Archive for March 24th, 2011


Star Trek Online, the MM-uh oh.

The box cover art is beautiful, the graphics even more than you could imagine.

Star Trek is “The” science fiction franchise.  Nothing, not even Star Wars comes close to having it’s real, or imagined, world history.  With its heroic starship captains, huge back history, well-built self-contained universe and a penchant for dramatic and exciting battles, it has always been a franchise ripe for computer game conversions.  In fact there have been many Star Trek games.  But unfortunately very few of them have come even vaguely close to realising the potential of the series, books or movies in-game form.

So several years ago it was with glee, maniacal laughter and much frenzied dancing around my living room that I read about how an online Star Trek game was in development.  By that time we had already had two excellent Starfleet Commander games and the technology, it seemed to many Trek fans myself included, had reached a point where, maybe, just maybe justice could finally be done to our favourite branch of science fiction.  In the end it took several years and one bankrupt developer but Star Trek Online or “STO” finally saw its launch.

In the end, having had experience of several Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs), I decided that I would wait ’til it’s first birthday to buy it.  MMORPGs are notoriously unstable on release and it typically takes a full year, for the developers to get the game to where it should be.  So with joy in my heart and wishing, that I had a tiny original series Starfleet uniform to wear, nine weeks ago I loaded my STO DVD into my PC and clicked install.

Usually a PC installation is a straight forward and quick affair.  Just install the basic game from the DVD, download and install a patch that it is maybe 100 megabytes in size and away you go.  Not STO though.  The DVD part, installed very smoothly, in about five minutes and with one left click the game launcher was on my screen.  Nice.  I input my account ID and hit my first problem with STO.

Most non-free MMORPGs give you a free period of play when you first register with them, but before you have to sign up for a subscription.  With World of Warcraft, for example, it’s a month.  STO also gives you a month of free play.  But STO, unlike any other MMORPG I’ve ever played, also requires you to have already signed up for a subscription to use that free play time.  Worse still the STO installation, which you have already paid for, won’t even update itself without your having a subscription.  There is also an implication that you pay for your first month and then receive your second month free.  An implication that I only realised was bunkum, after I checked my bank balance a week into my STO play experience.  This is nothing less than madness, and I personally see it as nothing more or less than a blattant attempt by Atari to trick some players, who are less than internet savvy, into paying for at least one extra month.

As for needing a subscribed account to even update?  Well, while I was playing STO I let my World of Warcraft account lapse.  I’m a one MMORPG kinda girl, mostly due to being somewhat OCD and having realised many years ago that I tend to get obsessed by one game at a time, so what would be the point in paying for a game I wouldn’t be playing?  Anyway during that period of time I able to continue updating my Warcraft installation, regardless of my subscription status.  Again madness, insanity and absolute foolishness on the part of STOs producers Cryptic and Atari.  I have yet to find a satisfactory answers as to why they set up their server in this way, but personally I feel that it is simply lazy and greedy development.  Unfortunately this won’t be the last time that word, “lazy” is used with regards to this game.

So after signing up for my subscription I click on the launch button, actually it’s an “Engage” button and every time I clicked it, I had to suppress a huge fit of giggles.  But I digress.  So I click the launch button and the launcher checks for updates.  Now having had a fair bit of MMORPG experience I knew to expect a sizable update, perhaps half to 2/3rds the size of the initial installation.  But SEVEN GIGABYTES?!  I shit you not, seven goddess damned gigabytes.  Now admittedly Cryptic use a reasonably good compression system for their patches, so what you download is only about 2/3rds the size of the final patch.  But still, please, seven gigs of patches?  Again turning back to Warcraft, I join that game during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion.  But even after two expansions and over three years of patches, to update the installation was only a little over one gigabyte.

Anyway, I start the update and after seven hours of downloading and patching I was finally ready to play.

Now STO is one gorgeous game.  It is literally, the best looking game of its type I’ve ever played.  And the sound is nothing less than stunning.  It actually managed to make all the patching almost worth it.

The character creation is fluid and easy, with one issue.  That issue is the skill choices when you build your character.  Essentially the descriptions are vague and confusing.  It took another two hours of reading forums before I felt confident to choose my starting skills.  This is again just laziness on the developers part, there’s no excuse for not writing out your tooltips in a clear and comprehensible manner.  So eventually with character created and away we go.

As a game STO is broken in two.  The space travel and combat section is nothing less than beautifully realised.  You view your ship and the battlefield in much the same way as you would any character in any MMORPG.  The ships are simply gorgeous, and even though many of them, have never appeared in any on-screen Trek they look the right.  Everything moves in a way that’s flawlessly true to the various series and movies.  And the sounds are Trek through and through.  Every phaser, every photon torpedo and even the voices sound perfectly right.  Everything about the space combat segments is right, though a little repetitive, but in a mostly good way.

The ground missions, known here, just like in the series as away missions, are just as beautiful to look at and listen to.  But unfortunately the away missions feel all wrong.  They’re repetitive, but unlike the space combat, not in a good way.  You use the same simple tactics over and over, with 99% of the time, the same results.

Now yes I know MMORPGs tend to be repetitive,  there is after all only so much you can do with a game of this type.  But there’s no excuse for not even trying.  The developers obviously invested vast amounts of time into the space segments, but the away missions just feel tacked on.  Then there’s the crafting aspect of the game, which is clunky and difficult to understand.  The auction house is badly implemented, making it difficult to find what you’re looking for.  The list of faults just goes on and on.

There are great aspects to this game.  The way teamwork is designed is brilliant, you simply warp into a system and automatically join forces with anyone already in system.  There is a series of diplomacy based missions which allow for a more Trekkish experience.

But the sad truth is, that this is a game which should still be in Beta testing.  For all its visual and audio beauty, it’s simply not good enough, not really ready enough for general play.  Everywhere barring how it looks and sounds it feels slapped together.  But despite this it manages to often be fun.  Unfortunately though there was to be one, final nail in the coffin where this game is concerned for me.

A typically gorgeous STO screen shot.

Now after all these years of gaming I understand that the key to a good, stable game, is regular patching and updating.  But I’ve never found a game before that always has a weekly update which sometimes might be only 100 megabytes.  But then the following two weeks turns out to be a gigabyte each.  This is a big issue where I’m concerned.  No game, needs these kinds of huge weekly updates and speaking as someone with a download cap on their broadband, it managed to finally and completely kill this game for me.

In truth I am crushed about this game.  I waited years to play it.  I devoured every preview, every review and I was almost bouncing out of my skin waiting for my copy to arrive in the post.  I desperately wanted this game to live up to my hopes.  But this isn’t the game that was originally talked about.  Back then we had hints about serving on one another’s ships, working our way up through the ranks and eventually getting our own ships.  Later I logically assumed that there would be a choice of servers, there isn’t.  I hoped that the gameplay would be well worked out and that after a year of continued post launch development it would really be ready.  But it’s not.

This game was a valiant attempt, but at the end of the day too much of it is lazily done and so I have to say the following.  Don’t play this game.  It’s simply not worth the cost.  Maybe in another year or two it’ll be where it should have been on when it was launched, much less a year later.  But for now play Warcraft or Warhammer.  If you absolutely need to play a space based MMORPG play Eve Online or even join a private Freelancer server.  But for now don’t be suckered into paying to Beta test this sad, disappointment of a game.

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