For the past 10 days I’ve been taking part in the Star Trek Online free key and item bundle offered here by Alienware. I already have my veteran account, of course, but I wanted to give the game a free once-over before it actually goes free-to-play, and this past week, with all the excitement of everyone else in the free world playing SW:TOR, seemed as good a time as any.
Mr. Randomessa and I stopped playing STO only a few months into our year-long subscriptions, citing several conflicts of interest, from my aversion to what I felt was excessive space gameplay, to his PvP burnout Klingon-side, to our disappointment with the crafting system, among other quality-of-life issues. We left just as the Episodic content was starting to get underway, but by that time our enthusiasm was spent and we didn’t delve too deeply into the weekly episodes. We didn’t write off the game completely, however, opting instead to wait and see how the next year would change or improve things.
Having ranked up to Lt. Commander on a new character, I think the wait has been well worth it. The most praise I have to offer is for the Duty Officer system, which adds a compelling means of non-combat advancement – something I’ve been wanting in MMOs for as long as I’ve been playing them (are you listening, ArenaNet?). Since usually this comes in the form of crafting in other MMOs, and crafting is generally on a separate XP bar than adventuring, the Doff system, for the first time in any MMO I’ve played so far, allows me to rank up even if I’m not actively completing missions or engaging in patrols. I cannot express how tickled this makes me; over the past week I leveled twice just from having completed Doff assignments. This also partially resolves the problems caused by having a singular leveling path for all Fed and KDF characters (which I have previously criticized), in combination with the ability to “skip” missions (which I should also mention is an awesome feature!). Combined with Squad Support putting an end to our need for our spousal leveling contract means that Mr. Randomessa’s and my leveling options were just blown wide open.
Second is the extra love being added here and there, from the occasional voiceover (Bioware has nothing to fear on that front, to be certain), to inserted cutscenes, to chairs you can sit on without using an emote (a feature I haven’t seen in any MMO I’ve played other than WoW). I’ve participated in Q’s Winter Wonderland, had a snowball thrown at me, fawned over other characters’ fashion choices (I’ve never been the type to ask “where did you get that outfit?” let alone spent much time trying to emulate them, but the new additions to wardrobe have unveiled this tendency in me and allowed me to indulge my love of the fantasy genre even within this universe), and remembered how cool it is that I can make a Cardassian given the character creation tools Cryptic has provided me. I even got a “boo, hiss” tell from another player for running a Cardie, which was surprisingly satisfying.
I must also give bonus points to Cryptic for adding the ability to purchase Cryptic Points in-game through the exchange of refined dilithium. I feel this is Perfect World’s hand at work, since PWI’s other games also tend to feature the ability to exchange (exorbitant amounts of) in-game gold for cash-shop items. That the option is there is always a plus in my mind, just as I appreciate the means of acquiring Turbine Points through gameplay in LOTRO.
In short, STO has added or improved on a lot of features that Mr. Randomessa and I dreamed of from the start, and we’re more than ready to jump back in on the F2P launch date. We also can’t wait to check out the entries on the Foundry, which from the reviews I’ve read make even greater use of the engine than Cryptic does at times. There are only a couple more items remaining on our wishlists, including being able to see our Doffs on our ship when we explore the interior, and the ability to have quests and/or combat take place in ship interiors.
It remains to be seen how long I will be excited about STO before my love of fantasy settings begin to chafe again – costuming aside – but I still have my active LOTRO gaming sessions to scratch that particular itch. My free 10 days in STO ended yesterday, and I was loathe to log out that last time, hoping instead to see how just one more of my Doff assignments would end… and then another… and then another….
You know how it is, new shiny MMO experience and all.