Star Trek Online – First Impressions Beta (part 2)

Well I sunk an additional three hours into the online beta last night and had an improved experience once I discovered a few more areas and received a few additional ‘looted’ items and visited some areas previously unexplored.

By the time I logged off, I had climbed to level 7 and with a few additional away-team and ship skirmishes under my belt, things began to get a bit smoother and fall into place a bit more.  So like yesterday’s post here is my findings:

  • “Memory Alpha” is not a completed area/zone yet, with many NPC’s standing ‘idle’ until game launch.  Here is were you can and will be able to turn in some of that space ‘loot’ for ship component upgrades.  I was still missing a few pieces to turn in for anything noteworthy, but now I understand the ‘recipe’ and ‘crafting’ component of the game a bit better.
  • Some additional missions afforded me some ingame rewards, and since I’ve found the mix so far to be more ship than ground based missions, I opted for the ship upgrades: 1) I found that any component that can increase your ships turn rate is beneficial.  Being able to rotate more quickly means being able to bare weapons more readily.  2) Proton mines are a better bet than an aft phaser.  3) Found a new wider-arced forward disrupter/phaser.  Even though DPS may be a bit less, a 90 degree firing arc is better than a more powerful 45 degree arced weapon.
  • Visited my bridge again just to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and still can’t figure out what to do with it. (Edit: Went to the forum and looked up ‘bridge’, and most comments and threads were of a similar nature, like basically “WTF do we do with this?”.  That’s a bit disapointing and one can only help but pray that the Dev’s have something up their sleeve further down the line, perhaps in an expansion, or a piece of the game that they are working on, because right now, it’s worthless.
  • Unlocked another bridge officer slot and was rewarded in mission with a new officer of my choice.  Still a bit difficult to understand certain advantages of each race, class, etc. without a manual.
  • Missions were a bit more varied and last night I think the mix improved just a tad to 75% space missions and 25% ground missions.
  • Ground missions are interesting, but away team A.I. and formation can be a bit annoying.  It’s a tad of mass confusion when you away team counterparts are all doing their same thing.  This seems like a hold over concept from City of Villains, and I can tell you CoV does it better so far.
  • I sure hope that ground mission backdrops and tile sets become a bit more varied.  I already have encountered the same ‘props’ at diffrent ground locals.
  • Ground mission animations seem a bit ‘off’.  I’m sure this will get refined later on, but it looks a little odd right now and not 100% that collision detection is spot on.
  • Random space encounters are a bit annoying.  You stop on the overall galaxy map to get your bearing, check out where the next mission is and requirements, and then suddenly the screen is ‘loading’ for a random encounter.  And these usually don’t bode well for the single player.  This has happened to me at least three times now, and each time, the odds are overwhelming against me.  I’m slaughtered within seconds.

Taking this all into account and once again reminding myself this is a ‘Beta’, I’m struggling if I want to play or not.  It was very hard for me to let go of CoH (as a matter of fact I looked at it last night to see two new expansions have been released, but not sure they are enough to get me back in.  It’s hard to let go of a character that I spent so many hours investing in and building up, but towards the end of the game, many of the missions just felt very repetitive, and thus I hadn’t played the game in over six months….and I’m not sure I missed it.)

STO is a fun game and I’d lean to playing it if I hadn’t done the whole CoH thing before.  I hope there are going to be some additional content, variety, exploartion, etc. in the developers future.  As of right now, someone on the boards said it doesn’t feel like Start Trek as we expect it to, but a space naval battle simulator, and I think I agree.  If it were just that, I’d give the game a thumbs up, but once you tack on the Star Trek franchise, your expectations automatically go up and you expect more of that experience, and I’m just not sure you get it.

Last night when I was done, I really began to think if I could get my money back and/or do I want to pay a monthly subscription fee.  I kept thinking that Star Wars: The Old Republic is still over a year away and it was just announced there may be a Fallout MMO under development for beta by the end of the year.  I may play on a trial basis for at least 2-3 months and hope that the dev’s are cooking up some more depth, if not, then my tenure as a Federation Starship Captain may be short.

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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 #4

WotLK CE

WoW: WotLK CE

It’s been a while since I did one of these.  Not sure why I’ve been saving this up for so long, or if you’re really interested in it or not, but the last few days I just find myself acting as excited as a giddy little school girl who just doesn’t have enough time to get my fix on.

