City Of Steam – Preview
Mechanist Games have just launched the alpha phase of their upcoming MMORPG, City of Steam, and were nice enough to offer us the opportunity of testing the game in this early alpha phase. Based on the popular table-top RPG series, The New Epoch, City of Steam throws players into an intense dungeon crawling experience, offering a variety of intriguing features available directly through your browser. As soon as I launched the game I was met with an impressive introduction cinematic, taking me on a journey in the skies above one of the steam-punk themed cities. Surrounded by tall buildings, steam-punk ships and a vast ocean, the opening really sets the tone.
There will be 9 races available at launch, but for this first alpha weekend, you can choose Human Aven, Human Heartlander, Human Ostenian and Human Stoigmari, all obviously featuring typical human appearance traits but with minor differences. I was quite surprised with the depth of the character creation process, a number of features weren’t available in the initial alpha build, but it gave me a good glimpse into some of the future features. The hair system was also quite refreshing, and is actually better than a number of client-based MMO titles. Players can customize a complete hairstyle by selecting 4 individual parts, base, top, back and side. Alright, it’s not exactly a game-making feature, but seeing that much attention to detail in the first 2 minutes of playing is definitely a good sign.
After creating my character I was thrown into the tutorial, it’s very basic, easy to complete and covers all of the topics you’d expect as a new player. I was really impressed at the first map, searching through several train carts as the train was moving, changing the environment around me and providing a really immersive atmosphere. Something else that really impressed me while I was exploring the train was the camera. Obviously there’s the standard zoom in and out function as well as rotation, but the level of depth available with the zoom offers 2 different experiences. Players more familiar with modern-day MMORPG camera views, third-person, can zoom right up close, while those hoping for a more Diablo-esque experience can zoom a good distance out.
Considering the game is still in alpha development, I found it to be very stable with absolutely zero disconnects, crashes, or anything similar. I did come across a number of bugs which hindered my progress. During the tutorial, on the final cart, it didn’t register one of the monsters as dead, leaving me running around aimlessly trying to figure out what I could do to skip the tutorial. In the end, I had to restart the game and proceed through the from the beginning. I then encountered another bug shortly after starting, that prohibited me from talking to a certain NPC, again forcing a restart. Another restart, and another NPC bugged, this time a different one at a different stage. Once I was finally able to get past the bugs, I worked my way towards the end of the tutorial. In true dungeon crawler fashion, waiting for me in the last room as a large chest full of loot, guarded by a really dangerous looking boss monster.
I soon sent him packing with a few waves of fire from my magic stick, but it was still a very impressive first-boss encounter. A few minutes later I found myself in the first town, The Refuge. This is where the game really stands above competition, the area design and steam-punk theme flowed flawlessly, providing an atmosphere that you would only usually associate with AAA MMORPG games. The flags were swaying in the gentle breeze, large steam-punk robots patrolled the streets, statues and buildings had moving parts, a truly awesome creation and it’s was just the first town. I explored for a short while before noticing an epic ton of quests waiting to be collected, so I got to work.
In typical MMO fashion, you can run around gathering all the quests without having to read any of the context, although there are some good stories and NPC interaction moments. The first thing I noticed about the quests was the large amount of knowledge/skill-based quests. Instead of just your typical “Kill X” or “Speak to X” quests, some of them actually required some thought from the player. These included locating certain shops, discovering hidden trophies and other area-based options. I spent about 20 minutes searching for cockroach trophies before I started to get an unquenchable thirst for combat, I’d only managed to learn 1 ability so far and I really wanted to explore more of the highly versatile combat system. It was then that I discovered my first proper dungeon experience, Bunker Halls.
Despite the experience of the tutorial being quite pleasant in terms of combat, it was nothing compared to the mini-boss quest in Bunker Halls. Armed with a few more fire abilities, I went in foaming at the mouth for some combat action. The combat system is easily one of the best features of the game, which is really surprising as it’s usually the main aspect that lets the majority of browser-based titles down, but not City of Steam. I chose Arcanist as my class, which is the main magic damage in the game, but unlike other MMORPG titles, I wasn’t restricted to a mere staff. I could switch freely between sword and board, duel wielding, 1H staff and 2h staff, and still have access to the majority of my abilities. Obviously as an Arcanist, my abilities and attack damage were greater when using a staff, but it felt fresh to have the other options readily available. Each class also has access to 3 unique skill trees, as an Arcanist I had the option of investing points into Fire, Ice and Lightning, although you have to reach level 9 before you can invest in all trees. You accumulate ability points as you level up, giving players the option of saving points for stronger abilities or upgrading the ones they already have. I only had access to 2 basic fire abilities and I could already dispatch groups of 4-5 monsters in one move. The combat itself is fluid and fast-paced, offering both targeted abilities and skill-based. The combat removes the shackles you would usually associate with a browser-based game, and provides a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
During my time as an MMO game journalist, I have played and reviewed hundreds of browser-based MMO titles but City of Steam is on a whole new level of quality. If it wasn’t for the fact I could see my Firefox window (full screen is available) I would have thought it to be a client based game. The graphics are great, the steam-punk theme works brilliantly, all rolled up with an intuitive combat system, in-depth character progression and the much loved mechanics from popular dungeon crawler titles. Easily my favorite browser MMO of the year.
Preview Experience Rating: 9.0
by Blaine Smith
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