Back to the City of Steam
A bit over a week ago City of Steam, a steampunk-inspired, browser-based dungeon crawler/MMO-type game went into open beta. So it is kind of launched, but not quite.
I November/December of 2012 the game had 4 closed beta weekends, which I played a bit in. So now it has been time to see what the state of the game is, what has changed and if it is worth playing. And my answer to that last part is – yes, it could be worth playing. But it is a bit bumpy ride.
One word that comes to mind after playing the game for a bit in the open beta, with the closed beta experience, is the word streamlined. There has been many changes to the game, some small and some fairly significant. But lets start from the beginning.
Since it is a browser-based game, there is no client installation – the only thing needed is the Unity3D engine web player plugin in your browser. Last time I checked the plugin was available for a couple of different browsers (Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer) for the Windows and OS X operating systems. Last time I checked there was no Linux version, but this may have changed by now.
So once you have an account have have logged in, you can just press the Play Now button on the page and off you go. When you get to the character selection screen there is not a huge amount of choice – 4 human races, 3 classes and a little bit of character customisation options. There were a number of other (non-human) races available in closed beta and one more class, so these are bound to appear a bit later, most likely.
The three classes are Arcanist, Gunner and Warden. The first two are ranged classes, the 3rd one a melee class. Arcanist could be considered a steampunk version of a mage, if one would compare to more fantasy-oriented games. Each class have three types of weapon options – a 2-handed weapon, two 1-handed weapons (dual wielding) or a one-handed weapon and a shield. All can be equipped and switched between through a click on the screen. This is a nice and fun feature and is available right away, pretty much.
The tutorial is quite minimal before it gets you into the action – pretty much just this is how you move and this is how you hit stuff. The next thing is an enemy to defeat – and after that you gain a level. One thing you may want to change right away (at least I did) is to change the isometric mode camera option to a free mode camera option – which any MMO player probably is more used to. That is a button in the lower right corner, but the tutorial does not mention it explicitly – one may see a tip for it in the load screens though when zoning.
Storywise there has been a Mythstrike and you are part of the evacuation from the city of Delton. Depending on the race chosen the mission dialogue and the NPCs you interact with are slightly different, but all essentially leads through the same steps.
Leveling to 2 and 3 will get each class their 2nd and 3rd abilities to use – they are unique for each class, but still similar in nature across the classes. There are a few tutorial tips shown as you move along. The user interface is also quite minimal at start and will expand as new features are introduced. There will be two instanced areas to run through with some enemy smashing to get some basics. The tutorial does not mention it, but one significant part of the game is that there are boxes all over the placed which can be smashed and which may contain loot. There are also chests which can be opened with keys. A player starts with 10 keys and may also get more keys by smashing things as loot. Opening a chest uses up a key and chests usually contains better loot than the regular boxes one can smash.
One neat thing with the game now is that all loot is individual, similar to how it was in City of Heroes for example – each player see their loot only and the loot is generally useful for the class one is playing. Thumbs up for this! One still has to collect the loot though and if it is not money or keys, one has to click on it explicitly also (unless you have a pet, more about that later).
The next major shared area to visit is the rail hauler station area, which is the place from which many people are trying to get out of the city from. This area introduces you to what is called Challenge Dungeons, which is something one will see a lot of. They are pretty much the bread and butter of the dungeon gameplay experience in the game. These dungeons start quite easy for people to get a feeling for it.
This section also introduces the three mission types – story missions, side missions and daily missions. Story and side missions are the missions you do once and daily missions are the ones you can repeat. Each is colour-coded – yellow for story, green for side mission and blue for daily mission. Story missions are missions you have to do to progress and unlock various areas etc. The other ones you could choose if you want to do them or not, in theory. In practice you will do most of them and repeat them as well. This is also the litmus test for if you should play the game or not – if you hate these daily missions and challenge dungeons, then the game may not be for you. If you like or love them – you are in the right spot.
Personally I am in a love/hate situation with them – sometimes I think it is really fun, sometimes I find it quite boring and annoying.
