Three Perspectives on City of Steam
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.
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.
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.
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!
Stubborn (and resting with all grading done and grades turned in)