Star Trek Online – My final thoughts.

Note: This is my opinion of Star Trek Online as it currently stands just before launch. Like any MMO, it is likely to change greatly over the months and years, and not everything I say here will necessarily hold true at the time of reading.

Like so many, I had high expectations for a game based on Star Trek. I don’t think those expectations were unrealistic. Indeed, most of what I expected had already been done in other games. I love Star Trek, and I wanted to love this game. I was, as any of you that have bravely read all thirteen parts of my liveblog may have guessed, pretty darn disappointed. If you have a spare half hour and like watching paint dry, you can find the start of that epic here. I found both good and bad on that adventure, and depending on what you’re looking for in STO, you may find it more encouraging. Myself, I was looking for an MMORPG.

I have a lot of issues with STO, but I’ve already written about a million words on it, so I’ll try to keep this short:

War is everywhere!

Combat was always going to be a big part of any Star Trek MMO. I can live with (and enjoy!) having more fights in an hour of gameplay than would normally happen in a season of TNG. I did expect to be able to limit casualties, through diplomacy, trickery, or disabling ships. On the ground I expected to be able to set phasers to stun, and be able to leave my enemies unconscious but alive, ready to be beamed to the brig. Instead, I leave corpses and burning hulks in my wake.

Some people, especially on the forums, say that it is WAR!!! That we can’t act like Federation officers in the TV shows because we’re at war and the rules all change:

Firstly, us being at war was brought in after the fact as an excuse for the game being all about killing.

Secondly, the rules don’t change in war. Not for the Federation. We’re still supposed to abhor violence except when strictly necessary, and supposed to try to limit casualties on BOTH sides. In STO you have a mission where your job is to kill the witnesses to deeds Starfleet don’t want reported. Picard would resign his commission if he was ordered to do something so obviously against everything the Federation stands for. “The first duty of every Starfleet Officer is to the truth.”.

The non-combat missions consist of you wandering around an empty planet, or bit of space finding glowy things (usually 5 of them) and pressing F. Sometimes they mix it up a bit and you have to fight enemies AND press F at glowy things. Sometimes those glowy things are people and don’t actually glow, but they work in much the same manner.

Combat in STO is fun, don’t get me wrong. If you want an online ship-combat game then you’ll probably really enjoy this. I also enjoy the ground combat, which is quite chaotic and surprisingly tactical.

The lack of choice.
All decisions are made for you. There is only one way through every mission. As mentioned, frequently that one way involves doing something you might utterly disagree with.

The problem-solving aspect of Star Trek has been completely neglected. Any interaction with a console or device is simply a case of it being one more glowy object you have to walk up to and press F at. If only they’d taken the time to have actual engineering/science skills, and minigames to use them in.

NPCs too are just objects you press F at to talk to. You might have a few different questions you can ask them, but in the end, you have to press the green line to carry on with the mission. They feel like mere automatons. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the “diplomatic” exploration missions, where they ask for a resource, you give it to them, and then thats the end of the mission. Mike Singleton’s games showed, two decades ago, how you could procedurally generate interestingish NPCs with their own likes, dislikes, goals, and desires. There was no need for STO’s NPCs to feel so static.

Pull Up! Pull Up!!!
We’re limited to 45% pitch against an arbitrary flat plane in STO, and we cannot roll. Post-hoc reasons why this is a great thing have been trotted out (often suggesting that we, the players, just can’t handle full 3D movement), but I suspect the real reason is that STO uses the same engine as Champions Online. As the bug which has you as a ship on a station, or a man in space shows, the space combat engine is simply giving our character a spaceship body. It drastically reduces your freedom to use interesting tactics, and further makes all space fights feel samey. The Jump to Lightspeed expansion for SWG, for all it’s faults, showed that full 3D movement was entirely possible, and fun, in an MMO.

