State of the Game: Star Trek Online

Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, an American actress...Image via Wikipedia

I hardly need another geeky passion, but Star Trek Online (STO) filled two geek niches for me: sci-fi, especially a Star Trek one, and gaming. Of course I started playing!

There is a lot of talk about the state of STO not only on my home fleet, Lotus Fleet, but also many other places. If we look at the STO forums, the new UCF site, MMO discussion forums like MMORPG.com, gaming magazines such as PCGamer, Kotaku and other gaming websites, along with podcasts, we hear a lot about STO and its current state.

This was a highly anticipated game. It’s also a game that has yet to deliver its full potential.

We can look at that in one of two ways. We can be disappointed at the number of flaws, and if we’re honest, there are a lot of those. We can also be encouraged by what we’re seeing coming from the development team to fix those flaws. A month ago when it was announced that the subscriber base had dropped from 1 million to 100,000 or so, I was wondering if STO was going to go the route of Tabula Rasa and fail. Had this game been a generic space game and not attached to the name ‘Star Trek’, I think it would have failed spectacularly. Star Trek fans are nothing if not loyal, and I think that’s giving the game enough life for the developers to fix the issues and improve the game. After seeing the work put in by the developers, particularly all the changes made with the 29 April update, and the fact that they’re engaging their players in a substantial way, I’m more hopeful about the game’s future.

There are plenty of things to like and dislike in this game, and I’m no different from anyone in that respect. I currently have three alts, a Betazoid science Captain, an Andorian engineer Lt. Commander, and just for fun, a Pakled science Lieutenant. I have not made it to admiral level, and I have a way to go before I can play the end game content. I’m in no rush, however, because I’m taking my time to savor the game.

We tend to complain about things more often than compliment. That’s human nature. I want to make sure to give credit where credit’s due. On the whole, I have to say I enjoy the game quite a bit, or I wouldn’t still be playing it. STO managed to drag me away from Dragon Age, which is a fantastic game as well, and that says plenty about how much I’m enjoying STO.

There are a lot of things to like in this game. First, there is a considerable amount of Star Trek lore scattered all over the planets, quests, ship and uniform designs and so on. The story line missions are tremendous. I’ve done the Lt. Miral Paris quest line three different times now, and I probably could do that one many more times before tiring of it, because it’s just plain fun to do. I would love to see Cryptic add more of these.

Second, I love the tribbles. I wish I could have one follow me around like a mini-pet. The animation when my Klingon bridge officer pokes at his tribble is just hilarious. He carries one solely for me to see the expression on his face when he pulls it out. I know that’s a minor thing in game, and many people dismiss it entirely, but I like it just the same.

Third, I love the art work in the various systems and on many of the planets. The artists did a great job of taking abstract science concepts like gas clouds and fluid dynamics and bringing them to life in the solar systems and nebulae. I’ll be glad when Cryptic makes the planned changes so that I can revisit P’Jem, which is one of the earliest quest lines. That planet is just gorgeous with the different architecture, jungle vegetation, mountains in the background, and flowers scattered all over the place.

Being a weather geek, I’m tickled to see variations in weather on the ground missions. Granted, I kind of grit my teeth in annoyance trying to find stuff in the middle of a sandstorm, but it was actually nice to see that kind of variety. The most meteorological variety I’ve gotten in Lord of the Rings Online or Guild Wars has been a bit of snow or rain.

Fourth, I actually like the mini-missions in the nebulae and clusters. If I’m able to play for only a half hour or hour or so, those are just the right length. I know a number of people don’t care for them, but it gives me a chance to get my gaming fix in when my time is limited.

Fifth, it is great fun to play with other people who enjoy sci-fi and Star Trek as much as I do. You have not experienced “fun” until you’ve laughed so hard you can hardly see the screen through the tears at 1 am from Jovani Picard’s and neukdan’s STO Chuck Norris quips. Gaming with my friends in Lotus Fleet is a phenomenal experience.

There are things Cryptic needs to fix. I can live with the minor annoyances like occasional game crashes and the lack of organization in the Exchange. I just work around it as needed. The two biggest things I want the devs to fix are a. increase the variety in the explore and nebulae/cluster missions and b. create a much better fleet play experience.

