Star Trek Online First Look
Star Trek Online First Look
When Cryptic announced that they had acquired the Star Trek license and were busy working on Star Trek Online while at the same time being busy developing their new superhero-MMO Champions Online, people were understandably nervous. Even Blizzard, sitting on all those money bags, seems unable to produce enough polished and entertaining content to keep the playerbase happy for a single MMO, how on earth a smaller developer would manage doing not one, but two major MMOs, more or less at the same time. Even if they'd share the underlying technology, the sheer volume of content, gameplay design, tweaking and testing would be mindboggling.
Well, after Champions Online I guess we got an answer to that question. For details, you can check our review here. In retrospect, I was probably too kind to the game and it would have deserved harsher words. In any case, Champions Online indicated that Cryptic's "solution" was to skimp on everything. Major features that were barely functional, gameplay balancing that was done with a pseudo-random number generator and content that was so paper-thin that I doubt you can find a single "lifetime subscriber" that can honestly say that they are getting good value for money out of that game.
Mere four months later, Cryptic now is about to launch a second MMO, Star Trek Online. Sadly everything seems to be pointing towards a re-run. In many ways, Star Trek Online feels a lot like Age of Conan at launch - rushed, unfinished, poorly balanced and thin on content. As the game hasn't technically launched yet, I'll give Cryptic the benefit of the doubt - a final word and scoring has to wait until a proper review based on the "real deal", sometime after the launch. During the "marketing beta", STO has received large patches with many fixes and tweaks that have wildly swinging the game balance around, so in theory, there is still hope for that mythical miracle patch just before launch.
This first look preview will include my initial impressions on what to expect based on the open beta as it is about a week before the launch (currently scheduled to be 2nd of February, with Head Start for preorders beginning on 29th of January). It is up to you if you believe in unicorns and launch day miracle patches. My view is that this is what we are going to get and it isn't very pretty.
After the (very good) character generation - the bit that has always been solid in Cryptic games - my first impressions of the actual gameplay are not flattering. Just like in Champions, Cryptic has decided to toss the player in the middle of an epic event and you are expected to familiarize you with the controls and the basic game mechanics while a massive battle against the Borg is going on. Oh, actually, scratch that... there is nothing "massive" in Star Trek Online - it is all thinly populated instanced copies of zones, exactly like Champions Online. Both games obviously share the same engine and server code.
So, a battle against the Borg plays out in the background while you learn to move around, talk to NPCs, watch a loading screen, click glowing objects, watch a loading screen, shoot enemy NPCs and move about a bit, watch a loading screen, shoot some more NPCs and learn to crouch for aiming, watch a loading screen, click another glowing object... well, you get the idea. Everything is instanced and partitioned into tiny sections and basic "ground" gameplay is basically a Star Trek skinned version of Champions Online. Indoor areas also suffer from a puzzling "giant hall syndrome" - all rooms and hallways are several times larger than they should be, with doors over two times taller than your average Starfleet officer.
You also get to pilot a starship and blow up some Borg ships and... there goes the suspension of disbelief, straight out of airlock, before the tutorial is over. A newbie field promoted ensign-acting-as-captain flying a crappy ship, blowing up Borg hardware at such ease that if you still happened to be immersed in the STO world after the assault of the loading screens during the early parts of the tutorial, the space combat part takes care of that problem. Cryptic, you have the most obvious "newbie tutorial" tool known to man, Holodeck, at your disposal and you go for this? I'm almost tempted to include a "Picard Facepalm" picture right here. Google it up, in case you don't know what I mean.