Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Star Trek Online beta ends: did I like it?

I spent a total of 43 hours playing this beta.

I guess in the end I played this beta a lot. This game has me wanting more despite how much I have resisted Cryptic after their poor excuse of how they handled Champions Online.

Although some nights I could not log in I still tried and it was my first effort of the night many times despite the gigs and gigs of gaming love I have installed on my PC.Now I have railed and railed against Cryptic since we did Banstick Podcast episode 3. Perhaps you all remember that one. Besides the crappy audio quality it was our in depth look at Star Trek Online.

If you don't remember it, you can listen to it again here:

Going in I knew that my inner Star Trek nerd would be calling and I would have to either beta test or pre order this game. However I really did not have high expectations for it. Given the past 43 hours of playtime I have in fact decided to pre order this game and play it starting from launch. Trust me though I do have some reservations.

First off a little Trek background for me (yes Sypster I am going there!). When I was about 6 or 7 I was in possession of a tricorder, a phaser and many other Star Trek toys that kept me entertained for hours. Also I owned some of the coolest playsets and action figures of the time. Who can forget these:

That's right. I had the full on Star Trek bridge playset. DO NOT DOUBT MY NERDINESS. Since then I have owned or do own every Trek movie, some TV series and other documentaries in DVD, VHS and Blu-ray form. So when I say I love Star Trek (including comics and books) I mean it.

I wanted this game to work. I prayed that Cryptic would not fumble out of the gate. The head start starts this Friday and I will be a part of it. Will that be worth it? Yes. The zone wide sector chat and starbase chat is a quantum leap worse than anything you have experienced in the Barrens in World of Warcraft or perhaps even the newbie channel in EQ2. In fact it is so bad that I do not think I have experienced a greater concentration of idiots in one MMO than I have seen this past week in that chat channel. I approach the head start as a chance to clear out the early missions and move on before the tidal wave of imbeciles and tourists hits on Feb. 2nd. By then I should have Klingon play unlocked and be able to at least gun them down if i want.

The things I like about STO:

I read everything, I customized my bridge crew, equipped them, used multiple skills with them, tested abilities, used the store, the auction house, the interface and explored every aspect. Through this I submitted bug after bug and then last Thursday a funny thing happened. The game got patched and suddenly things...worked better.

Now we all know as beta testers there are certain miracle things that happen before launch but this one caught me off guard. For once I could play the game and stay connected and I was having fun. The further I got in the more I got attached to my bridge crew and got used to pimping them out and after a few control adjustments starship combat became less of a chore and more about tactics.

A) I like the ground combat. Some people will scoff at this but I love doing the little things in the ground combat like flanking and stunning and building turrets and throwing grenades and controlling the away team members. Recently the game was made easier and Cryptic admits they have gone overboard with this. As such they have tweaked it a little and I expect that ground combat will not be a pushover when it releases.

B) Ship combat was fun, but there are still issues with getting stuck on objects while flying in space and such. Also there is TOO much of it. I needed and wanted more ground missions. There is a LOT of flying and scanning and warping and zoning in this game. I had no issues with the fun factor of the ship combat but it did get repetitive on some of the more grindy missions. The weapons and the flow of the fighting however are dead on Star Trek and I always got a thrill with weakening enemy shields and launching that one photon torpedo volley that would take them out. Now if only we had hailing and boarding and diplomacy before the battle ended

C) I came to grips with the currency and items and the many ways to customize you and your bridge crew. I still disagree with the amount of currency types in the game but for now lets see where Cryptic is going with this. The customization however is what sells me. I have a bridge crew I can name, equip, assign, upgrade and look after and this gives the game a very personal feel. Towards the end of beta I had my ground away team perfectly setup to really do some damage. From my science officer that would heal to my tactical officers that taunted and heaved grenades I was a wrecking crew against enemy ground troops.Then in space each officer had a specific skill that lent toward me decimating enemy ships

D) I did like the off ship areas but there needed to be more planet exploration. I preferred to wander around starbases and talk to the NPC's rather than hailing them but sometimes I had to do just that due to my distance out. When I was on bases it was fun to see the flavor put into the environments. From bars to convention centers you get the feel you are on a bustling starbase. This is without even getting to more popular places like DS9. I look forward to exploring those areas in more depth.

As beta neared the end things got fixed to my liking. I no longer fought the interface, my away team wasn't beaming down as a ship (I attribute that to server lag and image loading) and I found it easy to find mission destinations and information on what I wanted.

Are there things I still hate? Yes there are. From the shoddy animations of the avatars to ground combat that feels somewhat off in terms of hit detection there were issues. I think that there needs to be some major engine tightening done on the game before it goes live. There are also numerous mission bugs, collision detection issues and things like that which need to be squashed. The ranking system and skill menus are convoluted to say the least and I had to do some MAJOR research on the STO forums to really understand it. There is like I stated too much loading. Load screens for turbolifts, moving to sector space, looking at your bridge...everything. The chat system sucks and makes me feel cut off from the community. Chat is not simple and consists of everything I hated about City of Heroes and Champions Online.

I could go on about little bugs and the fact that the away team missions on the ground seem unbalanced but I know that despite some of these things I kept logging in and playing to see what would happen next. The adrenaline rush of warping into a mission and lining up ship attacks was just too fun for me to put the game aside. I love reducing and enemy ship's shields and squeezing that one torpedo into that gap and watching it just go to 10% hull integrity. LOVE IT. I love beaming down and seeing my crew (which by the way I have matched all the uniforms) attack and use grenades while I build turrets and deploy anti personnel mines. I live for this crap. For me the game is Earth and Beyond with the ability to get OFF my ship and further customize my crew. Except that it is STAR TREK.

Where I was once 30/70 toward not purchasing the game, I have reversed thrusters and now flipped to 70/30. I have carefully researched, tested and explored every aspect I could so as to not get bitten buy another crappy MMO release and I do feel confident that I will log on and keep logging on to this title in the foreseeable future. However, do not think that I will lay down and take dumb things I see lightly. I wanted to fight it but when I play a beta as much as I did I have to admit that I liked the game. Ok there I said it.

Here's looking ahead to more STO reporting, good or bad. With as slow as I am exploring the galaxies the end game content will have been rewritten and patched anyway so I am not worrying about it. At this point in my gaming career one or two missions a night is good enough for me to love playing this. Be VERY careful on how you decide to play this game. Your mileage may vary.