The first thing that people say when they see City of Steam is, "Wow, this is a browser game?" I've seen the comments on videos and even talked about it during my own livestream (you'll find it embedded after the cut), but in the back of my mind I know that browser-based games have looked good for a while now. Still, the game does look good. It looks darn good in many places. It's a world of oily, smoky machinery and grimy dungeons, and the graphics do their job. With the dirtier styles and dungeon crawlers, however, comes the risk of repetitive design that toes the line between neat and bland as cold porridge. City of Steam mostly wins in the graphics department but does fail occasionally.
It's still fun to tell people it's a browser game. The beginning intro alone feels like a well-made MMO, while some of its staging and tutorials make the game feel as if it cost more than it did to make. The rest of the game isn't bad, either, aside from occasionally repetitive gameplay.
The first thing you'll notice about the title (other than the outstanding graphics) is the nice character creation. There are a lot of races and looks to choose from, even though most of the choices are mostly cosmetic. I rolled a goblin because, well, goblins are cooler than orcs; then I loaded into the awesome tutorial. The game goes on to show you some animated lore bits and then drops you right into the story. The giant robot that you heard about in the previous cutscene? Well, there it is right there. It fights against a giant invading demon as you work your way through the rest of the tutorial on your way into a streaming, steaming locomotive and eventually into the real world, surrounded by the sounds of a bustling, steam-powered city.
The thrills last for a while, and you'll get your fill of dungeon-crawling goodness. Oh, yes, you'll be up to your earlobes in dank concrete pathways and screeching beasts. It might even have become a bit tiresome except that it's broken up by many visits to the surface to turn in junk loot or to explore the sky in a massive, greasy battleship. There's a ton of surprises in the game, but it almost always propels you back to the same place, back into the guts of the city and back to grinding out mobs for minor upgrades to your gear.
Still, that's the name of the game when it comes to a dungeon-crawler. You crawl through dungeons. I have no problem with the concept until the gameplay becomes stale. City of Steam provides enough variety in gameplay to keep you from getting too bored, but it's just barely enough. I found myself thinking, "If I have to go to one more dungeon tonight, I'll scream," but then the game would ask me to talk to an NPC in the sky or to try out some open PvP.
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What do you do with all of that gear that you find while crawling around in the gutter? Well, you can wear it, of course, and it's easy to see when you have a piece of equipment that is better than what you are wearing currently. There's a slight warning that lets you know you have something better, and when you open your pack, you'll also see a small, green, upward facing arrow that means "this thing is better than your other thing." You put it on and then sell or salvage your current gear. What do you do with all of that leftover salvage? You can go to a steamy device in the middle of town and use it to upgrade items or other... things. I didn't quite figure it all out, honestly, because I never felt the need to upgrade that obsessively.
I kept waiting for the game to become a challenge. I was shocked. Normally I stutter through what some would consider "easy" content simply because I am so damaged by too many trips through too many different worlds, but this time I felt like a digital god. My gun could not miss, and my armor was made of tougher stuff than I was used to. Was it the cash-shop items I paid for? I snagged a pet that looted items for me and a cool-looking rifle in exchange for real cash, but surely they couldn't have been that powerful. Even when I fought a boss mob or had the dungeon set on a higher challenge level, I sailed through it. It's always possible that the game does get harder later on, but my lowbie experience was pretty forgiving.
So at the end of the week I found myself with pockets full of in-game currency and and no real direction to go in. I was worried that the seemingly large city that I was playing in was not that large after all, especially considering that from my newbie perspective, I've never been allowed to go outside of it. The good news is that the game is really free-to-play, and I have all of the time in the world. I plan on finding out just how large the game is after all.
City of Steam is fun, gorgeous, and loaded with content. It's also a bit repetitive, dark, and sometimes confusing. Luckily the good truly outweighs the bad in this game, and you'll probably find yourself echoing my stream viewers: "Wow, this is a browser game?"
Next week I will be playing Vega Conflict, a strategy MMORTS. Join me as I play it live on Monday, the 9th of September, at 5:00 p.m. EDT, right here on our livestream channel.
Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!