We are into yet another preview of City of Steam, the upcoming browser MMO by Mechanist Games. Since this is the third closed beta weekend I have played, this is around the time where the little things in the game start popping out and really nagging me. Since this is a beta, I’ve agreed under MMO Fallout general rules of engagement that I am not to talk about bugs, even if I did manage to break yet another character and render him unable to progress through the main story quest somewhere around level six. Instead, my critiques will be laid at City of Steam on a conceptual level, not a programming level.
The first thing I did when booting up this week’s edition of City of Steam was to see if the Warder class (melee) is still frustrating to play, and whether or not the class is still as functionally inept at early levels as I had previously experienced. It is, and for a simple reason: kiting, and this fact of life waits for you to enter the first dungeon before it clubs you over the head with a harsh reality: You are going to die, a lot. This about sums up combat as a warder: Enter room with two mobs, target mob A and start attacking while mob B attacks with range. Mob A continues to move away every other hit, forcing your character into an endless game of catch up as mob A happens to run faster than you do. And don’t think that just because you got mob A all by itself that this will remain a one on one fight, as mob A will inevitably lead you into aggro’ing a larger group.
Enemies will always find a way to screw over a warder, whether they lead you to a spot that gets your character stuck, run away over impassible terrain where you can’t follow them, or attack you from behind barriers that you have to break before you can attack back. My dual-wielding gunner doesn’t have the same problems as my dual-wielding warder. My gunner hits harder, faster, and doesn’t have to worry about Mechanist Game’s godawful pathfinding to be a reliable warrior, and strangely my gunner can also take a much heavier beating from the mobs of equal or higher level while my warder has trouble fighting his own legs without tripping over a pebble and cracking his skull open.
So essentially the warder doesn’t really do what a warder should. While my gunner is off actually killing things and doing so efficiently, my warder is stuck in a game of grab-ass chasing mobs around the map while the others take potshots at him. He has poor DPS, considering dual wielding was made for just that, perforates like paper in a hailstorm, and since he has trouble attacking at all, would be terrible at holding aggro in a group.
I’m sure someone will say “well the warder gets better at later levels,” and I wouldn’t really doubt that. Call me old fashioned, but when I play a game I expect that difficulty will start out at a level so easy I could defeat a foe by blinking at them forcefully enough and get harder as the game progresses, not start out unbearably difficult and slowly make its way to a more tolerable state. The warder gains certain abilities to stun enemies, pull them in, or slow their movement, but these feel like a bandage on what is fundamentally a poor game mechanic.
Heading back to my gunner, the game becomes more enjoyable and the rest of City of Steam’s problems become just a whisper in the night. I’m not a fan of how the game sounds start becoming quieter as your hit points get closer to zero. It wouldn’t be as bad if the actual volume was going down, but in my experience playing the game replaces the game sounds with an audible low pitched white noise. Then again, I have a sensitivity to low-frequency noise, so it may just be a problem with how the game handles the volume decreasing while the actual level remains the same. Regardless of the noise, the volume going down in the first place seems unnecessary and is kind of obnoxious.
Another little “feature” that grinds my gears is the five second wait while traveling between zones and entering dungeons. I have a feeling this has to do with how the game handles groups, and that the reason there is a timer and a massive pad to stand on is so the game knows who to transport to the right version of an instance. Again, this seems like poor programming, whether it is the fault of the engine itself or on Mechanist Games. It’s not really a problem, per say, but when soloing it can become an annoyance and it seems like a strange mechanic to disconnect from the standard implementation of changing zones (clicking on a door or entering a portal).
Otherwise, I am having a fantastic time in City of Steam, which is an odd statement considering I probably seem like someone who is incredibly shallow or very incompetent at gaming. There is a ton of stuff to do, from crafting weapons and gear to doing quests, running dungeons to gather more materials, and playing with the lottery machine, salvaging items, and more. As I said in the first review, City of Steam doesn’t break a whole lot of new ground, but that doesn’t stop the game from being enjoyable.
One particular feature I’ve found myself playing through regularly are challenges that offer a reason to continue going into old dungeons. Each dungeon has three challenges which range from killing x creatures, killing specific types of creatures, finding chests or opening boxes. The challenges can be replayed several times over, but the real rewards can only be obtained once every cycle (once per day, I believe). As you progress, you’ll also gain points in the overall area’s challenge score system, which opens up new prizes and rewards. While the game requires 2 or 3 players to join some challenges, opening up the interface will automatically put you into a public group with anyone else who happens to be available. City of Steam delivers my public grouping the same way I enjoy my elevator rides: no eye contact or talking. Touch my stuff and I will shank you.
And once again, City of Steam has proven itself to be incredibly stable. I think there were one or two cases of the servers going down over the weekend, and personally the client crashed twice but that’s because I run 20+ Google Chrome tabs at once and run my computer to death, so those crashes are likely not due to anything wrong with the game. Lag was pretty bad sometimes, but it’s guaranteed when you have so many people crowded as closely as they were. Functionally, however, the game worked fine despite the lag in certain actions and the lag didn’t really cross over into the instances thankfully.
I look forward to City of Steam’s next beta weekend.