Stepping back after finding most of the rocket parts needed to get off the dying rock and just observing the intricate web of refineries, warehouses, and other buildings is quite a humbling moment. SteamWorld Build is a busy game where you spend every second managing a complex web of production lines while defending the mines from the hive, but every now and again, you get time to appreciate how far you’ve come, and witness just how much work you’ve put into building a thriving industrial economy that never stops moving.
If you’re a fan of city builders and resource management, SteamWorld Build is one of the best out there. You start off by recruiting workers to manufacture simple materials while keeping them happy through an array of creature comforts. Everything runs through the train station, so building a pathway to it ensures you’re production runs steadily. This train station is also where you can create trades that are reoccurring every time a locomotive passes through the town, meaning that certain materials you are struggling to acquire can be bought with the right amount of cash.
Once you’ve got a steady influx of workers, you’ll need to recruit engineers to get into the mines. To do so, you’ll need to upgrade the workers, but this can only be done if their needs are met. Once you have enough engineers and have delved deeper into the mines (another huge part of SteamWorld Build), you’ll have to recruit aristocrats, who have more needs like a casino to blow off steam, and a sheriff’s office. Got enough aristocrats? Great, but then you’ll need to recruit scientists to get the really important resources like vector scraps. There’s so much to manage that it can be frustrating at times, especially if you’re low on resources.
The heart of SteamWorld Build is focused on gathering these resources, whether it’s plastic, scrap, coal, water, gas, or oil. Once you’ve located these resources on the map, whether above or below ground, you can construct supply lines and methods to harvest and mine what you need. Although you’ll need to gather these resources, you’ll also need warehouses to store them, along with better roads to increase the speed at which items like wood can be turned into timber and key resources can be transported faster. The basics take some time to learn, but once you work out how to balance the production and demand, more money will start to roll in.
While there’s a fair amount to manage on the surface, SteamWorld Build gets more complex when you burrow underground. The mines are filled with important resources that help to fuel much of what you need in the town, and in turn create new methods to build, mine, and protect your hard work. Miners are needed to dig, and once you’ve hired enough of them, you’ll also need to craft better tools than the pickaxe if you’re to break through blocks made of granite. These factories are built above ground, which in turn give you the tools needed below. Different veins underground can be taken advantage of as long as you have prospectors, but they’ll need workshops and then extractors to get the resources to your factories above ground.
Mechanics are needed to repair machinery and build underground, and even heal workers who’ve been hurt by falling rocks or enemies, and guards are your line of defence against the creatures that start to attack and sabotage all your hard efforts. Different creatures will gobble up workers, spread their tendrils across your construction areas, or just try and attack you in swarms. The hive also launches full-scale attacks against you, so building up a suitable defence through armories, flame turrets, and thumpers are all necessary if you want to keep them at bay. As you explore deeper into the mines, you’ll find ancient parts of technology that are needed to build a rocket and get off the dying planet you find yourself on.
It gets harder and harder to find them and extract them because of how relentless enemies can be. You’ll also need to find the different switches needed to open the door to the next level, along with repairing these mineshaft lifts. You’re consistently pushed to build, repair, and extract in the mines, all while fighting off these creatures, and it can be overwhelming, especially as you get further and further into the mines. Not only are you trying to manage the excavation process underground, it all effects what is going on above ground. If certain extractors are damaged in the mines, the production in the factories are halted. If you can’t find the important scrap and ironium veins, or enough water, gas, or oil patches, you’ll struggle to keep your city flowing at a satisfying pace.
Everything you do or fail to do has a knock on effect on something else. When the money starts to dry up and you’re not producing enough materials or keeping workers satisfied, the stress starts to build and all of that hard work you’ve put in starts to dwindle, replaced by unwanted failure. Thankfully, the tutorial has plenty of information and help to get you back on track, and you can pause the action to take stock and work out a new plan of action. There’re also different buffs that can be found and applied to improve production speeds, provide new weapons to your guards, or boost worker input in the mines.
SteamWorld Build is surprisingly complex, but the layered production and worker upgrades can be easily managed if you take the time to lay the right foundations when it comes to increasing production. I found keeping workers happy was perhaps the trickiest, especially if you have various pockets of them scattered as opposed to being close because you’ll need to build two types of luxuries instead of one, meaning you’ll spend more money and use more resources when the right management can stop this from happening. Everything costs something, be it tools, cash, rubies, or gold, and you always need to pay attention to every facet of your town.
Playing on console is surprisingly easy and not difficult to control, something I was dubious about after previewing on PC earlier in the year. It’s easy to switch between levels and build what you need, as well as directing miners, prospectors, mechanics, and guards underground. It’s also a gorgeous game filled with colour, and despite a story that drip-feeds you with little story beats throughout, I cared greatly about my town in SteamWorld Build. Although there’s a lot to get your head around, and the need to have your finger consistently on the pulse, I loved my time with it.
Satisfying gameplay loop
Respects your time
Mining is rewarding and fun
A lot to learn
Tougher to succeed later into the story