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Three Perspectives on City of Steam

December 17, 2012

Dear Reader,

As you may remember, several months ago I was given a chance to take a sneak peek at the alpha of an upcoming free-to-play MMO, City of Steam.  It is a browser-based steam-punk MMO largely (at the time) in the image of WoW.  I was amazed by what the developers were capable of doing with a browser-based game, and still am.  This past Friday, my two buddies and I were re-invited by the same gentleman to experience the beta version of the game.  I asked my buddies to tag along for a couple of different reasons.  First, since I’d seen the alpha already, I wanted a fresh set of eyes.  Secondly, for my second post on the game, I wanted a couple of different perspectives.  Lastly, it’s an MMO, so I wanted to play with someone.

Below are the write-ups my friends did.  I had no input into these and have changed nothing about the content of their pieces beyond adding a few clarifying comments with their approval.

Buddy L:

City of Steam was the browser based game that I had the privilege of trying in the beta stage for a couple hours. I was initially quite marveled at the quality of the graphics; one of the town’s zones had cloud cover that was particularly impressive visually.  I have seen worse graphics in “real” [launcher-based] games.

There were only four classes but each class had three sub types so in a way there were actually twelve classes.  There seemed to be plenty of content by the time it goes live so coupled with the class varieties there would be no lack of things to do.  I particularly enjoyed the challenges which had you go into dungeons and smash X barrels in X minutes, for example.  Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to scale with party size so some were extraordinarily easy in a party but impossible to solo; perhaps they will be scaled at a future date.  I thought these little side quests were a nice, fun distraction from the standard quests. They also gave challenge orbs which can be used in the Transmuter.  The Transmuter is basically a slot machine where you can earn various prizes from crafting materials to Electrum, which is the real-money currency.  I found this innovation quite enjoyable, perhaps because I’m a fan of gambling – to put it mildly- but I think anyone would enjoy that aspect aspect of the game especially considering the potential rewards.

I didn’t have time to do too much combat but it seemed fluid enough.  The auto attack function seemed to stop for no reason a lot and the skill select screen kept freezing so I couldn’t try any of the hotkey skills; this is what beta is for though and I’m sure there’s still plenty that will be hammered out by the time it goes live.  I personally am a little burned out on the WoWish genre but for a f2p, especially a browser f2p game, I would recommend City of Steam to anyone.

Buddy J:

I am grateful for the opportunity to have tried City of Steam.  One of the developers took the time to show us around, and at first glance, City of Steam looks amazing, and I’m impressed with what they managed to do within the limitations of a browser-based game.  I look forward to seeing it in its final release. I was also impressed with the amount of customization during character creation, which is something we often take for granted, but is not always an option in many games these days.

My friends didn’t seem to have a problem, but I think the user interface could use a little work. There were times I just didn’t quite know where to click. One such example was in choosing skills. It wasn’t immediately clear what options were available to me. A few tooltips or tutorial messages when first accessing certain interfaces might go a long way. These may in fact exist and I was rushing through too quickly to notice, but perhaps they could be more clear. Highlight new buttons, new available skills, or maybe place a “Click here” arrow or something of the like. (Speaking of tutorial messages. It was amusing to see a popup suggesting I could smash objects for potential loot after I already smashed more than a dozen of them. I guess I’ve just played too many Diablo-style games and have grown accustomed to breaking furniture for loose change.)

One question I have is how the game world itself plays out, if there is one.  I get the impression that it’s all instance-based and towns are just hubs connecting them, but I wonder if there is a game world to explore, or whether that’s simply a limitation that goes beyond what a browser-based game is able to achieve.  If there isn’t, then players not in your party might only be encountered in towns and might cut back a bit on the MMO feel.  Now there’s certainly nothing wrong with that if that is beyond the scope of this game, but then there needs to be a ton of instances of all various types to truly get the feeling of an expansive world to immerse ourselves in without getting bored too easily.  City of Steam is certainly not unique in this regard, though, so until we see a game world that is truly adaptive and can generate content on the fly in response to player actions, we’ll simply have to limit ourselves to whatever the developers can churn out quickly enough.

Stubborn’s review:

I was blown away by the graphics the first time, and this time was no different (for some images, follow the link in the first sentence to my first review; I didn’t think to take screen shots this time).  As my buddy said, there were many stunningly beautiful scenes in the game.  The starter zone is intentionally drab, as it’s a refuge for people fleeing another city being attacked.  However, outside that zone, the game world is vivid and colorful and alive in ways that you wouldn’t expect.  One example of this vivacity is in the new opening tutorial.  The old one had you boxed on a train, which I enjoyed.  However, Gab told us that they had received a lot of negative feedback about it, so they changed it to a more open-world environment.  The new tutorial was amazing; it lets you run through a city being attacked by the game’s future nemesis.  In the background of the scenes, a gigantic protector robot is doing battle with a gigantic attacker; it gives the tutorial a feeling of proximity to real danger and really shows off the graphics of the game.

