We first reviewed Cryptic’s Star Trek Online back in Feb last year a few weeks after launch, and whilst (like every other MMO player) i’m waiting for SWTOR to be released, I’ve decided to revisit a few old MMO’s to see how they’ve changed.
Is It more Star Trekky?
One of the key issues I had with STO during the first review was it’s over reliance on combat for missions. If there’s one thing Star Trek was never about, it was killing everything you came across. And, whilst there is still a lot of combat in STO (there is a war on after all), Cryptic have also added a lot more non-combat/puzzle related sections to it’s missions, along with dedicated ‘diplomatic missions’ which have no combat at all.
It seems in the 16 months since the game launched, someone over at Cryptic suggested the wacky idea of actually watching some episodes of the various Star Trek tv shows, and the penny finally dropped on how they should be writing missions. The Romulan based ‘Cloaked Intentions’ and the new ‘The Devidians’ series of episodes, are a huge leap forward in storytelling from the early ‘go here > kill that in space > kill this on a planet > kill that in space again’ mission structure. The new improved STO has some great, well written stories, that really pull you into the game and actual feel like Star Trek.
So there’s more content?
In addition to Cryptic adding more stories, there’s also a slew of new content added by players themselves through the new Foundry mission builder. The quality does vary somewhat between episodes, but some of them are really well constructed, and vastly entertaining. There’s a simple, player reviewed, 5 star rating system which helps you to filter things down and find the better missions. Some are somewhat like the filler episodes of the show (entertaining, but you could live without them), but as players have got more competent with the Foundry system, they are now producing epic, linked episode arks, that almost match the new stuff Cryptic are writing.
One tiny change which made a huge difference to me, is the ability to switch off the ‘astrometrics’ layer on the space maps. Previously, when you warped from system to system, you got thrown onto a stylised tactical map interface, which jarred horribly with the beautifully crafted spacescapes you get inside a system. Now, you can turn off all the extraneous stylised graphics, leaving you to warp about a far more pleasant environment. It’s still not the vast and open space that you’d get in a game like EVE, but that minor change does really help with the games immersion.
Another addition, is the ability to wander around your ship, rather than just your bridge. You still can’t access every area, but you can visit the crew deck – which has sickbay, crew quarters and a lounge – and you can also get to the engineering level. It’s a small thing, but it all helps sit you in the Star Trek world.
The rest of the interface is as generic and functional as it was previously (i still think they missed a trick not using a LCARS interface). However they have tweaked some things by adding some some long overdue filters onto the HUGE list of items in the shops/skills windows. I’d still like some decent filters on the Exchange (aka auction house), that allow you to look for things by function rather than just by name, but it’s a start.
What about the combat?
Space combat is pretty much as it ever was, and that’s fine by me. It might not be perfect, but it’s entertaining, and there’s enough skills and variety in the ships and officer choices for players to find a fit they’re comfortable with.
The ground combat sucks a bit less… That’s not to say it’s good… it just not as bad as it was. Your away team seem a little less stupid than they were. They still get stuck on things – although not as much as they did. They still run around and jump about like they’re being controlled by an 10yr old child who’s just downed 3 bags of Haribo and a litre of Coke. They still don’t care if your stood next to the enemy when they decide to throw a plasma grenade at them setting you on fire as well. Honestly, if Starfleet saw some of the antics your away team got up to, i’m pretty sure every one of them would have been court martialed a long time ago!
And how are the Graphics?
Due to the fact that STO is built on Cryptic’s MMO engine, it’s still got that horrible floaty feel to it, same issue they had with City of Heroes and Champions Online. Until they decide the build a system that doesn’t feel like everything is held together by elastic bands, i guess that’s always going to be the case.
There’s also issues with the graphics themselves. I have a relatively new PC and reasonable graphics card running up-to-date drivers, which should be able to cope with STO without any issues at all. However i’m still really struggling if the shadows are turned onto high, or if there are a lot of lighting effects on screen. I’m beginning to suspect it’s just that STO is not that well coded, and that’s causing issues on certain graphic cards. I can’t see how a rig that runs newer games like Dragon Age 2, or other MMOs like the visually stunning Conan, without so much as a glitch, still struggles with STO’s graphics.
Despite Cryptic’s engine, and some graphical issues, Star Trek Online is a really fun game. Over the last 16 months Cryptic have worked hard to make STO feel far more like Star Trek than it ever did before. The addition of the Foundry means their is always some new story to play through. And if you want a take a break from playing, you can always create your own episode. It’s not perfect, and i’m still not a fan of the ground combat, but the new ‘out of combat’ stuff is wonderfully written and engaging, and far more like what i wanted it to be in the first place.