Steam Hammer Hands-On: It Leaves All the Guess Work to You

It's not novel but it's not bad...

Steam Hammer is a sandbox survival game set in the year 1837 and prides itself as being a hardcore RPG in a “steampunk” setting. It’s not bad looking but it leaves a lot upon the player to remember or discover. This is our preview of Steam Hammer’s Early Access.

When loading up the game for the first time you’re introduced to a nicely done opening sequence with motion comics that tells the backstory, interesting as it is, but quite lengthy. Load screens are some nicely done hand-drawn stills. After the intro scenes, you pick the world or create the world. So, either join an existing server or create your own. Graphically speaking, the game is not complete eye candy but it does look better than a lot of games out there. Environments are done in a lot of shades of browns, greens, and neutral colors.

Steam Hammer

Elementary Dear Watson?

The character creation screen is impressive but lacking options, e.g. female characters are coming at a later date, hair options, etc. are limited. The game supports family names and allows you to pick one of two factions. One of the biggest complaints is there is no guidance in the game, e.g. no help on character builder screen options. The character builder allows you to put points into five attributes, each starts at 12. The attributes are Strength, Agility, Constitution, Willpower, Intellect. There appear to be 15 points to spend but there’s nothing to tell you how many have been spent and what these attributes do, e.g. no tooltips what so ever. The character builder also allows you to put points in crafting skills. Metallurgy, Farming, Blacksmithing, Engineering, Alchemy, Construction. Once again, no information on what the less obvious crafting skills are. And don’t forget Combat skills, with 30 points to spend in either Handgun Mastery, Tesla Handgun Mastery, Axe Mastery, Unarmed Combat, Piloting, and Sword Mastery. The game did crash once in character creation, but hey it’s “early access”.

When you start, your character is dropped into an empty field and for the most part,  you’re on your own, other than the F1 key brings up a mini and we do mean “mini” tutorial with a few starting hints. You can play in first person or third person mode. The UI is pretty clean with 3 bars in the lower left corner but once again no tooltips so you end up forgetting what each is without doing some detective work. The same is true of your action bar. It took a while to discover that you don’t just run around and look at plants waiting for a menu to pop-up to gather plant fibers, you must right-click an area which displays a green rectangle with a menu option to Gather Plant Fibers, eureka!

Steam Hammer

This Seems Too Familiar

From here on out it’s pretty much the start of any other survival game. Find some plants, wood, scrap metal, food, etc. Build a machete, saw, cut some logs, dig, build, don’t get killed by someone of they steal your stuff, etc. When you hover over objects you can interact with, you get a menu with a default action or a way to bring up a list of actions allowing you to apply the item to a crafting skill, e.g. for a interactable orange tree, the default action is “Snap off a branch” or you can use a Farming skill (Get a Sprout, Gather Oranges) or a Construction skill (Cut Down or Inspect Tree).

First Impression

Visually, Steam Hammer is a nice-looking game with lots of nice, neutral colored hand drawings. The interface is lacking in the “guidance” area and leaves a lot to the player to research and remember. The point allocation system during character creation gives the game that D&D RPG feel, if we just knew what the points were doing for us. It comes down to asking one’s self, what will this game eventually deliver differently in the survival arena and how hard do you want to work at a game you play, especially as a secondary game, to put thought into “what does what” or “what does this half-filled green bar really mean again”?

Written by
Scott is a comic book, music and gaming nerd since the late 70s. Gaming all began on the Colecovision and Atari 2600. He buys and reads new comics every Wednesday from his LCBS and helps run an online Heavy Metal radio station.

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