Sunday, May 12, 2013

Step Off The Train: City of Steam

Just a few opening thoughts after some five hours' play:

There could hardly be a lower barrier of entry. You don't even need to register; you can just use your existing Google, Facebook, Yahoo or Windows Live account. In due course you'll be able to use Steam as well, at which point there will be a downloadable client but for now the browser version looks great and runs smoothly in both Firefox and Chrome. The occasionally flaky Unity Player has only crashed on me once so far, which is pretty impressive for the first couple of days of a very busy Open Beta.

When I say City of Steam looks great I should qualify that a little. It looks great once you overcome Mechanist Games' best attempts to make it look terrible. For some insane reason the game defaults to an isometric perspective with a fixed camera. I was about ready to go on the forums and start ranting about this crazy decision when a tool tip appeared pointing out that the little camera icon in the bottom right of the screen restores normal free camera movement. That, in my very strong opinion, should be the default, as it was in every previous stage of development. Had I not already been committed to playing City of Steam from previous experience there's a good chance I would have stopped playing it, probably for good, after about ten minutes. Isometric perspective does this game no favors whatsoever.

Not sure about these pants
Indeed, most of the default settings seem likely to put people off, so I strongly advise anyone trying it out to fiddle with the controls before even starting the tutorial. The first thing I did was put all the graphic settings to maximum, which I would imagine would be trivial for any PC used for gaming. Then I put it in Full Screen which required me to reset the screen resolution. Why can't MMOs automatically set the screen resolution to match the native desktop? They almost never do, which means that your first impression of the graphics is almost always much worse than it needs to be.

A few tweaks to overhead names and the visuals were set. The music, wonderful though it may be, is set far too loud so that got turned down. After the screams of ratlings woke Mrs Bhagpuss this morning and I got the benefit of her live impressions of what she'd heard through the wall, some other sound settings got dialed down as well. The sound effects, particularly in combat, can be rather strident.

The Tutorial, which has changed radically in every incarnation so far, has changed yet
Yes, but does it make my bum look big?
again. It no longer really feels like a tutorial at all, more like an in media res opening that never stops. It took me about two hours to get through it last night and all of that felt like normal gameplay. That works marvelously in every respect other than the basic purpose of a tutorial, namely familiarizing you with the controls. Several hours later and sitting comfortably at level 9 I couldn't say I yet have a firm grasp on more than half of the UI and only the very vaguest understanding of how stats and gear work. I got a pop-up once telling me I'd got an upgrade. Just once. What was so special about that item compared to all the other upgrades I'd already found is anyone's guess. As for systems like Crafting and Transmuting, trial and error appear to be the only tutorials on offer.

In this first phase only Humans are available. I picked the quasi-Soviet Stoigmari. The website has excellent lore on all the races but none of it is available during character creation, which ought to be rectified. Each character comes with family; a long-suffering elder sister and a naive younger brother in this case. Although amusing, clever NPC and background dialog is one of CoS's strengths, the comedy Russian-English accent of my character's brother Aleks makes little sense. Surely two brothers would be talking to each other in their own language and hence wouldn't make ethnically stereotypical grammatical solecisms? Never mind. It made me smile, that's what matters.

Once you reach Refuge, the aptly-named refugee sector of The Nexus, the previous long
section in which you find and clean your house seems to have vanished. The house is still there; you get it as soon as you arrive. You have to clean out both the clellar (which is much larger than the actual house) and the sewer beneath it before you can settle in. The debris on the floor and the empty bookcase and pantry remain but I didn't get the quests to fill them. Neither are the stores in town boarded up and requiring a quest to pull up the shutters. I'm guessing most of these quests may still exist; just further down the timeline.

And stay out!
Instead I found myself on a long main quest sequence to open the Sky Dock. I'm running around saying I'm helping the recovery effort while actually following a secret agenda of my own dictated to me by someone I don't know and can't see, who is talking to me on an ancient artifact I found. It's all very mysterious and quite relentless.

So far I'm enjoying City of Steam as much as I expected, which is a lot. As I also expected, it's a game to be taken in bites, not at a sitting. There's a good deal of freedom of action but only around a linear path and after three hours this morning I feel like I've done a day's hard labor. I do hope it won't be necessary to do the entire main quest line on every character just to unlock access to each area. I imagine it will, though.

Ah well, it's not like I haven't had to do that before.


  1. Man you got me hyped up to try this out and then it's Diablo.

    Not even GOOD Diablo. Just Diablo.

    1. I never played Diablo so that wouldn't mean much to me. I do think it's become less interesting as time's gone on. I liked it better when there was less game there, oddly. A lot of the atmosphere seems to have drained out in the later iterations.

  2. I've tried it in 30min chunks over the last couple days. Getting astrong Runes of Magic vibe so far. I havent messed with graphics settings though so maybe will tweakthose as you suggested. But makes me want to go back to Dragons Nest which was just a fun game with actiony combat instead of the typical mmo combat SoS has.

    1. It's waaay slower than Dragon Nest, I think. I like DN a lot but I'm not a fan of action combat so I never got very far with it. I prefer MMO hotbar combat and UIs. I played RoM way back when it was in beta and I'm not sure I see much similarity. Never really took to RoM although it seems to have lasted pretty well.

      As for the graphics in CoS, I think the default settings are appalling so if you haven't tried it with the full screen, best resolution and especially the free camera I'd definitely recommend trying that.


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