Sunday, July 22, 2012

Settling In: City Of Steam

The first City of Steam Alpha Weekend has started and boy, have the Mechanist Games team been busy. I expressed some puzzlement back in the Sneak Peak a few months ago about the alleged "pre-alpha" description of a game that I would have played as it stood, which probably says a lot more about my standards than theirs.

The difference between the current "Alpha" build and the game I saw back in March is like watching a movie on TV and seeing it at the cinema. Everything is bigger, brighter, fuller, deeper. What looked like an intriguing world to peer in at from the outside is now a fascinating world to inhabit and explore. I have my graphics slider set to "Beautiful", a choice of nomenclature that might sound a tad arrogant but which turns out to be fully justified. And there's a setting above that!

In the couple of hours I've given it so far I've mostly wandered around gawping at stuff, although first I had to struggle through the new tutorial, which is one of the few things I didn't find much of an improvement. I don't like tutorials to begin with, as I may have mentioned, but the one we saw in the Sneak Peak wasn't bad. It took things at a nice pace, didn't rush you and did a good job of introducing you to the basics.

The new one tries to add an entirely unnecessary sense of urgency and loses a good deal of the quirky charm of the old one in the process. It also commits the unpardonable sin for any tutorial in that it makes the controls seem harder to use than they actually are. Needs more work.

Our Founder
Spin Arounder
Don't let that put you off, though. Indeed, never let a tutorial put you off. They rarely resemble anything you'll find when you step out into the actual world. And what a world this one is. The Nexus teems with refugees, great airships cruise overhead, the air is thick with racial tension and the warnings of the ever-present guards. Maybe it's as well only human refugees are getting in this weekend. Little enough love seems lost between their four races even without the inevitable greenskin prejudice to stir things up still further.

I tidied up last year!
No-one arrives at Nexus alone. In true refugee style we all de-train with family in tow. I haven't quite worked out our relationships yet but whoever my companions are they seem to have taken the full NPC training course. They're stationed in front of my house making demands of me, complaining about ratlings under the floorboards and not very subtly suggesting I'm the one who should Do Something About It.

Yes, we have a house. I went in the wrong one at first, having forgotten the name of my race (Heartlander, since you ask). I was shocked by the state the Stoigmari leave their homes in, or at least I was until I found my own in exactly the same condition. Last tenants were probably Goblins, that must be it.

Some cleaning and shopping later and the place is looking half-decent. Apparently the odd items I mentioned last time , pleap, toap, hawte and the like, are house items. I have a pantry full of them now so that's one mystery cleared up.

Don't I know you from somewhere?
Speaking of Goblins, not to mention Hobbes and Draug, I met some celebrities. The three from the amusing trailer turn up in an early quest. I recognized them immediately and it had a curious effect, not dissimilar to seeing someone mildly famous in real life, something that happens where I work at least once or twice a week. (Coming fresh from The Secret World it's also strange to see a Draug and not want to shoot it in the head. Although...).

I did manage a little dungeon run. Ratlings spread disease, don't you know? Got to keep the numbers down. Fighting seems to be moving to a place somewhere between MMO hotbar style and ActionRPG "mow 'em down". I notice the FAQ now describes City of Steam as neither, preferring to style it an "online RPG".

Fair fight, ratling style.
Whatever it is, I like it a lot. This is a very busy weekend and I don't think I'll be able to do the human alpha justice. I hope to get a much better run at it when the elves arrive next weekend. Elves. Can't believe I'm looking forward to playing one.

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