Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Star Trek Online Beta: Open Space

When we last left our intrepid hero Acting Captain Kirith Kodachi, he had finished the tutorial missions and had arrived at Earth Spacedock, the starting "town" if you will where things can be bought and sold and official missions are handed out.

I visited the NPCs you need to talk to to get moving and explored the stardock some. A lot of the lag/choppiness issues experience in ground form were gone and I boosted up the graphic detail a bit and still had a smooth experience. The loading times between levels of the stardock were not as severe as previously experienced with the average being about 30 seconds; still longer than I would like. I really hate the turbolifts for getting up and down: you can't go to any turbo lift and choose to go up or down a level, each one takes you one direction. I accidently when down one when I wanted to go up and I couldn't be arsed to go through the long loading screens two more times to get where I wanted to go. So I ignored the official quest giver and beamed out to my ship instead. Time to explore!

Side note: the ship customization is really cool. You can choose from different styles to put your ship together and different colour markings, very sexy. I know a lot of Eve pilots would kill for something similar. But I question the performance of these highly customizable models as every time you enter a zone you need to load the model for everybody else's ship.

Once in space I was able to warp out and enter "Sector Space" which is basically a big map you move around like in normal space but represents you warping at high speed to planets, other ships, markers, starbases, etc which all represent "instances". The first one that was near was Wolf 359 but it was nothing to do other than to look at hundreds of old Federation wrecks and watch other players warp in, move around, decide there is nothing to do, and warp out. Which is what I did.

Next I went to a solar system and stumbled into a four ship instance where we fight Orion pirates. Oh goody.

One thing I'll give STO, the space combat looks pretty. Since all weapons only work within 10 km (and are most effective at point blank range) you get to see up close the enemy ships and your own ships. Its very much like Starfleet Command: use phasers to deplete shields on a facing and then plow torpedoes into the gap. Its all very simple and a little frenetic; but performance was good and smooth. I can see how ships with more "slots" for weapons and special abilities can be fun later on even if the simple combat now in the starter ship is not all that thrilling (much like Eve combat in the beginning is not that involved either).

Everything is instanced. Everything. You even have the option of switching instances for what I assume is meeting up with friends. In the instance against the pirates I was grouped with three other players. We didn't coordinate nor talk, not that we had to, the enemy was very weak. In a harder scenario we'd have to work together somehow but I'm not sure how to do it as I couldn't tell if the chat window was localized to the instance or not. I assume so.

Sometimes when enemy ships blow up they leave little glowing things to pick up which are often new items for your ship or things to sell. You can completely revamp your ship's setup anywhere, no spacedock required; after beating the pirates I put a new weapon one and moved my torpedoes to a aft hardpoint. Not realistic but not much in this game is, much like Star Trek itself to be honest. As for the drops I wondered if I was stealing from the other players in the instance by taking them and if it pissed them off. Not that the instance doesn't repeat every time you warp in, I suspect.

All in all the ship to ship combat is fun but shallow. Yeah, the hot-bar button pressing and "combos" of abilities will take some skills to manage at the higher levels, but there is no grander scale of combat such as maneuvuring for position and setting traps before the fighting even begins. You warp in, knife fight, collect loot and experience. If you die it means nothing: so far you simply respawn. All in all it means nothing.

For a casual player this will probably be very attractive, a no-thinking-required space combat game that is pretty and gives the feeling of progression to bigger and better ships. I'm sure some of the more advanced space scenarios are quite involved and challenging requiring coordination and careful adherence to scripts in order to successfully complete. I'm sure the PvP component will be fun and pretty and ultimately meaningless with higher level players winning most of the time against lower level players with no need to apply week-spanning strategies or logistic lines.

So my official recommendation? If you are a huge Trek fan this is the game for you. If you want a simple space combat game with no consequences and low difficulty level, this is the game for you.

If you want a deep and involving universe that changes from player actions and feels like a big single real world, with deep strategic combat and player wars that span months if not years, Star Trek Online is NOT for you.

Bottom line: STO is not a threat to Eve in the long term. The players that will enjoy and stick with STO are not the ones that would have stuck and made a difference in Eve in the first place. Will I subscribe? Most likely no; its more shallow than I expected and, to be honest, not very well implemented in a lot of areas that will annoy the hell out of me. I'll probably check it out six months down the road though, see how its doing then.

7 comments:

  1. I was interested until you said everything was instanced...

    I think instances are killing the entire MMOG genre. The whole point in the original MMOGs was to share a world with other people. These days everything is instanced to the point where it's no different than Diablo II.

    No thanks.

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  2. I agree - STO is no threat at all. Not that I think many of us who have been die hard Star Trek fans wanted to see something new, but alas not to be.

    Now if CCP could just fix their lag - which I think is the biggest problem right now with Eve. Ironic, since so much of Dominion was about Sovereignty.

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  3. "Bottom line: STO is not a threat to Eve in the long term. The players that will enjoy and stick with STO are not the ones that would have stuck and made a difference in Eve in the first place."

    I disagree.

    STO is not a threat EVE in the sense that the EVE hardcore will not leave for a shallower game.

    Where STO *IS* a threat is from the space game enthusiast who logs on to EVE, is met by an impenetrable UI, complex game play, and pathetic tutorials and then quits in frustration because he now knows that there is another space game out there for him. This type of player now has ZERO incentive to learn to love EVE, and that's dangerous.

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  4. I dunno, STO doesn't exactly have a straightforward interface and control scheme in its space component either. Besides, I've never heard a new player in eve say they were going to quit but lack of options made them stick it out :P Either they hated it or loved it.

    We'll see where things are in a year.

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  5. Star Trek Online is like a horse starting a race with two legs.

    For those of us who have been trekkies for decades, STO is abominable. Toy ships firing cartoon lasers, bridges and corridors that look like they belong in Jack and the Beanstalk, and a game system where "exploring strange new worlds" translates to "killing on dull, unimaginative crap worlds" ad nauseum.

    STO is crap. And it will be lucky if it does any better than Champions Online has faired.

    And frankly I don't give a hoot about Cryptic and all their justifications for putting out this crap of a game.

    Let's call a spade a spade why don't we?

    Yeah - Star Trek will get the lame brains to play who probably never got their diploma from High School. I'll concede that.

    But competition for Eve? STO will be lucky to survive this year - and it probably won't.

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  6. Kirith,

    I'm disappointed in you. It took a long time to find and settle tactics in EVE, and the same will be true in STO. We've been experimenting with full impulse "hot drops," 3-diminsional dive bombing (weapon arcs extend parallel, but not up and down), specialized torp only ships. And you haven't even probably had a chance to fool around with mine launchers, tractor beaming, and boarding parties have you?

    If its not fun for you, its not fun. I'm not sure it qualifies as shallow though.

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  7. "All in all the ship to ship combat is fun but shallow. Yeah, the hot-bar button pressing and "combos" of abilities will take some skills to manage at the higher levels, but there is no grander scale of combat such as maneuvuring for position and setting traps before the fighting even begins."

    I stand by my words. As long as all battles are instanced, grand strategy (i.e. not combat tactics) will be non existant in STO.

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