This weekend, I participated in an upcoming free-to-play MMO called City of Steam, that entered it's first closed beta. And since I've got key for it (because I looked at it in it's alpha version too), and I haven't got anything better to do this week, I tried it.
For those who don't know, and can't tell it from the art style, City of Steam is a steampunk-themed, MMORPG being in development by Mechanist games that runs in the browser. BUT (and this is a BIG but) it's not one of those Browser based RPGs, no, this one features full 3D graphics, realtime combat, questing and much more.
(Yes, this runs in the browser)
As you see on the picture above, it looks quite good. When you toggle it in fullscreen mode, you actually can't really tell the fact that it runs in your firefox, chrome, what have you. I don't know how those guys did it, but needless to say, they made it work at a reasonable rate, even in these first testing phases. It uses Unity engine, and even if it sometimes stutters, it was not that bad to prevent me from playing the game.
The game plays for the most part, like your standart MMO fare, you pick your race and class, customize your character, and starts you of by a rather lengthy tutorial, that is well written and helps you immerse yourself in the story.
I haven't mentioned it yet, but from the few quests I've seen, it seems the game will be pretty heavy story driven and that's a good thing too. The classes are your standart variants, A melee guy, ranged combatant, healer, and wizard, flavored in the steampunk setting. I went with the gunner, ranged guy that shoots stuff. Already on the character creation the game asks you wether you want to use a two handed weapon (like muskets, blunderbuss, heavy repeaters...), two single handed pistols/repeaters, or a combination of pistol/shield. At level 10 you can even learn the other styles of combat, just to see if you like the other fighting styles better.Following picking up your fighting style, you then pick from three skill trees, each having a different role/specialization. I picked chemical, that allowed me to pour acid on my enemies, apply damage over time and other nasty effects, like slowdowns and paralyze. Again, at level 10, you can unlock another one of those skilltrees (I went with fire spewing-area of effect crowd control, that had a turret to help you shoot enemies).
(This is my handsome guy shooting an mechanically revived skeleton with acidic goo. Also, that skeleton fired lasers from it's eyes)
The leveling was, for the most parts fast, but I suspect it will be more slower once the game fully launches, since we did a lot of testing. After each levelup, you get a set amount of skill points, that you use to upgrade your abilities, and a talent point that you use for talents. Talents range from unlocking the aforementioned combat styles, to more backpack inventory, more armor slots, better chance for criticals, damage with pistols, and so forth. It makes for an interesting take on these older systems, as each new level you are standing between choices like,"Should I improve my strength to increase damage, or my speed so that my cooldowns on abilities are recharging faster? Or should I skip both for more armor slots to wear?"
Speaking of armor, there are certain types that are class specific, but other than that, any class can wear any armor they wish for. You can make a mage wear plate armor, but his movement speed will slow down and he will have hard time escaping from enemies. You can craft better wersions of armor, and upgrade it with mods, like cogs, boilers, scopes, pommels and hilts, guards, gauges and so on. Those you put on weapons and shields will even show up on weapon/shield model, adding spikes, gauges, bullet chambers etc. It's a nice iteration of the old Diablo socket system. This assures good variety, and most characters felt pretty unique, wearing different clothing from another, mixing sets together.
Gameplay is solid, although it is something we've seen a bunch of times. The game features wide open areas for everybody and the action takes place in instanced dungeons- that means you can play the game solo and no one will get your loot, unless you team up with them. Each dungeon has also a set of challenges, ranging from killing all mosters of one type under a certain time limit, to box breaking, killing bosses, finding scrap, surviving waves of enemies, and so forth. These need to be done in teams, as the time limits are pretty low, and you need a good teamwork to finish some of them.
(The fashion choices of my majestic manly man. To the left-starting uniform, without any equipment.
To the right- fully equipped character, missing shield only)
There is work that needs to be done though, as glitches, bugs and imbalances were discovered during this beta, however the game is shaping up to be very promising. Definitely keep an eye out for this one.
Ah, before I forget, check their official site.