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Atlus’ MMORPG set within a steam-powered, medieval-fantasy universe has become renowned for its themes and artistic style, but how well does this game measure up as an overall gameplay experience? Well, there are a lot of good things present in the game’s concept but I can’t readily say that Neo Steam is as good a game as I was expecting it to be.
I’m also sure avid players will probably chime in and retort that the game doesn’t actually start until level 31, but the problem is getting to level 31 and joining the realm versus realm battles. Nevertheless, if you thought Fly for Fun was a great, fun-filled game then you probably won’t mind all the grinding in Neo Steam.
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Here’s where the game should have shined. I’ll be honest; it was the very concept of a steam-powered universe that drew me in toward Neo Steam. The idea of a machine-driven universe with steam-based weapons sounds like a superb game, especially given that this was always a theme presented in early Final Fantasy games and classics such as Chrono Trigger and Secret of Evermore. The general atmosphere of Neo Steam was designed in light of the aforementioned classics yet there’s a lot lacking in delivering the presentation with concrete effort.
Instead of having a colorful universe that immerses gamers into the steam aesthetics that power the entire game’s story and concept, we instead get a very standard-fare MMORPG formula made to feel like a PS2 RPG port. Moreover, the game breaks down into two distinct playing segments: questing and grinding. It’s not really convenient to level up via questing, but if you feel like questing you can. The surefire way to get stronger is only through grinding but at the expense of gaining certain kinds of materials and useful crafting items.
Again, it’s the awkward balance of a game with an awesome concept that feels entirely misused from the starting levels of 1 up until 31. This is not to say that all parts of the game’s concepts were foregone, but it’s safe to say that a good chunk of the steam-driven universe is a bit downplayed compared to what it could have been.
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The quests aren’t a total bust in Neo Steam, but don’t expect anything nearly as fast-paced, engaging or diverse as IGG’s 2029 Online. I know some people may get tired of the quest comparisons to 2029 but the game set a standard for having fun, grinding and getting to know the game world all at the same time. The problem in Neo Steam is that much of the questing takes place in grind areas and only includes killing a few things and then returning for a reward. The quests in the game are easy to complete but horribly repetitive. It doesn’t help that outside of questing the only other thing to do leading up to level 31 is…grind.
If they were planning on including zone-based grind-sessions then the quests should have been top-notch, such as the ones presented in Fallen Earth or Red Cliff. The problem in Neo Steam is that if you get out of the grind-garden and decide to do quests most of them will just have you running around grinding. The thing that made Fallen Earth so intriguing was that players could grind, farm or scavenge anytime they wanted but could take on quests to adventure, team with other players or actually engage in some form of character progression.
If Neo Steam was going to be as grind-heavy as it was, they should have upped the quest experience and rid themselves of the grind-garden, which would have made it more like Ran Online, where every quest was just a grind-fest but it wasn’t hidden in some fake form of storytelling to pretend like it was something else.
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I could have stomached the grind-heavy quests, the grind-garden and the fact that a lot of players aren’t all too keen with partying given their deep urge to grind some more, if maybe the game’s actual play mechanics were slightly better. For the swordsmen, players will get top-notch animations and the mob-skills are beautiful to witness and fun to execute. However, outside of wielding melee weapons the game’s combat is rather stale, especially when using steam-powered guns and magic. In fact, the guns in Neo Steam are an absolute bore-fest and when it comes time to grinding, it’s best to put on a good movie lest one should fall asleep while slowly downing enemies. I was very disappointed in this area, especially given that Fly for Fun at least kept gamers entertained with top-notch combat animations during the grueling grinds.
The pet and vehicle system is rather inventive, though, and it was clever of the designers to make the pets an integral part of leveling efficiently. Yet, vehicles and pets don’t quite make up for all the grinding that goes on, which really slows the game’s pace down to a near crawl.
What’s more is that there are a few glaring gameplay glitches that makes playing Neo Steam somewhat of a hassle; running around using the keyboard controls will sometimes render the character stuck on indiscernible objects and there were even a few times I got stuck underwater. I have no idea how I got stuck underwater, but it happened.
Crafting in Neo Steam is at least handled well and is deep enough to keep craft-happy gamers entertained for a while, but that's assuming those same gamers can tolerate all the boring grinding.
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Graphics And Audio
Visually, gamers aren’t going to get anything remotely close to Aion or Martial Empires, but in a fair effort of praising a game that was designed for low-end computers, Neo Steam looks well enough for what it was aiming to achieve. In fact, aside from some of the character faces the overall design of the game’s environments, steam workshops and steamicity, Neo Steam delivers, visually. Fans of Mabinogi might even see some similarity in the character designs within Neo Steam. As mentioned earlier, much of the aesthetics that JoyImpact used seem to be inspired from Atlus’ own PS2 library and many of the city and object designs appear to replicate the JRPG flair.
One thing that’s also definitely worth noting is that some of the armor, mechs and weapons in the game have some amazing designs. I was really impressed with some of the detail put into the objects, especially the higher level swords.
The real highlight of Neo Steam, though, and the one thing that absolutely lived up to every expectation I had going into the game, was the soundtrack. Hands down, Neo Steam’s music is an absolute perfect fit for the game. The music is represented in jazzy, new-age, contemporary tunes fueled by metal clanks and steam-inspired beats. Seriously, the music is probably one of the few things that made the grind sessions tolerable and it’s a real shame because it feels like the gameplay itself didn’t quite embrace the steam-themes the way the music did.
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Neo Steam is about as average as an MMORPG comes, with the exception of the steam-theme. I was highly disappointed given that a fantasy-steam, medieval-future setting would have been perfect to explore steam-powered lore and fantastical designs within the MMORPG genre. Sadly, Neo Steam only scratches the surface of its potential within the first 30 levels of gameplay, but I don’t think that’s enough to lure in anyone but hardcore grind-fest fanatics.
Despite its enticing premise, Neo Steam can be chalked up as “just another MMO”. It’s sad, I know, but maybe Atlus will pull it all together in future updates or with a substantially better sequel. As it stands, unless you really love the steam-mechs in the game, there isn’t really anything there worth drawing in casual gamers.