Oz’s Trail of Trials, Part 2 – Set Phasers to Spam

You know, it’s harder to come up with a witty title that has not been used elsewhere than you’d think. That said, I now present part two of my trial account adventure, where I journey into one of the new kids on the block, Star Trek Online. And as my title alludes to, the goldpammers have gotten there first. I’m going to try not to ride the game too hard, as after all it is new, and that would be like picking on the new kid at school on the playground. That said, it is a well-known name, and of course has lots of baggage with it. I really think the developers did a good job trying to blend in 40+ years of history into a game without it being absolutely required to move around. I am, however, a bit of a Star Trek geek, and playing this game really brought it out. I’m almost ashamed at how many references I was easily able to get.

One thing that continuously made me giggle is the way they got around the whole advancement vs. spaceship command wrinkle. A major part of Star Trek is the ships, and of course a ship is commanded by its Captain. But if you’re a captain already, you have no need for advancement. Without advancement, one of the accepted basics of an MMORPG is out the window. Their solution: whoever commands the ship is the captain, regardless of actual rank. Brilliant in its own way, it allows you to still progress without taking away what would be half the game. I find it funny though as you start out as an Ensign and are given your own ship right away, after the crew is lost. This is vaguely possible in reality, however after you first promotion, you get a brand new complete shiny ship. The equivalent would be you going to naval boot camp, and once finishing, getting your own aircraft carrier. It’s a game though, and this mechanic allows them to give you all the different ships Star Trek has come up with over the years.

Space battle, and travel, is really amazing. I personally detest flight simulator games because they typically have a million controls and dials, and STO is not a really exception to this. However, they have distilled it down to more manageable controls that allow the player to move around without much problem. The battles are also initially very simple, which gives you time to learn. After I got my second ship, I had so many controls I was feeling a bit confused, but it added to the challenge for me and it worked.

Many of the space battles after your first promotion are “open instance” types. These types of zones are ones where the quest (mission) is going on and people join and leave as they finish it. These scale from 2 people to massive raids (fleets). This is not a new mechanic, but it’s implemented well. The one disappointing part is that if you get an unhelpful group mate, the battle has to be soloed. My first space-death was when I zoned into a group, got joined with a player 12 levels above me, who was apparently AFK. I was then mashed quite quickly by the higher level ships. Besides this, I usually found these open instances fun, and when chatting with the other players (hard as you have 20 controls to push), found them friendly.

Ground battle on the other hand, except off of zones mentioned above, is almost always alone, with a team of NPCs that you choose from your ship. The ground game is…disappointing. The graphics are much lower in quality than the space ones, and I found the Klingons very creepy at close quarters, which is where they prefer to fight. There is no facial movement, and the models have rough animation. It is like someone took Doom 3D and put Star Trek mesh over the models. The controls are awkward although simple, and the fights are almost always very simple and easily winnable. My son, a rabid gamer of the shooter type games, found it to be a “bad 3rd person shooter”, and I’m not inclined to disagree. The landscapes though are gorgeous, and you can visit stunning representations of scenes from the movies and shows both in missions and out. I found myself dreading when I had to “beam down” as I knew that I’d soon have un-animated Klingon masks rushing at my screen. That bashing aside, the creators of this game really had to try and figure out a way to make two games in one. If all you did was fly around in a starship, people would say it was a flight simulator. If it was just ground missions, it’d be a FPS. The marriage of the two is right in here, but I found the game to be handicapped by the poor animation/graphics of the ground game. Also what I found very interesting is not every mission is a fight. There are a good deal of missions where all you do is explore, and I found that to be very redeeming. After all, the original Star Trek, for all of the times that the Great Shatner found a new woman, also was about exploring new places. The later series would use this as their prime concept.