The Klingon faction has almost no content outside of PvP. That is not an exaggeration. Apparently this is being fixed after release. Until then, Klingons are just there to provide Federation PvPers with someone to shoot.

There is none. Sure, there’s harvesting, in as much as you find anomalies in space and on the ground that you can get objects out of. But then you take those objects to an NPC on a starbase and swap them for equipment. That’s not crafting. That’s just buying stuff with yet another currency.

Where are our scientists and engineers, building clever contraptions, and jury-rigging ship improvements? Researching cures for mysterious plagues, or inventing a weapon that can harm an otherwise invulnerable space-worm?

To End

Star Trek Online is in many ways like Pirates of the Burning Sea, but without the in-depth economy, and the meaningful RvR. Even with those positive differences, I still tired of PotBS (though I pop back from time to time) as one ship combat feels very much like another. Unlike on the land, there is far less variety of location and enemy to make you feel you’re doing something different. STO has exactly this same problem.

I pre-ordered from Direct2Drive. They have a no return policy on MMOs, even if you change your mind before launch. If it were not for that, I would have cancelled my pre-order. As it is, I will play out my included month, and I suppose I’ll see what sort of state the game is at that point. Maybe magical things will happen between now and then, but we need more features, not just more of the same sort of content we already have. I’ve been at this too long to trust developer promises terribly much though.

Final advice for any MMO developer that happens to swing by:

1. Stop designing MMO to be released on both PCs and consoles. You end up removing half the depth, the game fails, and then it never ends up coming out on a console in the end anyway. See: Champions Online, Age of Conan.

2. You need to try to appeal to multiple playstyles. The successful MMOs knew this. STO, I fear, will only appeal to people who really really like the limited space combat it offers. Perhaps also the subset of Star Trek fans who find the bits outside of the fight scenes boring.

3. Don’t make all the best stuff pre-order bonuses. I know that the idea of someone buying multiple copies of the game in order to get all the gear is the sort of thing that makes accountants weep tears of joy. Personally I find it rather exploitative. STO made the uniforms from the television shows all different pre-order bonuses, leaving us with unfamiliar, and not terribly nice uniforms. Being like Picard or Sisco is why so many people are buying the game. It boggles my mind that something so iconic, and able to bring joy, is considered an extra. That greed will cost in the long run.

Some folks will enjoy Star Trek Online for what it is. You might be one of them, and even if you only get a month or so of enjoyment out of it, you might consider that a good deal. Maybe I had unreasonable expectations. I hope, one day, someone makes the Star Trek MMO I dreamed of.

28 comments to Star Trek Online – My final thoughts.

  • Honestly what you are looking for is a single player game. You cannot make an MMO today that does all of the stuff they do in a Star Trek Episode

    For that, go get Mass Effect or play Dragon Age or maybe Morrowind and even those are still incomplete

  • People keep saying things like that, but I don’t think it is actually true. (I might say that they’re exaggerating what is actually asked for to make it sound absurd) You only have to look at pre-NGE Star Wars Galaxies, or Pirates of the Burning Sea to see the sorts of things that are possible. You don’t have to be riding on a rail the whole time. Your choices can matter.

    In PotBS, you CAN disable ships, and accept their surrender. It is not remotely a difficult problem that requires a single player game. Just takes a little effort and vision.

    It is hardly as if crafting systems are an unsolved problem in MMO design either. Nor is being able to fly at a greater angle than 45%. Or giving the Klingons some content for launch.

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  • neothoron

    The absence of choice seems (alas!) to be par for the course for many MMOs – Champions Online and WoW both ask you to do some extremely stupid things – and the only way to disagree is to cancel the quest. I wonder how much that breaks the illusion of immersion.

    The theme of “killing witnesses” strikes me as similar to that “starfleet secret section in DS9” that inoculated Odo with a virus in order to genocide the Changeling – meaning that Starfleet has a dark side, for which anything goes.

