SteamWorld Build – PC Preview

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SteamWorld Build is a steampunk city builder, the first city builder game in the SteamWorld series. In order to escape a dying planet, build your mining town and dig to find vital long-lost technology. Developed by Thunderful Development and published by Thunderful Publishing, SteamWorld Build is coming soon to PC and console. Join me as I check out the early demo.

And So The Story Begins

“In SteamWorld Build, you must escape a dying planet by building a mining town to dig up vital long-lost technology. Meet the ever-growing needs of your citizens, trade resources and defend your mine from the creatures that lurk below.”

We play as Jack and Alice Clutchsprocket – a grandpa and granddaughter duo who act as the managers for our town. Under the ever-watchful eye of Gunn-Britt Gildenwire, the Clutchsprockets must manage the population, expand the town and explore underground in an effort to find ancient technology. Guided by Core – an ancient robot, you must use this technology to leave the dying planet and find a new home amongst the stars.

Now I don’t know about you, but personally, I reckon SteamWorld Build wins the award for best backstory in a colony sim game. Whether the story picks up from the previous games or is completely new I can’t say, as I never played the previous ones. What I can tell you though, is that the writing throughout the game – from the backstory/introduction right through to completion, is simply brilliant.

Gameplay

Above Ground

Story aside, you’re probably wondering how it plays. Well, being a city builder simulation game you’ll recognise most of the mechanics right out of the gate. Players must grow their population by building sufficient housing and supporting infrastructure to manage the basic needs of workers. This includes cactus farms for water, foresters for wood and charcoal, shops for supplies and maintaining the train station for trade and travel.

Image showing buildings ready for upgrades
Tier 1 structures can be upgraded to improve worker ranks

To assist the player in this harsh desert environment, robotic tumbleweeds can be found and clicked on for extra loot. Loot such as money, wood and charcoal is all up for grabs.

Workers can be upgraded, but doing so means losing the lower tier worker in exchange for the higher tier. Keep this in mind when managing your workforce – having 100 engineers is pointless if you have no one to transport the parts they need!

Below Ground

As you may have already guessed, there are 2 parts to this game; the surface gameplay and the subsurface gameplay. Once you’ve progressed a little and opened up the train station, you’ll unlock the engineer class. After unlocking this class, you’re able to repair and reopen an abandoned mine shaft. Down here, the rules are very different to those above.

Image showing the underground environment
Digging out the mine shaft reveals jewels, gold and other useful resources

Using your building skills, you must create support pillars to stop the ground from caving in around you. Expanding your mine tiles will increase the number of miners available to you, which in turn means more space is mined and more supporting structures are required. It’s a vicious cycle of mining, building and expanding, all intertwined as one.

Precious metals and gemstones are hard to mine and provide valuable resources for trade via the train station trader your town unlocks. Be warned though, enemies lurk in every dark corner down here! Being a demo, combat isn’t something we get to really dig into until full release. I for one, can’t wait.

Milestones

Milestones help to structure the gameplay and give you something to strive towards. How linear you play and how you achieve these, however, is totally up to you. Going off on a tangent and creating a forestry station or extra cactus farms is totally acceptable, but in the end, all roads do lead back to the milestones if you want to progress.

Image showing the cactus farms and tooltips
Milestones help point the player in the right direction

I found it best to loosely follow the milestone goals while building a pretty-looking town and managing my resource chart. The chart gives you an overview of your resource production, usage and balance. The key to success is ensuring resource usage never overtakes resource production.

Graphics & Audio

Recommended system settings; 4GB Memory, NVIDIA GeForce 510, Intel Core Duo E8400, OS Windows 10.

Visually speaking, SteamWorld Build appears to build upon the existing franchise of SteamWorld, which began in 2015 with SteamWorld Dig. Finally making the jump from 2D to 3D graphics, the game stays true to its origins while still feeling like a totally original and brand new game. The western themed steampunk offers a unique and refreshing art style, and although it’s not the first game in the series, nothing feels lazy or recycled. It all feels new and exciting.

Perfectly blending your typical western style graphics with a futuristic steampunk feel, gives us some unique little creations like this thing; a steampunk tumbleweed!

Image of a steampunk tumbleweed
Tumbleweeds offer extra resources, so keep an eye out for them

In contrast to the bright orange and desert colours we’ve come to expect from a western, we have the dark of the underground. Down here, things are lit by firelight and torches. It really feels like yin and yang. The above and below worlds work perfectly alongside one another to offer a visual balance for you, the player. The sound complements every visual aspect too, with the typical robotic steampunk effects blending perfectly with the western ambience. Underground, the sound design really comes into its own, with the sound of axes picking away at rocks and minerals.

Despite this being an early demo, I don’t think I came across a single framerate drop, texture clip or glitch of any kind. No sound bugs, screen tearing or unwanted unpleasantries anywhere in sight. Just polished content throughout. Bravo Thunderful.

Image showing how the tooltip can get in the way
A mild annoyance, but the tooltip box can get in the way sometimes

Honestly my only albeit very minor complaint (as you can see above) is that the tooltip box can slightly get in the way when placing structures. Thankfully though, you can always demolish them if you’re not happy with the placement.

Longevity

What I find most impressive about SteamWorld Build is the way in which the surface and subsurface gameplay is interlinked. You can’t progress one without the other. They also balance each other out, as just when you’re finding life above ground a little tedious, you can dive beneath the soil and spend your time mining for gold. This mechanic really makes the game stand out amongst others in the genre, and time seems to fly while playing.

Image shows the clipboard resource management system
Keep an eye on your clipboard, ramp production up or down where required

Whether you prefer to sit and sweat in your room for 8 hours or pick up and play the odd half hour here and there, SteamWorld Build has you covered. Personally, I couldn’t put it down and completed the demo in one sitting.

Final Thoughts

SteamWorld Build is a family-friendly city builder unlike any I’ve played before. With unique mechanics, great visuals and some truly amazing writing, I can whole-heartedly say I’ll be grabbing a copy when the game is released.

Whether you’re a city builder fanatic or a casual gamer just looking to pass the time, SteamWorld Build is absolutely, undoubtedly, unequivocally worth adding to your collection.

Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.

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