As I mentioned in the Star Trek Online History post, i’ve been playing around in Star Trek Online since Closed Beta. I wanted to point out, this is very much a review of the live game experience. You may see a number of reviews out there that are based on the reviewers beta experiences, but that’s extremely unfair on the work Cryptic put into STO before launch. The difference between the live game and the awful ‘car crash’ of a beta test in terms of stability and playability are light years apart… Not that there aren’t still issues…
These are the voyages of the Starship, Geektown…
At least they would be if you could log into the server…We’re a few weeks past live release and as far as I can work out, Cryptic seem to running STO on some old networked Spectrum ZX81s powered by hamsters in running wheels. I’m sure they’ll upgrade them soon… maybe get in some Commodore 64s powered by badgers on treadmills. However, this minor annoyance (which is slowly turning into mild irritation after the 3rd server crash today), does give me a break from playing to write this review.
You can pick to play as a Tactical (damage/tank), Engineer (support/survivability), or Science (healing/support) Officer. You’re limited to Federation (Fed) until level 6, where you unlock the Klingon Empire, in a similar way to how Lord of the Ring Online runs it’s ‘Monster Play’. Like ‘Monster Play’, the Klingon side is very much a PvP focused, cut down version of the main game. Choices for Fed races include Human (obviously), Andorian, Bajoran, Betazoid, Bolian, Saurian, Trill, Vulcan, and ‘Alien’. The character customisation is tempered depending on your race, however if you do want to go nuts, you can always pick the alien option, which basically unlocks all the sliders and lets you create your own wacky species. Your race determines your basic look and some of your starting abilities. Betazoids for example are empathic (reducing threat generation), where as Bajorans are creative (increasing skills with ‘kits’ – items that give you extra abilities). You then can pick your costume, which come in a variety of Starfleety type options.
Being a traditionalist, I picked a human tactical officer as my first character. After a intro voiced by Leonard Nimoy, I pop up in the mess hall on the U.S.S. GeekTown (a Miranda Class Light Cruiser) with red alerts blaring all around. It seems the Borg are trying to assimilate a nearby ship, so I’m instructed to beam over to their medical bay to see if I can give some help to the emergency medical hologram (who sounds suspiciously like Syler from Heroes…) Once a few crewmen are patched up, I’m sent to engineering to blow some Borg out of an airlock, and then fight my way to a transporter, where I get to pick a my first bridge crew.
Bridge Crew serve 2 main purposes. Firstly, they man stations on your ship. As you up level up and get bigger and better ships, you gain more crew, and more advanced station configurations. For example, the Enterprise like Cruiser Class has 2 engineering stations, 1 science, and 1 tactical, where as the Defiant style Escort class has 2 tactical, 1 science and 1 engineering station. Each bridge crew member has their own set of space skills, such as my new vulcan science officer, has a tachyon beam skill that lowers the shields on an enemy ship.
Your Bridge Crew’s second purpose is to serve as party members for the ground missions when your not grouped with friends – side note: when you are grouped with friends, it means the Captains from each ship all form the away team… which I’m sure must breach some Starfleet rule on officer safety… – Again each crew member has a variety of skills, such as the science officer’s medical tricorder, or the engineers turrets and mines.
Space… The Final Frontier…
Moving on a bit through the starter mission, I find myself battling a Borg Cube. Thankfully, I’m not on my own. This fight takes the form of a fleet mission, where as you enter the zone, your automatically grouped with other players to take on larger objectives (if you’ve familiar with Champions Online or Warhammer, you’ll be aware of this form of open mission).
I’ve see a number of reviews where people describe STO space combat as fairly slow, but it’s really more depends on the class of ship. Cryptic do need to try and keep the ‘Trekness’ in the game, and to see the Enterprise suddenly pull a ‘handbrake turn’, spin 180, and launch a barrage of cannon fire straight at a Klingon really wouldn’t seem very ‘Trek’. However, if you do want more maneuverability, once you reach level 11 you can choose to take an Escort class ship (e.g. DS9’s Defiant), which gives you a much nimbler ride, with a whole array of forward facing turrets, but does sacrifice survivability.
