Massively Exclusive City of Steam dev tour in pictures
I can't recall the last indie MMO that was making any waves while still being in the pre-alpha stage, but that's the strange power that Mechanist Games' City of Steam has. Word-of-mouth and a clever setting have made this a must-see title, and we were pleased to join Editor Gabriel Laforge for a developer tour of the game in its current state.

City of Steam is an indie MMO, but don't let that put you off; the team is substantially larger than you'd expect and brimming with talent. The steampunk title loads extremely quickly in your browser, thanks to the Unity web player and a ridiculously small client size. In its current state, City of Steam has four large overworld zones and around 80 instanced dungeons, and yet the total size is -- get this -- 70 megabytes. It's so tiny that some of the dungeons are only a few hundred kilobytes apiece.

With the repeated caveat that this was all still pre-alpha and subject to change, Laforge let me log in and explore to my heart's delight. What follows is raw and shocking footage from that journey.

Massively Exclusive City of Steam developer tour
City of Steam begins with a flight over the main city of Nexus. You'll be spending most of your career in the game right here. The character creation screen is pretty neat, as it shows you on a train rushing toward the city. It's here that I created my adventurer, flipping between rooms as I toggled through the racial choices. I ended up with a Goblin, which Laforge said was proving to be quite popular with testers, and I picked the Gunner class because guns.

Massively Exclusive City of Steam developer tour
The dev team recently created a new tutorial, which has you investigating some issues on the train while you work out the kinks of the game's mechanics. The setup is fairly similar to most MMOs, although I would say it's closest to the original Guild Wars. This is because you have click-to-move (in addition to WASD), no jump, and invisible walls hemming you in at times.

Massively Exclusive City of Steam developer tour
So why pick steampunk as a setting? Laforge said that the team prefers to call it "industrial fantasy," as it's a variation that utilizes more fantastic races and magic. In any case, the reason is that City of Steam is the extension of the writings of Lead Designer David Lindsay. Lindsay previously penned several pen-and-paper RPG books in this setting and had a passion for bringing it to life in a game.

Massively Exclusive City of Steam developer tour
My very first impression is that I was amazed how good this game looked and handled in the browser. The MMO community has shown a lot of disdain for browser-based MMOs, but I think titles like City of Steam could go a long way to turning the tide of opinion.

Massively Exclusive City of Steam developer tour
Combat was fast and relatively simple (this being the tutorial and all). Soon enough, I leveled up and got to invest points into the neat "valves and pipes" talent screen. My Gunner gained a second, larger blast to make foes think twice about getting in her face.

There are not only three talent trees per character but buttons on the hotbar to swap between a shield-and-weapon, dual-weapon, or two-handed weapon setup. Laforge couldn't say whether players will be able to switch between these on the fly.

Massively Exclusive City of Steam developer tour
Right now, it's impossible to die in the tutorial; the devs didn't want to discourage newbies right off the bat. That's a good thing because I was repeatedly taking breaks to check out buttons and options and wasn't always paying attention to the big scary monster lasering my face off.

Beat the big monster and a chest drops. In the chest were two currencies of life: money and keys. Keys are used to unlock doors and chests, and Laforge said that you'll be facepalming when you find a chest in a dungeon and forgot to bring a key to open it.

Massively Exclusive City of Steam developer tour
From there, the game dumps you in the outskirts of Nexus in a place called Refuge. It's a smaller area, Laforge explained, one designed to give newcomers time to acclimate and get their bearings. Refuge is quite run-down and drab, with rust and brown being the main color scheme.

Each player race has a main storyline, but these storylines do intersect with those of other races as well. This adds some measure of replayability if you go through the game multiple times with difference characters.

Massively Exclusive City of Steam developer tour
In the middle of Refuge is a brightly colored pneumatic tube. This is the player's stash, which can be accessed in multiple locations because of the pneumatic service.

There are several cool little ideas like that in the game. Another one is the ability to socket gear by adding pipes, gears, and widgets. When you do so, not only do you gain stat bonuses, but your gear changes in appearance as well!

Massively Exclusive City of Steam developer tour
Laforge teleported me into a couple of the game's instances to get a feel for the variety that the team has created. First up was an offshoot of the Gardenworks, a place where machinery has been abandoned and left to the ravages of nature. Grass and plants abound here, but that's not necessarily a good thing. It turns out that these people see nature as a virus out to wreck the progress of the industrial world. Even Elves don't like the trees here.

Massively Exclusive City of Steam developer tour
From there, we went into the Sunken Lode, a dim mine with hissing pipes and angry Orbolgs. These orc-lizard hybrids flew at us with gusto, but a few shots from my pistol sent them sprawling in the dirt. We had a lot of fun being vandals, as barrels, carts, and even some walls are destructible.

Massively Exclusive City of Steam developer tour
Was there PvP? In response to my question, Laforge initiated a duel. This transported us to a private instance where we could settle our differences without disturbing the townfolk.

However, dueling is the full extent of the game's PvP at the moment. The team has plans to expand this in the future.

Massively Exclusive City of Steam developer tour
Our final stop was to the crown jewel of Nexus, Central. It used to be the starting zone, but the devs have taken it out of the alpha for more work. I can't wait to see what it'll become because right now it looks incredible. Tall buildings, huge airships, Starbucks on every corner -- that sort of thing.

With the small size of the game and use of the Unity web browser, I commented that this will be extremely accessible to anyone with any type of computer. Laforge confirmed this and said that the team's even working on versions for Android and iOS devices as well, although that may come later.

Massively Exclusive City of Steam developer tour
Despite being in pre-alpha right now, City of Steam might actually launch this year. Mechanist is starting up its alpha test next month, followed by a larger beta in the mid-fall. Laforge said that the devs want at least 10,000 players for the alpha test but only have half of that so far. You hear that, Massively mob? Get to it!

We want to thank Gabriel Laforge for taking the time to walk us through this build of the game!

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

This article was originally published on Massively.