All things considered, Mumorpugers are one of the most paradoxical of all game styles in that they present interesting worlds to explore and shape (to an extent), but simultaneously, they have possibly the least satisfying gameplay of the generation. This is why recent and upcoming titles such as Guild Wars 2 and The Old Republic and others are attempting to bring some much need shake-ups to the genre. If one were to be callous and refer to World of Warcraft as the gold standard of MMO’s, then said standard is slowly depreciating. New contenders for the position of king of the MMO hill are already queued up, and even though City of Steam is only in pre-alpha, there is plenty to appreciate already.
City of Steam is, most notably, browser-based – very unusual for an MMO, given the massive amounts of data needed to render whole cities and countrysides. Running City of Steam only requires a mainstream browser that can run the Unity plugin and having done this on several computers myself, I must say that it’s somewhat necessary to have a competent PC and a good internet connection if you want it to run faster than 12 frames per second. Optimization aside, the world of the Nexus is the most appreciable thing.
Instead of resting on a planet, the world of City of Steam is a giant clockwork mechanism hovering in space. This fact combined with the title made it more than apparent that the visual theme of the game is steampunk fantasy and is only reinforced by steam being the primary resource for characters instead of the more typical mana. Bridging the gap between steampunk and more Tolkienesque fantasy are the character races, of which there are nine to choose from divided into four distinct groups: humans, two groups of elves and three “greenskins,” meaning orcs, goblins, and the peculiarly names “hobbes,” which are basically trolls.
After choosing a race and customising your character a little, picking a class is the next step, and thankfully there are no racial restrictions on class, although certain races don’t play certain roles well due to stat advantages and disadvantages. Knowing this, the opportunity for meta-gaming certainly exists if you want to roll an Aven Arcanist. Four classes exist as of now, those being Channeler (Priest/Shaman), Warder (Tank), Gunner (Ranged Damage), and Arcanist (Magic Damage). Within each class there are specializations to explore, whether it be for a specific type of magic or weapon, so there is some depth to character building, thankfully.
Upon entering the Nexus, the typical MMO experience commences. Quests, shops, dungeons, a bit of lore and that’s it. As an experience, one could get almost exactly the same thing from many different games, albeit with different wallpaper. To its credit, City of Steam already has a lot going for it considering its early stage of development. Here’s hoping that more content can be added before the beta stage comes around, since what’s on display is perfectly adequate, but not exceptional.
Since there is a huge list of free MMO’s both in development and currently available, then one could be forgiven for taking the dive into any of the ones that already exist rather than wait for a particular one to reach the market, since the vast majority seem to have comparable mechanics, difficulty curves, progression, and gameplay. If anything, City of Steam desperately needs some more additions on top of the traditional formula if Mechanist Games hopes to corner the market. With that in mind, the world of City of Steam is intriguing and the mechanics seem solid, so keep your fingers crossed.