Monday, January 30, 2017

All Roads Lead To Home : Heroes of Skyrealm

Exactly a year ago tomorrow one of my favorite MMORPGs closed its doors forever. My affection for the game is well-documented. No fewer than four dozen posts here hold the tag "City of Steam".

I played the game in all of its iterations: from Sneak Peak through alphas and betas, at launch and on to its first seeming demise before its unlikely rebirth; then, finally, down into a future of drifting decline. The posts tell a tale of frustration and disappointment as much as one of joy and delight. All emotions, I'm sure, that must have been shared by its various creators and owners along the way.

When the engine powered down for the final time I did something I've never done before. I bought the soundtrack. City of Steam had a magnificent audioscape, of which the score was just a part, but it was the only part on offer so that's what I got. I've listened to it often, too.

That probably should have been the end of it but there's a coda. Mechanist Games, the ill-fated company that had such high hopes at the start, only to see them thwarted, altered and watered down until what was left must scarcely have seemed recognizeable even to those who helped bring it to the world, didn't fold up their development tent and slink away into the night.

They opted instead to work on a smaller canvas, taking their vision mobile. The second game to emerge under their banner is not an MMO, sadly. The days when those letters suggested a license to print money (a license that few were ever required to produce) ended some time ago.

The captioning in cut scenes could use a little work.
Heroes of Skyrealm is described as "a 3D mobile action RPG" for iOS and Android. I've been keeping an eye on it and today I finally got to try it out.

The history of HoS's testing process is confusing to put it mildly. According to the website the sequence, chronologically, runs as follows:

  • Closed Alpha June 2016 - iOS only
  • Closed Beta August 25 to September 9 2016 - North America Only, Android Only
  • Open Beta October 19 - Android Only, Austria, Australia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland Only

An observant reader of this blog might notice that The United Kingdom, the country from which I am writing, doesn't appear on that last list. If it did I would probably have been posting this back in October. I have the website bookmarked and I check it fairly regularly.

A couple of days ago I was doing just that when I noticed that the U.K. had been unceremoniously slipped onto the end of the line-up. The FAQ hasn't been updated and it was sheer chance I spotted it on a link from YouTube.

Today I downloaded the game from the Google Play store, where it has a confidence-inspiring four-star rating. It installed smoothly although the over-zealous virus checker I'm using for Android (AVG - going to swap it for something else as soon as I can be bothered) tried to tell me it was Malware simply because it uses in-app purchases.

This shot was taken in a thunderstorm. The lightning effects and rain were highly atmospheric but unfortunately they haven't reproduced well.

I then ran through the first few chapters of the tutorial, which played beautifully and looked even better. Taking screenshots on my tablet is a hit-and-miss affair so I didn't get the ones I wanted. Still, I think it's clear from the couple of action shots I did manage to take that all the first-rate design aesthetics from City of Steam have transferred seamlessly to Mechanist Games' new baby.

It's also the exact opposite of Revelation Online in that Heroes of Skyrealm looks better in-game than in screenshots. It also sounds fantastic, which isn't surprising when you learn that the score is by the same person who did the score for City of Steam - Daniel Sadowski.

Gameplay-wise I haven't played enough to form much of an opinion. Like just about every mobile RPG I've tried (which isn't a huge number - maybe nine or ten so far) it lacks subtlety. I'm really not the target audience for mobile games of any description, though. If I'm out of the house I'd pretty much always rather read a book or listen to my iPod than play a game, assuming I'm not just people-watching or sight-seeing anyway.

The one thing I would immediately flag up as an issue is the translation. It seems to suffer from exactly the same problems in this respect as City of Steam. The sentences rarely have any rhythm and the dialog feels off somehow. It's not that there are glaring grammatical errors or walls of sheer gibberish, more that everyone talks like someone who has good English but only as a second or third language.
Blame my screenshotting skills (or lack of them) for the unfinished sentence. I clicked while he was still talking. I actually wanted to get a much odder conversation about how a female pirate was "more masculine" than the men but I missed that one completely.

This is odd because the original creators of Mechanist games were English and the first iterations of City of Steam were idiomatically and indeed mellifluously written. Somewhere along the line the task of writing the words must have been handed on. I wish whoever was doing it back when the company was much smaller would take that task back.

Apart from that Heroes of Skyrealm looks like it should be a jolly good wheeze. I hope it does really well, not only because Mechanist Games deserve a hit, but also because if the studio prospers then the prospect of seeing more of the world in which City of Steam was set might come a step or two closer.

Indeed, the demise of that world may not be quite as "forever" as I suggested at the top of the post. The website is still up, defiantly affirming "City of Steam: Resting, Not Retiring". What's more, it seems that Heroes of Skyrealm not only "draws inspiration" from the world of Nexus, it's set in the same world.

At the very start of the game I was offered a choice of three Heroes: Reinhard, Kashiko and...Servo "an outdated wartoiler [who] fled the Nexan Republic...". In a strange way it felt almost like coming home.

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