Overall I find the space combat mechanics good fun, even if the missions themselves can be rather repetitive – Go here, kill 5 Klingon ships… then kill 5 more Klingon ships… then 5 more etc… There are some variations, but that usually just involves flying to something and hitting the ‘F’ key to scan/repair/interact with it in some way.
Ahead, Warp Factor 5
Travelling through space is a different matter. One of the most disappointing things for me was mechanism to warp from planetary system to planetary system. Whilst inside a system, you get to see your ship in these stunningly beautiful spacescapes, scattered with asteroids, nebulas and planets. However, during warp travel, your ship model is thrown onto stylised tactical map interface, which totally pulls you out of any immersion. What would have been great during the warp travel would have been the ability to wander around my ship, or some interaction on the bridge (you can visit your bridge in STO, but it’s basically an instanced room, so you can’t travel in warp and be on the bridge at the same time). The system map interface just instantly made the STO universe seem small and ‘game like’, rather than the vast openness of space it really should be.
I beam down to a planet, my newly acquired science officer with me for backup, to show some Borg the business end of a phaser rifle. I have an issue with the ground combat in STO as I’ve had with other Cryptic’s games. I’m sure Cryptic’s proprietary MMO engine makes it easier and quicker for them to develop, but it has this horrible ‘elasticy’ feel to it. Their always seems to be a delay between action and consequence. Throw a grenade, it lands and explodes. Count 1… 2… 3… and then people fall down from the blast. I’m positive it’s not a lag issue, as there was a similar issue with Champions Online, and even City of Heroes. The engine just has this ‘floaty’ feel to it which makes the ground combat feel less solid than most of its counterpart MMOs.
Another issue is the away team AI, which seems to stands for Artificial Idiocy. It is vastly improved from beta, but you do still find yourself occasionally tracking back across a map because you’ve just noticed your tactical officer is stuck trying to walk through a wall somewhere. They also have a tendency to think running through the fire created by the plasma grenade they’ve just thrown is a genius idea. All in all, not Starfleet’s best and brightest.
Whilst STOs main player interface is perfectly adequate overall, there are a few basic things that really bug me. Why is it Cryptic still can’t make an auction interface that actually has a decent number of search filters on it? Same goes for any of their NPC shopping interfaces. I can only imagine the conversation went something like “Shall we put some filters on this?”… “Nah, just whack everything into one MASSIVE list, and jumble it all together so it takes them forever to find anything, it’ll be fine!”
Also, given your dealing with Star Trek, surely the obvious thing to do would would be to base it round a LCARS interface? Michael Okuda went to a massive amount of trouble designing LCARS for the Trek universe, and it’s just disappointing there isn’t even a vague nod to it in STO, rather than some generic MMO graphics.
But is it Star Trek?
The ship designs and uniforms are very Trek. The history/lore of the universe is tied in nicely to the Trek timeline. They even have Nimoy (and Quinto) doing voice work. But I can’t help thinking, what would Gene Roddenberry say if he saw it? I rather suspect he’d be extremely disappointed in the over reliance on space battles to entertain, rather than exploring and plot. Star Trek was never about combat. It was about exploring new world. Boldly going where no one had gone before. If any game needed an EVE-like vast openness of space, it was Star Trek Online. Instead you get a bunch of instances held together by a map.
Although there are a number of negatives in this review, I am enjoying my time in Star Trek Online. I’ve made lieutenant commander, and am heading toward my next level of ship. It’s just overall, i see it as a missed opportunity to do something great with such a rich and textured license. I would have loved STO to have been more of a Star Trek universe, rather than just a Cyptic game with a Star Trek license slapped over the top. It’s more an MMOG than MMORPG. The role playing bit has got lost somewhere along the way. As someone mentioned in ‘system chat’ last week – “We all know we’re just treading water till Star Wars: The Old Republic comes out”… And unfortunately for Cryptic, i think that’s probably true.
