|Amusing genre with animated machines|
| Graphics could be sharper
Quests are lack-luster
The grind, oh the grind!
Neo Steam: The Shattered Continent developed by Hanbitsoft and Joy Impact and published by Atlus Online in the US market, is billed as a fantasy Steampunk MMORPG. That unfortunately is where it breaks down. Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction combining science and magic, set in an era where steam power was still in use - most often Victorian England in the time of the alternate Industrial Revolution - hence the "Steam" in Steampunk. It is an era of imaginary technological advances or advances of the "path not taken" of dirigibles and jet packs.
Players will not find human avatars dressed in Victorian era Costumes. If you try the game expecting a world similar to "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" or Phil & Kaja Foglio's "Girl Genius," you will be disappointed. Instead, Neo Steam is a fantasy world with Steampunk elements, balloons and dirigibles are present as are "shooty" weapons, a Machinist class and their use of "Neo Steam" to power many different machines in game. The visuals do give it a unique look not seen in most MMOs but it is hardly a Steampunk world.
The Neo Steam Story
Magic and Science co-existed on the world of Chrysalis and the discovery of Neo Steam spurred the development of advanced technology. However, the unregulated collection of Neo Steam from the world's core disturbed the balance of the world until a shattering earthquake struck; felling cities, destroying centers of learning and the world of Chrysalis was split into three continents. From those ruins, the Kingdom of Elerd, the Republic of Rogwel, and the Taxn Alliance grew over the centuries and grew to war over the control of Neo Steam. The Taxn Alliance strove to remain neutral, but soon found themselves drawn into the war in one manner or the next.
The Kingdom of Elerd is a kingdom of magic and mystery, governed by the Elves. The land is beautiful and green while the Republic of Rogwel is a technologically driven society and much of its lands are stark and barren although they have advanced technology and machines. Travel is accomplished by dirigible or subway by paying an NPC gobs of gold which fortunately is easy to come by. One cut scene later and you are at your destination. Smaller balloons can be used for travel at the cost of Neo Steam, and these can be fun as you watch the scenery pass by. There are also mounts in game, some mechanical, some animal, but all require the use of Neo Steam.
Players can bind themselves at every town by speaking to an NPC and teleport back once every five minutes of game play. Each race starts off in their own newbie areas and don't be surprised if you run from one newbie area to another while exploring just to find out that the NPCs there won't talk to you. Just teleport back home.
There are areas of the world you cannot get to and you cannot get into buildings either. Doors do not open. You cannot jump off of cliffs or even jump off a platform, which can be annoying if you run up a short flight of stairs and cannot get off without turning around and running down those same five or six steps. Needless to say, since you can't fall off things, you don't sustain falling damage. I did not try jumping off of a hot-air balloon.
Races & Classes
There are seven races to play in Neo Steam, each with their own racial characteristics, advantages and disadvantages, ranging from Humans and Elves with their innate affinity for magic, to half human, half animal creatures such as the Lupines with their massive strength, and a unique, cute race called the Pom which are brilliant machinists - basically the tinkerers. Character creation is simple. You decide on the world you want to play in and there you are provided your choice of races, gender and classes. Not all races have both genders to play with, nor all classes to choose from, so you'll have to scroll through them all. The one thing you can customize, apart from your name, is the look of your character. You can't see how their stats such as Strength, Stamina and Intelligence are distributed, but like most MMOs, stats are item based and can be made up with gear.
There are four base classes: the Warrior, the Mystic, the Machinist and the Scout. The skill tree branches as players specialize their characters at level ten into one of two specialist classes. Each warring continent's classes have different flavors. For example, the Mystics on Elerd can choose to be Arcanists - using fire spells, or Evokers, capable of summoning beasts to assist them in battle. The Rogwel Mystic in turn becomes a Sorcerer - using Ice spells, or an Animator, summoning machines to help them in battle.
UI, Controls, Graphics & Sound
There are four stat bars: HP, Mana, Stamina and Neo Steam. Hit Points is your health bar. Mana is used for some magic - and all characters have self buffs that use it, Stamina for skills, and Neo Steam is the common power used for certain skills. Travel on a dirigible, for example, will use Neo Steam and the precious commodity can only be replenished on a 24 hour cycle, from a steam machine in town. The Pet window is tabbed off the character window and has two bars: XP and Food. You start off with a pet - a balloon like creature which also acts as your help desk in the early part of the game.
The UI is your standard window frame type with conventional mapping of keys: I for inventory, M for map, for example. Movement controlled by WASD or point and click, camera default is third person and static from a high angle. Pathing is not the smartest and your character can easily get stuck on a rock or hidden behind a tree.
The world and architecture are grand in scale which is okay as there's not all that much detail and customization in your character. Although there are some lovely lush forests and nice looks to machines when you pan the camera back, graphics are not the sharpest. Water looks like low-lying fog and although there is a day and night cycle, there are no weather effects. Close-up screenshots of your characters are hard to get. Again, since their character customization is limited, this is not the game's main consideration.
Animations are smooth and there are animated emotes but your character's scale is such that they are almost sprite-like in the scheme of things. The graphic effect and animations of skills and buffs are all similar. However, overall, graphics and characters could be smoother. The game also stutters periodically and sometimes lags, even in the lightly populated newbie areas, and targeting gets troublesome as movement and target are both a left click. Missing target acquisition can end up running your character into a passel of mobs. The tab button can be used to cycle through targets but there is no guarantee that it grabs the nearest.
Rogwel music has a techno beat but Elerd reminds me of a home shopping show, and the same theme follows you right into combat where it pauses. Combat sounds are simple and includes the woosh of a spell being thrown and the yips of mobs being hit. There were no ambient sounds that I could detect although the game does make a difference in the sound of your character's feet running over ground or something like a wooden jetty.