The 10 day mission of the U.S.S Insomnia

Role-playing survival game is willing to take risks

Last week Star Trek Online was released to the public and thanks to someone having a buddy pass I was able to get in on the action. STO is the first MMO I’ve played since World of Warcraft several years ago. For this entry I’m going give my impressions of the MMO. I do have a few points to keep in mind:

1. This is based off the first 28 levels of the game with the level cap at 50. At this point I feel that I’ve sampled the majority of the game’s systems unless something big changes within the next few levels.

2. I did not sample any of the PVP mechanics.

3. I am not a trekkie; I have watched some of the series and have a basic understanding of the universe.

STO takes place in the Star Trek Universe (duh) in a time where Klingons are fighting the Federation and what not. At the start you can choose to play as a few of the popular ST species or create your own alien similar to City of Heroes which is no surprise as the game was made by Cryptic studios. Sadly the variety seen in costume options doesn’t seem to be present here. After designing your character you choose their career path: Tactical, Science and Engineering, this determines your focus and what kits you’ll be able to use in ground combat (more on that later).

After that it’s time for a tutorial and then your career in the Alpha Quadrant. STO does several things to smooth out the wrinkles in MMO games, one is that you can get and turn in quests from your communicator instead of flying back to a star base. While you will have to go home to buy new equipment, you can sell anything you want from your inventory although with a small cut in the profit. There is also no death penalty which I know has rubbed a few people the wrong way. Strange as it sounds coming from someone who loved Demon’s Souls I found the lack of a penalty fitting here, it gives me a chance to try new weapons and abilities without the threat of punishment on failure. Missions are done in solar systems or otherwise called instances and it is here where you’ll see the best that STO has to offer, space combat.

To put it simply this is where you will get your money’s worth with STO. Ships in STO have 4 shields each one on a different side and hull strength shared across all sides. When a shield hits 0 the hull will be exposed for that side, hitting that side with weapons will do damage directly to the hull, when the hull reaches 0 the ship goes boom. Energy weapons are designed to do more damage to shields and less to hull, while torpedoes do insane damage to the hull but even one point of shield will mitigate the majority of the damage. Combat plays out with you trying to focus on one part of the enemy ship trying to take down the shield long enough to bombard it with torpedoes , of course while the enemy is trying to do that to you. Yet there is much more to talk about with space combat, first we have energy flow. Energy can be put into 4 parts of your ship:

1.Weapons that affects energy weapon damage.

2. Shields which determine your shield regeneration rate.

3. Speed which increases your speed of course.

4. Finally, Auxiliary which determines turning radius and increases the power of certain abilities.

You can choose from one of 4 presets for how energy is diverted or you can adjust them to your liking. Different enemies may respond better to stronger phaser fire then special effects or you may need to keep your shields up when fighting multiple enemies. Weapons also come with firing arcs and can be placed on either the front or aft of your ship. With a wide enough arc you can fire weapons from both ends with careful turning. Next up we have bridge officers or Bos who act as your skills during the fight.

Bos fall into the same three careers as your player; each Bo has 8 skills available for them. Four for ground and four for space combat, they each start out at ensign rank. This means they only have access to the first tier of skills; you can put exp into them to enhance their skills decreasing their recharge time. Whatever your rank is you may promote Bos to one rank below yours, each rank they go up unlocks another tier of skills. It’s not enough to have a high rank Bo; your ship must also have the console to support them. When you upgrade your ship to the next tier you can choose from a ship based on one of the three careers. Each ship has additional consoles of that respective career type allowing you to assign more Bos and therefore have more skills available. For example the tier 3 science ship has one lieutenant commander science console, meaning that one of my science Bos can man that and use 3 of their 4 available space skills. This gives the player the ability to customize their tactics based on what Bos and their respective skills they choose.

Personally I love the space combat system as it alleviates one of the main problems I have with MMOs, that combat boils down to time and gear ; not player interaction. It will be interesting to see how diverse tactics will be discovered with Bo skill combos. Now when you are not blasting enemies in the vacuum of space you’ll be doing it on the ground which is where STO stumbles.

