If you’ve listened to Godisageek.com’s Ding! Podcast (if not, why not) you’ve heard me rail on about Star Trek Online. So I suppose it’s time I condensed my feelings into words.
When I was younger, before the Star Wars obsession kicked in Star Trek was my go-to TV program. Not just my favourite Sci-fi but my favourite TV franchise bar none. I’ll be honest and say that I’ve not seen every episode of the original series but I have watched the entire back catalogue of the following four incarnations. Loved the films too and I even raged in the cinema at the inaccuracies in the re-imagining too. So the Trekkie in me still lives, which is why I have such passionate views on Cryptic’s MMO.
When I first heard about Star Trek Online’s development I couldn’t have been happier, it had been some time since a new Star Trek game had been released, Bridge Commander, Armada and Starfleet Command were a gently fading memory for most gamers, but I still played them regularly. But once reviews, screenshots and gameplay videos emerged I quickly lost interest. Like many people I felt they’d done a disservice to the genre and simply switched off. Which might have been a little short sighted, but I’ll get to the reasons why.
You have three career routes available; all of which shape not only your abilities but you’re guided to different ship classes as well as other mission specific objectives and bonuses. I’ve opted for Tactical (more of a DPS class), there is also Engineer (Tank / Offensive or Defensive buffs) and then there’s Science (mostly a caster). But it’s hard to really define the specific roles because they cross over in some cases but also your crew will be made up of officers from all three specialisations. So every player will be able to do a little of each. In theory if you wanted, you could be a Tactical officer, with a cruiser and a crew made up predominantly of Engineers which may not be the best way to play but as long as you spec correctly there’s no reason you’ll incur a noticeable penalty.
Take a look at the F2P launch trailer which gives you a pretty good overview of the game engine in it’s latest incarnation.
It’s better looking than World of Warcraft but not quite up to the graphical standards of several other modern MMO’s (I won’t compare looks to SWTOR, that just wouldn’t be fair) and sure, you can say “Well it’s F2P, what do you expect” well it wasn’t F2P for the majority of it’s life cycle. But on the flipside to that Star Trek Online will run on a PC that’s a few years old and not designed for gaming. So for accessibility, they can’t be faulted.
But Star Trek always sat on the bleeding edge of visual effects, so for me it’s a little jarring to see mid 2000′s era level design with boxy textures and rough edges. Which brings me neatly onto my first proper gripe. The biggest gripe if we’re honest. Ground combat and movement is appalling.
Courtesy of Gamefluke
Before you ask, no. Ground combat cannot be avoided. Almost every mission has a ground element. Calvin from Godisageek.com on the Ding! Podcast constantly argues that it adds credibility to the game as that’s what you do in Star Trek, well no, no it isn’t. rarely would you beam an away team to a station or a planet with your Captain leading a full combat mission while a merciless enemy who would quite happily sent a photon torpedo down on your heads lurks in orbit. Nor would a standard 3 or 5 man away team be considered enough for most of the missions you are sent on. But most of all, unless it’s a special mission stipulation all weapons are set to kill. You don’t have the option of setting to stun which takes away from the (for lack of a better word) realism of your position in this universe (unless you’re a Klingon).
Worst yet, the missions are tedious. It’s always go here, find the guy, he’ll tell you to do a thing, do it, fight a boss who isn’t really that tough. In SWTOR (I promise I won’t keep comparing them) there were dozens, no hundreds of times where I died facing mobs or bosses. In Star Trek Online I’ve only died when playing with higher level friends as enemy difficulties scale. Worse yet is the disconnect between your skills and attack techniques, a lot of times you wont even bother using them. Not because they don’t work but if you can take down your enemy with primary and secondary attacks without the blind panic of a rapidly decreasing health bar then simply why bother?
Level design is either uninspired or confusing.
Take Deep Space 9 for example. On the far right you have the Exchange, on the far left you have the Shipyard. No problem right? Well what if you’re outfitting your main ship and a shuttle? Well as you can only have one active at a time you’ll need to run back and forth between them if you want to compare things. it’s also way too easy to run past the entrance to these areas as it’s a circular area with very repetitive surroundings, and they’re also not as prominent as you’d expect.
Weaponry is cool. Almost everything you’ll run across is non-canon even taking into account with the advanced timeline of STO. But it doesn’t matter, it’s not so far out of the realms of possibility that it’ll spoil your enjoyment of the game. Like Star Trek you’ll come across exotic colours and sounds as you blast your way through every species in the galaxy, a little like a twisted version of Noah. But at times it does feel a little like I’m shining a laser pen randomly at people, there’s not a lot of meat to it. The flanking mechanic is useful but a little twitchy, sometime it’ll work, other times it wont. Either way, it’s a neat feature. Do I need to describe it? Probably not, you know what happens when you flank an enemy, they take more damage.
Space combat on the other hand is pretty damn fun once you get past the lower levels.
