Star Trek Online: First Impressions – Beta (part 1)

Admitedly I got to the open beta a little late in the offering.  Beta closes on the 26th until the game releases on Feb 2nd, although I’ve read some rumors there may be a ‘early start’ date for pre-orders, but I haven’t seen any official email yet.

As of this writing I spent about 4 hours playing this past Friday night, another 4-5 hours on Saturday, and another 4-5 hours yesterday (Sunday) and have managed to level up my ‘Captain’ to lvl 5 and am pretty close to 6.  Keeping in mind this is beta and with that comes some unexpected world server crashes, frequent patching, and a few disconnects, I think I got in at least ten solid hours of Star Trek Online gaming.  So in no particular order, here is what I found so far:

  • Lack of a bonafide manual in the early stages made the ‘trial by fire’ learning curve on the UI a little less than stellar.  Only by ‘really’ fiddeling around with the UI buttons and options was I finally able to get my experience bar legible.  However, I still don’t get the various nuances of the character/ship/interface slottings.  This is a little confusing.
  • Space battles are pretty amazing on a artistic scope.  Ships, phasers, sound effects, lighting, and backgrounds are very, very pretty to look at.  That being said, issuing commands and steering your ship in three dimensions takes some getting used to.  You are using multple keys to control pitch and yaw as well as turning and speed controls.  Controls can sometimes get confusing especially with so much on the screen against a black space background.  I often found myself over-turning at times, trying to stop, or finding the pitch/yaw not always as responsive as they should be.
  • While I understand the idea behind ‘open instances’, they are both a blessing and a curse.  Sometimes random people who are very skilled prove to be very beneficial in their tactics on helping complete a space mission.  However, since the AI ‘threat level’ seems to scale up with more people, this can be a teams undoing if one or two people aren’t the best of ‘captains’.  An unskilled ship (player) can be dead weight very quickly, and since these are open instances, many people show up to the fight with or without your asking.  Generally a few people I teamed with were very nice and cooperative and we all seemed in synch.  However, there were a couple of skirmishes where the maturity level and blame-game sunk to new lows. 
  • Starbase defense is very fun, but Klingon spawn points and amount of contacts are ridiculous.  If you just happen to be in the wrong place and the wrong time, you just resign yourself to defeat.  Don’t run, don’t fight, you’ll just prolong the inevitable.  During one such defense, as soon as the in-game counter reset, before I even knew what was happening, multiple, over powered Klingon ships spawned all around me.  I was dead before I could even type help.
  • Chat, or what passes for the ‘chat channel’ is also way too crowded.  There is no way you can keep track of a conversation without creating a specific friend or team channel.  It was worse than the infamous Barrens chat that WoW players are familiar with.
  • 85% of my missions thus far have been space battles.  Hardly any ‘away team’ or surface missions so it’s kinda hard to judge this component of the game fairly.  If anyone has ever played City of Heros/Villains, away missions are very like office building missions.  You interact more or less the same way with ‘glowies’, and the map structures are very similiar.
  • Speaking of City of Heros/Villains, let’s talk about the 100 pound elephant in the room right now.  STO for all intents and purposes is perhaps a more sophisticated and graphically enhanced, reskinned version of CoH.  I mean it is made by NCSoft/Cryptic, but seriously…so many things are the same:  The interface with NPC’s, the way they act, the choices offered, even down to the font is more or less the same as CoH, just set in a Star Trek theme.  This isn’t meant to be a knock, and again, I realize this is a beta and many portions of the game have yet to be revealed and/or rolled out, but so far what I have seen, this reeks of CoH (and I played CoH for 5 years before I got bored and moved on).
  • Character creation and ship modification is very, very detailed out of the gate.  It is very impressive on how you can design both your ship and captain and also have the ability to write backstories for not only yourself but your crew as well.  Just as NCSoft made additions to this engine with CoH, I can only suspect the same will happen here and that’s a good thing.
  • You unlock the ability to play and start as a Klingon at lvl 5.  I unlocked it, but haven’t even attempted to create a charcter yet.  It may not even be allowed in beta yet.
  • The starting tutorial is adequate and gets you into the action very quickly, but could have been fleshed out and a bit more details on controls….Something I’m sure will be in the manual not yet available.
  • In game ‘help’ looks robust if you want to take the time and read while you’re playing.  I don’t, so I’m looking forward to digesting this in traditional book/manual format.
  • You can visit your bridge, but I have no clue what purpose that serves right now other than eye-candy.  It was cool to look at, and walk around, but as of right now, I see no ingame value.  It is more or less just a set piece.  Hopefully they will be able to find a use for it later.
  • In a very un-Star Trek/Rodennberry way, most missions I’ve played thus far are all about shooting and destroying first.  ST is supposed to be about unity, exploration, strange new worlds, etc.  So far, I’m killing Orions, Klingons, and the radom Borg every time I warp into space.  Guns first diplomacy seems to be at odds with the Prime Directive.
  • Overall galaxy map seems huge right off the bat and they tackle ‘fog of war’ in a unique way.  Hard to describe, but it’s there.
  • Scanning seems simplistic and repetitive right now.  You collect ‘loot’ in space, and has to be some sort of ‘crafting’ component ala Memroy Alpha, but I haven’t gotten into it yet.  Again, seems a little daunting and confusing without a better explanation.

Okay, so for this entry, I’ll stop it short right there.  I plan to play a bit more tonight and I’ll have more to say on part II.  I can honestly say I have mixed feelings so far.  If you never played CoH/CoV, then you will undoubetdly love this.  However, as someone who has played CoH/CoV for the aforementioned 5 years, I can say while there are graphical improvements and customization, this does feel like I’ve played this before, just in a super-hero skin.  That doesn’t make it a bad game by any means, it just isn’t innovative enough to really knock my socks off as I was hoping it would.  I guess I may play for a year, until SW:TOR comes out.  If I had to give this a rating right now, I’d give it a ‘B-‘.  But things can change in the future and hopefully things will be fleshed out with a future purpose, because if it’s just about shooting Klingons and Borg mission afer mission, rinse and repeat, then it’ll be just a casual game for me.

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One Response

  1. I really loved this movie! My children and I have been obsessed since we were adoloscents. I loved how the characters met and developed their friendship. The decision of young actors was idealyoung Kirk and Spock, excellent! I will wait anxiously for the second installment.

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