Star Trek: Online Thoughts:
It was recently announced that the MMORPG Star Trek: Online will soon be free to play. Being the cheap bastard I am, my ears immediately perked up when I heard this. While I no longer consider myself a Trekkie (long story), I still have enough lingering interest in the Star Trek universe to render me mildly curious about this.So, I promptly contacted one of my Facebook friends who plays, and being the awesome person she is, she immediately gave me one of her referral codes for a free trial, and I dove in as the proud captain of the USS Varian Wrynn (*nerdly snicker*).
But my interest in the game did not live long or prosper. The friend who referred me absolutely adores this game, and I feel guilty to say anything bad about it–it almost feels like I’m insulting her kid. But hiding from the truth never did anyone any good, so Teri, I’m sorry, but I have to say it:
Star Trek: Online is not a good game. At all.
There were little things that annoyed me right out of the gate. The interface is just a little too big and little too clunky, leading to a claustrophobic feeling. I rapidly began to miss World of Warcraft’s bare bones interface, especially when I discovered that a giant message pops up in the middle of your screen every time you’re near someone or something that can be interacted with. Dear god, did that get old fast. To be fair, there might be a way to turn this off–I didn’t feel like trying to find out which of the game’s many options tabs it might be under.
There is also an option (which was automatically turned on for me) that for reasons unclear puts the graphics on a setting I can only call “terribad.” The game actually looked great once my friend told me how to turn it off, but it didn’t leave a good first impression.
I’m an experienced gamer, but this game made me feel like a complete newbie. I spent a great deal of time getting lost; while quest givers and the like are tracked on the mini-map, so is everything else, and I couldn’t find any way to filter out the clutter. There were a lot of different currencies and complexities related to gear that were never clearly explained to me. I never even figured out how the leveling system works. It didn’t seem to have levels like a traditional MMO, but yet I had an XP bar. There were several times where I was automatically grouped with people, but these experiences mostly amounted to them completing my objectives for me while I wandered in circles in a vain attempt to figure out what I was supposed to do. I know the mindlessness of WoW may have spoiled me, but throw a guy a bone.
The game is split between ground missions where you command your character and NPC allies and space missions where you pilot your vessel. The ground combat is okay, I suppose. Nothing to write home about. The ship combat is actually a little interesting and involves careful positioning to maximize your firepower while trying to protect the damaged portions of your ship from further harm. But the space portions also suffered from clunky controls and seemingly needless over-complication. They also seemed to be the opposite extreme from WoW’s “LULZ FACEMASH KEYBOARD AND INSTAKILL AL ENEMEEZ LOLOLOL” questing; the fights seem to drag on forever.But my biggest complaint was the game’s load screens. Simply put, it has an absurd number of them. That may seem like a silly thing to pick on, but this number of load screens would be annoying in any game, and in an MMO, it’s just unforgivable. One of the thing’s I love about WoW is the way I can stand in Rut’theran Village and see the World Tree four zones away and know that I can hop on my drake and fly there (and far beyond) without a single second of load time. ST:O, by comparison, required a load screen just to get from one section of a space station to the other.
Hell, even Dungeon Siege III, a single player game sometimes criticized for its lack of scale, would put me through fewer load screens in a week than ST:O did in a day.
It’s flagrant false advertising to even call ST:O a massively multiplayer game. There’s nothing massive about it.
But in the interest of fairness, there is one thing about ST:O that I really loved, and that’s its customization. Every imaginable aspect (and some unimaginable aspects–the boob size option on the females kind of creeped me out) of your character, your NPC helpers, and your ship is fully customizable, from fine details of their uniforms to their height to scars and tattoos. The game even lets you pick your character’s body language, an idea so amazingly cool that I’m doomed to spend the rest of my life wishing every game had it.
Still, the fact remains that I uninstalled the game after just one day. There’s no single, critical error that ruined this game (except maybe those icky load screens), but it’s so plagued with small annoyances that there is no room for anything resembling fun.
The one good thing to come out of this is I have a much greater respect for what Blizzard accomplished with WoW. I’ve often criticized its basic gameplay, but only now do I realize how many pitfalls they evaded.
I feel bad for my friend. ST:O is her only real experience with modern video games (so far as I’m aware), and she has no idea what she’s missing out on. But on the plus side, I’ve gained a greater respect for her abilities as a gamer. If she can wade through the mind-numbing confusion of ST:O and succeed, she could probably dominate WoW.
In other news…
My contributor’s copy of MOG #33 arrived yesterday. Seeing my name in print is a very bizarre experience, but gratifying, too.