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William Murphy Posted:
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There was a time when the words “browser-based MMO” would make me cringe. However, with the creation and evolution of the Unity Engine, that old stigma no longer exists. And games like City of Steam, from Mechanist Games is an ambitious dungeon-crawling Action-MMORPG set in a massive steampunk-themed city with dungeons to run around every turn. Every feature you’ve come to know and love in traditional MMOs is there, and it’ll all be F2P. Sure, maybe it won’t compete with the likes of GW2 or TSW, but considering its accessibility and business model, it doesn’t need to. It just needs to be fun enough to make players want to spend a little money.

Last week I met up in-game with Lead Designer Dave Lindsay via Skype to take a tour of CoS’ alpha build.  I didn’t expect much, I’m not going to lie. But what I found was a fully-featured, dungeon-running MMO with loads of potential. If City of Steam stays on track, it’ll definitely be the first browser-based MMORPG I consider playing for any length of time. Let’s get to the details.

As mentioned at the outset, CoS is set in a massive, cog-ridden and mechanically dependent city that serves as the entirety of the game world.  But fear not, just because the heart of the city is based on steam and magic obscura (see what I did there?) doesn’t mean you won’t see other climes and experience a varying degree of atmospheres.  In my brief tour I saw rat-creature infested cave, a tomb crawling with skeletons, a jungle-like location where magic seemed ripe, and the aforementioned gears and cogs run cityscape. I’m told there are places more wintery, volcanic and more in development as well. 

The build I checked out was the alpha, but man did there seem to be a ton of content in the title already.  It handles like more of an action-RPG, with both click-to-move and WASD controls available.  Personally, I at first opted for the click to move feeling like it would play like Diablo.  But the hit-boxes for the mobs were still a little off (something Dave told me they’re aware of and fixing) so WASD and tab-targeting worked better.  The camera is completely free to move wherever you may want it either, so you can approach the game from above, ¾ or right behind your character.  There’s no auto-attack either in this build, which definitely adds to the “action” of the game even if you’re just spamming one or two keys for the first couple of levels.

The tutorial begins your character’s long personal story, a series of linear quests that will tell City of Steam’s narrative. It takes place on a massive train headed for the City of Steam itself, and while a lot of the tale is still work in progress, essentially you’ll be aiming to bring your family back together as you start life in the city’s lower-income section: The Refuge.  It’s actually pretty impressive looking for a game that 1.) runs in your browser and 2.) is expected to run on most any PC minus the very ancient and lowest of low-end.  The train moves constantly over a massive bridge as the background moves behind you.  If you zoom in the walls collapse from view automatically so you can see inside.  It’s all very sharply done. 

Then once you actually complete the tutorial, and arrive to the city proper, you see just how wide-open and massive their creation is. The dungeons themselves are compact and claustrophobic, but the city at large is bigger than most games’ cities these days. A fact that makes sense considering it’s also the game’s “world”.  There’s a cool way of navigating around the city: a big signpost you’ll find throughout its different sections that has little icons of different POIs on it.  Click the one for the Refuge and your character will walk there himself.  It’s akin to the auto-pathing in many Eastern F2P games, but it’s only used in CoS to get around the city without getting lost should you not want to.  The pathing with click to move, on a similar subject is absolutely superb.  In several of the city’s buildings, there are second or third floors and I was able to click on a spot on one of the upper floors and be taken there without my character getting stuck or lost.  It’s brilliant, and if they can improve the click-to-target I’ll definitely go back to the more Diablo-esque controls. 

There’s a Marketplace in the city as well, but unlike traditional Auction Houses, it’s a straight up “sale board”.  You post an item, ask a price, and it can be bought immediately.  It’s both global on each server and cross-server so the entire community will be able to buy and sell goods to each other.  There’s also a helpful NPC called the Refuge Supplier, who will gladly give you some supplies to help out your character once a day: potions (jabs), keys to chests, and buffs.  The idea is that as a F2P game, they need to get you interested and make it easy to log in every day.  And since potions and keys to chests are one of the keys to the game’s dungeon-running aspect, they expect most folks to at least make use of him even just to stock up on the goods. 

When I asked Dave about the F2P cash shop CoS will use, he was open and honest.  Yes, they want your money. No, your money won’t buy you power.  The Electrum Shop will have cosmetic items, convenience items, and potions, etc.  But it won’t have gear, or anything that could make you defeat another player.  It’s all about selling the right kind of stuff for each region.  One of the core concepts of CoS is the ability to trick out and upgrade any and all of your weapons, shields and armor in the game.  To do so, you need to get different upgrades, but these will all be found in-game and never will they be available in the store.  Though players will definitely be selling them on the marketplace, that’s for sure.

In terms of social features, there are many. The first one I learned of is a pretty cool invention I wish every game had: “Call for Back-up” will allow you to have any of your friends teleport directly to your location if you need their help.  Their reasoning for allowing this: “We want people to play together, and reducing travel time will only help this.”  Additionally, there will be a house for every player, though they weren’t in the alpha build.  It’s tied to your main quest, and once you get some of your family back, you’ll have access to it.  There are achievements to earn, and will have full friend and guild systems in place as well.  The Guild system is something they really understand the import of, and can’t wait to tell us more about, but they’re not ready to go into details just yet.

I could probably go on about City of Steam. But just go grab one of our alpha test keys and see for yourself. Is it going to knock the likes of Guild Wars 2 out of your mind? Probably not. But it’s still one of the more interesting F2P concepts I’ve seen as of late, and the fact I could play it on my browser at the day job is a welcome development. The fact that it’s also a blast to play and filled with every feature you could want from an AAA MMO is just icing on the cake. Here’s hoping City of Steam gets better and better as it progresses to beta. 


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.