SteamWorld Build Review – Economy of Scale

SteamWorld Build Review

There’s an elegance to city builders that I appreciate. Your fledgling town is a puzzle with constantly moving pieces. Every new addition is an opportunity for something else to go wrong, forcing you on your toes at all times. Yet when things fall into place, it’s positively thrilling. SteamWorld Build is a simple yet satisfying take on the genre. I found it challenging and accommodating all at once. I only wish the game was a bit longer.

The premise is simple enough. Your world is dying, and you’ve got to escape. But the resources to do so are located deep underground. So it’s time to dig! You need to maintain a delicate balance between your activities above and below ground. Most of your resources are down below, along with all of the danger. Well, with one exception. If you don’t plan out your town beforehand, you can get in serious trouble. I actually had to restart my playthrough once because my layout was too uselessly jumbled. While it didn’t take too long to get back to where I was, it was still a serious setback.

Proper Planning Is Essential

Town planning starts out simple enough. Workers need food, shelter, and roads. But as soon as you add engineers to the mix, things get hectic. Thankfully, SteamWorld Build makes everything crystal clear. Popup windows explain exactly what you’re missing at any given time. Serious perfectionists can also monitor a complete resource index to make sure everything is flowing in sufficient amounts. The controls themselves are intuitive and smooth. The only time I had any trouble was towards the end. You can’t easily get a bird’s-eye view of your complete settlement, at least not with a geographic population breakdown. I recommend cleanly divided neighborhoods, to avoid any future confusion.

SteamWorld Build Review

SteamWorld Build looks great, especially when you zoom in. Every individual unit is packed with fascinating details. You see home appliances, signs, lit windows, and more. I spent most of my time with the widest possible view, but it’s good to check things out once in a while. It doesn’t take long to create some dense, complex settlements. You can even add decorative touches if you’re so inclined. I found building out the mines deeply satisfying. Watching your workers rapidly set up fencing, bridges, reinforcements and lights never gets old. There’s also a sense of proper completion with the underground layers. You can conceivably dig out, set up, and activate every part of a given layer.

Since all the resources are underground, the challenge is there as well. Progression is a constant struggle. Resource extraction requires miners, prospectors, and mechanics. Plus, you need enough workshop space, construction supplies, and support pillars. I found myself occasionally frustrated by the juggling required to build a single extraction device. Of course, this was all before I had to fight off any monsters.

Fight Back The Hordes

Once enemies are introduced, the complex mechanics of Build get pushed to their limits. Support pillars get destroyed, miners are eaten, and creep grows over your entire mine. Adding automated defenses means another layer of juggling. Again, I found this frustrating, but not overwhelming. This is because the pace of Build is slightly more relaxed. You’re not racing against time, and you’re not competing with other settlements. It’s just you against the monsters, with your ultimate goal looming on the horizon.

SteamWorld Build Review

A campaign in SteamWorld Build doesn’t take that long to wrap up. While I do want more, I’m still encouraged by this. For one thing, I’m always looking for short, repeatable gaming experiences. Beyond that, there is some proper replay value here. You’ve got five different maps to finish, Plus, there are unlockables connected to each map. You can also tweak the difficulty settings for a more serious challenge. The maps themselves also get harder as you go. Remember that warning I gave about layout? Each map is shaped quite differently. If you’re not careful, you can blow a whole campaign with sloppy planning.

At first, this game seems simpler than most city builders. After playing through it, the right word is approachable. You’re eased into things with straightforward systems and limited units. Then things escalate, slow and steady. By the end, without realizing it, you’ve built a complex settlement full of moving parts and balanced resource ecosystems. I wish certain things like population breakdowns were more robust, but I still loved this game. For a deceptively deep city builder, you’ll want to check out SteamWorld Build.

***A PS5 code was provided by the publisher***

The Good

  • Approachable mechanics
  • Detailed unit models
  • Smooth difficulty curve

The Bad

  • Could be longer
  • Units get lost in the sprawl
  • Lot of task juggling underground