WarCry is pleased to feature a new columnist, Tony Ford, to our august ranks. With hours of Star Trek Online beta game time under his belt, Tony presents our readers with a first look impression of one of the hottest titles of 2010. Read on!
As an old-time Trekkie who watched Star Trek TOS first-run as a kid, I've gotten a lot of Star Trek under my belt over the years. Captain James T. Kirk was my idol, stilted speech patterns notwithstanding, and I dreamed of what it would be like to pilot my own starship, exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new lifeforms and new civilizations; to boldly go...ah, you know the rest. At least you do if you're a fan.
My wife told me that, as a Star Trek buff, I owed it to myself to try out the pre-release of the new MMORPG from Cryptic Studios, Star Trek Online. My wife knows me pretty well, and as an avid gamer herself and someone who is well aware of what turns my screws, she figured that I wouldn't be disappointed. With some caveats, she was right.
In Star Trek Online, you're able to create your character choosing from a large number of different races, and to customize your character (male/female, appearance) to suit your own preferences. Being stuck in the '60s with Kirk, my choice as a male human was obvious. As was my character name: James Tiberius Herp (Jim for short). My wife sneered at me, but being ten years younger than me, I had to take into account her lack of understanding as far as what being a Trekkie means. :)
There is an extended tutorial, disguised as a few missions, which give you the experience of hand to hand combat and ship to ship combat. The interface is fairly simple, as it would need to be for me; I'm more of an FPS player. Upon reading some of the forum posts on the official site, it seems that some people are disappointed in the interiors of the ship, but since I wasn't sure what to expect, and given that the game is in the prerelease state just to allow extensive testing, everything seemed more than adequate, and typical of MMORPG interaction between NPCs and the player. I would expect the game to become more refined as the developers take testing data into account and finish things up.
Typical control movements move the player (or the ship) around. You can hold both mouse buttons down to move and turn (or steer the ship, as the case may be). I personally found that this method was easier for me than the WASD buttons, but inside the ship or spacedock I found myself running into walls or tables and getting stuck and having to back up to get around things occasionally. This might be due to me, or it might be something that needs to be fixed up a bit - we'll see.
In ship to ship combat you're given a good amount of time to get used to the controls, which are pretty simple. The E button speeds your ship up, and Q slows you down. Your HUD lists buttons that you can click on for various weapons firing modes, or you can use other keys on the keyboard to accomplish the same thing. As you progress through the initial missions, you accumulate points which you can apply to various skills, whether it is in engineering, science, or command skills. It's really up to the player to decide. As for me, the great James T. Herp put most of my work on starship command and weapons skills. I'll save the thinking stuff for fans of the later spinoffs - Herp is out there to save the universe from the Klingons and Romulans.
The major problem I had with this initial test was in the map. You're constantly given new missions, and in ship (or spacedock) interiors you have to find specific people to talk to. As far as I could tell, these did not show up on the map. Inside spacedock, for instance, you notice a number of little dots on the map which show the target's name when you move the cursor over them, but NEVER was one of those dots the person I was looking for - I had to spend about an hour in spacedock before I found Admiral Quinn, who was supposed to promote me. Until I found him, I was stuck walking around from bar to lounge, in a turbolift to one floor, back to another floor, etc. ARGH! It just wasn't intuitive at all, and perhaps navigating will improve with experience (or with adjustments to gameplay by the developer). One can only hope. Frustrations with finding required people (or ships, in the case of the USS Renown, which I had to obtain repairs for my ship from) caused me to spend a lot of time away from the game because I was pretty much at a standstill until the next required mission was completed.
There were a number of things I liked: the music and sounds were very reminiscent of TOS, which, to an old guy like me made things seem very familiar, and made me want to explore more. The graphics, while not state-of-the-art, should be improved and elaborated-upon as work on the final product continues. I have to admit that, when you click on random NPCs walking around spacedock, and they pretty much shout your praises for all the wonderful things you've done so far, it's not a bad ego boost, and, during the searching-the-map times, makes it a little more entertaining. I found myself wanting to hear the next great thing that someone was saying about me, which beats the hell out of real life.
Getting ready for Christmas, my time to explore the game has been limited, but from what I saw, hard-core Star Trek fans will like the game. The learning curve (minus dealing with, as noted, finding the next mission "target" with the map) should be pretty small for even those players completely new to this type of game, and there is a familiarity of the characters and surroundings that will keep players interested. I have always avoided MMORPGs, mainly because I don't trust people online. It's a throwback to the old days when I played the original Diablo, and people could run up to you and kill your character just for fun. This game, because of its subject matter, will probably be the one MMORPG that will attract my interest in the near future. I'll be interested to see whether or not it increases in size or scope, and how well the graphics and interface are developed as time progresses.
If the game is refined a bit more it should attract quite a following. The audience is built-in as a result of over forty years of being inundated with all things Star Trek, and the recent release of the new movie should bring young players to the game who had previously thought that Star Trek was old school. The ball's really in Cryptic's court. With a little more polish, a little more elaboration, and a little work on those maps for simple souls like me, Star Trek Online should keep going for MUCH longer than the original five-year mission of The Original Series.
As for me, it's time to obliterate a few more Borg ships with a few photon torpedoes and a couple of blasts from a full phaser array. When I'm done, I'll meet you at spacedock for a glass of Romulan ale.