    Problem: you don’t have any option but to join that dark side and do that work. *sigh*

    As for the graphics engines being the same for space and ground, I’d guess that they couldn’t afford to make a full-fledged space engine, and they couldn’t afford to launch without either space or ground. Doesn’t change that the odds for them to change space combat to permit full 3D movement someday are slim at best.

    Thank you for your STO posts, I enjoyed them very much.

  • I remember them! Section 31, a rogue bit of Starfleet intelligence. Nasty bunch!

    Thanks for your comments! I’ve enjoyed doing my STO beta liveblog. I think I’ll definitely do something like this again in the future.

  • Yo Ark. Thanks for the beta coverage – I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit. I have fairly similar opinions about STO as you do but I’m still somewhat optimistic about the game for some reason. I’m sure that optimism will fade quickly, mind you, and I’d be surprised if I stick it out for longer than a month or two. After all of the MMOs I’ve played you’d think I’d know better by now. ;)

  • Longasc

    Excellent summary, just like your other STO articles.

    The game will disappoint anyone who expects more than Starfleet Comman III / PotBS combat in space. There are some story missions modeled after the TV series, mostly TOS, like the Guardian of Forever, the Doomsday Device etc, but you never have a choice. And the direction the game is taking is one towards “Dark Trek”. I also noticed this in WoW with the torture quests, the trend in the Bond movies towards more violence and a general applause by the public. You know, suddenly war is again the answer that allows us to treat enemies like things and to show no mercy. After all, it is war and we are following orders. The storywriters seem to lack the imagination for more, unfortunately. They should at least give people choices now an then. At one point in one of the first Captain rank missions you are given a choice to side with the brutal Sector 31 or Starfleet. I just wonder if it will really make a different for your future career/missions. Personally I miss a bit the Explorer feeling of Enterprise, the sense of Wonder of the original series, and the humanism of Picard a lot. And I doubt if I will need 30 days at all to see all the content, I guess 14-20 and I am Admiral whatsoever, and there are apparently no missions for this rank right now nor some endgame content like major fleet battles with the Klingons.

    The Klingons simply got no content – the idea to add content after the game launches broke many games the neck. Let’s see if the Star Trek can carry the game for so long. ARENAS are the most simple form of PvP ever, and it makes me wonder that MMO companies have still so much trouble to balance them and make them fun. Many matches involved a Federate Minefield versus cloaked Klingons waiting for one to come out. It was not really fun and if Klingons have nothing else to do for ages… the other mission types ended in a draw as most players did not know what to do exactly.

    The 45° angle can become a problem in space combat. Beams give you an edge if you manage to dive below ships with Cannons, 45-90° guns and Torpedo Launchers will simply not be able to hit you and they cannot dive harder than 45°. I had incredible trouble to shoot NPCs and players below my escort, only my 360° rear turret was firing. The ideal position for fed players with beams taking on Klingons is 6km above or below, this will even allow you to bring all beams to bear on the same target.

    Ground combat: They had some nice ideas and abilities and buttons to push, in the end it is a mess. I can go afk and wait for my guys to shoot them all down. In some “elite” missions near the end of the Commander levels mobs took ages to take down – strong shields and all that, I really had to knock down and keep down some guys who regenerated their shields all the time. The problem was, they never ever managed to shoot me or one of my men down. The whole balance is still out of whack and the whole stuff is not too exciting.

    Why have they not made it a MMOFPS? Given how action oriented they tried to made the tactical part, they could have kept the flanking bonus and let people shoot with the mouse button instead of pressing 1 and 2 over and over! :( I hate the ground missions, they take time and I am almost glad if they are just press F at 5 signatures and then beam up…

    Another thing was the anomalies we “F”ed all the time. Memory Alpha has only improvements for MkII equipment. Later on I found no ways to exchange higher tier anomaly stuff from MkIII onwards for anything at all.