7/10 – Fun in places but a missed opportunity.
Tired of all the Vulcans and outer space? Get back down to earth at moonbingo!
6. Blizzard’s ‘New’ MMO… (new entry)
We know Blizzard have another MMO in development, and the general feeling is it’s probably a ‘World of Starcraft’ MMO. That would be a fair assumption, given the upcoming release of Starcraft 2. However, I’m hearing some interesting rumours from the Blizzard camp that are telling me that’s not true… Last year, Blizzard apparently started work on World of Warcraft 2.
It really shouldn’t come as any great surprise WoW2 is in development given the huge cash taurean WoW has become. WoW was released in 2004, and given Blizz’s usual monumental development lead times, WoW2 probably not going to see the light of day until at least 2012. By that point WoW will be 8yrs old. I know it’s still a way off, but any new MMO from Blizzard has got to be on our ‘want’ list!
5. Champions Online (new entry)
Couple of reasons we’d like to get our hands on Champions Online. 1 – We’re huge superhero fans, and 2 – It’s made by Cryptic Studios, the team behind the brilliant City of Heores/Villans. Champions should be offering a new type of gameplay to the MMO experience, with it being less tactical ‘pick a 1 to 10 skill’Â management, and more direct ‘pick up and hurl a car’ action. The biggest thing we’re looking forward to though, is Cryptic’s truly awesome character customisation system. Not only are they promising billions of possible combinations for the costumes, you can also customise your powers! Want to shoot green lasers from your eyes, and have purple claws? You got it! You can even create your own custom personal nemesis who’ll pop up and harass you during missions!
4. DC Universe Online (new entry)
Despite DC Universe Online being developed by SOE (boo hiss), i can’t help but get excited about it. I’m a massive Batman fan, so the idea of being able to run/fly/rope swing my way around Gotham working on ‘cases’ for the Dark Knight sets off all my geek sensors!Â Of course, if you want to vent your evil streak, you could also run ‘capers’ with the Joker instead, creating plenty of opportunities for player v player smackdowns!
Add to that, the fact that the artwork is being directed by Jim Lee, one of my favourite comic book artists, and i’m sold.
Like Champions Online, DUO is also going for a more direct action control system, giving you the opportunity to pick up the nearest dumpster or bus and throw it at your enemy. In both Champions and DUO, part of the reason for this switch to an ‘action’ based control is due to them being console and PC releases (DUO on PS3 and Champions on XBox).Â It’ll be interesting to see how well the MMO makes the switch to the console market.
3. Star Wars : The Old Republic (position last yr – 6th)
Star Wars : The Old Republic is Bioware’s first foray into the world of MMOs.Â Set 3,500 years before the rise of Darth Vader, and 300 years after the events of KotOR, it places the game nicely in a timeline away from the prying eyes of Star Wars canon – a problem which constatly plagued Star Wars Galaxies.
Bioware claim they are planning to build the ‘ best story-driven MMO in the world’. Rather than the MMO staple of ‘kill 10 womp rats’, the story should have a more epic feel. The story is driven based on the character class you choose, with each class having a narrative that can play out in hunderds of different ways, making each players experience totally different… or at least that’s the plan… But, if anyone can pull it off, it’s Bioware.
As with KotOR and Mass Effect, you collect companions along your jorney (although only 1 will be with you at a time). Companions will grow with you, and becomes a big part of the players experience. They will also react in joy or horror at your actions, depending if you decide to be good or evil. Another Bioware staple making it’s way into TOR is that you start off netural, and become good or evil via your actions. Rather than picking Jedi or Sith at the start, you’ll have to work at killing puppys and force choking innocent bystanders for the darker factions in the game to take notice of you.
Having done a stunning job on the original KotOR game, and Mass Effect, it’ll be intriguing to see if Bioware can add the MMO without ruining the RPG.
