Visiting City of Steam
In a previous post I mentioned that would take a look at a steampunk-inpired MMO called City of Steam. The game is currently in closed beta and this very weekend is one of their closed beta weekends, the second of them – out of four weekends. I say steampunk-inspired; the game company Mechanist games says it is rather an Industrial Age fantasy game with steampunk elements. It is certainly a mix of a Victorian steampunk world and a few industrial/technology elements seen in some other fantasy games. The setting is rather what a fantasy author living in an alternative steampunk universe would make up.
It is a browser-based MMO which uses the Unity3D engine and thus can be played in any browser that is supported by the Unity web player. This currently includes a couple of different browsers on Windows and Mac platforms.
While closed beta for some games means a non-disclosure agreement and everything being very secret, for City of Steam and Mechanist games this is pretty much the other way around it seems. The encourage people to spread the word and get people to play and help test their game and are quite open with what they do. Note though that what I write here is still from a closed beta and many things will change/improve. Thus I will try to avoid any judgement on specific features and not go into too much detail on everything.
Lead designer and producer for the game is a a David Lindsay, who is also the author of a pen&paper RPG called The New Epoch. The world setting in this RPG also forms the base for City of Steam, although it does not share the same ruleset – this has been adopted to fit the video game format. Reading the some of the background lore and information it is clear that this is not just a thin lore layer that is slapped on. Regardless of the actual setting, this is something I think one wants to see with an MMO-type game – that there is a consistency and depth to why things are the way they are.
Being a browser game, there is no client download, except for installing the Unity web player. With the player installed, it is just to press Play at the web site and a couple of seconds later the start cinematic loads and plays. I think the starting cinematic and the Intro cinematic are great for setting a mood and trigger ones imagination about this world.
At character creation there are 10 different races available – 4 different types of humans, 2 types of elves, 3 greenskin races (orcs, goblins and hobbes) and dwarves. The background stories around these are perhaps a bit different from the typical high fantasy setting, although some of them do share some traits with more their more traditional fantasy counterparts. Depending on the choice of race there will be some differences in missions and dialog, which is evident in the tutorial.
There are four different classes available, independent of the racial choice. Each class has three different lines of combat to choose from. Initially there is one line that one has to choose, although the user interface seems to indicate that others may be unlocked at a later stage. Each line will provide a tree of abilities to become proficient in.
- Archanist. Wielder of aetheric manipulators (staff, wand) to harness the power of elemental energies. Players can choose from Fire, Ice and Lightning combat lines.
- Gunner. User of firearms – Pistol, blunderbuss, Musket, Repeater. Players can choose from Sharpshooting, Chemical and Incendiary combat lines
- Warder. The melee class, the knights in shining armor (Axe, Hammer, Saber, Sword, Mace, Polearm). Players can choose from Battle, Fortification, Dueling combat lines.
- Channeler. An enlightened person who uses the music of The Mechanism to smite enemies or heal/buff allies. Players can choose from Sonic, Healing and Radiance combat lines.
Each class can also select from three different weapon usage options: Weapon & Shield, Two-handed Weapon or Dual Weapons. This choice determines which weapons the character can use. Eventually all three choices will be available to a character, but only from level 10+. So the initial choice will matter for a while. From what I have seen so far, the default choice here for each class is probably the one to go with initially.
The character customization is at the moment mainly customization of the hair and headgear, besides the sex of the character.
Once the character creation is done it is off to the tutorial; I definitely recommend playing through this one the first time. There are certainly some familiar elements from other MMOs, but also some differences and specials that are useful to pick up on. Also, the story of the tutorial gives a nice background setting as to some of the events and why all players end up in the same starting area. It also gives some basic setting for the racial choice – while the overall story is the same for everyone, the dialog and the key NPCs involved are different for each race.
After completion of the tutorial the player ends up in an area called The Refuge – this is the first of what seems to be 17 city areas in the game. Attached to each city area is a number of instanced areas (dungeons), which can be played through normally or in challenge mode. The challenge mode versions typically require a team (2-3 players it seems) and have certain extra objectives (e.g. perform X within time Y).
There is an important crafting aspect to the game – lots of loot drops include modifiers and crafting material, which can be used to upgrade and modify weapons and armor. E.g. one can add extra barrels or scopes to firearms, to improve various features (and they visually change also) and one can also upgrade weapons to higher levels.
Everyone has also the option to get a vehicle and a pet. The current beta includes a Steambike vehicle and a Marshpuggle pet. There are multiple ways to get those, either through in-game means or from the cash store of the game. The cash contains various types of items, including different potions/boosts, some armor, pets and vehicles and crafting material. Mechanist points points out though that it is not intended to be a pay-to-win cash shop – what you can buy in the shop you can get in-game also. In fact they emphasize that the best items will not be available from the shop – they need to be acquired in-game.
Players can also organize themselves into companies, i.e. what guilds are called in this game. I have not looked into that yet. The game also has PvP, which I think is either 1 vs 1 or 5 vs 5 games one can queue up to at PvP terminals – also one area I have not looked into yet.
During the time I have spent with this game this weekend I have gone from enthusiasm, to some disappointment and back to a positive view of the game. Some parts have definite release quality to them, others needs more work. But there has been one key element that helped push further up on the positive side and that is the development team – Mechanist games. As I have mentioned before, they have been quite open in the forums about what they are doing and responsive to feedback.
This was also very much noticeable for the bug reports and improvement suggestions I filed. In most other games one may, at best, get a generic and semi-automatic response “thanks for your input etc”. In every single ticket I have issued the response has quite clearly been from someone who has read my input in detail and taken time to give individual responses to each one and also in some case provide additional details on what they are doing in that area. In two cases the response was sent perhaps 15-20 minutes after I filed it. This impressed me quite a bit and certainly makes me want to help with testing the game – there is someone at the other end listening, so what I do here matters.
On that note – if you are interesting in trying och and test the game in closed beta, I do have some spare beta keys. The current beta weekend lasts until Tuesday December 4th and there are two more beta weekends in December. There will be an open beta next year – no dates have been set yet, AFAIK. If you are interested in a closed beta key, send me a private message (Sente) on the City of Steam forums.