Originally launched on 3DS back in 2010, the Steamworld series would start hitting big numbers with Dig in 2013, a unique platform action-adventure taking place in a long abandoned mine, inherited by player character Rusty. The series would then spread in different directions with subsequent entries such as the turn-based strategy Heist and the deck-building Quest. While keeping the same universe and characters, variety has always been the name of the Steamworld series. With Build, perhaps to no one surprise, the series heads in another brand-new direction: management sim.
Developed by a different Swedish team, with the same original producer, in Build, we arrive at a brand-new train station in the middle of nowhere. Our robots are a bit scared by this new desert, but the voice says we must carry on and start building around this station. First, we’ll have to house our workers, then provide them enough commodities so they might thrive and enjoy working with us.
Since they’re all robots, they will need a service shop and parts to keep being in decent working conditions. Once they are completely satisfied, they can be turned into engineers. But, you’d better keep an eye on the balance between workers and engineers, since the first are the backbone of the community. Also, all your robots need the right resources to thrive and continue being satisfied, they will also evolve while we play.
This translates into the need to continue having to erect new buildings, which in turn will need new resources and so on. It is a never-ending cycle of new resources, new needs and burning them through not too fast to remain without. Yes, capitalism, baby. Luckily, the train station allows us to set up trades so we can get hold of resources faster and avoid running out. But the player will always have to keep an eye on things.
But the real meat of the game starts when we head into the mine. Indeed, there would be no Steamworld without mining. This time we’ll manage it in real time, giving our miners specific orders of what to dig and our prospectors what to extract. There will be different kinds of rocks to mine, materials and obstacles such as enemies and a ceiling that seems to want to fall on our heads at all times. If someone is remembering Dungeon Keeper from their youth, then yes you are right, but it is probably also time to schedule that prostate exam.
The mine will give us new resources that we can use in town, such as dirty water which can be treated. No, I don’t know why robots would need fresh water daily. Build’s gameplay is entirely built on this intricate cycle of resources, plus having to constantly go back to upgrade our buildings. Indeed, many previews have mentioned mash-ups such as The Settlers meets Dungeon Keeper or even the Anno series. They definitely plucked a bit of DNA here and there, but there is one major difference.
The way the player works towards objectives, more than growth, in Build feels like constant grinding. There will be precise limitations that will hold you back from progressing, which, sometimes, don’t seem to make much sense. For example, to repair a mine elevator you need 10 Aristobots, which are the evolution of the engineers. But they are not actually needed to *repair* the mine, they are instead an artificial limitation. This means you have to go back to your town and rearrange everything to slot in more buildings, because now the engineers have different needs that need to be satisfied.
The way the above-mentioned management sims work is, instead, by featuring a specific level goal - such as defeating the lord of the land in Dungeon Keeper - or simply leaving the player free to practice what they’ve learned in the first minutes. In Build you are always grinding towards a goal, which is picking up parts of a rocket ship so you can reach space like the prophecy foretold. But instead of making progress, it feels like you’re constantly going back to the board to see how you can slot in more buildings.
This was probably made to ease in people not really familiar with management sims, who might get scared by the kind of directionless freedom of the Anno games. Instead, by having a constant objective, the player is always going in the direction the game wants them to. But it is definitely something that might get frustrating after a few hours of gameplay, especially for fans of the genre.
Graphically, the game is very much a delight. Especially being able to see all of our robotic population walking around, busy with their artificial lives. There are lots of tiny details, some completely useless for gameplay, such as building a kennel for a robot dog and a cat house. There are cute robot animals walking around, but alas, there will be no petting involved. Soundwise, not much to note, while the dubbing of the rare cutscenes unlocked when reaching some story nodes is solid, the music is just generic western-shlock.
Overall, the gameplay in Steamworld Build is fine and solid, but it really feels there is little to no freedom for the player. If you’ve played any management sims in the past, Build almost feels like you’re just locked in an hours’ long tutorial. Want to dig the next rocket part? Well you need more miners. How do you create more miners? Enlarge the miners’ quarters. How do you enlarge the quarters? By needing more wood. You get the drift.
Steamworld Build will definitely please the fans of the series accustomed to the gameplay changes. For lovers of management sims looking for something different, I’d advise proceeding with a bit of caution. Otherwise, they might get buried under that rock.
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