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Star Trek Online Open Beta, Thumbnail Review

I figure there's got to be some crossover between the SQL Server folks and the MMO folks, so here ya go.

I downloaded and played the new Star Trek: Online open beta this week, just to see if it was going to be worthwhile.  So here's some of my thoughts on it.

It's an MMO, Massively Multiplayer Online game.  Typically that means you'll buy a box at your local retail outlet for $49.99 and then pay a monthly subscription fee, probably $15. 

It's also a Role Playing Game.  I was looking forward to it, thinking it'd be a really interesting social experiment to get people to work together to run a ship.


So it's an MMO, and you're basically a one-man army, you have a ship of your very own, that you can fly using your mouse.  As long as you don't want to go upside down.  It's the Federation, son, YOU WILL FLY UPRIGHT AT ALL TIMES.  The weapons and upgrades are the predictable "more power" upgrades you'd get at the beginning of any MMO.  There seemed to be a lot more MMO jargon used in the weapon descriptions (weapons have DPS, armor/shield penetration, etc) that might be opaque to people who haven't done a lot with MMO's before.  That is likely to change, this is a beta. 

Basically there are 2 "modes" to the game.  Ship mode, where you're flying your ship, and ground mode, where you're running around hallways as a person. 

The ship combat was…well, boring.  Fly around (but not upside down) and shoot things.  make sure your weakest shield is facing away from your enemy.  Hold down the space bar to auto-fire.  It takes about 2 minutes to master.  The shield thing is interesting too, if by "interesting" you mean "really simple and cheesed-out".  There are 4 quadrants to your shield:  fore/aft/starboard/port.  If you fly above or below someone, it's pretty much random what's going to get hit.  Your energy weapons have a 200 degree firing arc, facing either forward or aft, but ignoring up and down.  Last time I checked, space combat was supposed to be 3D.  So it's a 2-d based combat where you can fly in 3 dimensions, sort of. 

You can customize your ship pretty much on the fly.  Whenever you're out of combat, you can completely replace your weapons with any that you salvage (loot) off another ship you kill.  You know, what would take a drydock and several weeks takes 2 seconds in MMO-land. 

Then occasionally you'll touch down on the planet and be the away team.  Now this is Borg-era Star Trek, and they let you, the captain, the person responsible for the ship, beam down into dangerous situations with the away team.  Hrm.  Yeah, so that regulation obviously didn't make it into the RPG.  When you're on the ground (or in another ship) the game acts like the world's most dumbed-down third person shooter.  Click your target, click your attack.  Repeat until target dies.  You have 3 attacks (2 shooting and a melee knockback) and that's…well, that's it.  You have medical packs too.  I never really felt in enough mortal peril to use one though.

One of the things I like about MMO's is specialization.  I can pick a character class, learn that character class completely, and then I'll be a fairly good player.  ST:O went a different way.  You choose a character class, but I'm not exactly sure why, since no matter what class you pick you get the same skill trees, leveling track, and role.  You're the captain.  That's it.  Except when you're not the captain, and you're having to learn the roles of all the other classes so you can populate your bridge with good officers.  And then know all the other skill trees, so you can level those officers as they gain experience.

It's like they took the worst parts of most RPG's (having to micro-manage a team of NPC's), the worst space flight game ever, and a really bad 3rd person shooter and crammed them into one package.

So far: Bad character management, bad space flight, and bad third person shooter.  So how's the social part?

Um.  Yeah.  There's a chat box, and it scrolls the Star Trek equivalent of Barrens chat.  People asking where different things are.  Someone actually (jokingly) asked where Mankrik's Wife was (a WoW joke) just to make the scene complete.  You can team up and there's a system called "Fleets" which look like a guild based system.  I didn't stick around long enough, the game mechanics were, frankly, boring me to tears. 

The graphics are…fine.  I guess.  I have a midrange video card, there was no video lag (lots of server lag though).  Everything looked pretty enough, which for an MMO means "about 2 generations behind any other rendering system".  Phasers look like phasers, photon torpedos look like photon torpedos.  Nothing earth-shatteringly pretty or mind-numbingly awful.

There are lots of loading screens.  In the WoW universe you can travel from the far southern end of the world to nearly the northern tip of the world with no loading screens and smooth transitions.  If you attempted to walk that distance it would take probably a couple of hours, which is why there are lots of fast-travel options in WoW.  There were loading screens inside ST:O within the same building.  Small building.  An area that took 30-45 seconds to run across would have a loading screen to get to it. 

