The SteamWorld series has grown from strength to strength across multiple genres already. As an avid fan of the series, I have played the original two mining games countless times and a bit of the strategy game and RPG version. Instead of focusing on a sequel to the many different games in the series, SteamWorld Build embraces the traditional RTS genre and attempts to create its own Anno game while still focusing heavily on the whole mining aspect.
The result is a mix match of different gameplay that managed to whisk me away for countless hours each evening while I managed the town above the ground, grew my population, tended to their demands and went from a barren wasteland to a thriving city. While I was it it, I also dived into the underground mining sections where I was able to build and grow a small army of miners (army as in – a lot of them not so much fighters).
The miners would be responsible for digging up relics required to complete each story chapter, tools to further progress crafting and needs, and scurrying around the abyss to look for gems, enemies to fight and other secrets that await.
Somehow, it all works and SteamWorld Build manages to deliver two opposite worlds and are both operated completely differently and feel different to play while also scratching that RTS itch I had.
The game is also incredibly approachable thanks to its various difficulty modes. I could jump into a super casual mode where resources were plenty, enemies weren’t a threat and the general gameplay loop was a lot more relaxed. Of course, if I wanted to micro-manage every single thing, I could also do so. Tougher difficulty modes relied on a keen eye for finances, a swift finger on the button for demands and the constant focus between the underground world and the city above.
The underground is where SteamWorld Build feels somewhat familiar. Here, the game relies solely on advancing downward into deeper mineshafts to find more rock, gems, water sources and other important mechanics. The top ground level doesn’t really expand in this way. Sure, houses can evolve into more advanced people which in turn unlocks new buildings and needs but the expansions remain more lavish across the surface.
My town grew from a few houses into a bustling metropolis which oozed that iconic steampunk style we love from the series. Before I knew it I had a city spanning across the land and I continued to grow as long I was allowed to.
If you have played the Anno series, this gameplay will be familiar. You start out with a handful of buildings and slowly expand. You then evolve those level 1 buildings into a new aristocratic style. It not only changes the way things look but also the demands I had to keep up with.
Where the game switches things up is when the top world and bottom world link together. Miners discover things which can be sent to the top level to craft new items. This requires a bit of focus because the game often doesn’t make this clear. There were many times when I had to find a resource only to spend an hour focusing on the entire wrong level which stunted my progression.
Each section of SteamWorld Build relies on having my finger on the pulse. If it wasn’t setting up trade routes between neighbouring towns it was making sure I built support pylons in the mineshaft to prevent the roof from caving in when excavating new rocks. While the miners and other crew in the shaft don’t have as technical demands as the top people, they do require a more hands-on approach.
For example, miners can’t cross gaps without me building bridges. They also won’t automatically open chests which contain resources and artefacts which come with buffs for buildings and workshops. This meant I had to explore the mines as much as possible and get my hands dirty by instructing the workers to perform certain tasks,
The game encourages this constant up and down and back and forth between the top and the mineshafts. It was always nice to pop back into the underground to see how things were going only to find the miners had completely cleared out the rock formations and discovered new paths for me to guide them through. The ground level doesn’t get this technical though. It relies more on building and managing with less exploration.
SteamWorld Build has five maps at launch. Each map comes with its own unique environment to build on and even its own visual style. Each map also comes with its own objectives, story and characters to meet. The story doesn’t ever get too technical but it does tie into the overarching lore of the series. In a delightful way.
I think the best part of SteamWorld Build was how approachable it was. Even on the harder difficulties, I felt in control and I didn’t have to constantly stress about fires, mob attacks, strikes and inflation taking over the town. Sure, this takes away from the hardcore RTS genre but it works. I think managing the ground and mineshaft while also keeping tabs on that madness would have been a little too much to handle.
I also enjoyed how charming SteamWorld Build was. For a fan of the series, it truly plays into the great steampunk style in some new and exciting ways.
I played the game on PS5 and it also ran pretty well on the console with a controller. The buttons and navigation take a while to get used to but after a few hours, it was a breeze. You can see the team at The Station put a lot of love and attention into the console port.
Whether you’re a fan of the SteamWorld series or simply looking for a new RTS to play, SteamWorld Build is highly recommended. There are a lot of fresh ideas to enjoy here that make the game one of 2023’s gems.
This SteamWorld Build review is based on a PS5 code sent to us by Thunderful Publishing. The game is available from 1 December on PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC and Switch.
SteamWorld Build is a refreshing take on the RTS genre that sees the much-loved series transform into a new adventure with management and mining. While it lacks the intricacies of some of the great RTS games in the market, it is fun and approachable.