SteamWorld Build Review
Honestly, I haven’t had much chance to play previous titles in the SteamWorld series. Still, I’ve been aware of their presence, from its early days as a tower defence title with the aptly named SteamWorld Tower Defence on the Nintendo DSI, through to the turn-based RPG SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech, the franchise seems to be a master of reinvention. This is further evidenced by the latest entry, SteamWorld Build, the first title in the series not made by the original developer, Image & Form. Crafted by The Station, the title sees the steampunk-robot-cowboy populace inhabit an alien planet and establish a mining town.
The latest entry draws inspiration heavily from its predecessors, SteamWorld Dig, a 2D digging platformer, and its sequel, SteamWorld Dig 2, taking the addictive gameplay loop of digging through rocky terrains, discovering treasures, and upgrading tools but reimagining these core elements into a city-builder. The twist here, however, is the aspect of dungeon-crawling, which comes when you advance your town far enough to explore the nearby mineshaft. The narrative revolves around the impending threat of planetary destruction, and with one final landrush, our robot folk have to scavenge and trade for crucial resources so that they can craft a rocketship for an escape to the stars.
Unlike many other city-building games that heighten tension with impending threats and complex defences, SteamWorld Build instead adopts a more relaxed approach. With a primary focus on maintaining a well-functioning economy rather than maximising profits, the consequences of imbalance are minimal, with angry robot faces appearing above houses in the case of an issue. The low stakes set the tone for the overall experience, catering to players who prefer a more laid-back city-building adventure. On the off-chance that it’s still too much of a challenge, the four difficulty levels include a sandbox option for players who just want to focus on crafting a nice little rootin’-tootin’ robot town.
The relaxed nature of SteamWorld Build, however, can be seen as a detriment for the more seasoned city-builder players, with the lack of overall challenge providing little substance for them. In this case, the dungeon-crawling mechanic might give an alternative lease of life to the title, as the challenge definitely increases once you set foot into the mine. The mineshaft management is the crux of variety in SteamWorld Build, with procedurally generated spaces creating a variety of layouts for your robots to face. Although your town above is safe from threats, your mining operation is less fortunate, facing opposition from underground monsters.
As your operation expands, you can arm your miners with better weaponry to defend themselves and auto-mine whilst you go back to focusing on building the town above. SteamWorld Build fancies itself as a balancing act, wherein you have to ensure your town is progressing well enough to provide enough miners to your mineshaft and that said mineshaft is productive enough to offer the necessary resources to your town. The problem is that the balancing act might be slightly too lacking in substance for those who recognise the familiar setpieces.
Another area that falls short is the overall narrative. The scarcity of cutscenes and story outside of the initial starting point and tutorial means that SteamWorld Build doesn’t deliver a great amount of substance to the overall universe of the franchise, providing a rather shallow entry point to new players entering the series for the first time. On the other hand, the streamlined tutorial will allow newcomers to the genre to get stuck in quickly.
SteamWorld Build successfully translates the series’ aesthetic to 3D for the first time, adapting the stylistic designs of the steampunk-Western world nicely. The music and sound design also factor in here, with a soundtrack that can only be described as “country with a small dash of cyber”. Unfortunately, though, the five maps that come included with the title present a stagnant variation on “desert”, with minimal visual diversity between them aside from slightly differing layouts. The underground mines, however, do provide a solid amount of variety, with different biomes represented well visually; it’s just a shame that the same couldn’t be afforded to the above-ground sections. Even with the availability of decorative items that can placed around your town, the subtle impact they have on gameplay as a whole means that they’re optional, so you really have to push yourself to craft the variety you want to see.
The new title is another step in the diverse choice of genres that have been explored with the series as a whole, maintaining a solid amount of thematic and aesthetic consistency. Those who aren’t familiar with the franchise and are looking for a new city-builder game might not have as great a time with SteamWorld Build as those who are existing fans of the lore and world. The relaxed pace of the city building, tied in with the slightly more juicy underground management, crafts an entertaining and enjoyable experience, if not shallow in its overall challenge, that will have newcomers to the genre feeling welcomed and catered to.
SteamWorld Build (Reviewed on Windows)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
Despite its shortcomings, SteamWorld Build is a delightful foray into the world of robot cowboys, and there’s a bit of fun to be had with the building and dungeon crawling, even if the tinge of innovation is a little muted.