Even though I’ve only made it to Captain, I’m already seeing repeats of the same variety of missions. Kill 6 groups of X enemy in this system, collect 5 data samples in this system. There is no ‘exploring’ on the planet. The least they could do is have random drops, even minor ones, scattered across a planet surface. Even my Pokemon game has little items scattered around as Easter eggs. It doesn’t have to be much—just enough to encourage exploring for those who are interested. For those who aren’t, they could continue on the main quest line. Perhaps you could find some plant or animal specimens, unusual geological configurations, and so on while you explore, and you could earn a few extra Starfleet merits for reporting those. I know you can find anomalous readings now and then, but I’d like to see more than 2 or 3 per planet surface. The artists put a ton of time into the artwork and graphics. I think it would do their work a lot more justice if we had the opportunity to do more on each planet surface.

I’d like to see more variety in space stations, too. Right now there are two variations. First, there’s “The Good Guy Station” in squeaky-clean, eye-searing white with tile flooring (or maybe linoleum—I’m not sure). Apparently it’s not enough to just make it plain white, Cryptic had to turn the contrast up to 52 zillion to make the artistic point that it’s glowingly good. I half expect to see some white cowboy hats or a few halos scattered about. Second, there’s “The Bad Guy Station”. This usually features dark interiors with metal grating and red or dark orange lighting, as if we’re one step away from hell. There are usually conduits spewing plasma or poison gases, and crates scattered all over the place. I suspect this is some kind of commentary on Bad Guys not caring about the environment when the Federation does. As we all know, being Socially Conscious is Important in our gaming.

The thing that is driving me absolutely nuts in this game is the utter lack of support for fleets. Evshell18, Darum Bains, and the other event planners have been working their collective butts off to try to get fleet activities going in game, only to be completely stymied by things like level-banding and teams ending up in entirely different instances. While I understand why Cryptic originally put level-banding in place, the fix has turned out to be a complete disaster for encouraging fleet play. It’s not working at all, and it needs to be removed yesterday and another solution found for that. Glitches that put members of teams into entirely different instances, and then make it impossible to switch instances so everyone’s in the same one, needs to be fixed yesterday as well. There is no reason in the world why the game should throw team members into completely different instances. Cryptic, we took the time to put a team together because, shockingly, we want to PLAY together. Help us out here, please, and fix those problems, because these issues are killing fleet-based play.

Cryptic seems to be moving forward in a positive direction by asking fans for their input. They’re providing some more end game content and doing a lot of bug-fixing. I do have to question how Cryptic determined that Pakleds should be a playable race “Hey—let’s give the players a race that everyone can make fun of! Maybe they’ll think ‘we are smart’ then!” I suspect the day that the Pakled decision was made, there must surely have been a huge cannabis field right next door to Cryptic studios that the cops were burning down. Undoubtedly, the smoke got into Cryptic’s ventilator systems.

Other than that, I am encouraged by all the developer activity I see in the STO forums, and the fact that some of the things showing up as issues in the forums are ending up in fixes a month later. Is this game going to be a World of Warcraft juggernaut? No, it never will be. Can it be a Star Trek juggernaut, though? It will take a lot of work and time to get there, but I think it is possible for it to grow into that role.

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4 comments on “State of the Game: Star Trek Online

  1. Interesting read Jae 🙂 It doesn't bode well that subs have dropped that dramatically. Even if it stays at 100K, does that make it viable for Cryptic??I plan on going back to it, but am not sure I can see myself playing for more than the times it takes me to get the type of ship I want.

  2. I heard third hand that the sales of lifetime subscriptions paid for the game's development, but I don't know if that's true or not. If that's the case, then 100k subscribers would continue to pay the bills, but I don't know for how long. Cryptic seems to be listening to the players to some degree, however, so I think Cryptic wants it to succeed. How long Atari will hold out may be another story, however.

  3. Dear Anonymous: It certainly is possible to exchange links. However, it's very helpful to know the author and the the blog with which I would be sharing links. :)Thanks for your patience, too. –Jae

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