Fans of the steampunk genre have long been hoping for an MMO similar in style to Arcanum for years. When Mechanist Games' City of Steam began to make noise, fans of the style began to take notice. City of Steam is currently in open beta but, as we have long said at MMORPG.com, when developers and publishers begin to take money from their customers, we see it as a released title. So it is with CoS.
Is City of Steam the game that players have been hoping for these many years? Let's take a look and see.
Aesthetics - 7/10
City of Steam grabs players aesthetically right from the start with one of the most beautiful original soundtracks in the MMO space today. Daniel Sadowski's work is simply magnificent and evokes a sense of steampunk. If you've heard any of his work, you understand what is meant by that statement. It's got a haunting and spectral quality that also prods players to action with a sense of urgency underlying the peaceful overtones.
As players go through the motions of creating their characters, the music in the background gives players pause to take their time creating characters.
Character creation is something that can appear, at least at first glance, to be deep. There are ten races from which to choose but only four classes. Facial structure is very limited as are hairstyles and body alterations. In the end, most characters, irrespective of most races, look pretty much the same. It might have been preferable to have had Mechanist focus on fewer classes and offered players more expansive customization.
Once in the world, City of Steam looks very nice. Players will find lots of smoking ruins, rust and mechanical objects aplenty. The overworld and shared hubs are pleasing to the eye and have good ambient sounds to attend them.
But where CoS falls apart is in the quest areas, instances that open up upon accepting an NPC's request. Nearly every dungeon features the same tiles, objects and monsters in any given area. While certain things change as players rise through levels, there's still an overwhelming sense of "same" throughout the individual quest areas that players are forced into. In addition, most quests send players back through an instance twice: the first time to complete the quest and the second as a "raid" for loot. Given the similarities in the look of these instances, it gets quite painful as time goes on.
Gameplay - 6/10
Gameplay in City of Steam is very reminiscent of most action RPGs on the market today. In fact, quite a favorable comparison could be made to Diablo 2 or Torchlight 2 from the standpoint that players work to level up skills to make them more powerful. On first glance, City of Steam's combat system is terrific and it certainly isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination. What is boils down to is that it is uninspiring in ways that the aforementioned games are not. As players level, they are granted skill power-ups in one of three disciplines. Points are allotted according to a player's wishes and combat skills are granted. In the end, it's not that the combat system is poor, it's just so much more button mashing of 1-2-3, rinse repeat.
Players are faced with pretty standard fare and work from 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.
Questing is pretty standard fare as well. Head to a quest hub, grab 3-4 quests, head to the instances needed for completion, turn them in and done. Again, it's not unusual, just uninspiring and not as well done as most. The quest givers are not voiced which, depending on your particular style, is either a good or bad thing.
Players can utilize an isometric over the shoulder camera or toggle a free ranging camera on the fly. This is a marvelous touch on behalf of Mechanist, something that most players will like very much. In addition, questing can be directed if a player gets lost simply by clicking on the directional arrow that will automatically take characters to the desired location.
Still in the end, combat gets repetitive very fast. Between the same look and feel of all the instances and mashing the same combination of buttons over and over, it's a rather tiresome affair.
Innovation - 5/10
Mechanist Games has, as stated earlier, patterned itself off of some of the day's hottest ARPGs: Diablo, Torchlight and Path of Exile. The problem for Mechanist is that each of these titles has done it better. Even the quest systems and the variety in the type of questing in the titles mentioned is better than the lackluster CoS system. It's too bad, really, as there is a lot of potential here. If Mechanist listens to its playerbase, perhaps some improvements can be made over time.
Polish - 8/10
City of Steam is a very smooth and polished title. It's refreshing that a browser-based Unity game runs so well and trouble-free. In addition, there were very few times where the game was interrupted by invisible walls and such. City of Steam's high point after the musical score is in its polish. Animations look good. Things move as they should. Destructible elements in the environment behave as they should.
Longevity - 5/10
While there is a lot to like about City of Steam, it's only such in short bursts. This is definitely something that will not inspire loyalty in the player base. As said before: With so much "same" about CoS, there's only so long folks will want to hang around before wandering off in search of something with more variety in combat and environment. While players may return from time to time to see what is new, the game simply didn't feel like something people would want to play for hours and days on end.
Social - 4/10
Perhaps it's a function of the instanced nature of the game, but City of Steam simply feels dead. While there is some chat going on in the general channel now and again, it's not much and is mainly filled with server messages about "NIFTY STUFF THAT PLAYER X JUST FOUND" rather than the often entertaining fare found in most MMOs. Without a vital social structure, City of Steam is doomed to fail.
Value - 6/10
It's hard to underrate a free-to-play title and for that reason alone, the game scores above average. It is possible to play the game for free but where it falls apart is in item enhancement and "keys" that players need to unlock containers that will arguably hold the best stuff. Keys can be found, it's true, and that's a nice touch by Mechanist but the overall sense is that there's always a money-grubbing goblin behind players with its hand out.
In addition, the game's real world currency, Electrum, is very pricey and item store goods are horrendously expensive. Buying 500 Electrum for $5 USD isn't going to yield much from the store. But wait! Players can purchase 33,000 Electrum for the bargain price of only $299.99. So....yeah.
After all is said and done, City of Steam is a decent, if unexciting, foray into a steampunk universe. It's a game to spend an hour or so on every now and again and will likely be worth visiting from time to time. But in the end, City of Steam is buried under its own lack of inspiration to be something more.
What about you? 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.