderful Publishing provided the SteamWorld Build PC key used for this review.]

8

SteamWorld Build Review: Full Steam Ahead

SteamWorld Build has the right balance of complexity and relaxing simplicity.

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About the author

Tamzin Bishop

Tamzin's love for video games commenced when she was a child. She realised she wanted to turn this hobby into a vocation, when she specialised in a Video Game unit in her Psychology degree. Now, she's determined to make her mark in the video game industry. Her go to genre is Action RPG, but she has a soft spot for simulation games. In her spare time, she loves watching Studio Ghibli, conversing with friends, and buying far too many clothes.