Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Off The Rails: City Of Steam

City of Steam went into Open Beta at the beginning of May. There won't be a character wipe, the Cash Shop is up and running. Nothing much will change now because it's one of those soft launch deals where an MMO hopes to slide by with a pass on polish because it's "beta", right?

Well, no. Not hardly. City of Steam is still twisting and changing before your very eyes as you play and not everyone is at all pleased about it.

It's always been a little like that. The game I fell in love with during the Sneak Peak hangs behind the current version like a shadow. Things I made much of back in March last year, the detailed descriptions on items, the distressed Signposts, the cracked megaphone warnings of the guards, all those have gone. So has the slow-paced combat, the seemingly endless, deep explorable dungeons, the surprisingly open feel of the world. Even the gritty, worn-down steampunk-in-decline vibe is fading away, replaced by something cleaner, more shiny.

Also missing believed lost are the detailed and involving housing quests from closed beta, although the items that used to start them off still lie around your hovel, responding to a right-click with a desultory "leave me alone, I'm not worth bothering with". My family, once touted as an integral part of gameplay, stand around aimlessly, like the three stars of that original video trailer, celebrities down on their luck, wondering where it all went wrong. The Pleap and Toap merchants have packed their sample cases and departed.

Like I have a choice...
I could go on. At some length. City of Steam has been a game in transition since the first day I played it. I've seen it through all its incarnations and those have been many. The tutorial alone had half a dozen revamps, growing from a simple railhauler trip to a full-blown, multi-part adventure in its own right. The stats changed and changed again, the skill tree waxed and waned from simple to baroque and back again. Systems mutated, concepts flared and faded; firm footing has been hard to find.

Movie star to quest star to unemployed, all in a year.
On the forums there is discontent. This thread, beginning with a really excellent set-up from a veteran CoS player named Rune, goes into great detail about what's been lost and how many of the vets feel about it. Much of the blame has been laid at the feet of publisher R2 Games, something Mechanist have refuted, taking responsibility for the changes on themselves.

Can you hold the baby a while?
I've been holding it for, like, ever.
I don't know why City of Steam has changed so radically, or who decides it should change so often. All I can observe, having played it in all its iterations so far, is that a lot more of the changes have been for the worse than for the better. I said at the time that I would have paid to buy and paid to subscribe to the game I saw in the Sneak Peak. For some of the closed Alphas and Betas I would have happily done the same.

The game that we have in open beta, that I wouldn't pay for, neither to buy nor to subscribe. Not because it isn't fun; it is. It's a lot of fun. I'm playing it most days, I have one character at Level 15 and a second at 13. The only reason those numbers aren't higher is the annoying decision they made to stagger the introduction of the various races across two months and the even more annoying choice to add all the ones I really wanted to play last.

I think your house is on fire.
City of Steam looks gorgeous, too. One of the real pleasures is just wandering around looking at the truly spectacular skies, some of the most amazing skies I've ever seen in a computer game. Perhaps it looks too gorgeous. One day a few weeks ago I logged in to find the cracked cobbles of the tired Nexus streets covered with beautiful spring flowers. The entire weary, war-torn world transformed overnight to a pretty city park.

The flowers seem emblematic of what's happened to City of Steam. It's gone pretty and in doing so it may have lost its soul.

I remember when this was all cobbles. Yesterday.
All is not entirely lost. The discontent on the forums is palpable. The population in game, which flooded every previous alpha and beta has dwindled to a trickle. If the radical change of tone and tenor really is in the hands of Mechanist Games, not imposed upon them by a publisher with little real interest in making this the unique, original game it could and should have been, then the solution is in their hands. This is still beta. The endless river of change can be made to flow in another direction and if necessary we could even start over.

I said at the beginning that there wouldn't be a wipe but what was actually promised was that they would only wipe Open Beta if absolutely necessary. This response from CoS Dev Gab makes it plain that nuclear option still remains:

As far as a wipe goes, I don't know. To implement all these changes being discussed, a wipe would seem rather likely. Still, we'll see how things go, and see what we're faced with when we get there.

MMOs from small developers need word of mouth to succeed and grow. I would and did proselytize for the real City of Steam. For the current version I can't really go stronger than "It's fun, it's free, you might like it". There are dozens, scores of MMOs I could say that about.

I've put a lot of time into City of Steam. I'm fond of my current characters. I'm enjoying playing them. Still, if a wipe is what it takes to put the heart, soul and steam back into this game, bring it on.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like they went the wrong way. Maybe they are banking on new blood that have nothing to compare it to previously?


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide