SteamWorld Build Preview - Hands-On
It’s fairly well documented through the various platforms that Player 2 shares its exceedingly top-tier content on, that I’m a big fan of what Image & Form (now Thunderful) have been doing with the SteamWorld franchise. From SteamWorld Tower Defence on the 3DS, through SteamWorld Dig, its sequel, SteamWorld Heist, and most recently, SteamWorld Quest, the studio has never missed with an entry in their fledgling franchise. Now the IP is in the hands of a new team, The Station, for yet-another fresh take on the SteamWorld universe. SteamWorld Build is nearly here, but can this City-Builder x Dungeon Crawler continue the franchise’s amazing hot streak? Well having put several hours into the game thus far, I’m feeling quite confident that, The SteamWorld IP is in good hands.
What was available for previewing felt quite substantial, allowing the player to explore all four map regions, from the surface where the city-building occurs to all three layers of the underground dungeons. The gameplay loop itself is a fairly simple one in premise, but can be challenging to balance in execution.
The Steambots are under siege from a planet in collapse. The planet is dying and the threats multiplying, but by extracting essential technlogies resting underground, players can create their way to escape the impending disaster. To achieve all of this though, you’ll need to create a thriving community, and amass your own tech to allow yourself to dig deeper underground, finding more essential tech to make your escape. The loop is a fairly straightforward one to understand, even as new requirements are layered into the experience, from running various mining tools, or constructing the latest and greatest facilities, but the challenge comes from the growing number of plates you’ll be spinning simultaneously as the game progresses.
There are four different classes of citizen, from the standard workers to engineers, aristobots and even scientists, but each require different sets of facilities in order to best operate in the city-scape. As each class is introduced, players will need to reconsider the city they’re assembling; workers tend to the lumbermills and charcoal kilns, while the engineers specialise in pickaxe making, working in spare markets of sheet metal factories, and are even your main source of water and food. The aristobots, as the name might imply work in only the wealthiest of conditions, as hatmakers, gunsmiths or in fine dining, and the scientists smash things together in colliders. With the introduction of each class, and their needs your shape of the city changes as you ensure you’ve positioned all necessary amenities suitably for each class, while not tied yourself in a knot with future growth on the horizon.
Decisions above the ground also impact what goes on below it, with your income topside, fuelling the dig below the surface. Players will need to properly utilise the skillsets of miners, prospectors, mechanics and guards to extract everything you can from the nutritious soil below, whilst defending your bots from the Hive threat. Just like the city above it, the underground needs tending to as well. Players will need to position pillars to prevent roof collapses, turrets to support your guards in fending off the threats, as well as a range of extractors to scoop up all that’s good in the ground. There’s a growing amount to keep track off, letalone the financial constraints layered atop it. Upgrades, extractors, and more don’t come cheap, and it can be quite easy to spend everything you have an be unable to dig yourself out of a hole. Fortunately on the normal difficulty the game caps your debt at $10,000, which can be overcome with a few trades made with the train when it arrives every five minutes, and clever decision making.
A few hours in and the signs are looking good for what SteamWorld Build can become. The game is lacking in some of the charm present in the other titles, largely due to a lack of dialogue for the most part, so it may not have quite the same heart that the likes of Steamworld Dig of Quest have, but as a playing experience, it’s all shaping up well. The tools are there, the challenges are plentiful and the tightrope is a fine one to walk, but so far, SteamWorld Build is well and truly on track.