The SteamWorld series has certainly evolved over the years, branching out from its tower defence roots into platformers, turn-based strategy adventures, and even role-playing deck-builders. Now, the city-builder genre can be added to the list, with Thunderful and The Station delivering a casual, decent effort in the form of SteamWorld Build.
The premise may be different, but players will be in charge of steam-powered robots trying to survive, and this time, it is to find a way off a dying planet while harnessing the power of long-lost technology. Between building a city above ground and navigating the subterranean depths of the mines below, what follows is solid gameplay that is fun but never veering towards being too innovative.
The foundational rules of the genre apply here, even if robots tend to have different needs compared to humans. Various citizen types require homes to stay, their needs and wants fulfilled, and a variety of goods need to be produced to make them happy to pay increasingly higher taxes. Along the way, more advanced buildings and tools get unlocked, and the cycle repeats itself.
Instead of a deep simulation that requires hours upon hours of close inspection, there is a graceful simplicity to SteamWorld Build. Mostly everything runs automatically; all that is needed are efficient road networks that ensure your people are getting access to what they require. And as the town produces goods and the like, there is also the ability to trade the surplus for other resources that are more in demand.
It comes together quite seamlessly and, more importantly, uncomplicated. After the initial hour or so, most players will be able to pick up the nuances involved and start their journey towards optimising their setup. Overwhelming demand will give way to resource stockpiling, allowing for profitable trade that then goes into further progressing the town in terms of upgrades and even purchasable mods that can further enhance resource-producing buildings. It is a straightforward elegance that is always welcomed.
It is beneath the ground in SteamWorld Build that things take on a different turn, where the focus turns more towards a synergistic relationship between the two areas. On the first level of the mines, it is easy to excavate dirt blocks, extract precious ores, and even find veins of precious metals that are the base materials for more advanced creations.
Move deeper, however, and more would be expected of you. Only with better tools and technology can blocks of harder materials be removed, and it becomes possible to extract the likes of precious gas and oil by using more complicated machinery. Not to mention the growing need to recruit even more miners, mechanics, and prospectors to keep the industrial machine going. The town may have been supporting the mines, but that relationship will transform into one where neither can do without the other.
This is also where the dangers present themselves in the form of creepy crawlies and nefarious robotic foes. Large-scale digging will inevitably invite trouble, which is where the game pays homage to its tower defence roots, with turrets and recruitable guards as your only salvation. It doesn’t get overly crazy, with enemies only coming out of the dark should you choose to dig into their path, providing players with plenty of prep time to ward off the threats.
There will be occasions where more regular attacks will come into play, but in the later game stages, players will definitely find themselves in stronger positions to delegate the defensive efforts to the AI, such is the efficiency of steam-powered robots given a task to perform. The real work still remains on being a city-builder that just so happens to have combat involved as a progression check.
Such accessibility and approachability in SteamWorld Build are aspects of the game that should be applauded, allowing fans of the franchise to potentially discover a new genre to fall in love with and veterans to have something fresh to experience.
That said, it also means the game can be quite short for the most effective of planners. Even on the five maps of varying sizes and the ability to randomise the mine layouts, the cadence of advancement and progress will stay the same, and any effective strategy will work no matter where you find yourself, as long as you are conscious of the space in which there is to work.
Still, there are nice surprises every once in a while to enjoy. The art and visual stylings of the SteamWorld series pair well with this perspective, and completing each map also rewards players with a permanent Landmark building that brings powerful benefits to your next try, such as building roads for free and making miners more proficient at their jobs. The way the game is so intuitive to play on a controller is also a huge plus, so kudos to the developers for making it happen.
For the latest addition to a growing franchise, SteamWorld Build knows what it wants to deliver and does so with aplomb. There are no unnecessary parts or busy work involved once players get the hang of things, and having two distinct experiences as part of the adventure provides more reasons to hang around. It might be too simple for some, but at the very least, the promise of success achieved within hours is one that will always be tantalising to others.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
A city builder that is easy to get into, SteamWorld Build keeps things moving quickly and entertaining for most of the journey.
Gameplay - 7.5/10
Story - 7/10
Presentation - 7/10
Value - 7.5/10