SteamWorld Build Review – Digging Deep

SteamWorld Build Review - Digging Deep

With so many established big names in the Dungeon-Crawling space, from Diablo to Hades, it’s been hard for new faces to get a decent look-in. The road for the City-Builder has too been long driven on by developers inspired by what trendsetters like Maxis paved decades ago, making that genre also a hard nut to crack for aspiring developers. So how about games that look to meld together aspects of both genres? Well, that is what The Station is looking to do in collaboration with Thunderful Development as they build the world of Steamworld Build – a dungeon-crawler, city-building hybrid set in the Steamworld universe. Being successful in either genre can be an immense challenge, but The Station has stuck the landing impressively.

Players are thrust into a world on the brink. The planet is dying, and the only way that you can escape is by building up a thriving mining town, which can then allow you to reclaim ancient technologies that will help underpin your way off the planet. It’s a lighter, and less gameplay-intrusive plot than what we’ve come to expect from prior Steamworld titles across various genres, however, it tickles the interest often enough and provides a few moments for that Steamworld humour to shine brightly.

Steamworld Build is all about the gameplay experience. Beginning above ground, players will endeavour to construct a city that can facilitate the needs of those working under the earth, digging up the all-important components required to flee the dying planet. As your township expands in size and in the scope of what it can produce, the demands upon the excavation work increase accordingly. Initially, your little fleet of workers will be harvesting trees for timber, and building objects out of it, but as you expand, the needs of the engineers, aristobots, and scientists that you soon will be in charge of grow as well, meaning your underground operations will need to develop to meet those needs. Soon it’s not the building timber planks that you’ll be worrying about, but rather the maintenance of colliders, sheet metal factories, and much more that you’ll need to concern yourself with, much of it simultaneously, as everything drives you deeper underground. 

Every time you break ground to place a residence for any of your four classes of workers, players will need to ensure that they’re positioned such that they can access all of their necessities, from workplaces to essential services. Managing this as your city continues to expand can be a challenge, especially as you transform some residences into newer ones for newly introduced classes of workers. Progression can only occur when the residents are happy, and for their peak happiness to be achieved, every need they have must be addressed, some of which is linked to topside events, the rest, connected to the goings on under the earth. The underground layers of the planet are just as engaging to manage as everything occurring up north, players have a range of personnel at their disposal, from miners to mechanics, prospectors, and guards, all integral to your continued expansion underground. The classes names are a little more self-explanatory but each keeps the gears turning above the ground and below it. These important pieces to the Steamworld Build puzzle will help uncover new materials, construct excavators, fight off the underground swarms of Hive enemies, and uncover your riches. Still, there’s a constant risk/reward game that emerges the deeper you go into the layers of the earth, one that tempts players in ways that could crush their campaign in an instant if you’re not adequately prepared.

The various pillars of gameplay can at times feel like an impassable mountain to overcome at times, but in reality, the gentle hum of one cog in the machine allows others to run more seamlessly, and it is just down to the player to show both the balance and restraint required to progress at a reasonable pace, and not get too ambitious. There are a range of different pieces of equipment you can outfit your underground charges with, and items that you can embed in your different manufacturing sites topside that will help improve your output in all respects. A train arrives every five in-game minutes as well which gives you the opportunity to spend some hard-earned on upgrades that will accelerate your progression further. Where the game throws challenges and obstacles, it often does an excellent job of also providing you the tools to work your way out of a situation as well – it’s a superbly balanced experience.

While Steamworld Build won’t be the winner of awards for visuals of technical art, it is no less a striking game, largely in part to the unique stylings of the Steamworld universe that have been wonderfully realised in this 3D world. The musical backing, as one might expect from a game such as this is quite subdued, but the occasional Western SFX strike at the heart when they emerge. 

The one area where Steamworld Build lacks, is in it’s depth of playable options. The core game allows players to visit one of five different locations to build their town, and while they have their own look and feel, the act of playing the game isn’t impacted by their layout in any ways of substance. There aren’t any additional modes either, so players may find themselves will little incentive to stick around post-campaign as things stand.

That all aside though, Steamworld Build, whether you’re playing through the campaign for the first time or the fifth, is an excellent experience that challenges your strategic mind, but also is an endearing, experience in ways that only the Steamworld games can be. It’s not without area for improvement, but the game shows that while in the hands of The Station, the Steamworld IP is in very good hands indeed.

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