STO’s auction house, the Exchange, is something I’m guessing was a last minute decision. Despite lifting many other concepts from other games (which is common in the industry and not a bad idea), the Exchange was not. I would assume that in the near future it will be massively revamped. As it stands right now, it is a no-fee, flat price, instant pay, forever listed, excel sheet without sorting. The lack of ability to sort is aggravating, but not as much as the random window view sizes. Looking at one item you may get 100 on a page, and another may show 25. What you list an item for is what you get if it sells, and the money instantly lands in your pocket. You get an in game mail about it, but there is no need to ever go there. The Exchange had listings of hundreds of most items, and I felt like I was in a garage sale most of the time. The “crafting system” as it’s called also seems like a last minute addition, as it’s not crafting at all. You trade in items you pick up from “anomalies” you pass in your travels, plus a store-bought or looted item, and get another item. That’s not a trade skill, that’s barter.

This is getting long, so I will conclude with Tribbles. I was able to breed, in my 5-day trial, several of the second highest level of these using items I looted. This is an optional yet money-consuming process that gives you some very nice buffs. It’s not difficult to do, but is fairly rewarding for those who are bored enough to play with it. Be sure never to leave a Tribble in the same area of food. They accurately represented the episode with their breeding habits.

Overall, I liked the game a good deal. I think it has a decent amount of potential. Space flight and battle, while somewhat repetitious, made me feel very happy I have a high-end graphics card. Ground battles did not. I was also disappointed in the lack of control of gold spammers (it was nigh impossible to ask a question without it scrolling away immediately, and the spam control sometimes takes 5+ tries to block the person), and really think the game’s controllers should, if nothing else, be online and blocking the spammers themselves in these first fragile days. After all, there is only one server. The spam-reporting feature copies LoTRO’s current mechanic exactly, with an unlimited count, so it is at the least very user friendly, once you find it. The in-game community was very friendly, something I’ve grown to expect in a game from my time in LoTRO, and very present and willing to help new people. Aside from the normal occasionally silly chatter, questions from anyone were answered in a clear manner and politely, which really says a lot. Bravo to you if you’re a player – a mature community is something no programmer can code but is infinitely needed in any game. I would give this game 4 Oz’s out of 5, and may end up tossing a few dollars Crypic’s way for a month subscription at some point in the future. I couldn’t resist picking up the little shuttle pet that was a freebie from a restaurant on the west coast. Someone made a dollar off my gaming habit on eBay, but it was fun.

Next – Oz goes home, or at least a parallel post-apocalyptic home. EQ2 looms ahead.

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Oz

Jaded old gamer, and father of gamers, who's been around long enough. Still, he's always up for giving the Next Big Thing a whirl.

5 thoughts on “Oz’s Trail of Trials, Part 2 – Set Phasers to Spam”

  1. I have been ejnoying the space battle part of the game a lot more than the away team missions. The explore so and so sectors are nice and fun. If I zone into a unkown system and I get “Planet Whatsis is hailing us” I just warp back out. I don’t want to go onto the ground unless I absolutely have to. Last time I did, I ended up with a mission that never ended. The mobs all had shield regenerators and would never die!

  2. Sad to hear about the auction house. I had the same feeling about Cryptic’s Champions Online- the entire thing felt like a clumsily-pasted-in “placeholder” for a market system that just wasn’t ready for launch. As time progressed and the interface never improved, I held out hope that maybe- just maybe- they’d just diverted resources to STO and, since it’s essentially the same game engine, might be able to port the tech back to CO afterward.

    Now it seems that the market interface really WAS the best the designers came up with…

  3. From my armchair Dev position, I think they should have done what EQ1 did with their AH option in Luclin – simply leave it out until they felt it was finished. They caught tons of slack for this (after all, it was promoted on the box), but in the end they released a fairly interesting auction system which was fairly innovative at the time.

    Mind you, in actual use, it was annoying and cumbersome, but at least it wasn’t released and then “fixed”. Sometimes it’s better to fall on the sword than release something half-baked. That first impression can really hurt.

  4. Out of all the auction systems, I think I like CoX’s the best. Of course, that could be tied to the item system they have.

    1. That should be entirely severable from the item system. It is a consignment house with blind prices, buy orders, and a recent history. It is like a weaker version of the EVE Online market, which is the best system around — and it doesn’t need auctions to make the economy work!

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