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.

Star Trek Online (Beta) – First impressions (prologue)

After some initial wishy-washy, going back-and-forth within my own head thoughts, I plunked down a bit of cash to secure myself a copy of Star Trek Online when it releases in a few weeks, and thus also securing myself a spot in the current ‘open beta’ test the that currently going on for the next few days.

So why this MMO?  Well, Bioware’s “Star Wars” is at the very minimum a year away, and as these things go I won’t be surprised if it is delayed even beyond that.  Of course, with Bioware backing that one and it’s history of great RPG styles games going on for over a decade, everyone has their eyes salivating for this one.  Could SW:TOR be the first ‘real’ challenger to WoW?  We’ll see.  I’m pretty confident that it will be much better than SOE’s attempt at the Lucas’ universe that Star Wars Galaxy: An Empire Divided will ever be.  That has to be my own biggest personal let down in gaming.  I had such hopes for that one, and pretty much from day one it was plagued by bugs, major sweeping gameplay changes, and not delivering on promises it made, it left a sour taste in my mouth.  What’s left of that game today (SWG) looks nothing like how the game was introduced years ago, and I can’t help but think how much money I threw away on a subscription that just wasn’t fun to play anymore.

The last two MMO’s I’ve been playing is the aforementioned Blizzard’s “World of Warcraft” which is fun, yet can be a grind most of the time (and to be honest, fantasy genre’s aren’t my favorite) and NCsoft’s (aka Cryptic) “City of Heros/Villains”.  When CoH first came out, practically 5 years ago, I loved it almost immediately.  I really took to my first created character and was proud to work on his backstory and build him up, level by level in Paragon City.  Then came the expansion CoV which was fun in it’s own right, although one could say it was very similiar in premise to CoH (I guess one could argue, “Why wouldn’t it be?”) with just some re-skinning of powers and costumes, but it gave players the ability to live out some sort of muted sadistic and anarchistic fantasies in classic comic book faction.

However, after a couple of years, it just seemed to lack any further innovation.  I give NCsoft/Cryptic a lot of props though: they actually opened up a new genre (superheroes) instead of the tired and overplayed orc, dwarf, goblin stuff that every other developer for a time thought players wanted.  Yeah, it just got a little stale after a few years, and while they added things like bases and lairs (which never worked out the way developers intended), a ‘crafting’ element, and new badges….the graphics and missions/quests began to seem dated, and the game resorted to the same ‘world eveents’ at regular intervals, and at least to me, began to feel like ‘been there, done that’ most of the time.  They did have some awesome instances and Task Force missions, although a bit long at times to have a whole team stay intact until the very end.

I won’t even get into WoW.  Most of you know what’s that’s like, and I still play it, but I’m currently on break from it right now until I get the urge to get back into it again.  That too can become a grindfest at times, and I’m pretty tired of some of the missions.  Although my main Paladin is only lvl 74 right now, even after owning Lich King for a year.

Anyway, I’m getting way off track here.  Back to Star Trek.

So after seeing some online movies of the game in which the space battles and ship models won me over, I began to read a few player takes on their beta experiences and I was intrigued.  The idea of a space based genre MMO in an established franchise by the developers who did CoH/CoV and Guild Wars pretty well mitigated the risks of it being really ‘sucky’.  Most, not all, but most games based on Star Trek tend to blow and I’m not sure why.  There is so much potential and lore and characters and created history, I can’t begin to understand how many developers in the past blew it…or just didn’t get Trekkers/Trekkies.   Dare I say that the Star Trek experience goes way beyond just big ships and Klingons?  It is about exploration, strange new worlds, new civilazations, etc., etc.

Now will STO capture this?  Hard to say right now only having played the beta a few hours (more on that later).  I can see the potential, but there are parts that already feel like re-skinned WoW or CoH missions.  But the space battles are HELLA cool and very pretty.

NCsoft/Cryptic/Atari also went full out on the pre-order exclusives.  There are a ‘TON’ of varying exclusives depending on where you made your pre-order.  Tribbles or Targs for pets….”KHANNNN” emotes….exclusive uniforms or ship equipment….Borg as a playable chracter…and of course if you got from GameStop/EB you get yoru grubby hands on the original Constellation class starship (of which Kirk’s Enterprise was).  Out of all these choices listed (and not listed), I went for the Constellation class starship and look forward to piloting a retro-enterprise in my adventures.

So I plunked my dollars down at GameStop and was granted a ‘beta’ key that I rushed right home to begin downloading….Mafia Wars and FarmVille be damned!!.

One thing right at the start, that was forgotten but quickly remembered, was how wonky the “signup/account creation/login” process still is with NCSoft.  After a few false starts and having to reset my password reset and resent to my mail account at least twice for who knows what reason I was able to enter my ‘key’ and begin the download process.

