Mechanist Games’ City of Steam is a browser-based action-RPG/MMO set in a steampunk world. But does it have enough steam to get your engine going? Ben Ebell went hands-on with the beta to find out.
I’ve always enjoyed the design of a good industrial sci-fi fantasy world and the options it gives artists to create interesting experiences. With that in mind, I got the opportunity to check out Mechanist Games’ City of Steam, a browser-based industrial fantasy (essentially steampunk) MMO that recently wrapped up its closed beta stage. I came away from the beta impressed by its world and story, but not without some reservations on what the game has to offer at this stage of development.
The first thing you’ll notice is that City of Steam is a small game, but not small in the sense of the size of the world. I’m talking about small in the sense that the entire game requires just a 100mb download, thanks to some clever programming from the developers that allows new areas to be streamed rather than downloaded and permanently stored.
Also, despite the stigma surrounding browser games, when running in fullscreen even the most jaded gamer would be hard pressed to tell City of Steam is played through a browser. It’s also free-to-play, making the feat even more impressive.
The game opens on a train where the player can choose his or her race, class and a bevy of customization options. I ended up choosing the melee-focused orc, but elves, humans and other standard fantasy races were also available. Each race has their own back story and their own reason for traveling to the Nexus, the central hub for the world.
The tutorial for my character had me escorting my grandfather to the Nexus while escaping the destruction of my starting zone and from there I actually got to play the game, which, unfortunately, is where things started running out of steam.
Needs more steam
Although there’s nothing technically wrong with it, the game felt like it did too little to deviate from the ‘MMO grind’ that traditionally turns me away from the genre or leaves me bored during longer play sessions. Quests and dungeon instances generally don’t deviate from the usual “go to [insert area here] and kill [insert name here]“.
I’m not saying every game has to bring to it something completely new and unique, such as investigation missions in The Secret World, but the usual dungeon crawler formula has never kept my attention for very long.
The combat, like the quest design, felt more derivative of MMOs and ARPGs than innovative. This genre has been around for a long time and these mechanics are starting to show their age. Combined with no free jumping and a fair amount of invisible walls, everything sort of felt linear and dated – if past MMOs haven’t persuaded you to pick up the genre, it’s unlikely City of Steam will. Apart from my problems with the core design, for a closed beta test everything seemed to function surprisingly well and I didn’t run into any major bugs along the way.
The game redeems itself when it comes to the writing, as the amount of lore and backstory provided for the world was impressive and added a real sense of immersion. It’s rare for me to play an MMO and actually be interested in the story and lore that’s happening behind the scenes, which is less a problem inherent to the genre and more a problem of finding story and lore that resonates with me. There’s obviously been a lot of care put into crafting the setting and world of City of Steam and it shows, even if I’m not sold on some of the core gameplay elements.
That’s probably the best thing I can say about City of Steam in its current state – there’s a lot of care that’s been put into the game and it shows. The developers also seem responsive and are very open to suggestions and discussions with the community.
For an independent team without the kind of weight to throw around that bigger developers and companies have, that kind of attitude will definitely serve them well. Despite my hang-ups with the combat and quest design, I still enjoyed my time with City of Steam and its steampunk world, I just wish it did more to set itself apart.
City of Steam, from Mechanist Games, is due to enter open beta soon.