It’s rare for an IP to be so diverse yet so consistent. The SteamWorld library of games can dig up gold from just about anywhere, managing to mine some pretty diverse genres along the way. In addition to the huge indie hit SteamWorld Dig, players will love SteamWorld Heist, SteamWorld Quest, and SteamWorld Dig 2 – a sequel that improves on the original in almost every way.
It’s safe to say that expectations are high for whatever the franchise is up to, and following the recent reveal of SteamWorld Build, it looks like the series is poised to mine gold from yet another genre. This time, developer The Station takes the reins of Image & Form, delivering a title that’s part city management ala SimCity and part mining simulator, which the team describes as “Anno meets Dungeon Keeper,” as SteamWorld Builds heads to consoles and PC. in 2023.
Before publisher Thunderful unveils the title during the SteamWorld Telegraph: Special Broadcast, we got to experience the game’s first few hours, and in our SteamWorld Build Preview its potential already shines through like glittering chunks of diamond in a mineshaft. The usual shine, wit, and charm of the SteamWorld IP is present in every corner, and as a huge fan of the city-building genre, I’m thrilled to see both developer The Station and SteamWorld IP explore a style of gameplay that I love so much.
You’re in charge of a SteamWorld mining town, and what begins as a barren wasteland soon turns into a bustling community full of SteamBots ready to do your bidding, mining any or working away to provide valuable resources. The main difference is that on top of the city builder element (or rather, below it) is another element of the game that revolves around mining, as you balance your caving with your city building tasks.
First, building the city is perhaps the most exciting element here, and it feels great. As a person who tries to play a lot of management games on my Switch, I appreciate readability and clear communication of tasks. SteamWorld Build looks great, is easy to maneuver, and while there’s certainly all the depth you want from the genre, it feels easy to keep track of your tasks and keep your townspeople happy.
Meanwhile, yes, these are robots (or SteamWorld bots) to do your bidding, but their satisfaction is still paramount. Taking down some residential buildings will bring more bots to your city, but it’s essential to check in with their wants and needs or else some of your staff will decide to leave you. Specific buildings require a certain number of worker bots, so managing that tightrope walk of resources, luck and your tasks is how you move from slum to bustling metropolis.
The world in the beginning is simply a derelict train station and an abandoned mine shaft, but after you build some houses for our bots, build roads to connect everything, build a mill to collect wood, and a few other buildings, resources and money starts flowing. It’s an incredibly satisfying horror of available facilities, employees and more. This balance is something crucial to a city builder’s heart, and here it feels like you’re nimbly walking the line, even though these are the opening hours.
If your bots are dissatisfied, they appear with an icon and a quick click clearly shows what they need next. Certain buildings also need other facilities nearby to function, such as the forestry that needs a mill and then the mill that needs a warehouse to place its wood. Clicking on buildings in the design menu clearly shows all the facilities you need, so in my short time with the title I’m always clear on my next task, my issues and what I need next.
Helping sell all of this is a bucketful of charm, great characters and great voice acting. The SteamWorld brand signifies a certain level of pedigree within the world of India, and Build feels poised to emulate its predecessors and even give some of the bigger names a run for their money. The dialogue had me chuckling a few times, but it’s mostly the warm sincerity and eccentric charm that make it all work, with the occasional dialogue booking tasks and a touch of fun added to the proceedings.
We played a Steam version (ha) of SteamWorld Build and controlling every aspect of the city feels great. As you move around, zoom in, select units and lay paths or place buildings, it all feels natural and intuitive. For concerned Switch players, The Station clarifies that it is developing the PC and console versions at the same time, and that fans should expect all UX and UI to feel as natural with a controller as it does with a keyboard and mouse.
My only concern so far is that the barren wasteland of the dusty mining town is a bit easy to explore, but the final product promises several areas to explore and develop, and even still the thrill of going from a few units to a vibrant community full of workers and buildings is immensely satisfying. Although, occasionally there is nothing to do while you wait for resources, or at least at the beginning.
Once you meet a certain number of requirements, the mine shaft becomes available and the other element of the game is functional. Dive into the mines and you’ll be presented with a bunch of crumbling blocks and need to recruit some miners to get started. You have to monitor the stability of the mine with pillars and place enough miner’s quarters to actually function. Then it’s prospecting time.
Like the action and management sim Moonlighter, the symbiotic nature of the two gameplay elements strikes a nice balance. Certain buildings require tools, which you can find in the mines, while some mining equipment requires wood, which you work in the city. Switching between the two is instant with the click of a button, and it also means there’s always something to do.
Once you’ve completed the first few tasks, much of SteamWorld Build is automated, where you can place units in-game and tinker with roads or buildings, so flying between the city and the mines is a great way to keep players busy. and make sure that even in the downtime there is still a fun task for people to play with.
After just a few hours, I feel like going deeper into the SteamWorld Build mines. Every element of the city builder feels well-considered, with a strong focus on clearly defined goals, well-communicated tasks, and simple controls. Dragging and dropping units feels great, and creating paths or placing your mining equipment all works just the way you’d like it to. It’s going to be hard to walk away from this game.
Fans looking for the immediacy and thrilling action of titles like Dig of Heist may find the shift in genre odd, but publisher Thunderful and developer The Station prove that SteamWorld IP may be even more malleable than fans thought, and if this short session is something to get past, it’s also as strong as it’s ever been. As long as there’s enough to keep gamers coming back after those hours, this will be an exciting addition to the management sim genre.
While we wait for SteamWorld Build to dive into our free time later this year, be sure to read our Fire Emblem Engage review if you need something different to play.