City of Steam is (or will be, it is in closed beta at the moment) a free to play, massively multiplayer online, role playing game (F2P MMO RPG). It is browser based, but don’t let that worry you too much. It isn’t built with Flash but with Unity and uses the Unity web player. I first heard about it via TotalBiscuit’s Hyper WTF is City of Steam YouTube video where he played through some of the game (an earlier beta I think) with the City of Steam developers Mechanist. That video is an hour and a half long by the way, so a very good look at the game.
The game looked interesting, and I thought that the graphics looked very good indeed for a browser based game – so I signed up for the City of Steam email newsletter, found them on Twitter and Facebook and followed them there, and kept up somewhat with the news. I was very lucky and got a key/invite to the closed beta due to being on the newsletter list (don’t think everyone did but not sure) and the first of four closed beta long weekends was on the 18th to the 20th of November so I had a go. It is beta, so there were problems obviously. There was a ‘black screen’ problem for most of the latter half of the weekend that meant I couldn’t get on and play it at all. That was fixed, but by that time it was Monday so I had less spare time to play games in.
Here are my very early impressions. Totally subjective, this is not a review and definitely not objective. If this article piques your interest please do go find out more about it! Finally a warning about spoilers; I do describe the starting missions – which contain the tutorials – somewhat in the captions to the screenshots in this article, so that could be spoilerish for anyone that wants to play through the story totally unaware of what is coming up. I don’t imagine many will be that spoiled by the opening missions/tutorial in an MMORPG but you never know.
Character generation and start
There are a fair few races you can choose from – check the City of Steam website for details, it is worth reading a bit about the world, races and classes and so on there. I chose a Goblin (a ‘greenskin’) – other possibilities are one of four different varieties of human, two sorts of elf (dark and light essentially) and three ‘greenskins’ (Goblins, Hobbes and Orcs) and also coming in the future Dwarves (which aren’t traditional fantasy dwarves but look to be steampunk cyborgs or something!).
For my class I chose Arcanist, specializing in electricity. There are a couple of favoured classes for each race (e.g. the other recommended class for Goblins was Gunner) and again will not go through any of that here, do check out the City of Steam site for information on all this. I will say that there is enough choice to make things interesting, but not so much it gets confusing and it is tricky to tell one race or class from another. For me personally it is a good balance of choice and complexity in character generation. So for my Goblin Arcanist, specializing in electricity my main attack is to throw lightning bolts at the enemy from a sword like technical device wielded in my right hand. I had a shield in my left hand for combat.
The actual first level arcanist skill calls down a lightning strike from above on the enemy, and has the usual cost in ‘steam’ (a mana equivalent I guess) and a cooldown and so on. There are skill trees to upgrade through as you level up, but you start with a race skill (the ‘Goblin jump’ in my case) and have to wait to gain some XP before getting the first and subsequent level skills for the class, so I have got ahead of myself a bit here as that is after character generation.
Playing the introductory missions which also include tutorials
The screenshots aren’t as good as the real thing (I took them with FRAPS and there isn’t a compression setting, and it appears to over compress a bit – at least that saves some disk space and data transfer for my web hosting account!) but clicking on the thumbnails will get you to larger images (1080p). But as I said the game itself looks better than the screenshots indicate, especially after an update they did towards the end of the first closed beta session.
Movement is by WASD keys, or click the mouse and the player character will move to that point, or by clicking and holding the mouse and dragging it. Right clicking and moving the mouse moves the camera position. I ended up using a combination of all three and after a while it worked quite well for me, but it is good they give a choice of WASD or mouse based movements, as that is very much a personal preference. I had a little trouble with clicking on enemies to attack them from a distance, missing slightly and having my character run up to a bunch of monsters. That is probably partially finger trouble on my part, but on the forums a few people mentioned that they were having the same difficulty.
Escaping from Delton with Uncle Fizzgig, escorting him through some underground areas as our route to the railhauler station was cut off. Some enemies were down here.
Having made it to the railhauler station Todpullen the Goblin looks out over his home city of Delton, watching the Colossus fight the invaders as the city burns. The Colossus is on the left – the big steam powered robot thing, it is fighting the flying demon like invader. The invaders arrived out of the spire you can see behind it with the laser like red light beam coming out of it upwards. The spire dropped from above releasing all the ‘brood’ – the enemies – that started destroying things. There is some more explanation in game via a cutscene and voiceover that describes what is happening in context of the lore of the world that City of Steam is set in. You can see the quest tracking arrow at Todpullen’s feet pointing back at the railhauler station entrance, indicating he should be going there quickly – but I think that he would have looked sadly over his home town as the fighting goes on, one last time before escaping to the Refuge in Nexus (via a railhauler journey).
After some more things to do in the station Todpullen makes it onto the railhauler – a big steam train affair that is the main transport between cities.
Todpullen’s cousin managed to get lost or run up the railhauler, and was cut off by some brood that seem to have followed them onto the railhauler. No one is quite sure why they seem to be interested in the railhauler or the refugees, but the train guards aren’t coping too well with these monsters. Since he is the protagonist, Todpullen sets off up the train killing the monsters and making his way to his cousin, who is fine. The yellow thing with three dots above the guard indicates that he can give you a quest (upon left clicking him and going through some dialogue). Doing so means you get to go further up the train and end up meeting (and hopefully killing or at least driving off) what seems to be the head monster for this railhauler infestation.
I won’t go into the story too much as this isn’t a let’s play but a first impressions of new game in beta. The world in which City of Steam is set isn’t a planet but appears to be an artificial construct, made by some long gone (perhaps?) race. They left a bunch of devices and stuff around, and the catastrophe that befalls Delton (Todpullen the Goblin’s home town) was caused by one of these. But another device – the Colossus – wakes up after decades or more of not moving to fight off the invaders as the inhabitants flee to a refuge that has been set up in another city (Nexus). See the screenshots and text above for a little of this. The invaders (brood) follow the refugees onto the railhauler which leads to more adventures in fighting them off.
