Star Trek Online: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Last night I finally reached Lieutenant Commander, a.k.a – Level 10. I would guesstimate that it took roughly 16 hours of playtime, so I guess I’ve logged some hours in space the past couple days. I’ve read many opinions of late and I thought I’d weigh in on the matter further, laying out the things I like and the things I don’t…in true Beta fashion.

I think I’ve seen a fair amount of the starting content, but I have yet to play the other race: Klingon. In terms of the Federation side you start out in the Beta Quadrant in the sector space nearest Earth. Your first ship is a Light Cruiser and you quickly build up a team of 4-5 Bridge Officers or BOs. As you advance you gain more and more Skill Points for both your character, as well as your BOs. You can then spend these points on various “skill trees” across the board, covering Ground & Space combat. An interesting mechanic which offers some good customization long term, but short term not so much. When I finally hit Lt. Cmdr. I had nearly all first tier skills maxed out, there were only a couple that I did not have points in, the others were all at ‘Level 9′, the highest. However, in the upper ranks there are lots more “branches” so it will not be possible to be master of all.

I enjoyed both the ground combat and the space combat, whilst leaning a little more towards the “spaceships & lazers, pew pew”. Being that this game is in space, and that there aren’t many other current MMOs in space, the majority of comparisons for STO are against EVE Online, which is I think flawed. Apples & Oranges in my opinion. EVE is very complex and meticulous in detail. You have a million different configurations for ships and skills and need to utilize strategy heavily to survive. STO is worlds apart from that. The space combat is simple at first (too simple for EVE Veterans), but eventually it grows more complex as you gain different weapons and ship skills. A direct combat session will likely only last 5 minutes at the longest (in solo encounters, not for missions overall) and involves mashing the keyboard with various “fire!” commands and adjusting your speed and maneuvering such that your various shields are taking their share of the damage and that your enemies are properly within your current weapons’ firing arcs, etc.. Ultimately I like it, if I had to envision space combat this is probably exactly what I would come up with…even if it is so simple.

Ground combat is also engaging, but much more similar to other scenarios and genres we’ve played before. If you are not in a team then you use your BO’s as support, otherwise your partners are a part of your “Away Team”. Depending upon your character creation decision of what ‘role’ you are (Engineer, Science, Tactical = Support, Medical, Weapons) you have varying abilities available to you. I chose Engineer and so I’m able to create small shield generators and phaser turrets to augment my team members abilities to heal and recharge our shields and fire the big guns at the bad guys. The missions are fairly blazay, but are varied enough to remain appealing.

I wouldn’t say that it is quite as time friendly as World of Warcraft, as some missions can take upwards of an hour to complete and there is no mid-mission saving. However it’s much easier to jump in and accomplish something than EVE Online. In addition, every single aspect of the game is instanced…everything. There is no single shard world of vast open space filled with thousands of ships…more like 10-30 other people and I don’t think that is even a possibility from the way it’s designed. The sector space map, for example, is a giant map that you navigate through normally which signifies your vessel travelling at warp speed to various parts of space. It’s big and bright and neat looking and thus gets super crowded with even 20 people, as ships and ship names cover up destinations and just adds to the clutter. The map would be simply unusable with even slightly larger groups of people.

Being that the game is in Beta, there are many rough edges and I cannot even imagine that they are thinking of shipping STO in 2 weeks. 2 weeks??? I’ve encountered so many issues I lost track. My favorite one so far is that I was stuck in space combat while in my human form. So as I would engage thrusters my character would start walking faster and faster eventually having his legs blur together he was running so fast. Eventually the client couldn’t handle me controlling my man in space and eventually took away control of my space craft and just started following the nearest enemy. Eventually I caught up to the enemy and it looked like my avatar was getting a wee bit friendly with whatever ship I was facing…monkeys & footballs if you will. So yeah, when this game goes “live” you will be effectively funding the continued beta development of this game. That’s not to say I won’t subscribe as I am enjoying my time in space and can put up with issues…as long as they aren’t game breaking. (The Klingons don’t even have basic functionality in their home port yet I hear)

I’ve read several ‘first impressions’ that wholly damn the entire game based on a couple of hours of playing, comparing it to any number of current MMOs and just throwing up their hands. I will completely agree that this game has it’s share of problems, but being Beta they are expected and I don’t think you can gauge the depth of this game in one short night of playing.

I think Cryptic would have benefited themselves if they opened the beta months ago and slowly showed progress patch after patch, but since they opened up a scant month before release they appear doomed. What were they trying to accomplish with a month long open beta? Typically the problems that arise in the full load testing phase (a.k.a. – open beta) are the big boys, the ship blockers, the ones you can’t fully test or comprehend until you have thousands upon thousands of people hitting your poor servers. Automated testing is great to a point, but I’ve never heard nor used a method that fully simulates “opening day”. But this wasn’t even a fully open beta as they limited the amount of keys that were given out. So with the apparently huge popularity of STO, (most likely indirectly increased from the recent Star Trek reboot movie last year…which was awesome) come opening day we’re likely going to see chaos. It seems to have an insurmountable amount of bugs and problems, some quite huge, like admitting to not having the server infrastructure due to poor planning numbers, this isn’t something that is fixable overnight.

Regardless I think the game has character. It’s been a lot of fun kicking the tires and enjoying the space combat. I’m not quite sure of it’s longevity (no trade skills, limited amount of ships & space, etc.) and my gut reaction is that after a month or two you’ll probably experience all that STO has to offer, but I hope I’m wrong.

So those are my thoughts after spending a fair amount of time in space. It’s kept me glued to my screen though even in its rough state, which is more than can be said of many games of late, so I’m sticking with it for the rest of beta. Now, I’m off to purchase my next class of ships, of which there are 3 (Cruiser, Escort, Science Vessel = All around, Attack, Support)…I’m thinking Science Vessel. “Who released the monkeys?!?!” (StarCraft quote of the day).

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