Rock Band 2: Well, Harmonix finally released the 20 freebie songs if you registered with your RB2 code (inside manual). It was a whopping 540+ MB download, and that’s all I did so far…download them.  I was trying to rally my friends to come over this past Friday night to play, but I couldn’t pull it off.  I’ve been itching to play lately, but other things have been getting in the way.

Fable II: The first weekend it came out, I bought it and played pretty straight solid days on it.  Instead of taking the critical path like many players do and finish it in under 15 hours, I like to take my time and do many of the side quests, upgrade my character and explore.  I figure I’ve spent a total of 15 hours in game so far, but at my pace, perhaps am only about 50% done with the main story.  Unfortunately, I don’t think Fable II lived up to it’s hype.  While it is indeed fun, many of the quests do seem a bit repetitive, some tasks slightly mundane, and there are some glaring inconsistencies within the world of Albion and game mechanics.  In all seriousness I’d probably give this game a B/B-.  The good news is thous is that Lionhead Studios has announced that there will be some premium DLC headed this way soon, and I believe it may be free.  I’ll comment more in-depth about Fable II in a later post.

City of Heroes: My once favorite online game has been sitting on the sidelines for a bit now.  I have conflicting feelings on getting back into it.   Like any online game a person sinks so much time into, my superhero, Mighty Ra (champion server, lvl48) is very dear to my heart, and I have a hard time pulling the plug on my subscription right now.  But the fact of the matter is I haven’t felt NCsoft or Cryptic Studios has made any compelling content or world story arc to get me super interested any longer.  The latest issue, I believe #13, has been on hold for a bit now…well longer than a while…and doesn’t seem to offer much new content, basically changes to early level leveling mechanics, some PvP balancing, and improvements to bases (which no one really uses anyway….which is too bad.  Everyone was super excited when bases were originally announced, but once implemented, it doesn’t seem Supergroups use them the way they were originally conceived to be used, a shame really).  Anyway, because Issue 13 is delayed, that also mean Issue 14 is delayed as well.  Sigh.

Mercenaries 2: There is supposed to be some free DLC as well that was targeted to hit in October, but has been delayed.  It was rescheduled for early November, but as of today, it hasn’t hit yet either.  New skins will allow you to play as Barack Obama or Sarah Palin.  Now that Obama has been elected, I wonder if they have to change it, hence the delay.

World of Warcraft: Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past week, Blizzard released the second expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, last week to it’s 13M+ subscribers.  The regular edition is $39.99, but the collectors edition (CE) runs $69.99.  I waited to long to decide which one I wanted and so when it was released to the public, all the CE’s in the area have been sold out.  I’ve been checking Amazon on a daily basis and they have been sold out a week as well, allowing for crazy price gougers to sell new copies for as high as $150 a copy.  You can still buy the CE’s online, and after a week of waiting, my patience ran out, and I bought a copy from EBgames.  The one think I don’t like and is clearly bogus in my eyes is EBgames ‘justification’ to charge an additional $4.99 ‘special handling’ fee because the box is slightly larger than most PC games.  Total crap.  If Amazon.com and many other sellers can ship for free, or regular shipping charges, how EBgames says it costs an additional $4.99 for handling is beyond me.  Just a way to get another $5 out of people.  Well, in the end, they win, because I’m a sucker and I ordered one.  Total cost after tax and shipping – $80.79.  So I paid an additional $5 to save my from driving all over and wasting time walking in and out of stores.

So speaking of WoW, that’s been my big kick again as I’m really holding off on buying any new XBox games right now.  At least until Christmas is over.  In a nutshell, this casual player was able to get my human paladin to lvl 68 this past weekend after running two instances in the Burning Furnace and some questing in Blade’s Edge.  Also working on my blacksmithing skill (currently 245) and starting to make some ‘blue’ weapons and armor.  Having a lot of fun doing it as well.

I also worked on my level 34 Draenei priest yesterday, trying to get him to 35 in Desolace.  He also has professions in enchanting and tailoring.  Playing a priest can be difficult.  They don’t cause a lot of damage and armor is a bit low (priests are more known for healing abilities and as an aide in dungeons as the primary healer).  Makes for long questing as I don’t have enough money to outfit him with nice equipment.  Tailoring is also hard.  It’s difficult to make money early on with limited items to create, but now that I got to tailoring 100+, I just learned to make bolts of silk cloth, and items that use spider silk as well.  I should be able to create items, then enchant them, and put them on the auction house to get more money soon.  But this character (specced Shadow) is a slow grind.