Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Beta is free so I play: the Star Trek Online experiment

This seems to be the consenus around the gaming community in today's market. In fact I really do not know why it is called a "BETA" except to give the developer a shoddy excuse if the game sucks.

"Hey, it is beta...what do you expect? Want to sign up for our lifetime subscrition for $120 bucks?"

Yeah right.

So it is that Star Trek Online enters this "open beta" phase and we get to see what they have been working on for about 2 years. Wow, two whole years. That's....great. Good games get 4-5 years of development. Not in the current MMO economy though. Now it is rush rush rush get the game out and cash in on a trend or recent entertainment event.

So with due caution it was that I got my beta client and stepped into the next big MMO release that is Star Trek Online. I downloaded fast and installed with no issues, set my graphics options (TURN OFF SHADOWS AND ANTI ALIASING AND STOP BITCHING) created my character and beamed myself up.

Well...meh. The game is ok but it is nothing to stop your current MMO over. Unless of course you are not playing one and waiting for this one. In which case you will think it is awesome. I still find myself fighting with that Cryptic interface they shove into every game and their odd chat system. Everyone is running around solo'ing and shouting in general chat and there seemed to be a general sense of people treating it like any other free trial MMO but with Star Trek skins. Quests were broken, things were rubber banding, there were disconnects and I just was reminded constantly of why I hate MMO launch hysteria. I did like the missions and I like the Bridge Officer options as well as the customization. I made myself a slick looking retro uniform chose the engineering character scheme then took a science officer as my first bridge denizen.

The ground missions were cool for the most part and I could see popping in to run some from time to time like I did with City of Heroes missions. The controls of the away team that accompany you feel slow to respond though and the entire engine feels like I am playing in slow motion. Things just do not respond quickly which is a problem I had with Champions Online. You will notice I didn't say too much about the ship combat because well I found it less than stellar. Clumsy controls did not help but all I did was circle around my target and mash the space bar, adjust my speed and fire torpedoes when the enemies shields were down. This is pretty much what made Pirates of the Burning Sea boring. However, this was the TUTORIAL so it is made to be boring. I give it a free pass.

Sure there was Star Treky music, NPC's that were faithful to the series, and an overall Star Trek vibe. We get that that's great. These things do not make an MMO in the long run however. They supply an initial "ooh" and "ahh factor" but beyond that the meat of a game lies in the reaction time of an interface, its end game goals, the structure of its classes and how well balanced the gameplay is. No one right now that is starting this open beta will be able to tell us all this. That type of review would not be fair.

For once I have to agree with Tobold and his preview. So far I see nothing great about the game BUT in defense of the game I will have to admit it is early and we have not seen into the later levels. Most of the comments center around things like this:
"i put in probably over 50 hours in closed. and yeah, for a while the early game does feel kinda grindy, it has been said and cryptic are aware.. but when you start getting the episodic content, wow..

by the time you hit about level 12 and get out of that f*&^$ing miranda (i spent 36 hours trying XD) the episodic content comes roughly one mission per level and will give you roughly half your level's needed exp... not a lot of grind there.. do the story mission, grab a patrol mission and a secure mission or explore a star cluster and thats it, next level..

the game REALLY opens up when you hit Lt Cmdr, and any review based purely on 12 or so hours play just isnt going to begin to touch what starts to happen there.

cryptic's big challange is to help ease people up to that point in a more enjoyable way than the last time most of us in closed went through it.. thats what i'm looking for this time around, if the trip to Lt Cmdr is as grindy as it was 3 weeks ago.. so dont condem the game till you get to 20 eh?"

There were other responses to the thread I started as well that were positive and not overall fanboy in nature:
Well, the first 10 levels suck, but after that you get plenty of episodes to keep you more than entertained. This guy sounds like a face roller that decided to not get engaged in the game and just mashed F through all the dialog.

Levels 12+ flew by in closed. Aside from the plethora of bugged missions that wouldn't give compeletion status, I had a great time all the way to level 31. The episode missions have a very trek feel. The grind missions like the sector secures and cluster explores do NOT feel trek, but they are there if you want or need that option.

I'd have to say the reviewer played an earlier version of the beta, and didn't get past level 11. And hence his opinion is misguided and out dated.

City on the Edge of Never, Divide Et Impera, The Kuvah'Magh, Accidents Happen...good grief, I can't remember them all....Stopping the Signal, The Doomsday Device....Alpha Centauri had sooooo many great missions, they did a great job with the romulan stuff....OH I can't forget the missions about Hobus, that was pretty dope.

My verdict is still out but honestly I have so much time invested in WoW and then when I am not playing that other Steam wargames and shooters that I am not sure I have enough time to give STO a fair shake or room on my hard drive. I will say that I still miss the combat and the gritty feel of Tabula Rasa. That game was a blast to fight in. STO feels like a more sluggish version of that but with worse gear and in game engine performance. I will give the game more time as the week goes on since my WoW raiding time is done until Sunday. I have a terrible feeling that this game would be great single player and not as an MMO. It is too bad I cannot go offline with it and avoid the other morons and lag while I try to take it all in.

I will take video of what I can but others are doing it better. Check their blogs out but for now consider me taking a pass unless it does something to blow my mind. I like Star Trek yes I do. Adding a little music and costumes and setting a game in that universe won't make me spend a monthly fee if it stinks. In fact I haven't played a decent Trek game since Star Trek Elite Force 2.