2. Star Trek Online (position last yr – 4th)
It’s been a rough ol’ road for Star Trek Online, but after Perpetual Entertainment took a phaser blast to the face in Jan 08, Cryptic Studio’s were finally announced in July as the new developers, and things started moving at warp speed (… i’ll stop with the bad Trek references now, i promise).
Star Trek Online takes place 10yrs after the events of Nemesis. The Khitomer Accord has broken down and the Federation and the Klingons are once again at each other throats. Players with be given the captaincy of their own ship to ‘boldly go’ (sorry) off and explore the galaxy. Space will created ‘on the fly’ allowing players to discover uncharted systems, spacial anomalies, ship wrecks and distress calls.
Your not stuck playing just as a ship though. There are also away missions where you can land on planets and… erm… explore strange new worlds (damn it, sorry). Your not alone on board, and you can man your bridge crew with NPC doctors and engineers of different rank and skills. These improve various aspects of your ship, e.g. better security officer = better weapons, better engineers = better engines, or faster switching power to shields etc…
Cryptic have said it’s important to them to keep the feel to the show when your playing the game, with missions not just being ship based, or ground based but a mix styles. So for example, starfleet send to investigate a lost ship. You arrive at the location and discover an escape pod on a nearby planet. You beam down to the planet to investigate, and are told they were attacked by Klingons. You get an alert over your comm, and beam back to your ship to be confronted by a Klingon warbird dropping out of warp, and they aren’t happy to see you…
Ground combat is a fairly fast paced “run and gun” combat, where as the ship combat is a little more more ‘paced’. Getting your ship into a position to fire on the weak spot of your enemy’s sheilds, whilst manipulating your own shields and phaser power to provide optimum damage while still protecting yourself.
Cryptic’s trademark character customisation craziness also appears in STO, allowing players to not only to customise their own character, but even to create entirely new races!
Although STO is still a way off (probably a 2010 release), I’m so looking forward to being able to step into a new space MMO. Not since Star Wars Galaxies has there been a space MMO that allows you to wander round on the planets as well as fly through the stars. I’ve a lot of confidence in Cryptic being able to pull this off, and make a truly amazing game.
1. Stargate Worlds (position last yr – 1st)
Once again Stargate Worlds nabs the top spot for our most anticipated MMO. As we’ve said before, it’s the perfect setting for an MMO. Lot’s of planets to visit, lots of combat and tech. You’ll be able to play as Archaeologist, Scientist, Soldier, Commando, Asgard, Goa’uld, or Jaffa each with their own sets of skills and specialisations.
Combat will take the form of an FPS style play, with characters using scenery as cover. Other gameplay elements include mini games to cover situations such as hacking interfaces, translating texts, repairing items or sabotage.
Things are not all rosey at developer Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment who, like a lot of companies, have been suffering from financial problems due to the global downturn. However they are still working, ‘the lights are still on’, and Stargate Worlds is pushing forwards. We’re just hoping that they can get through it, and it doesn’t cause the shutdown of the Stargate before we get a chance to step through it.
With Wraith of the Lich King launched today, i though it only appropriate to something WoW related (we’re still on WAR so we probably won’t be covering any Lich King directly). I did come across this over at wowinsider though. Couple of people have built WoW’s Booty Bay out of Lego. Awesome work!
Multiverse were also developing a Firefly MMO, however that’s been delayed…
Given Multiverse have had the Firefly MMO license for around 2 years, and it’s gone nowhere, i don’t hold out a lot of hope for Buffy sadly. It also looks like both are licensed from Fox, and not Mutant Enemy, and anything involving Fox fills me with a sense of foreboding.
A Buffy MMO would be cool, but i still think a Firefly MMO would be cooler, and has more scope for an MMO.
Some nifty new in game footage from upcoming MMORPG Stargate Worlds. Brief glimpes of the GUI and what looks like a wirecutting mini game, along with some of the various worlds and Stargate Command.
Really looking forward to getting my hands on this!