Frankenstein . How well technology of this order sits with high fantasy is debatable, although by now it's apparent that once you let gnomes into your fantasy world there really isn't any point trying to hold the line against clockworks.
Until yesterday I'd never heard of City of Steam. Massively posted a news item about a pre-beta "Sneak Peak" that looked interesting but supposedly you had to have registered on the CoS website before the 28th of February when the event began. Massively right on the case there, then. A bit of digging around turned up a website that still had a few keys left from some cross-pollinating offer and with one bound and several registration forms I was in. (Looks like they might still have a few left, although a lot more have gone since I nabbed mine last night).
The Sneak Peak lasts for two weeks so there's a week left. The question is, is it any good? Well, yes it it is, rather and since there's no NDA here's what I've found so far.
City of Steam is in great shape for pre-beta. I've put several hours in and I haven't run into a single bug, unless Clockroaches count. There's plenty of content in place, all running smooth as gnomish machine-oil. Not that there are any gnomes. Or dwarves. No, wait, hang on there are dwarves but they're clockwork. I think. I spoke to one and he chided me for forgetting about his marvelous clockwork city, tragically now overrun by undead. Nice twist.
The writing is very good. Mechanist Games, the studio behind the game, may be Chinese but the opening credits name one David Lindsay as both Creator and Producer and the English throughout is impeccable. The text and dialog isn't just grammatically correct either. It's idiomatically comfortable, literate and witty and there's a wealth of interesting detail which I found endearingly old-school. Every item has a mouseover tooltip that reads like an entry from a tabletop rpg rulebook from the 1990s.
The UI is first rate. Elegant, clear and responsive. Can't fault it. I found it intuitive, familiar without being generic and a pleasure to use. The game runs in a browser but looks like it's running from a client. Masses of detail, very gritty feel. There doesn't seem to be a first-person view option but the camera is well-behaved. Movement is click-to-move, which is fine by me. Maybe they'll add WASD at a later stage.
|"None" includes Your Reporter|
Thus far I've spent most of my time taking screenshots and exploring. At the end of various streets or bridges an option sometimes popped up inviting me into some suburb where the City Guard's writ no longer runs, or down into the inevitable substrate of sewer and crypt. Instanced dungeons, in a word. Two words. For a pre-beta there seemed to be quite a few already, stretching at least into the high 20s.
|... Go there.|
Ah, there's that word. Immersion. Some MMOs attain it effortlessly, some couldn't find it in the dictionary. I suspect City of Steam has it and if it does it's down to something I can't show in a screenshot. Sound. The sound direction is about the best I've heard in an MMO. The music is sweeping, elegaic, bittersweet but it's not the music that builds the pervasive atmosphere, it's the ambient sound. Train whistles hoot mournfully, sinister functionaries make mysterious announcements over a distorted tannoy system, dogs bark somewhere in the maze of streets that stretches into the distance all around. It's like being somewhere.
And with that I think it's time to take a break. More on City of Steam to come. Probably. So many MMOs, so little time. I think this one deserves attention.