There is no question that the current crop of MMOs is heavy on high fantasy, mediocre on space fantasy but nearly completely void in the steampunk fantasy setting. What gives with that? Fans of steampunk are legion but the hue and cry for a good and satisfying MMO based on the notion of techno fantasy seems to have escaped the development world until recently. Mechanist Games has released its City of Steam in open beta and the game has caught the collective eye of those who are seeking to find a steampunk home in the games space. How has City of Steam fared? In the next couple of weeks, we'll be taking a look at the title in our exclusive Review in Progress series all leading up to the official review. In today's article, we'll take a look at the earliest stages of the game and offer a few perspectives on what we saw in our first days.
There are several ways that City of Steam differs from most MMOGs on the market. First off, it is a browser title. Before summarily dismissing the game as "one of those...", know that it defies most others of its ilk. City of Steam has a terrific look, as good as or better than many games. The graphics are smooth and detailed and the game looks good in a very steampunkish kind of way.
City of Steam also features an astonishing ten playable races though the argument can be made that many are almost identical in look and simply sport a different race title. Still, ten is a lot. Players can choose from races as diverse as the vampire-esque Draug to Goblins to Orcs to the very human looking Aven.
If the plethora of races is a high point, the dearth of classes is a low one. There are only four available classes in City of Steam, rather a throwback to Diablo 1 in a way. Players can choose from Arcanist, Gunner, Warder and Channeler, pretty standard stuff with the Arcanist being the one big nod to steampunk.
Customization is also rather lackluster in the number of choices a player can make. Interestingly, even female characters can clench a Sherlock Holmes-like pipe in their teeth and wear headgear to make any Arcanum fan weep with joy. Still, one has to wonder if Mechanist could have added a few more options. Then again, this is open beta so there's no telling what the future holds.
One of the most amazing aspects of City of Steam is its soundtrack. The music is beautiful and haunting and strikes the right cord for a city enveloped in tragic circumstances and struggling to find its footing and its technology to defeat the forces threatening life itself. Unfortunately, the music plays all too infrequently but it's worth sitting on the character creation page just to hear it through several times. Additionally, entering into battle also brings up a gorgeous piece of music and it's worth sprinting from battle to battle if only to hear it again.
Despite being a browser title, Mechanist has added both a static over-the-shoulder isometric camera view or a free ranging camera, both of which can be toggled with a single mouse click. Players can also toggle the screen size to make it windowed, medium screen or full screen. Again, ease of change makes both great features.
Combat in City of Steam is pretty standard fare with a belt of abilities learned over time that increase in damage and effectiveness. I played as a Warder and my character had the typical arcing swings of both a great sword and two one-handed swords. It's pretty cool that players can choose a second weapon set for different skills and ways to fight monsters. Weapons can be changed out on the fly and it's worth having that ranged weapon handy to aggro only the monsters you want to rush out.
Sadly, at least in the early stages, City of Steam's world is pretty dull on the eyes and is very instanced. Quest hubs are social zones, though I never saw more than one or two others when I played. Perhaps it's a function that most players are in higher levels. It will remain to be seen over time.
Players are given "read me" quests and sent to a "dungeon", a single- or small-party zone to defeat X-number of monsters, retrieve X-number of quest items before returning. FedEx delight, my friends. Weirdly, after finishing the actual quest, players are sent back to the same dungeon, now called a raid, to defeat a high level boss. It seems that this was simply a lazy decision on the part of the development team.
To Play or Not to Play?
City of Steam, so far at least, is a fun little pick up game that may find a good player base among steampunk fans. Whether or not it will reach a broader audience has yet to be determined. According to forums I've read, many of the original backers of the game and those who played the closed beta are somewhat dissatisfied with the direction in which the game has gone.
At any rate, I have enjoyed my time so far in City of Steam. It's a great game to play when you have an hour or less to play. More than that and it becomes a bit dull but still compelling enough to come back at a later time.
Next week we'll take a look at the F2P aspects of CoS and much more.
Have you played City of Steam? Let us know in the comments!
Suzie Ford is the Associate Editor and News Manager at MMORPG.com. You can follow her on Twitter @MMORPGMom.