The download was over 7GB in size, and I’m sure so many people were hitting it up that evening along with my local ISP bandwidth issues after 6PM (as everyone is getting home to jump on their own PCs) it took right around 3 hours to download.  Thankfully the checksum was right on, as even though it was a lengthy download, I encountered zero problems so far.  The executable took another 10 minutes to unpack and install, and to my chagrin as soon as I got excited to begin my adventures and hit the ‘Play’ icon, of course another 800MB beta patch now needed to be downloaded and applied…..another few minutes.

Next: Initial impressions…..

Personal gaming journal #5

It’s been a really long time since I did any updates on the games I enjoy playing, so I’ll just give a quick synopsis of where I’m getting my feet wet again.  That is to say, I’m going a little retro lately, digging out some of my older 360 games, and even a much older PC game.  Why?  Well, I just can’t justify all the new $60 games these days and I know if I wait around long enough, they’ll eventually drop in price to something a bit more attractive to the pocket.  There are just so many big titles I’d like to get my hands on, but I am definitely discovering that ‘Platinum Hits’ is where it’s at.

  • Was able to pick up Guitar Hero: Aerosmith for $29.99 a few weeks back.  I can’t say I’m a big fan of them, actually, there are a few songs of theirs I don’t like at all, but there are plenty of tolerable ones plus the addition of other artists like Joan Jett and RUN DMC make it palatable and fun.  I’m about 1/2 way done on ‘medium’ difficulty and so far have racked up quite a few gamer points.
  • 1 vs 100 (Xbox Live) – I like trivia, and this beta has been going on way too long lately, but the gameplay is addictive and when it finally goes Live (gold) to win real MS points, I’ll be all over it.  I suck at sports question though, and up until those are being asked, I surprised how well I’m doing against other players.
  • WOW – Taking a break…need to recharge my batteries, but I think the frozen north is calling my name again.
  • CoH/CoV – Also taking a break. 
  • Fallout 3 ‘The Pitt expansion’ – Pretty good expansion with a few neat weapons.  There were some tense moments with the Trogs as they have the ability to seemingly jump out of nowhere and you need to be much more aware of your ammo supply than before.  A nice diversion, but really looking forward to getting ‘Point Lookout’ DLC.
  • Saints Row 2 – Not playing as much as I’d like because of the ‘mature’ content and my daughter hanging around way too much.  Fun little sandbox version of GTA4 I picked up also for $29.99.  Looking forward to playing this again soon.
  • GTA4 – Same as above with the daughter.  Was getting back into it and finally making some progress on the game just to put it back on the shelf until I get some alone time.
  • Brothers In Arms Hell Highway – Played the demo and I really like it.  I may pick this up soon as it’s currently going for $24.99. 
  • Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2010 – Lovin’ it.  I may give this it’s own post soon enough, it warrants it and I’ve barely scratched the surface of the content.  I jumped right into tour/career mode and working my way up.  Wind can be very frustrating to me if it’s over 15 MPH, and some holes just seem very random, but overall it takes me a good hour to play 1 round and I have some nail biting moments and get very excited when I do a fabulous shot, and very hard on myself when I shoot a crappy one.
  • Railroad Tycoon 3 – Totally retro Win 98 game I’m really getting into as well.  Graphics are a little dated at this point, but who doesn’t love playing with trains?  Deserves it’s own post as well.

Electronic Arts update.

ea_logo1Seems like a lot of news was dropped yesterday from developer Electronic Arts:

  •  – Sims 3 is delayed until early June, 2009
  •  – Mass Effect 2 has been announced for an early 2010 date across multiple platforms (guessing that means XBox 360, PS3, and PC)
  • – Some 1000+ jobs will be cut including the closure of 12 facilities due to recent economic slow down and under performance.
  • Dead Space will be coming to the Wii.
  • Left 4 Dead has sold over 1M units world wide so far.
  • Boom Blox sequel has been announced and scheduled for a spring, 2009 release.

Delayed Dell

LG 22" 2252 LCD

LG 22

As I mentioned before, it’s been over six years since my last home PC purchase and it’s been long overdue for a new one.  I think my registry is pretty much ‘borked’ with junk…enough junk where it slows my system startup to almost a crawl these days, and good luck trying to launch Outlook Express in under 2 minutes.  I even notice with around 768 RAM, I can’t usually have more than 2 programs open at a time without the PC taking its sweet time chnaging between programs.

So I ordered my XPS630 on Aug 28 and it was supposed to ship on September 5th.  Well, it didn’t.  My new ship date was updated until September 12th which of course bummed me out.  The thing is, I cannot figure out ‘why’ the delay, unless it was related to hurricane Gustav and getting parts out to TX (where Dell’s custom assembly plant is).

