Saturday, March 10, 2012

Going Undeground: City of Steam

A week ago, give or take, I stepped off the train into Central, the fading, failing heart of Nexus, City of Steam. I enthused about it. Gushed, even. First impressions count double but do they last?

This time they do, yes. And then some. I've played more City of Steam this week than any other MMO except EQ2 and even while I was in Norrath I had a nagging desire to be in Nexus.

Every day I logged in and played for at least an hour, often longer. What the heck is it about City of Steam? It's not even in alpha, for Pete's sake and yet there already seems more to it than most MMOs I've tried in the past year or two. Let's get some detail in here.

See? Embattled. I said it was!
Central, the aptly named capital city is a safe haven surrounded by danger above, below and on all sides. Merchants trade and the trains still run from Central Station but beneath the chipped cobbled streets lie miles of tunnels, tombs and crypts, a forgotten necropolis where a Skeleton King rules over hordes of undead. Across the bridges gangs own the suburbs while the Central Boiler that should have provided city-wide steam power sinks to rust behind sealed doors, a failed engineering project home to thieves and wild clockworks. The inevitable sewers teem with vermin, the embattled Nexan Archives ringing the Central Square stand closed and guarded. The Mythspikes, those great towers that pierce the Quarters hold onto their mysteries.

It's a  service hub surrounded by instanced dungeons, in other words.

I've spent most of my time so far in Paragon's Gate. At the entrance of each dungeon you get a helpful pop-up detailing its level and how many players would be best advised to tackle it. Paragon's Gate appears to be the entry-level instance, supposedly suited to solo at level four. For a while I thought it went on forever but on my third trip down it tapped out at sublevel seven. It goes deeper but not during this pre-alpha Sneak Peak.

My Goblin Gunner was level five when he went in and boy, did he have a hard time. First run through he died a lot, but then I only had a sketchy idea of his abilities. At least I got to learn how the death mechanic works.

The things I do for art...
If there's a penalty for dying other than some potentially serious inconvenience I didn't notice it. While you're lying on the filthy crypt floor with the clockroach that killed you skittering about on your corpse you get three options: You can revive for free outside the dungeon, you can use a Cardiotonic from your pack, which revives you on the spot or you can open the Store and buy a Cardiotonic for 500EL. That option is currently greyed-out. The cash shop isn't implemented yet.

You start with five Cardiotonics. Vendors sell them for 500 silver, which isn't chump change at low levels but isn't by any means out of reach either. At level seven I have just under 9,000 silver. Of course, if you do use a Cardiotonic you stand up right next to the thing that just killed you. Fine if you just crushed five clockroaches and jump back up to finish the sixth. Not so hot if you only killed two and four of them are still there.

Nevertheless, you don't want to be taking the free option and respawning outside because the instances are non-persistent. If you just spent an hour clearing down to level four that's another hour to get back to where you were, unless you were lucky enough to have reached a Mythdock. Mythdocks are handy teleporters that not only send you back to Central so you can empty all the Oily Cargo Manifests and Powdered Glass out of your pack but also give you a return ticket that lets you port back down the same Mythdock and carry on where you left off.

I'll be back!
Not got a Mythdock ticket on you? Never mind. Look on the bright side. Maybe you'll ding fighting back down and then you might have the edge over the Tombcrawler that killed you last time when you meet him again.

Kidding! You won't ding. Killing stuff gives very little experience. About 2xp per. Quests give 1000xp. From the forums I gather that the devs are set against grinding. The focus is on questing and story. I'd prefer it the other way round but maybe I'll come on board when there are more than a handful of quests.

Those aren't fireflies
If plowing through mobs gives next to no xp and there are no quests to speak of, what was I doing clearing seven levels of tombs over five nights last week? Having fun! Really, it's as simple as that. Paragon's Gate is atmospheric, intricate and has a great sense of place. Everywhere in City of Steam has a great sense of place. Being there is absorbing in a way I haven't experienced for quite a while and the combat itself is slick, simple and satisfying. If you like traditional MMO hotbar combat you'll be right at home like I was.

There's a skill tree that lets you spend points to improve the skills you have or add new ones, just as you'd expect. I found it clear and straightforward, intuitive and easy to understand. Just like everything in the game, come to think of it. It really is well-designed. Nothing's new but it all works and works as it ought to work. Slightly more unusual are the three stances you can toggle between on the fly. They switch you between sword-and-board defense, dual-wield slice and dice dps or two-handed big hitter. You have the weapons for all three options equipped at all times - you can see them on your character's back and at his side - and switching from one to another is instant and without penalty. Supposedly there is, or will be, a deal of tactical gameplay in this, with different mobs requiring different stances even within a single encounter. I didn't pay sufficient attention to notice if this is already in. I was too busy hitting things 'til they fell over.

It better not be Shakin' Stevens
I read a couple of comments that CoS is similar in gameplay to Diablo but I can neither or confirm or deny because I never played any of the Diablo games. I understood Diablo, Torchlight and their ilk were very fast and action-oriented, though. Combat in City of Steam is nothing like that at all. It's steady. I imagine some would call it slow. There are large parts of the dungeons where nothing aggressive lurks. You can see the mobs at a fair distance and you can pull them EQ-style to get something you think you can handle. I felt in control of the pacing throughout, except when I made an error of judgment, like opening a door I shouldn't have.

Being Boiled
Ah, doors. I like doors. Paragon's Gate has plenty. Some are locked, for which you need keys that drop occasionally. Some are hidden, sliding panels or walls that swing open at a touch. Although how you can call something "hidden" if it glows yellow when you run a mouse pointer over it ... . Maybe some kind of "Search" skill is coming. I hope so. Probably just about everything is "coming". It's really hard to remember City of Steam doesn't even claim to be in alpha yet. I swear I've played MMOs that launched with less content. I know  I've played released MMOs with less polish.

This is running on. Again. I still have a lot more to say. There will be a part three. At least.


  1. Aye, glad to read more about it. This is like me with Zentia, glued to it but don't know exactly why, just drawn to it. A good feeling, hehe. Can't wait to try this one out, sounds like it is quite fun with some depth.

  2. Ethan: You guys can always go to City of Steam official forum to express your ideas and thoughts, we ill respond as soon as possible.


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