Archive for STO Star Trek Online MMO tribbles

Star Trek Online… I guess I like it!

Posted in 1 with tags on February 11, 2010 by XLCS

First off, if you are a gamer and have no aversion to MMOs, you could do a lot worse for a month worth of play for $40.

I had my doubts about STO before open beta – I figured it was Pirates of the Burning Sea in space. I think one could still argue that case, as there are similarities. But the ship combat is FAR more engaging, faster paced, and fun in my opinion. Away Missions (“avatar combat” in PotBS) are pretty good, better than PotBS by far. However ground missions are not 100% up to snuff with normal MMO fair, although given the overall playability between great space combat and some ground action, this is easily overlooked.

Space combat is spectacular — and granted, aside from infrequent, minimal, and short-lived rubber-banding — is very smooth and enjoyable. Cryptic has done a great job with varied and beautiful space scenarios. Lots of stellar cloud backdrops reminiscent of Hubble photos, good planetary surfaces, and lots of different space debris & asteroid/meteor fields. Big fur balls are exciting and fleet missions involving a couple dozen players are fun. Ship combat is paced very well, so managing ship maneuvering, weapons firing, and special abilities like tractor beams and buffs/debuffs (like “brace for impact!”) is easy.

Ground combat can be a typical group of players (up to 5 in a group) or if you are solo or have a partial group, the remaining spots can be taken by your bridge officers. This is a pretty cool point to bring up… if you have a partial group or are solo, if you leave your grouping options open other players can join you if they happen to be starting that mission at that time. So if you don’t mind company, a partial group can get pick-ups ad hoc – and even if no one PUGs the open spots, your group’s bridge officers will fill in the blanks.  Don’t like PUGing?  Well consider this – while your team mate is incoming or off chasing Orion slave girls, your away team is fully staffed by your remaining team and some bridge officers.  When the rest of the group arrives, [transporter shimmer/buzz] poof!  Your new team members replace the NPC bridge officers with no delay, muss or fuss.  Loose a player to wife aggro?  Beam down an officer.  Good way to keep the action going when players are scattered about or just getting together for a short while.

Bridge officers provide additional abilities in space combat. During away missions they are NPC allies that you control like pets in other MMOs. You basically have unit with particular skills that you level up along with your main character. Ground combat is generally 3rd person, but you can zoom into FPS mode. There is crouching, and placement of bridge officers via waypoints. So there is a low-key RTS element if you choose to play that way.

My character is now 17 (of 40 levels) and to be honest the missions offered thus far have been very enjoyable, full of story but not overly elaborated, and varied. There are even short narrations by Leonard Nemoy at key mission and zone transitions. Overall Cryptic has done a good job of constructing unique, tailored main and side missions.

There is also the Genesis System that provide a mash-up of themes and story lines and devices that, although you can detect common mission structures, obviously utilize well-thought out formulas for their construction that I find commendable. Genesis System really is a good, solid device for producing random but structured missions that make sense and are fun and rewarding. They certainly aren’t simply random. (Some may disagree, but then again some people criticize everything.)

The environments on ground missions, from interiors of buildings and ships to especially outdoors, are great! Vegetation and geomorphology follow pretty natural formulas (albeit science fantasy). Interiors look planned – consoles, containers, debris all seem to be placed logically. Considering that Genesis missions are uniquely generated, Cryptic did a very good job!

The visual and equipable customization of ships, characters, and bridge officers is well done. Characters have a choice of 3 classes – Tactical, Engineer, and Science. The Tactical career provides bonuses and skills geared toward DPS ship and ground combat. Engineers have buffs and debuffs, and can create deployables like turrets and shields generators. Science has healing, debuffs, and buffs.

Any career can choose between the 3 types of ship. You can be a Tactical character with a science vessel, or any other combination. Each ship type has certain slots for consoles that you assign bridge officers to, and that allow those officers to provide you skills usable during space missions. Escorts are fast attack ships bristling with forward facing weapons meant for DPS and favor tactical and engineering consoles. Cruisers are large juggernauts that can take and mitigate damage for themselves and team mates and favor engineering and science consoles. Science vessels favor deflector/sensor/emitter functionality (CC/debuff) and science and engineering console slots.

How you specialize your character, and your bridge officers, determines what skills you have in space or ground missions. So there are a LOT of combinations of skills available to you through both your main character and officers. Characters have skill trees, while you can plug and alternate skills in limited slots for bridge officers. Both characters and officers receive skill points as you level, and you receive skill points periodically during a level and in larger chunks at each level.

So there is a huge variety and customization available when you add up ship choice, consoles, and equipment slots, and character/officer skills and equipment.

Overall I am surprised at the playability and enjoyment I’m getting from STO. It is definitely my #1 game at the moment. I’ve spent more for games that I’ve played far less. I would recommend it to my gamer friends – at least ponying up the $40 for a month worth of entertainment.