One of the best indie series ever returns with what could be the next great city builder

SteamWorld Build
(Image credit: Thunderful)

Just in time for the 2023 Steam Base Builder Fest, the venerable SteamWorld franchise is back to take on yet another genre. Publisher Thunderful Games has announced SteamWorld Build, a new city builder splicing elements from SimCity and Dungeon Keeper with the steampunk aesthetic that's made the SteamWorld series great, and it's coming to PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch this year. 

SteamWorld has been around for nearly a decade now, and it hasn't released a dud yet. SteamWorld Dig and its sequel are both fabulous, mining-powered Metroidvanias, SteamWorld Heist is a smart turn-based strategy game, and SteamWorld Quest packed a clever card battler into a charming RPG. The series reminds me of Rare's legendary run in the '90s, with Thunderful and its internal studios consistently nailing every genre they try, and SteamWorld Build is already looking like another gem. 

I got some hands-on time with SteamWorld Build ahead of today's reveal, and it took significant effort to tear myself away from it so I could actually write this article. As Thunderful explained at today's SteamWorld showcase, SteamWorld Build is split between a fairly normal-looking city builder and a subterranean mining component. You could build a decent game around either of these, but it's the way they interact that makes SteamWorld Build so promising. 

My session, which was limited to one of a few scenarios, started with typical city builder baby steps. I made some homes for my robot workers, set up some shops for their basic needs, connected everything with a few roads, and started to dip my toes into industry stuff by plopping down a lumber mill and a warehouse. Some refineries and shops, like my new mill, need to be placed near naturally occurring resources like trees, while others, like the cactus farms I build later, can be set up basically anywhere. 

And so begins the time-honored city builder tradition of balancing fashion and function, making things fit and work logically without making them absolutely hideous. Happily, SteamWorld Build has an intuitive interface – albeit some slightly finicking road pathing – and a nice suite of decorations to spruce up your city. That said, most buildings look great by default thanks to some lovely details and lively animations that make areas feel lived-in. 

SteamWorld Build

(Image credit: Thunderful)

Things pick up considerably as I tick off tutorial milestones and unlock new features. I start trading via train to bring in more wood and tools, shift some of my workforce to engineers to support more advanced operations (like a surprisingly complicated saloon that keeps my robot workers happy), and begin investing into upgrades for my refineries. Once I recruit enough engineer bots, I'm able to repair the broken down mine in a corner of my starting land, and that's when the game really starts to sprawl.

The spirit of SteamWorld Dig is alive and well in the underground bits of SteamWorld Build. You've got to make living quarters for your miners and prospectors, mark high-value resources for fast extraction, and absolutely cover the place with support beams to avoid a tunnel collapse. My session ends with the second level of the mine, but it's clear that between new materials and some nasty underground critters (which seem to require a tower defense-like response, just to get even more genres in here), digging deeper will require proper planning and thorough preparation. 

SteamWorld Build

(Image credit: Thunderful)

A well-built mine will yield ore to power better upgrades up top, and you have to balance your city's workforce and resources to keep everything in harmony. Before long, I'm regularly swapping between my city and mine – which is easy and instantaneous playing on PC – to spot-clean resource deficits, adjust trade quotas, improve transportation, pretty up the scenery, and expand, expand, expand. 

It's true-blue city builder flow state filtered through one of my favorite series, so SteamWorld Build is flying up my list of most anticipated 2023 releases. That list may get even longer soon with three other SteamWorld games apparently in development, too. And thanks to SteamWorld Build's PC demo, you can give it a try later today – and, if you're keen, snap up some other games in the series for cheap in an accompanying Steam sale. 

Check out our full guide to new games 2023 to see what else is dropping this year and beyond. 

Austin Wood

Austin freelanced for the likes of PC Gamer, Eurogamer, IGN, Sports Illustrated, and more while finishing his journalism degree, and he's been with GamesRadar+ since 2019. They've yet to realize that his position as a staff writer is just a cover up for his career-spanning Destiny column, and he's kept the ruse going with a focus on news and the occasional feature.