The SteamWorld IP has spanned genres as diverse as turn-based tactics games to roguelikes. Each game in the series builds and adds to the mythology. This time around the steampunk-inspired universe is tackling the city-builder genre and it works mostly. Enter SteamWorld Build!
The cartoon aesthetic makes you assume that the game is an introduction to the genre making it a simple game. But that would be a mistake, much like the Tropico series the game is more complex than the design would indicate. It is no Sim City or Cities Skylines, but it is in the same genre.
All the basics are accounted for: you have to manage resources and buildings to keep your citizens happy, and happy citizens lead you to your ultimate goal. This is where SteamWorld Build differs from so many city-builders – you have an end game.
The planet you are on is going to be destroyed by some sort of cataclysm – see the events of SteamWorld Dig 2 – and, much like Krypton, you need to build a ship to escape the planet. Unlike Jor El, you have no actual skills to build a ship but, luckily, an alien robot has crash-landed on your planet and is willing to help you find the wreck of a crashed ship buried deep underground. All you have to do is build a settlement and mine it out.
The city building mechanics are quite forgiving. You start with an empty overworld map in front of you and simply begin building. Each building needs to be connected by a road so that your workers can get from their homes to their assigned jobs. The buildings are self-explanatory and easy to place, with the typical red vs. green outlines indicating exactly where you can or can’t place the buildings.
The great thing about SteamWorld Build is that some of the more niggly stuff in the genre, like running out of resources and selling buildings when they no longer produce, is rarely a penalty for poor planning. Resources don’t ever seem to run out and, when you sell a building, you get what you initially paid for it. This ensures poor placement is something you never take a hit for as you can just sell and rebuild.
The “Milestone” system makes for an easy introduction to the genre, starting basic but becoming more and more layered as you progress. Initially, it seems too easy, too simple, and each milestone only depends on you growing your population. At first, just place a couple more houses placed and your Milestone is reached. However, for more houses, you need to build a Forester to harvest more wood first. As a result, to reach more Milestones, the more resources and production lines you have to establish to ensure your citizen’s happiness.
Milestones and production eventually also unlock underground structures and upgrades, all necessary to advance the story and find the rocketship to salvation. Unlike the surface, underground regions are randomly generated. Construction below is similar enough, in that you have to build housing and resource-gathering structures, and manage the workforce by telling them to excavate or gather resources. However, the underworld has its dangers. Like the dwarves in the Mines of Moria, excavate too far and you will uncover nasty creatures hell-bent on your destruction.
Conveniently, you can recruit (or is that build?) a Guard steambot and turrets that will protect your workers and take care of any encroaching enemies. This mechanic triggered my nostalgia for Dungeon Keeper and served as a sad reminder of what could have been. If the system was more fleshed-out, with smarter enemies and a more complex dungeon and exploration mechanic, this could’ve been a great iteration on the classic dungeon management sim.
That’s not to imply this game mode is boring or pointless. It definitely adds to the usual city-building formula rather than the typical end-game of getting so bored that you create a natural disaster just to see what happens (yes, my youth was misspent building and destroying cities in Sim City).
Now SteamWorld Build was primarily reviewed on my desktop PC (Ryzen 9 5900X, 32 GB RAM, and an RTX 4090), but it’s also out on all current- and last-gen consoles – including the Nintendo Switch.
As such, I thought I would try it out on my AOKZOE A1 – a Windows 11 handheld. The game is rated as “Playable” but not “Verified” on the Steam Deck, so I figured I could get around that on the AOKZOE A1. It works just fine – and no doubt runs fine on the Steam Deck too – but be aware, there are difficulties. The text and icons are small and often tough to read, but other than that, the game plays very well on handheld and it’s low-stress gameplay make it a great companion on the go.
Full Steam Ahead!
SteamWorld Build adds to the classic genre, but also acts as a solid introduction. If you’re a fan, it’s the perfect game for those looking to take a break from the more technical games like Cities: Skylines. The Milestone system eases you into the action but ensures that you are never overwhelmed, and the addition of a narrative goal ensures that the game never feels too open-ended the way many of the genre-defining games can feel. Overall, SteamWorld Build is a fun city-builder/dungeon-builder hybrid and, if you’re a fan, well worth your money on whatever platform you choose.
SteamWorld Build was reviewed on PC using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC, Xbox One/Series S|X, PS4/PS5, and Nintendo Switch.
Steamworld Build (PC) ReviewSteamworld Build (PC) Review
- Narrative goal gives you a sense of purpose
- Dungeon building is a nice addition
- Fun art style
- City building can feel a little too simple at times