SteamWorld Build

SteamWorld Build

A quick, casual city builder above, a dungeon-building miner below.

A quick, casual city builder above, a dungeon-building miner below.

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Review game SteamWorld Build, A quick, casual city builder above, a dungeon-building miner below.

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“Grow a frontier boomtown populated entirely by retrofuturistic steam-powered robots” is as original a premise for a city builder as I’ve seen in a long time. Compared to the countless trend-chasing builders we’ve seen in recent years, this makes SteamWorld Build a welcome change of pace. In addition, while you construct a town above, it distinguishes itself even more by requiring you to simultaneously excavate a mine below in search of both mineral resources and artifacts from the past that may be utilized to escape your dying planet. It’s a brief, sweet city builder that doesn’t do much more than that setup, but it makes good use of the components it does have to create an entertaining whole that I’ll definitely play again.

The SteamWorld games have a fairly established palette of character designs, colors, and even sounds to choose from, as they have for a decade. The outcome is a game world that is stylistically comparable to much larger, more well-known franchises, such as the Warcraft universe, and that works incredibly well across genres without sacrificing its unique visual style, character, or setting. That still holds true in SteamWorld Build, where the absurdly stylized robots are endearing as ever and chug along to the same twangy country-western guitar tracks with silly voices. This is a planet full of steam-powered robots, and by God, they still work here. They all have accents like a Scandinavian person trying to pass for an Old West native.

The fundamental guidelines of a city builder are nothing new in SteamWorld Build. You can eventually upgrade those same citizens to higher tiers, such as settlers, engineers, aristocrats, and scientists, by providing them with services and producing goods. You can also unlock new buildings that offer even more resources for the next tier of bots. Though the simplicity is in some ways a strength, you won’t find anything close to a deep simulation of every citizen’s needs here.

As well as people like myself who remember the earlier Impressions City Building series, fans of shows like Anno will very likely understand what SteamWorld Build is doing and find it enjoyable. Services are sent to your metallic folk via a simple distance-based system: Every house within the range of a service building has instant access to it, and everything moves over the roads you lay down. You can hoard some goods because they are produced at a set rate, but primarily, you will need to have the same amount coming in as going out and exchange any excess at the train station in your town.

As you expand both above and below, there’s a straightforward but satisfying loop.
However, things aren’t quite that simple because your town is also growing underground. To enhance your mining operations, you will appoint mechanics, prospectors, and miners. In order to remove tougher stone obstacles, you will eventually need to supply disposable tools like pickaxes and drills. Initially, your attention will be focused on locating easily removed chunks of ore in dirt and rock. And although the resources you find above initially keep the mine running, eventually that has to change because the town needs the water, oil, and antiquated technology you dig up below. The game follows a straightforward but rewarding loop in which the town’s engineers assist you in hiring mechanics to work beneath it. These mechanics then set up and maintain resource vein auto-extracting machines, growing your tunnels further and enabling you to expand more quickly both above and below.

Security bots are eventually going to be necessary to keep underground works operational and safe from any ancient threats and monstrous bugs you uncover. They’ll aid in the proactive defense of your miners, but you can also fortify your static base and fend off adversaries by erecting traps and turrets. It’s similar to Dungeon Keeper Lite in that you can engage in battles at your own pace at first, with most threats being insignificant until you actively seek them out. This is in addition to a generous array of difficulty settings that can turn opponents into anything from easy targets to reliable threats. For the kind of low-key city builder that SteamWorld Build is, where disruptive attacks could wind up feeling more annoying than challenging, that’s a smart design choice. It’s good that enemies are used as speed bumps to slow down the pace of advancement rather than as a never-ending obstacle course.

There aren’t enough intricate upgrades to offer a variety of builds every time.
Outsiders also frequent the aboveground train station as you excavate and construct. This is a source of both money and things you can’t otherwise make yourself, in true old-west fashion: constructing improvements. The majority of buildings have one or more open slots that can be used to improve them. For example, warehouses can add additional storage space and workers to transport goods; resource producers can create bonus items; or the bots in the mines can simply receive new picks and guns. Nicely, you can also exchange extra items for cash. These upgrades are not complicated enough to offer a variety of build strategies for every new run, but they do provide a crucial way in which they enhance your experience: For example, you can invest in bonus production and never worry about your underperforming cactus juice farms again if you don’t enjoy calculating optimal production rates.

I built a town, dug out the mines, and built a rocket to get out of SteamWorld in about eight hours, tops. Its greatest strength—that it’s a quick and easy city builder—is also the thing that prevents it from being much more. The choices you must make while navigating five distinct maps with varying topography won’t vary significantly from one to the next. You’ll construct essentially the same things each time. Although navigating the production chain and examining those maps is a lot of fun, it’s not a complex and captivating puzzle that gradually reveals more to you.

Its choice to embrace simplicity does lend it a great deal of approachability and beginner-friendliness. This is demonstrated, for instance, by the fact that, in contrast to many other city builders who only marginally succeed at it, developer The Station has actually been able to provide competent controller support.


A fun little city builder, SteamWorld Build doesn’t overextend itself with bloated padding or give you tedious busywork; instead, it focuses on the fundamentals of planning a city and stocking it with resources. Its subterranean layer is an interesting add-on feature that allows you to develop, fortify, and expand your mining business at a pace that complements the leisurely surface. However, the simplicity of SteamWorld Build has drawbacks as well; returning players won’t find much variety outside of repurposing the original elements into new maps. Because of this, it’s a refreshing city builder that’s good for a couple of enjoyable weekends, but not really one I’m going to boot up every year.


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