The story continues on the train and you get to defeat a badass/boss-type enemy and eventually arrive at The Refuge, the first area in the game. This is the place to be until you are level 12ish, you are around level 5-6 by the time you have arrived there.
Here more of the real things to do opens up. From Refuge there are entrances to a number of dungeons/instanced areas. The story missions guide you through to find most of them, in a suitable order level-wise. As you go along there you can also pick up the side and daily missions – there are mission NPCs outside each dungeon. In Refuge there are 3 versions of each dungeons, related to these side and daily missions – in the next zone this expands to four for each dungeon.
Side missions typically give you some objective to find and/or pick up something in the dungeon. The daily missions give you different types of challenges – open N number of chests, kill Y mobs etc. The last mission is a defeat the boss-type of mission. The boss missions typically require multiple players – however, it is easy to queue up and continue with something else while waiting – if you need to wait. There is also a Hero option available on the multi-player missions, which means that you can try the mission solo if you want.
This is not really explained, I did not know about this last part until another player mentioned it. In general there are many things in the game that are not explained properly, which I think is one of the bad things with this game. There are a few different places as you level up where different choices should be made, but the information about what impact these choices will have is not always clear.
Abilities and gear
One part related to this is the ability/talent tree system. In the old closed beta days there were three flavours of each class which you could select from right from the start. As you leveled up there were somewhat intricate talent trees which one could spend points in to customize your character. Most of that is gone, or rather simplified. The three branches are still available, but only as much as every few levels you may pick another ability from these three branches. There is very limited information about the three choices and you cannot see what choices will be available later – it is all hidden.
Experienced MMO players will find this frustrating and there has been some rage from closed beta players seeing this. I do not like it either – it sucks. However, I do think that experienced MMO players are not the target demographic for this game. A much simplified version will avoid people making a mess of their builds. It will be more linear and boring to build your character from an MMO perspective, but it is probably a better choice for a more casual audience.
There are still some a reasonably extensive gear upgrade and modification system, but also this has gone through some changes. First of all, these different game systems become available at a much slower pace – every few levels a new systems to improve/manage your gear is added. Again perhaps a bit boring for experienced MMO players, but probably better for overall gameplay. I actually like this approach, even though I would have liked to tinker with a few things a bit earlier.
The gear upgrade and modification system would probably warrant a post of its own, so I am not going into details here. Most of it I like, although it will most likely become a bit more frustrating and grindy as you get to higher levels. I think it seems better now than in closed beta, more streamlined, but might have issues at higher levels – that remains to be seen however.
One key feature that most people will encounter is the Transmuter. This is essentially a slot machine, which you can win various in-game items, cash and stuff with. There are reward items which are used to operate the Transmuter – each time it is used one of these items are consumed. You get quite a few of them though. I have had as many as 60-70 of those in my inventory so far and only a couple of them may be needed to win something that is useful/good enough. You can win vehicles (steambikes & jetpacks), pets as well as cosmetic/vanity items through the Transmuter and it is not that difficult to get those. They are however temporary though and will expire after 24 hours. Not sure if it is always 24 hours, but at least the items I have won have had that time limit.
In addition to the challenge dungeons there are also multiplayer options in the form of arena fights. There are both PvE and PvP versions of these. I have not tried the PvP ones yet, so I can only comments on the PvE ones. These are for a full team (5 persons) and one can queue up for these just as easy as the challenge dungeons – one cannot queue for an arena fight and another challenge dungeon at the same time though.
The first one in the Refuge is a survival type of challenge. There are waves and waves of enemies coming at the players (about 10 waves in total, as I recall) before the boss enters – the goal is to defeat the boss and one needs to survive long enough to actually fight him in the first place and then also defeat him. Minimum level is 6 for this challenge, however a team of level 6-7 players only will most likely wipe. There is no max level, so any level can join if they want.
There is one such PvE arena fight for each city zone.
