Monday, February 1, 2010

Head Start - day 4

I've now played Star Trek Online for about 20-25 hours, and have played a Federation and a Klingon character into Tier 2. However I'm sad to say that I don't think I'll be playing much longer. Certainly not past my free month of playtime. Having nothing to do with the somewhat rocky launch, and having everything to do with the state of the MMO I have simply come to the realization that Cryptic fumbled this development horribly. I have no way of knowing what internal pressures there were to get this game out the door in it's current condition, let alone what drove the developers to make the decisions about the game-style and game-play that they did. The end effect is that an extremely rich intellectual property is wasted and it will be many years before if can be re-used in another MMO effort, if at all.

What I had anticipated was a true MMO that not only offered in-depth character development, but also encouraged group play but didn't out-right require it. In short, I had anticipated a theme-park style MMO that was grand in size and style featuring a series of worlds through which your character could progress. These worlds would have served as quest hubs, with dozens, if not more, space and ground based missions to complete -- call them story-arcs. Perhaps even being able to reenact episodes from the various shows along the way.

I had envisioned a game that allowed a player to choose a meaningful career path and made a difference having made that choice. I think the decision to limit career paths to Tactical, Engineering, and Science was a sound decision, but I would have liked to have seen more differentiation between the career fields, and most especially specialization. Star Trek is as much about technology, and the creation of the new, as much as it is about exploration and I would very much have liked to have seen a exploration be a real focal point in the game as well as gathering of knowledge and technological specimens through that exploration. I would have liked that knowledge to have then been able to be utilized in a scientific innovation/invention system.

I envisioned the game being steered by the developers over time, with the initial launch focusing on creating the foundational alpha quadrant stories behind the the original Star Trek factions -- Federation/Vulcans, Klingons, and Romulans. Add in additional important alpha quadrant factions over time such as the Cardassians, Bajorans, and Ferengi to flush out the overall story and to introduce additional elements to the game. The original Star Trek was dominated by the wars between the Klingon and Romulan empires, and the strife that was almost continuously occurring along the neutral zones and I think the game would have been served better by adhering more closely to the direction the original series, and TNG took.

The "meaning" of Star Trek is a topic that is open for great debate, but to many the best part about Star Trek are the iconic space battles that have occurred at various points in the shows and the movies. I have to admit, I fall in that camp, so the allure of real PVP between the factions was a strong draw for me. I'd envisioned integrated PVP system that consisted of open "world" pvp in the neutral zones that gave strong incentives for continued participation and a Battleground system. I'd also envisioned space battles being strategic with plenty of offensive and defensive capabilities to ensure that battles were not over in moments and that what individuals did in battle in concert with others, as well as by themselves truly mattered in the long run. I envisioned a PVP system that encouraged thought being put into group makeup, but that also didn't out-right require you to group in order to participate.

I envisioned a game where the "end-game" was truly about the ultimate aims of the faction you played. Which of course all amounts to the same thing, just in different words. I could very easily see "raiding" being a part of Star Trek, with space and ground "raids" being delivered over time. A central, "shared" raid could have been a Borg scenario in which the faction intercepts and beats back a Borg raiding party above a planet (phase 1), but not before a group of them beam or shuttle down to the planet to assimilate some key piece of technology or race. You, of course, must beam down and stop them.

Another raid scenario I can envision involves the neutral zones and would involve "skinning". In other words, same scenario, just different factions involved depending on who is running it. From the Federation perspective it could be the Klingon or the Romulans breaking out into their neutral zone and bent on stream into Federation territory. From the Klingon side it of course would be the Federation acting provocatively in the neutral zone. Likewise with the Romulans.

Additional raid scenarios could be added over time and could very easily react famous battles in any one of the series. Wolf 359? Later on the first encounter with Species 8472? And of course there would have to be ground only raid scenarios. Or boarding parties to take back a ship that was boarded by Klingons, or a what have you.

What we got was something all together different. While there are some story elements in the current game on the Federation side, there is virtually none on the Klingon side of things. And of course the game was launched with only two factions, though Crytic has announced plans to add in other factions over time. Unfortunately they won't matter in the grand scheme of things because Star Trek Online is a game without a real reason. There is no centralized theme or plot that I can deduce. The game has every evidence of having been thrown together haphazardly and released a great deal of time before it was truly ready for a flooded market. Other than the name, there is nothing in STO that should draw and keep hundreds of thousands of players, let along the millions that it would take to make this an MMO never to be forgotten.

Cryptic was not the company to develop this IP. It's only other developmental history was with City of Heroes/City of Villains and Champions Online, which is to say it has more experience than say Bioware (now developing Star Wars the Old Republic), yet it's never shown any true innovation. It never established itself as a company that pursued polish over "good enough". And Star Trek is not an IP that you simply waste on "good enough". And good enough is what I think we see right now. It'll keep the rabid fan base pleased, though I have no idea why. But it won't attract many MMO players from other games for very long. It'll be yet another game in a pile of MMOs that have been released in the past three years that limp along into obscurity.

Most disappointing in STO is that it really isn't an MMO. Not in any sense of what an MMO has come to mean in the market place today. It's more akin to an RPG with coop, though a poor one at that as there are few elements of typical RPGs to be found. The gist of the game is to run completely randomized missions over and over again and allocate talent points that increase various capabilities. Some of which are only pertinent to the ground system and some that are only pertinent to the space system. There isn't even a strong reason to interact with, group with, or participate with anyone else at any point that I have yet seen. You can just as easily solo the game as you could group up with some random stranger on whatever it is you are doing at the moment. And that brings up another point. There is no linear progression. At all. You can be running a random mission one moment, participating in a PVP match another, or.. well, one of the other two again the next moment. There is simply nothing that takes you from one zone to another in any scheme of progression we've come to see in numerous MMOs up to this point. There is no reason to even run missions as you can level completely through PVP in the random battlegrounds where you don't even need, much less have a reason, to group with others. For an IP that stressed "community" that is a far cry from it.

PVP. What can be said about it? It's random pew pew. No strategy, no coordination. Nothing but mashing buttons as they come off cool down and no rhyme or reason to push any of them except that he who deals more damage most often wins. The aspect of the game that was the biggest draw for me is completely devoid of any reason or value.

All in all, if you are looking for an immersing experience this is not the game for you. If you are looking for mindless and meaningless play for a while give STO a try. At $14.99 a month it's probably not something you'd want to try much longer than the free month of play, but it might be worth the purchase price of the box if you just want quick space or ground combat. And if you truly love Star Trek you might just want to steer clear of this all together.