I called Dell on Sunday and requested more information on the delay.  I was a bit surprised when the lady told me it was the battery.  The battery?  What battery?  I didn’t order any UPS?  She asked me if I was getting a laptop?  A laptop?  Damn, I gave her my order number and everything and clearly I ordered no laptop.  Needless to say, now I’m getting a little skeptical.

She finally found the correct order and aplogized and said they would upgrade me to next day air.

Finally my PC shipped yesterday, the 8th, and on my online account it does indeed say ‘Next Day’, however, the tracking order is Ground, and as of this morning, it’s sitting in a FedEx center still in TX with a new estimated arrival date of this Friday, the 12th.

Don’t ask.  I have no idea.  But so far, while they didn’t screw up my order, but my Dell experience this time around is about a ‘B/B-‘ if I were to grade it.

In the meantime, Best Buy put its LG LCD monitors on sale.  I couldn’t resist the sale on the 22″, so I bought one which will indeed replace my 17″ this weekend.

Here’s the specs on the LG 2252:

  • 2 ms response time.
  • 10,000:1 contrast ratio; 300cd/m brightness.
  • 1680 x 1050 resolution.
  • DVI-D w/ HDCP input along with standard VGA input.
  • 16:10 aspect ratio
  • Energy Star compliance.

So I figure this weekend will be re-intsalling WoW, CoH/CoV, Quick Books, and email.

My new Dell is taking forever :<

Seriously, I ordered it on Aug 28th, and as of this morning, September 4th it is current status is still ‘in production’.

WTH?  We aren’t building Rome here or reinventing the wheel.  It’s a mid system at best with no major bells or whistles.  For all intents and purposes, it’s pretty much a stock rig for the XP630’s.  I’ll change it up after the fact when I get it.

What’s worse is the estimated ship date is tomorrow with an esitmated receive date of the 10th thru the 12th.  Basically two weeks.  Yeah, maybe it sounds like I’m being overly picky on Dell, but the build time seems exceptionally long compared to the previous two I have purchased from them before.

Dude, I’m getting a Dell

Coming to my own personal Azeroth soon.

Coming to my own personal Azeroth soon.

So I finally plunked down the cash after over a year of putting it off on buying a new Dell computer.

This will be my third Dell, as I purchased one for my father about 3 years ago, and my personal PC is now approaching six years old, if not actually older.  Overall, I’ve had good luck with Dell PC’s and I always stick with the minimum 1 yr warranty (I don’t undertsand paying so much for the 2 – 3 year extended warranties, since I’m not a PC novice anyway).

I’ve built my own computers before.  I’m even A+ certified, but really…I have no desire right now to buy things piece-meal anymore and configure and build and cross my fingers.  Sure for a few extra bucks, I’d like something to work right out the box anymore.

My current PC is a Dell 4550 Pentium 4, 1.9 GHz with 712MB Ram, and a 6GB (yes, six) hard drive.  I’ts been slowing down the last few years, despite how clean I try and make all my installs and what not.  I’m sure the registry has a lot of abandoned keys, and there are some start up programs I haven’t used in years.  I basically play WoW on it now and gave up play CoH strictly because of slow load times and disk caching.

I have some family pics, some business docs, personal papers, and mostly MP3’s.  So after 6 years, I’m not up to a full 6GB.  You can’t even buy a computer today with anything less than 250-300 GB hard drives today.

So my new rig is far from being top of the line.  I am on a somewhat of a budget, but at this stage of the game, anything today will blow my current system out of the water.  Since I plan on only playing games on it and never watching movies or hooking my TV up to it, I don’t want….or need…the ultimate entertainment machine.  Besides, I still have my 360 and Wii for gaming.

Here’s my new rig:  a red bezzeled XPS630, 750 watts, 320GB HD, Core 2 Q6600 (8MB L2 cache) , 2GB DDR2 SDRAM @800MHz, 2.4 GHz, 1066FSB and a nVidia 512 MB GeForce 8800, 7.1 surround sound.  And that is probably a minimum spec’d mid-range 630.

I’ll probably upgrade my monitor as well, but at a different time.  My current LG 15″ LCD is okay for now…but I’d like to get a 19-20″ in a few months.

The biggest task will be re-installing CoH & CoV, WoW and getting all the updates along with them.  Plus changing to my gaming keyboard and installing all my extras like my printer, but now that I plunked down the money, I’m totally psyched to get it in about two weeks.  There may be a day of hooky coming up soon as all this will take quite a bit off time to do.

Games I’m looking forward to: WoW Wrath of the Lich King, Spore, Diablo III for starters.