There were lots of glitches, which I mainly account to server lag.  I'm not sure that a shaky launch is going to do these guys any favors though when it comes to winning enough market share to be viable.  The only thing that Age of Conan did right was get have stable servers at launch and through beta. ST:O's operations people really don't understand how to seed torrents, it took me about 2 days to download the client software through their system, and the torrent wasn't seeded at all before it went live.  You know it's going to be fun when uTorrent says under "estimated time" 3y3d. 

There were running glitches (run along, suddenly you rewind to 50 yards back down the hall), ship transition glitches (you beam up and you see your character running in space).  Ship flight glitches (you'd rewind to about 50…uh…probably meters back sometimes).  I'm going to attribute most of the glitchiness to the beta quality server software.  That's fine, that's why you have betas.  The gameplay mechanics, however, were just awful, and that's something you do in design, not in beta.

A pretty horrible game so far.  I hope it gets better, but I'm not going to be buying it.

Legacy Comments

re: Star Trek Online Open Beta, Thumbnail Review
Sorry the hear that you did not like it. I for one think it is a pretty good game, and any real star trek fan will play it and not try to compare it so other MMO's that have been out for years and have had time to mature.

Yes, the character animaions are a little low on the quality side, but they can fix that in upcomming patches.

The space fighting is actually really fun to me. You said its easy to master. Yeah, it's not too hard, but how hard is it to be an Arcane mage in WOW, and stand in one spot and spam AB until you get an MB proc then AM. No skill needed at all.

So its really a matter of preference. An MMO is and MMO, its the style of MMO that draws players in. The mistake people make is comparing a new MMO to one that has been around for a long time.

STO can and will be great MMO. It is a pleasent change from the type of MMO's we have all been playing for years. Is STO a WOW killer, NO, and it never will be, and I dont think they are even trying to be. It is just another MMO that will fit the better with all of us Star Trek and space fans out there.

re: Star Trek Online Open Beta, Thumbnail Review
If this game didn't have the Star Trek franchise label on it, if it had it's own lore and storyline and ship models, would you find it a playble and enjoyable game?

One problem is I'm not exactly sure why this is an MMO. There's not much interaction between actual people. My bridge officers are NPC's. Why aren't my bridge officers other players? Why isn't that at least an option, with NPC's to sub in if you can't find people to fill spots?

What I was picturing when this was announced was a player bridge crew, with a helmsman, weapons officer, and damage control officer. What I got was me having to be all 3, so they simplified all the functions of each down to a boring level.

The game has the simplicity that an MMO requires in order to be a social game, but doesn't have any of the social aspects of a social game. It's like playing a simple game with Google Wave going in a browser on the screen next to you with a bunch of strangers asking the same 4-5 questions over and over.

I'm also not sure about the RPG aspects. What difference does my class make, when I have to recruit bridge officers from the same set of classes. Is there any reason for me to be a tactical officer? Besides the fact that it changes the uniform that I'm wearing? I don't seem to get any unique abilities that I can't just pick up from having the right NPC with me. The skill trees for my class seemed to lack a point, they didn't provide a lot of bang for the complexity buck.

Oh, and what kind of MMO requires you to learn all the character class's talent trees RIGHT NOW. You have to do that in ST:O, you have to be able to do all the talent trees for all your bridge officers. In WoW, you can learn one tree as you go, then if you decide to level another class you can learn that tree, but you pick the classes, you learn them as you go. If you decide to lead raids later, you need to have a good understanding of everything, but that's a long way off from when you open the box. In ST:O it's about 5 hours of gameplay in.

While I know having to learn every aspect of every class's tree is critical in other RPG's (Dragons Age, I'm looking at you here) I find that it tends to make me lose immersion. I picked the character class I wanted to play, why am I being forced to play all the other classes?

The space combat may as well be people riding around on horses with lances. There's no 3D to it, there's no strategy, no gimmicks at all. Just mash buttons. At least mages in WoW have a rotation, not "hold down the space bar and fly around in big circles until target dies".

And I really love the RPG aspects of being able to completely remodel my entire weapons layout in deep space with no shipyard to help. "Yeah, just rebuild the entire ship around a different set of weapons, here's a screwdriver and a pair of pliers."

The MMO aspects aren't there. The RPG aspects are not there. The graphics aren't that enthralling. The space combat gets boring fast, the ground combat is bad, even without the lag.