Ground combat is a click fest that the designers tried to elevate with a few tricks. You have 2 health bars one for shields and one for your actual health, like with ship battles normally your shields have to be knocked out before you take actual damage. If you are not teamed up your BOs fill in as your party and they do a reasonably good job providing cover. Every weapon in the game has a secondary attack that can either cause an expose or an exploit affect. Expose attacks have a chance to leave the enemy highly susceptible to an exploit attack which in this state can sometimes kill in one hit. Most of the time however you are going to be pressing the #1 key on your keyboard slowly ticking away at the enemy’s health and just wait until they get shield restore powers. You can equip kits onto your character to give you special powers; you can only choose kits based on your profession. This part of the game is unfortunately the most repetitive and makes me hunger for the ship combat.

Before I go into what doesn’t work let’s get back to what does, personalization. STO allows you to personalize a lot of the experience in the game, you can create your own alien, uniform for your character and your BOs, your ship and finally weapon load outs for everyone. This gives you a greater connection to the character compared to other MMOs. If anything, Cryptic took what it learned from COH with how much people like personalizing and ran with it here. Now it’s time to talk about what doesn’t work and sadly I have a lot to work with.

First is the lack of refinement which comes from any new MMO launch. There have been connection issues, mission bugs and such. However that lack is also present in the game systems. The crafting system right now is you taking random objects to a store and trading them in, obviously not in the same league as WoW’s system. The game attempts to give the player “exploration missions” where you don’t have to fight anyone. Unfortunately this amounts to just clicking on X amount of objects or talking to someone. One mission was just me running back and forth about 10 feet talking to two different people. For those looking for missions that work your mind and not your fingers, there aren’t any. Earlier I talked about personalization which STO is full of, however it lacks customization for your character.

For those that played WoW you should know about the talent trees, 3 different groups of skills each class could focus on. Each talent would tweak your character in a certain way and you could go for maxing out one tree completely or picking and choosing across the board. As I mentioned in STO you have three different careers to choose from, however other then kit access they have no other affect on game play from what I could see. When you unlock the next tier of ships you can choose any one, so a science officer can use an engineer ship. The talent tree in STO is big and everyone can pick from any skill on there, however none of it is unique to careers. On one hand you can argue it allows you to pick anything you want, the problem is that you don’t want to pick everything. Skills that enhance engineer powers won’t do much for someone who is focusing on science BOs. The skills you can choose from in STO don’t carry the same weight as the ones my BOs have, in fact I feel like more of a red shirt then the nameless crew members aboard my ship. I wish that each career had a skill section unique to them. This part seems to be more of an afterthought in affecting the game play as your BOs skills are more game changing then your own.

I can understand why they did this, to have the player focus less on their character and more on their Bos and their ship, but as of right now it seems like a half-ass implementation of the system. The whole point of the system right now is to pour your skill points into it as a condition to move up in ranking to get a new ship.

The game for the most part is pretty easy to solo with exception of fleet actions (raids). For the majority of the game I was fighting +3 enemies and winning this is also a trend I noticed in games from Cryptic. First things start out too easy then they take a nose dive then they get balanced somewhere in between. I would be happy if they toughen up the ship fights to give me a chance to see if my Bo selection really works.

I haven’t experience it yet but impressions from the top say that as of right now there isn’t much to do at the higher levels, a problem returning from CoH. Of course there has already been promise of a content patch coming so hopefully this problem will go away soon. Leveling in STO is pretty quick, as mention in 10 days I managed to go up 28 levels, now I was playing the game exclusively instead of my usual trend of switching between different games however. This leads me to my verdict.

Overall being my first MMO in awhile I enjoyed STO, ship combat has just the right amount of complexity and I feel is the strongest element of the game. However the game lacks the variety of things to do. After ten days of playing I’m feeling the tug away to other games but I’m going to keep my eye on the game over the next few months. Right now I give STO either a C+ or B – , the game is rough but there is a lot of potential if Cryptic can get it right.

Before I sign off one final detail on the issue of micro transactions to give everyone a heads up, STO has a monthly fee as well as allowing players to buy special things using “Cryptic Points”. CP can only be acquired by spending actual cash for them. As of right now the only things available are 2 different alien species that you can use to make Federation characters but I’m betting we’ll see more in the future. As of this point while I’m somewhat dishearten with this system I’ll accept it as long as the changes are purely for aesthetics. I will question this if they start adding in unique gear that can only be acquired this way.

Josh, captain of the U.S.S. Insomnia , the U.S.S. Poe and the U.S.S. Jung.