First thing to note is that the ship designs are stunning, lines and proportions are amazing. There is an elegance to the Federation ships that is simply mesmerising; I couldn’t count the number of times were I’ve been flying through space and caught sight of an amazing ship I had to take a closer look at. Occasionally to the point of shunting more power to engines just to catch up. I’m currently flying a Defiant class but I can’t help but admire the Engineer and Science officer vessels. Especially the large cruisers Engineer’s are nudged towards.
Things can get a little hectic at time, especially in PvE events. here’s an example; during Gorn Minefield there are dozens of little groups of 10-15 frigates in the early area. Should a small fast ship happen to aggro several groups of those and lead them back to us… well you get the picture. Swarming is the AI’s default reaction so managing your shield strength whilst angling your weaker areas away from the incoming fire will be the key to your survival. Space combat is more challenging then ground, but in a good way; you’ll need to utilise your bridge officer’s abilities heavily whilst making the most of your own skills.
As you progress, your slow, sluggish ship will be replaced, every ten levels you’re given a new rank and a token to requisition a new ship. Choosing your ride isn’t too difficult, what eats up your time is pimping it out. Externally you can modify the hull, nacelles struts and other elements that the ship may have as well as colour schemes. You may start off, like me, not really giving a rodent’s hindparts about the colour scheme of your escort but fixing up your ship is an insidious pastime that gradually grabs hold of you. I can honestly say that I have never spent that much time on aesthetics in any game ever. But I did in Star Trek Online. In fact, the total amount of time I spent working on design and equipment outfitting of my Defiant (Called Corellian Run, yes, I’ve given all my ships Star Wars names) would be 45 mins to an hour. Her weapons were non-canon but she’s a nimble, deadly beast from any angle. And I suppose that’s why you spend so much time on customisation, There is something thrilling about throwing all power to weapons and heading into the fray with all phasers firing, especially when you take out a ship with one salvo. Think DS9 and “The Sacrifice of Angels”, charging into the breach? Yeah. That. If there is one element of this game that genuinely feels like Star Trek, it’s the Space combat with one exception. You can target engines or weapons and other sub-systems, but you don;t take them out with surgical precision like our heroes from the TV systems. I want to play PvP (or PvE) where you can take these elements out and demand surrender; it’s a mechanic that has existed in previous Star Trek games, would be nice to see it here. But as war is perpetual in the STO era I can understand why it wouldn’t always be your first choice.
What does work really well is the exchange; this is Star Trek Online’s auction house. I defended SWTOR’s Galactic Trade market because, quite frankly I didn’t know any better. I still found it easy enough to use but STO has got it right. It is, in my eyes, perfect. Not only can you search for things you want but you can rank by price, level and quality. That’s all you want right? Well they go a step further, you can drag your items into the search bar which will display the current listings making it a breeze to undercut or match prices. better yet (or maybe because of the design) people actually use it. When I list items, even crummy ones, they usually sell within hours, often minutes. When they announced a credit cap on F2P players I didn’t think it would be a problem, I haemorrhage money in games. Now I’m not too sure. Unlike other MMO’s, not everything you come across will bind on pickup; you’re left wit ha very healthy amount of high quality loot to sell on. And for your crappy common items you can recycle them in the replicator for credits. How brilliant is that?
Now I suppose you’re wondering what the title was about? I’m mostly positive about Star Trek Online and from the sounds of it even though it’s F2P it’s not particularly restrictive. Well micro-transactions are pushed very very hard sure you can play the game without them but it’s always in your face. Take the recent introduction of the Cardassian Lock Boxes; rather than being a scare item offering very high rare items or equipment it ends up littering the battlefield like intergalactic flotsam. Worse yet, it’s a random roll with rewards that are more often than not a waste of money. Uniform selection is huge with multiple customisation options but much of it will be unlockable only through Cryptic points; and like Microsoft Points, they never quite add up to the right amount. I understand and support micro transactions, I also like that you can’t simply buy levels (although you can by boosts which enhance XP gain) but you have to give people things they actually want and make things transparent. They have a store full of ships for varying prices, OK great that’s perfect, I may even buy one (in fact I know I will). You can pay for slot increases etc, OK not as fun but still useful. But buying keys to open a lock box with no clue whether the item will be worth it is fucking retarded and I hate it. The concept is fine but not when it costs me real money. Instead had I parted with Dilithium or Gold Pressed Latinum (both special in-game currencies) I’d have seen the value as there are some good things in there, but take your hand out of my pocket.
Overall for a totally free-to-play game it scores very highly. It falls down graphically and through the ground combat dynamic but overall it’s well worth the download. I’ve not mentioned the foundry (the user generated mission creator), questing and so much more. But that’s part of the adventure of Star Trek, you should get in out there and explore. Looking forward to seeing you in a galaxy far far away…. No wait, that’s the other one. Live long and prosper.