Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Past, Present and Future : City of Steam, TESO, WildStar, ArcheAge

City of Steam : Arkadia

Having moaned on about not playing enough MMOs I thought I'd better do something about it, so yesterday I logged back into City of Steam for the first time in months. I pulled that one from the bench because of the surprising news that Mechanist Games are opening two new servers, one in Europe and one on the U.S East Coast. It's remarkable enough these days to hear of any MMO adding servers, but for a game that was closed down due to lack of interest just six months ago it's positively mind-boggling.

City of Steam has generally been promoted as a browser-based MMO and I've played it that way, where it works perfectly well and looks perfectly fine. There is, however, also a micro-client you can download (top left). I fired it up and maybe it was that or maybe it's just that I haven't played for a while and forgot quite how good the graphics are, but everything looked just stunning. If only they'd put in a proper screenshot function and a way to hide the UI...

My first impression on returning from hiatus: wow, it's busy! It could have been a slightly misleading impression, because Nexus is busy anyway - busy with NPCs, broadcast announcements, ambient sound. It's always felt like a very live, occupied space even when there were few players in evidence. Roaming around regaining my bearings, though, it was apparent that there were plenty of people playing. And they did seem to be playing this time, not just parked afk for hours doing the automated exercise routines that marked the end-times for the previous incarnation of the game.

Those exercises still exist, though, because Mechanist seem quite happy to do most of the playing for you if that's what you want. Not only can you safely go off to work or to bed and leave your character to level up (slowly) via calisthenics in your absence, you can go into a dungeon, press a button and have your character auto-complete it, collecting all the loot as she goes.

When it comes to dungeons, though, it appears the safety harness is off. I tried it out of curiosity and for the first few minutes everything went swimmingly. I was beginning to think it was my long-held dream of a full graphics version of Progress Quest come true. Then, about half-way in and for no reason that I could explain, my Goblin decided she'd around  run the entire remaining length of the dungeon, gathering up every mob she could find into an enormous train the like of which hasn't been seen since Karnor's in its pomp.

I just sat back and watched in horrified fascination until she finally seemed satisfied she had enough, turned round and began to fight all 30+ of them. Give her and her mercenary their due - they had half of them down before they were overwhelmed. When you die in CoS you have three choices: Revive in the City and lose all progress in the dungeon or pay to come back to life where you are, either with in-game Spiremarks or cash shop currency Electrum.

I have several thousand Spiremarks saved up so I used a few of those, which of course
popped me up right in the middle of the remaining mobs. With my hands on the controls this time, however, I was able to whittle them down and get things back on track. Don't think I'll be using the autopilot again in a hurry.

And why would you want to, really? Combat is a real pleasure in City of Steam. The guns bang loudly, the explosions are really explody, the monsters are highly and amusingly animated and everythng feels very tactile. People who play Diablo and other ARPGs have commented that all CoS is just another in that long line of clones but I beg to differ and for one very good reason: CoS has a full-function, moveable camera. That one factor makes it playable and enjoyable for me in a way that the fixed, over the shoulder, three-quarter perspective never can.

So the graphics, the combat and the ambiance sucked me back in right away but there were also some quite notable improvements. The whole interface has been given a polish pass and for once it seems to have worked. I can't begin to remember how many different UIs and systems CoS has been through since I first saw it in the Sneak Peak more than two years ago. It's suffered horribly from the can't-leave-well-aloneitis that seems to infect so many MMO developers. At last the wheel seems to have stopped on WIN and I just hope Mechanist can resist giving it yet another spin.

I played for a couple of hours and didn't really want to stop. I've been thinking about it again today and when I finish this I'll go give it another run. It's never going to be the MMO I hoped it would be but it looks as though it might be settling down into something well worth a few hours here and there, now and again, on and off, which is a much brighter prospect than it appeared to have not so very long ago.


Looking to the future, there seems to be quite a buzz building up around ArcheAge. Trion's buy-in alpha is getting plenty of blog action, with Liore and Stargrace leading the pack. Chris raised the intriguing prospect that ArcheAge could be the new Vanguard and Ardwulf, who really knows his Vanguard, sees his point.

If they're right that'd be wonderful because in less than three months we're going to need a new Vanguard, but while I don't want to say we've been here before, well, we've been here before. There's always a God-Game along to perk us up right after the last God-Game let us down. Once upon a time Vanguard was that game. ArcheAge was on my radar long before the current flurry of interest and that's where it's staying. Like The Chindividual, I'll pass on giving Trion £110 for alpha access. I might stump up the £37 they want for beta if word-of-mouth continues to be as strongly positive but even that sounds steep. We'll see.


While we're on the subject of God-Games, not much more than a month after launch the rumblings of discontent over TESO seem to be growing. Keen, Werit and J3w3l all have concerns about end-game, progression and grind, though they don't necessarily all agree on where the problem lies. The whole new content locked through Veteran Levels progression model looks extremely hardcore to me and quite out of keeping with what little I understand about the Elder Scrolls IP, one of the main attractions of which, I thought, was supposed to be freedom of action. Going to be an interesting one to watch from the outside.


And finally there's the WildStar open beta, all ten days of it, starting tomorrow. Tobold, one of the few bloggers I can think of who's announced a firm intention to play the Space Cowboy game, recommends getting at least to level 10, after which the game apparently opens out. It would certainly need to, given the extreme linearity of what started to seem to me like a never-ending tutorial.

Eliot at Massively had an interesting opinion piece from the perspective of a long-time beta player. His summation? "...the game has lasted just long enough in intensive development that it came down with a strong case of "follow the leader" rather than stuck with some of the game's original and more heady concepts". In other words it was better in beta.

Ah, but isn't that always the way? Maybe I'd better not skip on that ArcheAge founder's pack after all.

1 comment:

  1. I pre-ordered WildStar. There is enough there to enjoy the levelling experience. The comfort items you know are there with some fun twists to keep it interesting. Carbine chocked it full of lore content and items that I am looking forward to taking my time and exploring the Nexus - there is a good opportunity for story line.

    Betas are always better. Sense of discovery, tighter knit communities.. much like how test servers are typically better experiences.


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