To respond a little to my second buddy’s comments, let me explain some of what our guide told us that he may have missed.  The game includes both open-world quests as well as instanced ones.  The game world itself is a gigantic metropolis, so the idea of a world outside the city is somewhat of a non-sequitur.  Those of you familiar enough with D&D could think of it a bit like the City of Sigil, the setting of the Planescape: Torment Baldur’s Gate-style game.

I found the UI perfectly usable, but I’m a big fan of hitting every button to see what happens, which has caused more than a handful of trouble in my life.  As a result, though, I’ve learned a lot about game UI’s without tutorials or the like.  There were still some bugs to iron out, and my second buddy’s ideas of more tool tips can never hurt, since if one person’s having trouble with the UI then there’s bound to be many more.

What impressed me most this time around was the variety of activities available in the game.  I said of the alpha preview that it was very much in WoW’s style, but they’ev diverted somewhat here to really generate some new and unique ideas that set the game apart from others in the same category.  From a “design” point of view, one could do challenge runs (as my first buddy described, though there’s far more than just smashing barrels; there’s kill X of a type of monster, locate a hidden flag, open X chests, etc), run regular dungeons, do quests, play with the Transmuter (which was absolutely awesome, as my buddy described), or do PvP.  Additionally, there’s always exploration and role playing available, as well, and since this game’s setting is more unique among MMO settings, I think there’s an excellent opportunity for both.

So overall, I’m as happy with the game this time around as I was last!

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and resting with all grading done and grades turned in)

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 17, 2012 11:39 am

    Any idea how the cash shop works? I’m still wary of F2P and B2P games. Too many of them have “optional” items that are really required if you intend to do little things like level beyond a certain cap.

    • December 17, 2012 11:50 am

      Yes, the “Allods” model is unfortunately quite prevalent. To be fair, I didn’t ask this time, so the model may have evolved, but when I asked in my alpha test, I got an answer. Here’s my write up from the alpha test:
      I did ask the hard question for you, dear reader. I asked where the money comes from. The answer I got was encouraging. Mechanist Games plans to follow a LoL-like model, where cash items will be virtually entirely aesthetic. The gentleman I was speaking to seemed quite put off by the idea of play-to-win games and ensured me that City of Steam will not be designed in that fashion. That was a relief, as I, too, can’t stand play-to-win models. Allods, for example, might have kept my attention if it weren’t for the fact that I knew I’d have to spend money not to have to grind extremely slowly. City of Steam is avoiding that pitfall.

  2. December 27, 2012 2:41 am

    Oh, so many questions, I should have swung by earlier!

    First off, thanks for coming by and playing the game together, it was a lot of fun doing that as a team for a change!

    About some issues that were brought up:

    UI: There will be UI changes to make the interface more intuitive for Beta; more tooltips an tutorials for them to make it clearer. The Transmuter, for example, unless told how to use, needed quite a bit of playing around with. We knew this, the lack of direction is more of a lack of time on our end than a design flaw, so no worries, things will get better.

    Combat: A lot of the issues with combat and targeting have been fixed now; there’s some more polishing to do, but you should have a better time with it from now on.

    Transmuter: One thing to note is that the Transmuter uses Challenge Orbs only, which *can’t* be acquired from cash shops or bought with real money (for one thing, it would make it very real gambling and illegal in several regions). It is however a free-player’s chance to get that good stuff (with some effort from completing dungeons, quests, challenges, etc. for more Challenge Orbs) without having to pay. Like pets. And Steambikes :)

    Cash Shop: You can still pay to get certain items from the store for convenience, but those items are not exclusive to the store. Although you can buy some of the game’s items from the shop like this, the best of them (like equipment and crafting materials) remain as drops only, so that paying players don’t get any exponential advantage just for having put in more money. They will however get access to more aesthetic choices than a free-player would (pets, different steambike choices, and hopefully outfits eventually), the opportunity to skip collections, and get access to certain quests and areas earlier.

    Here’s hoping to see you again at Beta release!

    • December 27, 2012 10:25 am

      Gab,
      Thanks again for the opportunity. I love my second buddy, but he’s got a reputation for being VERY bad at concentrating and remembering stuff, so much so that there’s a running joke in our gaming group about him being lost and wandering around. I can’t tell you how many times in how many games we’ve been finishing quests and he’s been like, “Wait, guys, what are we doing here?” I wouldn’t have him any other way, though, because he’s a really great and smart guy, just a bit flighty, so take his misunderstanding stuff worth a grain of salt.

      At any rate, thanks for the responses and thanks for the chance to see your game as it’s been being developed. I look forward to the release, and hope we’ve pushed at least a few players your way; your browser innovations alone deserve attention, and the world and game are further icing on the cake.

      Thanks for dropping in!

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