SteamWorld Build: Preview


Written by: Luka Vondrak

"Set in the multi award-winning SteamWorld Universe" says the blurb on the game's Steam page. I have to admit I've never heard of SteamWorld before or its multiple awards, but a quick sift through the search bar confirms that I've apparently been living under a rock…the bedrock that is!

Bad mining puns aside, the studio Thunderful Development has published 4 games in the SteamWorld universe by now and at least 2 of them are centred around digging, aptly named SteamWorld Dig and SteamWorld Dig 2. The name says it all as the stories are based in a world whose robotic inhabitants run on steam, living in a 'Ye Olde Wild West' type culture very reminiscent of ours, but suspiciously missing any humans, like a strange mix of Wall-E and Rango. The planet is progressively crumbling away due to some mysterious force of impending doom and most answers lie buried deep beneath the ground where ancient technology and horrors await.

Now you'd think, based on observable evidence, the game SteamWorld Build would primarily be about building things, but you'd be wrong! Sort of. The game does open up with some robo-settlers arriving at an abandoned train station in the hopes of finding a miracle technology that will enable them to escape the aforementioned impending doom. You're given an empty map and a simple, straightforward tutorial to ease you into its city builder/management gameplay. Build homes, get robots, robots have needs, collect resources to fulfil needs, get more robots and so on. In a bit of time you will have your basic production set up, repair the train station, set up trade and then the devs reveal their real endgame. Digging!

Yes, even in the game named after the act of putting smaller things together to make bigger things, Thunderful Development cannot help themselves but make you start breaking big stuff into smaller stuff. The moment you repair the mining shaft in the overworld, a completely separate map is unlocked and that is the point where the true game opens up. As the objective of the game is to find the ancient tech that's buried underneath, you will have to establish your mining operation and start excavating. The gameplay for the underworld is slightly reminiscent of Dungeon Keeper (the good one, not EA's mobile abomination). You mark tiles, your miners mine them and new sections of the map open up, with resource nodes, treasure and mysteries to be found alongside danger...apparently. I say apparently since the demo doesn't feature any enemies yet, but the mention of turrets and healing alludes to some manner of nasties creeping in the dark.

The two maps complement each other, with each map's resources fuelling the others' production. Topside your robots make tools and alloys which are used by miners and their machines below, while the mined resources get processed topside for even better tools and so on. The demo is short and not much gets explored, but the first taste of this dual gameplay was enough to make me interested and disappointed that the demo ended soon after. The systems and mechanics present in the game are the same you will see in other examples of its genre, balancing resources and the needs of your population. It's all very intuitive and I haven't found myself wondering what I'm supposed to be building next at any point.

There are some kinks I hope are ironed out for the final release, mostly pertaining to the UI and small quality of life stuff. There is a pause and fast forward button in game, but currently it's missing a bindable shortcut. The information bubble that appears when you want to build something oftentimes covers the place you want to build on, making the action of placing it correctly needlessly finicky. Lastly, a dedicated, retractable resource bar that doesn't require you to go to a separate window every time would be welcome as well. It's all small stuff, not worthy of dismissing the game over in any way, but fixing those small annoyances would go a long way to smoothing out the experience for players used to this genre.

All in all, the demo did exactly what it's supposed to do. It got me hooked on the game's premise and made me want more. It also introduced me to the wider SteamWorld universe, which I have to admit is pretty fun; with its colourful, quirky characters and cynically violent undertones. SteamWorld Build is coming out on Steam sometime this year, with its demo available for download on the game's page, and I'll gladly jump back into it when the full release arrives. If you're a fan of city builders but crave a twist, I encourage you to check out the demo or put the game on your wishlist today.

Written by: Luka Vondrak