As you play through this introductory story and the first missions, tutorial text pops up explaining how to use your skills, how to move, how to fight etc. I will admit that I had usually worked out how to do most of that beforehand, just by reading tooltips and experimenting with clicking on things and doing things. I am sure most gamers would be the same, but it was nice to have things confirmed by the (not intrusive) occasional tutorial pop up, and of course if I hadn’t worked out how to do something I got told about it as the game progressed.
The Refuge (in Nexus)
Having arrived at the Refuge in Nexus we step out of the railhauler station and take in the view of the new city.
As above but showing the map of Refuge – a fairly big place.
The Refuge is an area of the city of Nexus where the refugees from Delton (and possibly elsewhere, I don’t know anything about the starting missions and origins of the other races) first end up when arriving and getting off the railhauler. The starting missions here, which also include some tutorial pop ups as you work through new stuff, are basically sorting out your house, doing creature clearance quests in dungeons/quest areas, getting favours from locals and signatures from officialdom etc. Apparently Todpullen the Goblin’s good deeds on the railhauler coming in help out a lot as officialdom looked favourably on me for that.
I only did a couple of these before running out of time on both the beta and having to do other things in real life like work. I haven’t done any co-op with others at all yet, so have just played it as a single player experience. Dungeons or quest structures are instanced, and they consist of the fairly familiar ‘kill creatures, break and loot boxes, do the tasks you need to do down there’ etc. RPG experience. Lots of clicking on stuff and power/skill using. Very satisfying if you are into that sort of thing (MMORPG, Diablo etc.). I started to get used to the combat system at this point and things were going a lot more fluidly. I levelled up and got myself a Tesla Turret. Which is pretty much what it sounds like, I could place down a little thingy of wire and whatnot and it would zap stuff as that stuff came near it. Great for laying one down then going forward and drawing back the mobs through the area with the turret zapping away as I pulled the mobs past it.
A beta bug I suspect; a flying steam bike. Don’t think it is meant to do that once they are implemented properly.
I played a little on the last day of this first closed beta session in the evening after work. There are three more closed beta sessions, the next in a week or so and a couple more after that up to and including Christmas. There had been a two hour server downtime before my final chance to play the game and when I played the game again the way the graphics settings worked was slightly different and the game loaded my GPU a little more (I wouldn’t have noticed except I run the Open Hardware Monitor software to keep an eye on things). However, the game looked a lot better, it had a slightly lowered fps (from 50 to 45) when in combat (lots of particle effects with my lightning attacks!) but it really did look very nice indeed – for any game let alone a browser based one. I did another dungeon or two (still story wise associated with getting settled in Nexus) and below there are a couple more screenshots. Not sure you can see the improved graphics because of the way the screenshots compress the file though.
This screenshot and the next two are showing another part of the Refuge from three different angles, but approximately the same point (this one before Todpullen entered a dungeon, the other two afterwards). There had been some sort of update to the game (the server was down for a couple of hours) and when it came back the graphics looked a lot better, but I am not sure it shows so well in the screenshots.
Thoughts on it all so far
The story behind the world is very interesting and somewhat different from the usual fantasy fare, with a somewhat steam punk feel to it in places but I wouldn’t call it straight up steam punk. This might say a bit more about my lack of experience in many other MMORPGs, bear in mind that I haven’t played Diablo or Torchlight for instance but I do think I would enjoy those games and will probably play at least Torchlight at some point (I actually own the first one, just have never played it (it is in my pile of shame along with about a hundred other Steam sale games believe it or not)).
I can’t really address the MMO aspect as I didn’t do any of that, but for me I enjoy MMOs if I have people I know and am friends with (internet gamer friends or real life) to party up with and do co-op PVE. I really don’t like PVP at all, in any game really not just MMORPGs – I much prefer co-op PVE if I am playing multiplayer. For instance with respect to shooters I like Killing Floor but not deathmatch type games so much. So for me, I like it a lot so far, but was playing it almost like a single player RPG experience with run around lots of clicky combat and looting things – and a neat story behind it all. Would that keep me playing? Depends totally on how much content there ends up in the final game, and also if I make friends and end up doing the harder dungeons with them in a party. Or perhaps if PUGs (pick up groups) can be easily formed on the fly in the game. It can be dispiriting if you want to tackle a harder level dungeon and both no one you know is on, and also no one in the vicinity wants to do it. Whether that is a problem will depend on how popular and populated the final game ends up.
I am certainly looking forward to the coming closed beta sessions, there are three more up to and including Christmas. Also the open beta after, I will see how I go but I may well get into the game and play it once it is released – and probably buy some stuff to support the devs if nothing else, if I am playing and enjoying the game. I am certainly interested to see how the game gets on, and how it all goes. I do wish it well and hope it does well, I think it is enjoyable to play, has a lot of nice and different things about it whilst still being familiar enough for MMORPG fans to get right into it. I shall be playing more definitely.
Thoughts for others: if you like RPGs and MMORPGs, and think you might like the steampunkesque (sort of) nature of the world then check it out, visit the City of Steam website and maybe try to get in on the closed beta, or at least have a go at the open beta (or just wait for release if you don’t like betas). On the City of Steam site there is a list of places where you can perhaps get closed beta keys – or you can always become a supporter (pay money) to get one if you are really keen. The browser based nature of it with the Unity web plugin works well and shouldn’t put anyone off as long as they can get over the initial ‘browser based’ thing. I definitely think it is worth a closer look if the first sentence of this paragraph applies to you. It is free to play so it doesn’t cost you anything to try it out.