    I fear Cryptic is already planning the next game in typical Cryptic style, using the same engine and menu and style, going for action and for sure not for story or the pretense to deliver anything more. They probably aim for the next niche and will offer people a lifetime membership before Beta, sub fees higher than the usual standard and respecs will be sold in the item shop, just like for Champions. At least they seem to be good at making money.

    Champions was not a Juggernaut of content, and STO is a lightweight, too. I wonder if I will one day hate Cryptic so much that I will not even consider looking at their next game following this scheme.

    But well, so far I had quite fun with the space combat. Feels almost like a petty excuse still to play STO.

  • Thanks for your comments guys!

    Seeing as Cryptic has decided to charge for a zone they’re adding to Champions, I’m expecting we’re going to be paying to see STO properly sorted out.

    They’re already working on another secret MMO project too. If only they would work on one at a time, and do it right, instead of making half a game and calling it done. If the effort put into STO and Champions were combined, you might have gotten something that would be worth subscribing to. I get the feeling that they’re relying on box sales, rather than expecting people to subscribe for long.

    I will be trying very hard not to fall for their hype in the future.

  • JB

    It seems to me that CCP would have been a better choice than Cryptic, they already have a mature 3D space MMO, with complex trading, mining, crafting, and combat (ships can be disabled all to easily from my encounters with some pirates). Taking that system and swapping the ships out for federation, klingon etc. and then building an away mission system would almost certainly have produced something a lot closer to the Star Trek experience.

  • Malkavelli

    Thanks for all the reportage on STO, I’ve been following all along and found your coverage quite good. Sadly that means Ive been making the same conclusions as yourself – that this is one game that should basically be totally avoided!

    A great pity as when I heard there was going to be a Star Trek MMO I had rather hoped it would be more like (pre-NGE) SWG and make a good sandbox for RPing. Obv. that is not to be :-(.

    How much would I pay for an Eve Online set in either the Star Wars or Star Trek universe?

  • I tend to agree with just about everything you have to say…except that I think that I’m one of those who is enjoying the combat enough to stay for a while longer and see where they take things. Honestly, half of why I play WoW is for the mindless violence :-) Yes, that makes me a bad person. At least I only commit mindless violence to 1s and 0s!

    However, many of the things you criticize are things I also would like to see fixed. In particular, always having an option to disable rather than destroy or kill would be truly awesome. And by “always”, I don’t just mean in PvE missions, but also in PvP. Granted, with the respawn, there wouldn’t be much difference between having one’s ship disabled for a few minutes while your crew frantically repaired it, and being blown up and respawning, but it would feel more Trek.

    I also would really like the 360×360 full range of motion, and hope that it’s at least on their drawing board. I suspect you’re correct that it was not entirely a deliberate choice (although someone may have said, “Hey, let’s keep this simple!”), but imposed by the fact that this is a port of another game’s engine.

    Those two things alone would go a long, long way…

  • I enjoy the combat too, and I’ll still be one of the folks trying to get into the headstart in a couple of hours. I just get a sense that it won’t keep my interest for very long.

    We’ll see. There are some positive things in what they’ve announced are being added in the next month or so. Maybe the headstart patch will also have some nice surprises.

  • […] The STO beta ends, and Banstick generally likes it, while Ark decidedly does not […]

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  • Mike Rindos

    This guys final thoughts are right on. Cadets getting command of a starship. When I was playing it a couple years ago. I was like cadets getting command of a starship. That’s wrong. Lose that cadet situation. They makers of the game should get rid of the tiers. Show the rank of the collar instead of when your in a fleet. That could runned by some person who may or may not know how Star Trek operates. Let the players which is us set the level of difficulty. Then we get to choose what starship we want to serve on. Then when US the player gets to the Rank of Commander. Get to choose what we’re signed to. If we want to be assigned to a cardassian space station. Then we have the opportunity to command Empok Nor. If we want. Its up to us.
    This is all looking back. I had my fill of MMOs. There some that are good and some that are bad.