Sunday, December 2, 2012

Now With Added Dwarf : City of Steam

Just a brief update on the City of Steam beta. This is the second of four beta weekends and as usual the problem is finding time to play because, well, GW2, but I did manage to get a couple of hours in yesterday.

Characters had been wiped, which was a tad surprising. I think the highest level I've yet achieved is around 9th and that was probably right back in the pre-Alpha last March. Consequently I have now played through the various revisions of the Tutorial perhaps a dozen times, done the whole of the introductory quest line four or five times, seen a great deal of the level 1 to 5 dungeons and not much else.

Wait for meeeeee!
Other, more dedicated playtesters get much further.There are plenty of people milling around Nexus in their twenties or higher. I'm not even sure how many levels the game has, now I come to think about it. I seem to remember it's a lot. So anyway, I may not be qualified to say much about anything beyond the early levels, but I know enough to say that a lot has changed between last beta weekend and this, and all for the better.

The biggest and most obvious development is the appearance of Dwarves as a playable race. That was one of the "Stretch goals" on the Steam-o-Meter, all of which have already been met. There are more, as yet unannounced, to come in Open Beta, whenever that is. Since my goblin had been forcibly retired, I decided to go Dwarf for Summercrest (Which is the name of this beta weekend. Yes, the beta weekends have names. Let's get on, shall we?).

Dwarves in City of Steam are somewhat atypical. They are grey-skinned and appear to be cyborgs. I'd love to tell you more about them but they don't seem to have their own section on the wonderful Races page of the CoS website yet. Up until now, in game, Dwarves have come across as a rather disturbed, almost incoherent "race". I wasn't even sure they were organic at all - I thought perhaps they were Clockworks of some advanced design.

All that delicious uncertainty is only compounded in the excellent introductory sequence in Denton and Nexus. Whoever writes the interstitial text for CoS is doing a bang-up job. Almost every line is laden with subtext. I frequently need to re-read and that's a good thing.

Cue Benny Hill theme
Every player-character in City of Steam comes with a pre-ordained backstory and a family, something I perhaps ought to find intrusive but don't. In the case of my Dwarven Warden things clearly weren't going all that smoothly at home even before the ongoing demonic invasion.

Story is apparently going to be a big deal in CoS. There's been some controversy about it on the forums but since Mechanist Games have repositioned the whole thing as "an online RPG with MMO characteristics" it's pretty well bound to have a story, isn't it? I swing both ways on story in MMOs (or MMO-likes). I don't need one but if there is one and it's good enough (/wave TSW) I'm more than happy to go along with it. I'll certainly go along with this one.

Schrodinger's Pawnshop
Once I stepped off the Railhauler into Nexus and began the familiar sequence of quests that constitute something of an extended tutorial, almost at once I noticed some significant differences. The shops are no longer just shops, free to use for anyone with money, as you'd expect a shop to be. There were quests to open the Pawnshop and one of the Armor shops. Good quests, too. I could see other players standing at the shops that were shuttered to me, presumably busy trading. So, phasing. That seems to work. Sophisticated, what?

Another innovation I happened to spot was the Transmuter, a large, enigmatic device in one of the squares of the city whose functions I found problematic. At first I thought perhaps it was some kind of static lockbox for cash-generation purposes, or a gambling device. It might be either or both or neither. What it seems to do is accept a reward currency you get for completing quests, spin some wheels and offer up prizes. I think there's more to it than that. I'll have to experiment but first I'll need more tokens.

City of Steam continues to impress mightily. Each iteration builds on and improves the one before. It's remarkably ambitious. The one thing I really want, though, is a character that hangs around.

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