SteamWorld Build is a very pleasant surprise

SteamWorld Build is a very pleasant surprise

I’ll be honest: when I heard that the new SteamWorld game was some kind of city builder, I was a bit disappointed. I love this series and wanted more of the core SteamWorld games. I wanted to venture out and dig deep into the ground, uncover mysteries and earn upgrades.

SteamWorld Build Publisher: Thunderful Developer: The Station Platform: Played on PC Availability: Out 2023 on PC, Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox. Demo on Steam available now.

It’s not SteamWorld Build – or at least it isn’t at first. Thunderful advertised it as a cross between SimCity and Dungeon Keeper. I loaded up the demo version and started placing worker buildings and connecting them by road. For five minutes, I wandered around, thinking: is this SteamWorld? Truly?

SteamWorld build.

I should never have doubted. One of the strengths of this series is its willingness to mix things up. Wait a minute, this is some kind of nifty Metroidvania. The next minute it’s a game of turn-based tactics with a bit of shuffling pool. Then it’s a card fight. All I needed was about ten minutes and I realized: SimCity and Dungeon Keeper? In the SteamWorld universe? Yes please.

SteamWorld build.

So I’m off to a desert with an abandoned train station. All the buildings I place need to be connected to the station by roads, so when I’m upgrading the worker residences, I have to hook them up to the grid if I want to keep building.

Workers also need shops and repair buildings, and I also need to start harvesting resources. I build mills and connect them to the grid, and add warehouses so wood can be stored. I start growing cacti for water and start some coal mining. I’m learning all the while how to keep workers happy, how to keep various resources flowing, and how not to ruin my economy when I want to build a new upgrade.

Milestones help structure things a bit early on, tasking me with meeting certain criteria to unlock new buildings. But the thing is, I started looking around the map a bit. Two things stand out: I can repair the station to get goods in and out if I meet certain criteria, and then – and then there’s an abandoned mine at the very edge of the map. I want to know what it is about.

Building SteamWorld

Building SteamWorld

Building SteamWorld

SteamWorld build.

It’s a beautiful thing – I’m always working towards interesting goals and always making sure people are happy enough for me to risk an expansion. It’s also SteamWorld, from the clicking sounds as I move around the UI, to the art style of the planes on the menus, and the adorable robots clicking from building to building. These city builders live and die how fun it is to zoom in close and see everyone bustling about. SteamWorld Build is packed with all the characters you would expect from this series.

But this mine! When I finally get it to work again, I find myself deep underground, and suddenly we’re in Dungeon Keeper territory. I have to get people to dig dirt blocks to dig space and unlock resources. The space means I can build a residence for more people to dig into, while the resources allow me to go up to the town above and build new things – new things that help me out here.

It’s a nice pair of lenses – bright sunshine on the surface and steadily expanding, then down below it’s moody and slightly medieval – shimmering gold in the dark and a sense of menace.

So that’s SteamWorld Build: build a city and a mine to circulate resources, while working towards the main goal of building a rocket that allows you to escape the planet before it collapses. An hour later, I think I’m about to discover the first setback – enemies in the mines who were alerted by my digs. You know what? After all this uncertainty at the start, I can’t wait.

There is a Steam demo available now.

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