Steamworld Build is an interesting game. It’s as likeable as it is bonkers. It throws the rulebook out the window and asks ‘why don’t we just add another game into our game?’.
As a city builder, it’s got character. It borrows heavily from the Anno formula with its production chains and evolving population - but it puts its own spin on things. The art and animations make it stand out in a crowd, and they are stellar. Every building has its own loop and your citizens will stumble around the town playing out their daily lives. It's cathartic, inviting, and incredibly likeable.
But Steamworld Build isn’t just a settlement game - and there’s only so far you can go by opening saloons and throwing down cactus farms. To progress, you have to go underground. While your citizens toil away in the moonshine distillery, your legion of miners and prospectors will carve out a subterranean labyrinth.
The materials you find down there will fuel industry on the surface, and you’ll uncover secrets, items, and passages to go ever deeper. There are three biomes in total. They all feel unique, offer different rewards, and prove new challenges. It’s not all fun and games down there either. Dig in the wrong place and you’ll uncover enemies burrowed away in the dirt. You can counter this by building and equipping a unit of enforcers, and littering your domain with traps and turrets.
So there are two halves to the game that function well in isolation - but they bounce off each other succinctly too. It’s a well-maintained balancing act that makes such an oddball combination not just work - but feel completely natural. I have to commend the developers The Station on that one. Anno and Dungeon Keeper are two of my favourite games - so when I heard about their plans to combine them, I thought it too good to be true. But they’ve pulled it off.
That being said, there were a few flaws that became quickly apparent. Veterans of the genre might be put off by the inability to change and optimise hotkeys. Beauty builders should also be wary, as town decorations are all mostly the same tile size, and the lack of variation means these items just don’t blend into the town around them.
Its greatest problem though is more encompassing. The game keeps you in tow with a story mode, and provides objectives to keep you progressing towards a final goal. But it’s all quite short. Anyone familiar with these types of games will rattle through it in a dozen hours or less. After that, there’s not much to keep you coming back. You can create a new town, and make it more optimised - but I felt like it was lacking a feature that kept it ticking in the sandbox mode. In my opinion, all it needed was a random event here and there, or some larger long-term goals to work towards that weren’t tied into the main story.
The Verdict - 7.5 / 10
Whilst far from being a massive game, Steamworld Build is undeniably likeable. Its genre mixing is ambitious, and well-executed. It is an interesting settlement builder and a quirky Dungeon Keeper-like. But combined, it’s a unique and deeply enjoyable experience; although one that also feels like it’s lacking long-term goals to make the sandbox mode feel worthwhile. Despite this, the game as a whole is worth playing for fans of the Steamworld franchise, and anyone who enjoys a laid back town building game with minimal stress.
Review code provided by the publisher. Reviewed on PC.