Tuesday, November 20, 2012

All Steamed Up : City of Steam

As expected, the weekend was all about GW2 and Lost Shores. I didn't even log in to Rift.  When we made the decision to buy Storm Legion a few weeks ago I was of the mind that I would be ready for a break from GW2 around about the time it launched but that would have been quite surprising had it been true. From the beta weekends I'd estimated my opening run in GW2 would probably be a good six months but by late October I was beginning to suspect that was optimistic and that GW2 might, at least on its opening salvo, be one of the dreaded "three-monthers".

Where did everyone go?
Not so. It transpires that wobble was just my undermind taking its bearings. While there are many MMOs I could be playing right now, and want to play (EQ2, EQ, Vanguard, Rift, Pirate 101, TSW to name just the most obvious candidates), when I sit down in front of the PC it is always GW2 that the mouse pointer floats towards. I have a huge amount of things to do there, plans, goals if you will, but more importantly it's an incredibly pleasant imaginary place just to spend time in. It's comfortable, relaxing, inviting, welcoming and why would you want to leave?

Well, you might have a beta key for City of Steam. All weekend the only nag in the back of my mind seeking to pull me away from Tyria was the knowledge that with a click I could be in Nexus again. Once the Karka threat ended I gave in to the tug and what a joyful experience it was.

When the going gets tough the green go shopping
Yes, it's even better than before and it was already wonderful. Back in March when I took the Sneak Peak I said that I'd play the game as it stood and I would have, too. Then came the Alpha, bringing many improvements including housing. I'd have played that as a finished game, too. How little I knew.

Now here we are in Closed Beta (for a given value of "Closed") and much has changed again, all for the better. City of Steam is shaping up to be really something quite extraordinary.

I warned you about leaning out of the window
I rolled a Goblin. Wait, that sounds weird. I chose "Goblin" as the race for my character. That's better. The options at character creation now include a range of excellent headgear that I only wish The Secret World could match. Further customization options are in the stretch goals for Open Beta but the characters are pretty expressive already.

Entering the world, the action now begins with your home city on fire and a pell-mell rush to the Railhauler to save your family. It's a much stronger opening and puts the refugee status that all player-characters begin with into a better-defined emotional and narrative perspective. The journey on the Railhauler itself has been pared and polished, all the fat stripped off to leave a clean, invigorating introduction to basic gameplay and UI conventions.

Yes, we are quite near the flightpath
The Railhauler now sets you down at the terminal in Nexus, which I found peculiarly affecting and satisfying. This is a transport hub I'd seen often from the outside, as it were, and to arrive at it as a traveler was quite an intense experience. Not going to have that resonance for anyone who hasn't been through all the previous iterations of course, but its a great introduction anyway.

Now that's quality!
Graphically, Nexus just looks stunning, as do all outdoor areas, of which there are plenty. There's no "looks good for a browser game" about it. City of Steam looks good, period. The one absolutely infuriating thing is Mechanist Games' complete disinterest in supplying an in-game screenshot feature, leave alone video. The game looks just quite astonishing when run at the maximum graphic settings in Full Screen, which is how I play it and in which it runs flawlessly.

I can't demonstrate this, however, because the only way you can even work around the lack of recording options in-game is to cut&paste from Print Screen and using that in Full Screen mode just gets you a matte black rectangle. I spent an hour or so researching and downloading external screen grabbers, including some that are alleged to work with CoS but without success. Consequently, all the illustrations here are from the much smaller windowed version of the game and look about 20% as impressive as they should.

That single complaint aside, so much has been added or smartened up since Alpha. The wonderful ambient soundscape is back and better than ever. All the quest dialog has been re-written. The familiar matter-of-fact placeholder text has been replaced with some very good, witty, banter in sharp, idiomatic English. The sequences and steps of the starter quests have been tidied into much smoother order and the whole "Welcome to Nexus" sequence is a real pleasure to play through.

Slots on either side of the main hotbar now confirm we get both Mounts and Pets. There's no Jump function but when I hit the spacebar this time round, forgetting that, I got a red message "Jetpack not equipped". Crikey! Apparently this isn't a joke and jetpacks really are in the works.

Mounts and pets are already in. I saw a number of motorcycles, entirely in context in this industrial setting, and a very large frog, possibly less so. Some of the bikes were hovering a dozen feet in the air but I'm pretty sure that was a beta bug not a feature.

There are a few hours of this first beta weekend left and I'm off to make the most of them. Not to repeat previous mistakes but I really would play this now. Permanent characters can't come soon enough.


  1. Interesting, the same Print Screen / Paste to Paint thing worked for me with full screen mode.
    Here are my screens: http://mmomuse.blogspot.com/2012/11/city-of-steam-boobs-and-fireballs.html

    1. It's never worked for me and I've spent quite a long time fiddling about with it. I might try it on the laptop next beta and see if that works. Which browser do you run CoS in? I usually run it in Firefox but I've tried Chrome too with no luck.

      I just posted about it on the Beta forum and got a very nice and prompt reply from CoS-Frank saying in-game screenshots are on the list of things to look at, so with a bit of luck it will go in eventually.

      I've added "Vagabond Goes For A Walk" to my blogroll, by the way. I thought it was there already but apparently not. I really need to prune that list back, take off the dormant blogs and add some of the active ones I read but don't have on there...

  2. Win 7 and Chrome, but it used to work with Win XP and Chrome back in the alpha.

    The info from Frank is nice :D I am totally speechless when I think about how big this game is for such a few people. And they still spend a lot of time with listening to us.

    Thanks for adding me. I usually keep my google reader list up-to-date, and refresh my blogroll from there.


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