First of all, I would like to thank everyone’s favorite nuns with rulers, the fine ladies over at No Prisoners, No Mercy, without whose Star Trek Online closed beta key contest my better half and I would not have been able to play over last weekend. Thanks, Fran and Julie!
Our closed beta adventure was not without its minor flaws and glitches. We spent the first two days we had access to the beta simply downloading and patching the 8GB bundle, likely due to the last wave of CB testers flooding the servers for their own piece of the CB pie. There were also a few interludes of downtime that forced us to get up and stretch our legs, eat, interact with each other face to face, etc. but thankfully they were short-lived. We were ready to jump on to the servers as soon as they opened Saturday, and we were there until exhaustion took over on Sunday night. I did take plenty of screenshots while we played, but unfortunately because I used Fraps instead of Print Screen, my UI is everywhere and I won’t be posting those pictures. However, my thoughts and those of my better half can be found below.
The Pretty Pretty Princess Factor (Graphics): This game scores many points with me as far as aesthetics are concerned. It’s difficult to believe this is the same engine that Champions Online runs on, because the character models alone are worlds beyond CO’s in quality. The overall quality and the amount of detail on the models is reminiscent of Age of Conan – though not quite at AOC’s level – and the amount of customization available easily dwarfs it. While STO’s female avatars can’t take their shirts off and lay their chests bare to all who wander by, they can stand around with their hips cocked seductively if you so desire.
Costume customization was suitably understated, given that you’re fighting for the Federation, but the ability to wear the TNG-movie era uniforms or, with an easily applied code, the Wrath of Khan admiral uniforms, was still thrilling. In addition to this, I was able to customize every aspect of my bridge officers’ appearance excepting their race and gender, and in the case of choosing a new requisition I was able to choose that as well. I am normally an altaholic in MMOs, always seeking out different races/looks and ways of combining them, and I see STO scratching that itch for me simply because of the array of options available to me with my bridge officers. How this will play out when I’ve invested months into a main character remains to be seen – I’ve never gotten that far without going alt-crazy before.
Everybody was Kung-Fu Fighting (Combat): Easy to learn, difficult to master? I was wary about ground combat even after watching several Youtube videos that showed gradual improvement over time, but I was pleasantly surprised when I was finally able to experience it myself. Ground combat was chaotic and adrenaline-pumping excitement for my partner and I, punctuated with moments of glee as we exploited exposures and vaporized enemies from time to time. My bridge officers proved competent, keeping us alive, moving about the terrain to flank our opponents, and promptly reviving the fallen. The only thing I would change is to smooth out the camera movement when following my character over the shoulder; the only way to avoid nauseating shaky-cam was either to zoom as far out or as far in as possible. My better half votes for the ability to move into first-person view as well.
Space combat was more slow-paced, but no less exciting. I have much to learn about maneuvering in a 3-D environment and remembering which key is the throttle and which lets me move upward, etc., but I enjoyed learning and making many mis-steps along the way to blowing up the hostiles. In space combat, I found I enjoyed looking for fights precisely because space felt so large that it was possible to avoid them. In other games I’ve played, I often come to dread combat after a time because the hillside/valley/forest/lakebed is frequently crawling with mobs and battles are inevitable without a stealth skill. Here, it was so easy to fly over, under, or around by such a wide margin that I was more often hankering for a good tussle.
The Story’s the Thing (Content): The first (and only) criticism I have of the game content so far is that there is only one initial path of advancement for each character. Having only made it to Lieutenant 6 in the closed beta, I was never short of things to do, and in fact left behind a long list of unfinished mission items. We also took part in one PvP battleground, though we periodically queued for others. However, when I think of going through the same content again during OB, and then again for Headstart, and then having to create yet another character for the retail release (to take advantage of my pre-order bonuses), I grow weary. I’ve already decided to sit out the headstart in order to keep the starter content somewhat fresh in my mind, so I’m concerned about the replayability for people who are even less inclined to repeat content than I am.
That said, we both greatly enjoyed the episode content we got to see. They had the same effect that Guild Wars missions and LOTRO Books had on me of making me want to rush to the next item to see how things turn out. I do not yet know if Cryptic is gating this content by level (like LOTRO or Age of Conan, who would give you story quests you had to level several more times before you were able to complete) or if they approach it more like Guild Wars where you can more or less choose to follow the story to its conclusion without having to deviate to “become stronger” in between episodes. I know which approach I prefer!
Other: In our testing stint, we were unable to check out the Genesis system and do any exploration. We had two non-combat missions that I can recall, which broke up the combat content nicely. While it was nice to have those as alternatives to the combat, we could not determine beforehand whether we would be fighting or doing diplomacy; Cryptic might want to make that more apparent up front so that exploration junkies and diplomats can cherry-pick their adventures. Then again, Star Trek is about exploring the unknown and taking things as they come, is it not? I haven’t yet come to a final verdict on how the combat vs. non-combat content is being handled.
Our Views: Ultimately, my partner and I are both looking forward to the open beta and the final release of STO. We don’t regret our pre-orders and we see STO shaping up as a game in which we will enjoy ourselves for some time to come while we look forward to more improvements and additional content down the line. We both level slowly enough that we don’t expect to run out of content or rub up against the endgame before there is anything to do there.
As a primarily fantasy MMO fan whose favorite game is still Guild Wars, I found many positive similarities to GW in STO, and what was different is intriguing and makes me want to dive in and learn more, instead of being frustrated that the setting has Klingons and Targs instead of centaurs and dragons. I am the casual Trek fan who is familiar enough with all of the series and major players, but who hasn’t seen any of the TOS movies except for Wrath of Khan (I’m more of a Voy/TNG fan). I do like the franchise, but I wouldn’t have thought I’d enjoy entering the Star Trek universe as much as I did this weekend.
My better half is the die-hard Trek fan and RTS gamer who doesn’t generally enjoy MMOs and who is eagerly awaiting his Constitution-class starship. He did express regret at one point that I was unable to join his ship crew and take over a bridge officer’s role, but he also acknowledges that since we tend to duo almost exclusively, a crew player game mechanic would probably cripple us when pitted against the player community at large. He chooses his bridge officers based on how hot they are, yet pores over their skill descriptions (Me: “They have skill descriptions!?”) and revels in planning out crowd control strategies.
I think we loosely cover two small corners of the STO player spectrum, and we give the title a solid two thumbs up.