City of Steam, a free-to-play, browser-based MMO developed by Mechanist Games, isn't content to live in this world of assumed browser-based inferiority. In fact, the game almost feels like a challenge to the industry: If this is what browsers can do, why isn't everyone doing it? City of Steam has the potential to shake the foundation of the MMO world by proving that full, engaging game experiences can be delivered instantly and on-demand, as long as its final execution lives up to its current promise.
From what's been revealed so far, Mechanist appears to be on the right track.
First, let's cover the basics: When you start City of Steam, you'll be asked to choose a race and class, then customize your character. There are 10 races and four classes, all available in whatever sort of mix you want. From there, each class can choose one of three primary skill trees to start down a certain path of character development. For instance, the Arcanist can choose between fire, ice, and lightning, while the Gunner can choose between sharpshooting, incendiary, and chemical.
Your introduction to City of Steam comes in the form of an animated cinematic. The city of Delton, the cinematic explains, was built in the shadow of a great colossus. The town prospered and the colossus slumbered until one day an evil-looking tower came crashing out of the sky and started summoning demons and tossing fireballs all over the place. The colossus awoke and a battle began, while you and your family attempted to flee the flaming city.
City of Steam is packed with these little moments of awe. Whether you're fighting a massive demon on a moving train as it careens across the countryside or smashing another player in the face in a subterranean PvP arena, the game consistently defies the expectations that come along with a title running directly out of a browser. The visual fidelity is like nothing that's ever been done in a browser game before, thanks largely to clever coding and the increasingly amazing flexibility of the Unity web player. City of Steam will impress you, repeatedly.
After the initial tutorial phase and the whole "escaping rampaging demons" thing, you'll be dropped into the game's first hub area, The Refuge. It's here that City of Steam's steampunk aesthetic and expansive design really start to sink in, as you step off the train platform and are greeted by a massive, sprawling city infused with gears, pipes, and smokestacks. There's even an enormous steam airship hovering above the town and a friendly looking robot patrolling about. These small details make The Refuge feel like a living, breathing space.
The Refuge is what Mechanist refers to as a "suburb," which is the studio's term for a zone that connects to several instanced dungeons. It's not exactly an open world, but it's not entirely closed, either; players can be found wandering about suburbs in between dungeon runs, and you're free to chat it up or show off your sweet steam-powered motorcycles during your downtime between quests. According to Mechanist, closed beta should offer three to five suburbs, with the launch version of the game boasting five or six.
Wander around The Refuge for a while and you'll find plenty of characters in need and activities to enjoy. Quests abound, and most lead into nearby dungeons packed with nasty foes and interesting loot. Each dungeon has a few different challenge modes that can be completed daily for Challenge Orbs, an in-game currency that can in turn be used to buy special items and accessories. If PvE isn't your thing, you can challenge nearby players to battle in an instanced PvP duel or have a beer at the local tap, all in a freely explorable, gorgeous 3-D town that's much larger than it initially seems.
There is a cash shop, of course. But Mechanist is being very careful about its implementation and claims that no item available in the shop will give players an unfair advantage. Most purchases fall into the vanity catalogue, with the rest either offering temporary benefits (XP boosts and the like) or having in-game methods of acquisition. The idea, according to Mechanist, is to give players flexibility in how they play without compromising the game for those who wish to avoid investing real-life dollars. You've probably heard that before from other free-to-play enterprises, and only the actual launch will show whether Mechanist succeeds where others have failed, but for now, the team seems to be attacking the issue with the right perspective.
City of Steam is, in its current state, impressive. With a little time and some loving care, it could very well be amazing.
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