I have a confession to make: I've had a hard time playing City of Steam this week. It's not because it's a bad game perse. It's simply that CoS is more of the same all of the time.
"Eh?" you think. "What's that mean?"
What it means is that the repetitiveness of City of Steam becomes a burden over time. As I said in last week's Review in Progress #1, City of Steam is a great pick up game when you have a half hour or an hour to spare. Beyond that, the game just gets tedious.
The one thing that players will notice over time is the way that quests play out:
Of course the argument can be made that every MMO plays this way and that's true to a certain degree. But same takes on new meaning in City of Steam. Every instance in which I've played is nearly identical but for layout to every other one. Even the placeables, the destructible environmental objects, are exactly the same as every other place I've been. The monsters are the same for the most part as well. Up to my current level, I've pretty much seen that same instance about a thousand times...or maybe it just feels like it.
At least the outside environments have changed and they are really nice to look at with great sounds of a populated area to enhance them. In fact, sound is one of the places that City of Steam really shines. Not only is the soundtrack of the game top notch (I'd favorably compare it to Mass Effect 3's), but the ambient sounds in the communal zones is very good. Inexplicably, however, instances are nearly devoid of sound. Given how much time players spend in each one, it's a mystery. If luck shines, Mechanist Games will fix this as it's a pretty critical component to the game. I'm not just talking music either, but the sounds of the monsters too. Instances/raids seem pretty aurally dead. Considering the 'sameness' of the overall look, things could be much improved with better sound. We'll delve more into these particular aspects in the final review.
Fighting in City of Steam looks pretty good, if a bit stiff. Even saying that, however, it has to be acknowledged that CoS is really more of an Action RPG than it is an MMO and combat definitely shows this. The movements of my character are fluid and the effects are nice. They're not spectacular (at least on the warrior-types), but they are decent if not flashy.
Combat does become something of a button mash affair with usually a set series of buttons pushed in a specific order to give the predecessors time to cool down before starting the rinse/repeat cycle. Again, that's not a realy criticism as it's pretty standard in the MMO game space. It's just not innovative. Then again, I don't think that Mechanist is trying to reinvent the genre either.
Pay to Win or Convenience?
The one area of major concern that I've found so far is in the game's item mall. Players can purchase 'electrum', City of Steam's in-game real-world cash currency, for as little as $4.99 for 500 or for an astonishing $299.99 for 33,000. The low end of the spectrum seems a decent price until you start to see the prices of item store goods. I purchased 2,030 electrum for $19.99 and thought, "Hot dog! Now I'm going to get some phat lewt from the store!"
What I found to my dismay, however, were over-inflated prices for costume items. My pathetic 2k electrum wasn't enough to even purchase an entire set of any sort. Even more mundane items as XP boosts, etc. were horrendously over priced. It made me think of Neverwinter, and not in a complementary way either.
The store is filled with convenience items: costumes, pets, boosts, etc. But it also has items for sale. In fact, simply purchasing electrum gives players a package of goods that is pretty nice. It includes a weapon, a pet, potions, crafting components and more. That is, however, where the "pay to win" thought enters one's mind. At the level I received these goods, my character became very strong and I had a definite advantage over those who had not purchased electrum.
I cannot say that I know whether or not this trend continues further into the game and it's a question that I pose to you, our readers: Do package bonuses for purchasing currency scale with a player's level? If so, the argument that City of Steam is P2W is a legitimate one. If not, if all that is received is overpowered starter gear, then it can be a grumble-inducing moment, not a game ending one.
All in all, City of Steam is a fun time sink for those moments when there are thirty to sixty minutes of free time to spare here and there. My feeling is that it's not a game that will inspire great loyalty, but will breed a group of return players who will come back from time to time to see new things and to get a free ARPG fix.
Have you played City of Steam? Let us know what you think in the comments!
Suzie Ford is the Associate Editor and News Manager at MMORPG.com. You can follow her on Twitter @MMORPGMom.