Between the different city zones (where the missions and challenge dungeons are located) there are outdoor areas. These seems to be crawling with lots of enemies of a certain type which re-spawn quite fast. So the gameplay becomes quite insense going through the area – there is essentially non-stop fighting, unless one tries to rush through the area.
I quite enjoy these areas, at least the two I have been in so far. It is intense and fun. XP does seem to suck though, but it is still fun to do it for a while.
Whenever you zone there is a battery charge symbol with a value shown beside it. For going between outdoor zones and exiting a dungeon/instanced area the value is “Free”. Entering a dungeon/instanced area has a cost associated with it, even going to different levels in a dungeon. All players have a certain amount of energy and this is decreased by this amount shown whenever you zone. Thus there is a limit to how many dungeons one can enter in a given time.
Energy is regained slowly over time, but one can also regain energy by doing PvP. There are also loot drops that may restore a small amount of energy. My guess is that this is a feature that may be intended to combat too much farming in this game. People who play the game for an extended amount of time will probably not like it. For myself I have only been somewhat close to reach the limit once, when I repeatedly entered a dungeon to defeat a tricky boss. So personally I am fine with it. If I reach the limit I should probably take a break and let some steam off anyway, by doing something else.
Update: In the game forums the developers have stated that the energy system was put there to slow down people’s progression, since they cannot keep up with adding new content for the time being.
Currencies, In-game shop and market
From my perspective the game has four different currencies:
The first two are loot drops and/or rewards in the game. You pay some shillings for most things you do in the game and this is the currency you buy with when you buy stuff from other players on the market. Keys are used to open chests and some other boxes, but also for certain gear modification activities, so I consider it a vital currency to consider.
Spiremarks is another currency which is earned through events & challenges. One can also win some through the Transmuter. These can be used for some items in the in-game shop which would otherwise cost real money. Finally there is Electrum, which is the currency you buy for real-world money and which you can use for most of the in-game store items and a few other things, such as increase in storage & inventory space, revival after death etc.
There are a couple of vehicles, pets, cosmetic outfits, potions, crafting material and other things one can buy with Electrum. Some of these things are quite pricey, e.g. pets and vehicles costs in the $20-$37 range (US dollars). At least those are permanent ones – they are also more shiny than ones obtained from the Transmuter. Also, all purchases are per character it seems – you want a pet for all your character and you are an altoholic? You would need to spend a lot of money.
I bought one of the shiny pets (it was shiny…) and it did have some bonuses, although I cannot say that I noticed any of these. From that perspective it seemed a waste of money, although as mentioned before the explanation of these parameters are pretty much absent. It was a guess from my part what they may mean and I may have guessed wrong.
There is one good thing with pets though, but you do not need to buy the shiniest ones for that – they run around and collect loot that drops for you. I find this very convenient. Is it $20-$37 worth of convenience? Probably not, unless one intends to play the game for a fairly long time.
The cosmetic clothing that they have on sale is also quite expensive and only includes complete outfits. I have not seen any characters with those outfits yet. They do not look particularly steampunk:ish to me and if they want more sales they should sell individual items to let people make their own outfits. Or possibly sell something that transform normal in-game armor to cosmetic items instead.
In the text above I have described some of the game systems a bit. There has been some quite significant changes since closed beta if one goes into some of the details, not all good. And it seems that it has not had extensive testing, as there are a number of bugs here and there. I think a number of closed beta players have been frustrated and angry with a number of these changes, perhaps because they have been introduced without anyone been given a chance to give feedback on them before the open beta.
However, what dedicated players in forums say and what people playing the game actually do may be two different things and I do not think these changes were just on a whim – the developers probably a lot of data to support that changes were needed.
Despite that I do not like some of these changes I do think that most of it is probably good for the game – at least if you look at it more as a multi-player dungeon crawler than an MMO. But there is polishing and tuning work left to be done – there are elements that can and will frustrate a fair amount of players I believe.
For now I am more on like-it side than the waste-of-time side. Time will tell if this will change. I do recommend to at least to try out the game, but do not spend any big money on it until you are reasonably certain that you may like it.