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Steamworld Build review - city building and dungeon crawling collide

Our Steamworld Build review takes a hard look at how this city builder stacks up to both the competition and its predecessors.

Steamworld Build review: artwork featuring both above and below ground of a fledgling town.

Our Verdict

Steamworld Build delivers an entertaining blend of city building and dungeon crawling, but the two pillars don’t completely gel and myriad annoyances taint the experience.

The Steamworld series is back to explore yet another new genre. After putting out a pair of Metroidvania games, a turn-based tactical game, and an RPG adventure, the newest entry is a city builder. However, this one doesn’t hail from series creator Image & Form but from The Station, best known for the 2018 narrative adventure of the same name. In our Steamworld Build review, I found a mostly enjoyable mix of city building and dungeon crawling, even if some design troubles and the sense that two disparate games have been bolted together keep it from reaching the greatness of the series’ earlier entries.

When starting a campaign in Steamworld Build, you can pick between one of several maps. They’re all different shapes and present their own unique building challenges, which will be one of the main sources of replayability. There’s a fully voice-acted story featuring returning Steamworld characters, but you can opt out of this when starting a campaign if you so please. You can also turn off all tutorials, which makes for a far less guided experience.

Steamworld Build review: top-down perspective of a bustling town.

The general structure has been described as a mix between Anno and Dungeon Keeper. You start out by building a town on your chosen map. The typical flow sees you putting down residential buildings to house workers and then other buildings for accruing resources or meeting worker needs. All buildings need to be connected via road and linked back to the train station. It starts out very simply, as you mostly just need boards and cash to place new buildings, but the challenge ramps up considerably as things progress. You can only place default worker domiciles, but there are three other types of citizens that you can acquire through upgrading your workers.

While this is a fairly standard convention, it can get vexing in Steamworld Build, as the maps don’t always allow for much wiggle room. When you upgrade workers and the place is already packed to the gills, having to find room for new buildings to appease them can become a hassle. This is worsened by how unreliable resources can be. I frequently found myself unable to upgrade workers simply because one of their many needs was only slightly unfulfilled, as their satisfaction needs to be 100% before you can upgrade them. It’s all functional, but the haphazard nature tends to try my patience.

Steamworld Build: top-down perspective of a mine with purple ore.

Once you reach a certain milestone, you’ll be able to go into the mines to acquire further resources. The gameplay here is considerably different, as you’ll put down grids to build rooms for one of four other kinds of workers. While you don’t quite have direct control here, you can tell your miners what to dig into. You’ll also build machines to automate resource collection. Each of the three mine levels also has two rocket ship parts to find. Your overall goal is to escape the planet and venture into the stars, and the journey to get there is quite in-depth.

You can freely switch between both the city and mine floors, but it does often make me feel like I’m alt-tabbing between two different games. Things become further complicated when enemies show up within the second floor of the mine, as you’ll need to regularly swap back and forth to make sure your resources are still being delivered, as enemies will destroy everything if you don’t leave adequate defenses. There’s also the fact that even if you’re thorough and find all the resource nodes in the mines (water, oil, gas, etc) it might not even be enough, as I often had to supplement with trades at the station.

Steamworld Build review: a bustling town lit by a purple setting sun.

There are also some questionable progression requirements here and there. To get to level three of the mine, you need ten scientists, but the resource I needed to reach this threshold was only in mine three, so I had to once again trade for it. I like a lot of what Steamworld Build does, but some of the finer details seem a bit undercooked and it doesn’t do the best job blending its ingredients. This results in an interesting amalgamation between city building and dungeon crawling that annoys as often as it scratches its respective itches. Chalk this one up as a solid foundation that could do with sturdier walls.