Monday, January 18, 2010

Start Trekin’

Hello everyone!

It’s been a while I know. First Shannon put out her back on Thanksgiving, then it was Christmas and then it was New Years, Shannon’s birthday, my birthday and yesterday my anniversary.

That all said, it’s a poor excuse but hey it needed saying.

Soooo! Star Trek.

I got into the Closed Beta quite some time ago, in fact shortly after I did I made sure to make a note. I will be perfectly honest and say that in the closed beta, I didn’t exactly give it the most rigorous testing of it’s life, nor did I pour obsessively over it so that I could give you the best review of your lives. Why? Well Cryptic works on PST and as a result the three or four hour beta windows were typically far too late in the evening for me. I stayed up till 3am for my first, just to see the game, but after that I couldn’t be bothered. If a window met me and if I wasn’t otherwise occupied then I played. However the painfully brief windows for testing left little opportunity for me on GMT to actually y’know.. test.

Speaking of said windows, the only time the game was up for a nice meaty chunk of time before open beta was a week before Christmas. All other times, maybe maaaaybe for a few hours with each window a week or so apart at times. If you’ve been fretting about how fast this game has been tested, there’s some more fuel for the fire. If you think Champions Online was an extended beta for Star Trek, well then surely the engine didn’t need that much testing.

On the game itself, I have a surprising revelation given how I’ve been about it. Having tootled about in my little Centaur for a bit, you know game-wise, it isn’t half bad. I’ve only gotten to Lieutenant Rank 6 so it’s not like I’ve seen all that can be seen and done.

Bullet points! This would be the pro-list.

  • Fleet Actions or as you know them, Warhammer Public Quests
  • Diplomatic Missions (I did one, simple chat and remember)
  • Trans-Warp to Starbase (A hearthstone by any other name, but graphically appealing)
  • Phasers and Photons sound like they should.
  • Open instance auto teaming.
  • Space combat is engaging.
  • Alternative crafting methods.

And my con list.

  • Cryptics level of customization.
  • Micro-transactions.
  • Lifetime Sub price.
  • Poor mob AI.
  • Immersion.
  • The fact that it’s Star Champions Online Trek.

Because I’m a miserable sod, we’ll deal the the cons first. Micro-transactions as a complaint have been beaten to death previously and by better than me. The lifetime subscription price has also been worked over something rotten.

Let’s complain about Cryptics level of customization. Odd I know, that’s generally where they get the most praise and usually rightly so. Cryptic set the bar with the City of Heroes creator, worked themselves harder for Champions and when Shannon saw the creator for Star Trek where you could create your own race she fell in love. You can change every little thing and there’s even (fluffwise) leeway given to alternative gender options. After that, Starbase offers you the chance to tailor again, offers you a choice of ship configurations and bridge layouts. You can have your scratch built race, personally modified ship and favourite bridge set up. Why I count this against them is simple. Cryptic, make a game where yes you have a fantastic creator but where people actually want to play the creations. It’s all well and good that you can tweak a custom race to such a degree and then do it to your ship as well, but shouldn’t that level of attention be given to the game proper? I’m not saying that it hasn’t been, that’d be for people who have tested it harder than I to decide.

Mob AI is idiotic on the ground. You get bonuses for flanking attacks in ground combat so if you have your away team, you want to try take the other guys by surprise or otherwise get around them to get the extra damage. Best way? Wait till they shoot at someone and then walk past them. Many times I would finish killing a Klingon only to realise there was a line of them directly behind me and not one of them paying me the slighest bit of attention. It isn’t honourable, but I shot each of them in the back. My brother who also tested has said that he has found that many people give their away teams Wide area phasers so they generate all the threat while he goes around the back and finishes the job. Will crews be twinked to soak all the aggro? Oh you bet.

The other two cons come hand in hand. Star Champions Online Trek and Immersion. I know a bunch of people who have nothing but praise for CO, but it’s not for me. However STO is Champions with another skin and some space bits. You still loot, you still look funny, you still only play in instances with a handful of people and have the same damn chat system. I didn’t like Champions and if I played Star Trek, I’d be forced to endure parts of Champions that I still don’t like but in what should be a completely different game. I can understand trying to cover your costs by reusing the engine, hell it makes perfect technical and financial sense. On the other hand, if people didn’t like your other game, they’ll be able to find fault with this.

Immersion is also a problem. Star Fleet is by very definition a uniform military organisation. It has codes of conduct, acceptable behaviours, a prime directive and an image to uphold. I don’t think an institution like Star Fleet can be done properly outside of single player games. Everyone in this MMO starts as an Ensign who gets given a ship. Apparently everyone down the chain of command on a ship you don’t even start on gets killed real dead and as a result you have to take command. You were led by your nose through the entire tutorial and told what to do and how, but they trust you with a Starship for keeps. After a few months of live time, Sol System will have more Rear Admirals than you can shake a Romulan Ale at. Everyone is also their own Captain. On an away team solo, you’re the boss and you have your bridge crew you can pick from to accompany you. On a team away team, the leader picks who gets to fill the dead spots with their npcs. You can invite people to your bridge which is nice, but is essentially pointless. I’m sure people will claim that the roleplay community will be fantastic and I do wish them my best but I don’t see how the immersion will work and to be honest, Star Trek fans are all but unpleasable. Everyone’s a Captain and the leader will be the one with the rare blue Klingon Disruptors.

Going back a second in my incoherent ranting, looting in Star Trek makes no sense. Buying black market from Ferengi, yes. Requisitioning in Starbase, yes. Coming across the bits and pieces of a long dead civilisation? Yes. Hot swapping phaser banks for the newly looted Romulan disruptor cannons… no. Refitting the offensive potential of a Starship should not be a drag and drop in between combats affair. Neither should Star Fleet personnel be picking over the hulks of destroyed ships like so many Pakleds.

I will give the pros a review of their own after work but I’ll say this. Despite my complaints, most of which can be laid at the feet of Cryptic or the trouble in adapting certain IPs to current MMO models, the game itself isn’t terribly bad. I happily flew around and fired my phasers. It didn’t breach Shannons warp core, she got bored the moment she was put in a ship in the tutorial, but I was distracted decently enough. However I’d not buy it. It’s an okay game but I wouldn’t give up my current games and give them money for “okay”. Cryptic can work on it, as people think they will using the lifetime cashgrab, and when it is stellar (pun intended) they can call me.


Shannon said...

Hands off my warp core! And nacelles!

Sareini said...

*sings the Sexy Data Tango

Terry said...

Sounds about right.

Jayedub said...

Star Champions Online Trek made me laugh, good one!