Okay, I haven’t made a post in the last few days but I do have a valid excuse. This week was the start of open beta for Star Trek Online. I’ve been looking forward to this game for a long time. Like so many gamers, I was worried the game wouldn’t live up to expectations. Star Wars Galaxies and the Matrix Online were both big disappointments for me. I thought I might post a few of my first impressions.
The game looks and feels like Star Trek. It’s a very beautiful game. The strength of this game is your ability to customize your character, ship and bridge officers without ever losing the Star Trek feel. It is also a very strategic game where positioning and tactics play as much of role as your equipment.
The character creation system is very detailed and fun to use. You can customize the look and abilities of your character. It’s a lot like City of Heroes and Champions Onine. You can spend hours working on a character or just put something togother relatively quickly.
Unlike a lot of mmorpgs, the tutorial is fun. It is one of the best I have ever seen. You get a firm grasp of the basics while enjoying an interesting and entertaining story. Of course, it won’t seem quite so fun or entertaining after playing through it repeatedly. Hopefully, Cryptic will add a way to skip the tutorial after you have completed it once.
Your bridge officers which will man your ship and accompany you on away missions can be customized. You can outfit them with equipment and choose their skills. As a bonus, you can change their appearance. In space, your bridge officers will man consoles that will give you access to their skills which you can use to help you in combat. On away missions, you will pick which bridge officers will accompany you on and be able to control some of their actions. The AI for the bridge officers is pretty good though there are instances where they will do something stupid or become stuck. Of course, this is beta and there are bugs to be worked out.
The gameplay in space is fun and easy to learn but difficult to master. Yeah, you hear that about a lot of games but it’s true. Each ship has different strengths and weaknesses that will mesh with your character, bridge officers, ship equipment and strategy / playstyle. Some people might get a little frustrated with the mechanics unless they know a few tricks. For example, you can set some of your weapons to continue firing at a target without having to constantly mash buttons. Hopefully, the manual will list all of the commands and shortcuts that can be used to make gameplay easier on a mechanical level. My one complaint is that there seems to be joystick support for space combat but I have yet to get my Logitech joystick to work with the game. The devs will get probably get around to fixing it. In the meantime, the mouse and keyboard commands are easy enough to use.
Away missions play a lot like Mass Effect and other rpgs. The settings are varied, the alien worlds look beautiful. Most of the space station maps I have been on have the same look and feel that were a little lacking to me. You get a wide range of weapons and armor to outfit you and your away team with. Combat reminded me of the Dominion War in the Deep Space Nine series. Sometimes, you got up and close with an enemy. For the most part, away missions and ground combat are fun but not quite as fluid or polished as the space. We’re still in beta and only looking at the lower level content so things might change by the end of beta or at higher levels.
Okay, the enemies aren’t dumb or stupid. You won’t be able to shoot one ship while his buddies less than a kilometer away stand by and watch. They will also focus all of their firepower on a ship requiring a player to take some sort of defensive action. Each enemy on the ground and in space will use their abilities well and often. Sometimes, you can predict what they will do based on their ship type and weapons. The weaker enemies have less options but sometimes they will do something brilliant or extremely annoying. The more powerful enemies have dangerous abilites and higher defenses. All in all, I like how challenging some of the encounters can be. That said, there are a lot of easy ones out there where the enemies are nothing more than a speed bump.
Low level equipment and resources are easy to get. You will be able to outfit your character, ship and bridge officers without spending an eternity grinding like in some mmo’s. You can buy equipment from vendors, get them as drops from enemies or as mission rewards. There is also an exchange set up for players to sell equipment. Another way to get equipment is to earn merits and badges which can be exchanged for high end equipment. It’s a lot like the token system from World of Warcraft and Warhammer. Another bonus is that some equipment can be upgraded at vendors to add an effect or statistic to it.
Star Trek Online has managed to get solo and group play right. At low levels, solo isn’t dull or boring. It’s a lot of fun to fight a horde of enemies on your own. The leveling is not slow or painful like in some mmo’s. The game really excels at group play while not penalizing you for playing with others. There are fleet actions where you are in a large scale instance to kill enemies and accomplish an objective. It reminds me of the Public Quest system from Warhammer. Once the objective is completed, you get a reward based on your contribution. Another feature is the open groups. If you are in a system trying to complete a mission, players who zone into that system will be added to your group. This will allow everyone to complete the mission without having to fight over a drop or wait for respawns. It will also increase the difficulty of the mission to make it more challenging. I liked this feature a lot even though I tend to do a lot of soloing. It helped add to the immersion factor. The feature isn’t perfect, there are a few issues with it. You can also form closed group with friends to complete missions and engage in pvp or fleet actions.
Plaver vs Player combat is fast and furious. You won’t get one shotted but you can get focus fired. Teamwork will be a deciding factor in many large scale battles. At level 11 (Lt. Commander), there doesn’t seem to be any open world pvp like in DAOC, Warhammer and Aion. I’m a big fan of open world pvp but it is nice not having to worry about being ganked while doing a PvE mission. It would be nice if there was a zone set up exclusively for pvp and fleet engagements. Maybe there is and it’s part of the end game. I can only comment on the low level PvP content. PvP takes place in instances which you can queue up for from anywhere. The few maps I have played on were beautiful and well thought out. Some of the space battles are objective based while others are just straight up fights.
Edit: I just tried ground base pvp. I didn’t think I would like it considering the PvE away missions I have been one. I was surprised that ground based pvp was as much fun as space pvp. The fact that you can bring your away team with you into the battle is a definite plus. Teamwork, stategy and positioning are going to play a big role but you can also overwhelm a group with raw firepower.
Star Trek gets a thumbs up from me. Your mileage may vary especially if you’re a diehard Eve Online player. Also keep in mind, this is all from a Federation point of view. Things are a bit different on the Klingon side. They are much more PvP centric with less focus on PvE. Next week, I’ll share some of my thoughts on them.
Edit: Jason van Horn at MPOGD.com wrote an article on Star Trek Online. I agree with many of his thoughts. I paraphrased his words concerning grouping because I was having a hard time thinking of a way to explain the open grouping system.