The Star Trek Online beta has been open for three days now. My experience and thoughts on the first three days below.
I was one of the thousands (tens of thousands?) of players who decided to log on right at opening time, 10 a.m. and January 12th. I was able to look around the character creation screen for a few minutes before being disconnected from the server. After this happened a few times, I decided I’d play again in the evening, after the crowds had died down a bit.
Once I got around to playing it again, Cryptic had already rolled out a patch to help connectivity and connection. Since then, I’ve had almost no problem what-so-ever connecting and playing. I’m ashamed to say that my internet provider (damn you, Comcast!) has crapped out more times than my connection to the game’s servers (one additional time).
Having played City of Villains and Champions Online, I was anticipating a a strong character creator in STO. Even in its scaled down, beta form, I have not been disappointed.
It wasn’t the plethora of choices available to me (there weren’t many – we’ll get to that in a moment), but it was the organization of the choices that, in my opinion, set this above other character creator’s I’ve seen. Sort of by definition, there are less things to customize in STO than, say, Champions Online. You’re not going to have a bionic, jet-pack wearing, monocle-using Captain. But the areas you can customize – the head in particular, but also the body size and mass as well as the uniform – offer the same sort of options as other Cryptic games. I’ve got a classy looking Captain, one Alyx Fett.
However, this being beta, many of the character creator’s choices have been slimmed down. There aren’t many different races from the Star Trek universe represented in the “Unknown” (i.e. create-your-own) part of the builder. I really want my Cardassians! But I’ve read on the forums that there will be over 20 less well-known races from Star Trek making their appearance in the character creator, so I’m really psyked (see the developer post here.)
The game opens with a short tutorial, in the guise of a unexpected Borg attack on your fleet. It was really quite fun, and didn’t come across as oppressively heavy handed, the way some tutorials can. The tutorial also show-cased on of Cryptic’s great insights, alternating between space and ground action to keep things exciting. I ran around, fighting off Borg boarders…
… and after a “You Are In Command Now” moment (“The Borg targeted all of our bridge officers! oh noes!”), I became acting captain of the U.S.S. Ticonderoga. Badassness in space promptly ensued, with me and other newbies fighting off Borg drones and finally a Cube. There was also some routing of a Borg strike force off of the Vega colony.
Since then, I’ve run a few patrol missions, including a massive fight between a Federation fleet (of other newbs) and Orion battleships. It was really fun, especially for being something like two or three hours into the game. I forgot to take screen caps (sadness, my attack runs were really awesome). Here’s a significantly less cool picture of me duking it out with a similar warship.
Something that really struck me about these space battles were: they retroactively made the space battle of The Next Generation make sense. Let me explain: space combat in TNG is really fast. Check out this clip from the episode “The Wounded” – one salvo of photon torpedoes against a Cardassian warship, and boom its gone. The same even goes for shots fired against the Enterprise – how often has the flagship of the Federation been fired upon, and lost shields in moments? I always felt it was a unrealistic, a convention forced upon the show because of time and budget constraints.
Well, the combat in STO is a mixture of what TNG had and what I wanted. It’s fast and brutal, while at the same time being stately and tactical. Get your opponents shields down, then get a torpedo into their hull. Maneuver your ship to keep their weakened shields in your firing arcs – and your weakened shields out of theirs. Use abilities at just the right moment. Most of all, it’s fun and it looks great.
But combat isn’t all there is to this game. I’ve played for around four to five hours in the past three days, and I’ve actually done more non-combat than combat missions. In one case, I was sent on a patrol of the Vulcan Sector – at two of the four planets I visited, I fought Orion slavers. But at the third, I helped tow a damaged miner back to its starbase, and at the fourth I listened to the complaints of miners who had decided to air their grievances with the Federation by stopping production. In the last case, I totally expected fighting – but, true to Star Trek principles, we talked it out and I was quizzed on what the miners were complaining about. I just really wish I could have dispatched my Engineer to repair their holodeck facilities! Later, I was sent on an exploration mission, where I gathered ecological samples, and another exploration mission had me scanning for destroyed wrecks and uncovering a conspiracy on the planet I was orbiting.
On the balance, I have been immensely impressed with STO. It’s been said before, but it is worth saying again – Cryptic really does seem to “get” what Star Trek is about. There’s good ship-to-ship combat that really captures the more cinematic moments of DS9, and there are plenty of non-combat options. It’s still in beta, and parts of that show – AA is still turned off for my ATI card, for instance – but I’m really looking forward to how this game turns out.