Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Farewell, STO, and good luck!

Star Trek Online open beta ends today at 6pm, after being extended an extra day.   Last night was the last night I'll get to play though, as I'll be at work till after 6pm today.  So, I logged on for a bit to try a few last missions and attempt to get a feel for the "massive changes" that were touted in the great 21 Jan beta patch.  I tried to play over the weekend also, but extended unscheduled server downtimes and malfunctioning account servers put a serious limit on the amount I managed to play (as did spending some time working).

There are definitely some improvements and new coolness - most notable improvement being that scanners actually work (kind of), and most cool being voiceovers by Leonard Nimoy himself.  The down side of the scanners though is that on ground missions they seem configured to scan first for "anomalies" you can investigate, and only second (when all the anomalies are gone) do they point to your quest targets.  Possibly there was a configuration option somewhere I couldn't find that lets you choose what order to scan things in.  I hope so, because on the missions I tried the "anomalies" were often invisible or untargetable, hidden under the ground or in geometry, so it was impossible to ever get rid of them and thus you could never scan for your quest targets, resulting in much running around in circles hunting.  Hopefully this will be addressed in a pre-launch bug fix; other than this bug, the scanners were a huge improvement and help.

The down side of having Leonard Nimoy is that in order to have a professional actor provide voiceover for the game, they presumably had to sign a contract with the Screen Actors Guild.  And that means they've almost certainly had to agree not to use any voice over talent that isn't also registered with SAG, which means much more paperwork and expense to do any kind of voiceover in the future - neither of which I'm guessing STO will be in a position to afford once they launch, so that probably means very little further voiceover work at all for the game.  Which is a shame, because voiceovers do add atmosphere to a game, and judging by the terrifying scary voice that my female Vulcan security officer kept using, they could definitely use a few more voice options.

Alas, most of the problems that annoyed me before remain even after the big patch.  Space combat continues to either bore me or frustrate me.  One mission I did on the weekend involved exploring unknown sectors - the mission went like this:

  • spend 1-2 minutes flying to an 'anomaly' in the specified sector
  • zone in to the system you thereby discover
  • get a mission to contact the planet to offer help
  • spend 5 minutes flying to the planet to get close enough to hail them (literally 5 minutes - I timed it)
  • talk to the planet, who demand provisions
  • leave the planetary system
  • spend 2 minutes flying to the sirius sector
  • spend 3 minutes flying to a starbase
  • spend 5 minutes running around the starbase trying to find provisions, and eventually manage to purchase them only by dint of selling every scrap of other inventory I'd previously looted
  • spend 3 minutes flying back to the original sector
  • return to the system that needed the provision, and deliver the food, completing the mission
15+ minutes of flying around - not even actively flying around either, just crank the engines up and stare in boredom while the ship moves itself around.  Not exactly the kind of gameplay I find exciting.  Still, was preferable to the combat missions where you have absolutely no options but to fight, and are hopelessly outnumbered, so that the only 'strategy' by which to win is to try and take out one ship before you die, then respawn, and try to pick off the next ship, etc.  With no death penalty and no way to win without using this kamikaze tactic, this seems to be an actively encouraged method of combat.

I took a screenshot of the inventory window, to illustrate how confusing I found it combined into one.  All loot goes into just one bag, whether it's personal wearables or ship equipment.  The icons range from not extremely helpful to completely unintelligible (rather like Champions Online) and you can't tell if something is ground-based equipment, ship gear, permanent, or expendable without pausing and mouse-overing every single item to see what the pop up says.This is my inventory window:

It's labeled below, but I invite you to look at the icons in the cropped shot above first and attempt to guess what they are, just for fun.  (For extra fun, look at the rest of the UI in the big shot below and try to guess what those tiny icons all do too.)  Maybe I'm just easily confused, but I do find it easier to be able to comprehend at a glance what is in my bags.

On the bright side, as you see above I managed to obtain a tribble or two, which is surely a good goal for a Star Trek beta (even though I just bought it off the exchange from another player).  Vulcan still doesn't appear to be visitable or have a space station, however.  And I still can't explore my own ship.  Adding further worry, apparently some last-minute changes are upsetting people.  The last minute balance changes to Champions are a large part of why the launch was not well received - content was suddenly too hard, abilities were totally imbalanced, people had a miserable starting experience and left.  Hopefully this has less of an impact, but I hope it's not a bad omen.

Anyway, I still find the ground missions didn't grab me; the space missions still were either very lengthy or frustrated me in their requirement for kamikaze combat tactics; and as I couldn't find anything else to do (like explore, or seek out new life and new civilizations, or decorate my ship, or tradeskill for a living), I plan to hold off on playing further and see how it goes for a while.  If it's still around in a year and is reported to be much improved, perhaps I'll try it again then.  A lot of additional fun and polish could be added, given an additional year.  It seems that large numbers of enthusiastic Trekkers are queueing up to play, so the game may have enough momentum from that to continue adding content for quite some time.  This Trekker personally still finds the game's philosophy does not quite fit my own vision of Star Trek, but perhaps I'm in the minority.  I guess we'll see.

Farewell, U.S.S Cephalopod, NCC-92305, back to spacedock storage with you.  Farewell, Lt. Blythe, and Ensigns Emma, Ghissel, Salm, and Spork.  It was fun.  Perhaps we'll meet again in a year or so.


  1. I'm definitely going to be playing wait and see with this one.

    A pity, I'd love it to be a great success a really good Star Trek MMO would be a wonderful option.

    It seems to me that studios have enormous difficulties breaking out of bad habits. Cryptic, Funcom, you kinda know that they're going to do X where X is really bad for their success and is also a thing that no one else in the industry does. With Cryptic it's last second balance panics. With Funcom it's stability.

    People really need to learn from their previous work and don't seem to do so often enough.

  2. "Adding further worry to the whole thing, Cryptic have reverted to their Champions Online trick of last-minute-end-of-beta-balance-change that nobody has time to test, in this case slightly less drastic but still apparently upsetting people. The last minute balance changes to Champions are a large part of why the launch was such a disaster - content was suddenly too hard, abilities were totally imbalanced, people had a miserable starting experience and left. Hopefully this has less of an impact, but it doesn't seem a good omen that Cryptic learned any lessons at all."

    Sadly they are not alone with this.
    The MMO I love an play for over 5 years now did the same thing with at least it's last three expansions. I hope they don't make the same fault with the soon to come 6th expansion. ;)

  3. I had a session for free there, although U.S.S Essess is parked fairly permanently!

    I found the game was all about combat and gear and not immersive at all due to the third person perspective. Gameplay was fairly simple/easy in ground combat (or at least I played for several hours without being challenged once, and I'm a fairly average gamer).

    Overall it felt also like everyone was alone, I like the original Star Trek, so this could have grabbed me. On the positive side what was there was polished.

    But your comments on bags intrigue me, they definitely do look messy in STO (although I didn't play long enough to make a mess!).

    Does this mean that we could get improved bags in my favourite MMO though? :)

    Even just some switches to prefer quest items, consumables, armour etc to bags would be great.