I reinstalled Star Trek Online nearly a month ago, but it took a prompting from former co-worker Sean Kavanagh (“Hey, they’re giving away a free ship!”) to make me overcome my inertia and get back into the game. While I had left the game after only about a month after its release, Sean had kept up with it and, while he was realistic about his assessment and never a fanboy, he occasionally alerted me about what kinds of cool updates Cryptic was making. It was enough to make me consider jumping back in, but you know how it is with an MMO once you’ve stopped playing it: You never go back.
Except this time, I think I might.
Primary among the major issues I had with the game at launch was its mind-numbing complexity and myriad details that went with maintaining a bridge crew of five officers, all their equipment, all their skills, a ship and its components, a complex crafting system… all of which is thrown in your face before you hit level 10. I said it before, and I’ll say it now: For a game that was designed to be accessible to a mass audience — and anything with a major license like Star Trek attached to definitely is — the game failed miserably. I considered myself an experienced MMO player and even I felt overwhelmed at time by the complexities of the game.
Two years later, the basic system is still pretty much all in place, though at least a few things have been simplified and streamlined. My captain was only level 11, so I wasn’t so far along that the tutorials — new to me — weren’t so banal as to be boring and they did a fairly good job of explaining things. There’s still a lot to absorb, and I was fortunate enough to find my fleet leader (an old friend from LOTRO) still online much of the time to answer my simple questions.
When the game first came out, I lamented its “MMO-ness” as opposed to its “Star Trek-kiness.” Meaning that I thought Cryptic tried too hard to wedge an MMO style of play, with three classes and three types of ships fulfilling the DPS, tank, and support/heal trinities instead of something that seemed more organic and better suited for the Trek universe. While those archetypes remain, there have been a number of new things added to the game to make it truer to the genre.
For instance, I’ve been having a blast managing my crew via the duty officer system… and, frankly, I don’t know why. There’s very little in the system resembling gameplay — you have missions available to you that you can send your peons — I mean, junior officers — on, and it helps if they have certain skills that match up with the missions. Come back a few hours, or even days, later, and you’ll see the mission results, success or failure (and even death is a possibility for some missions), and reap the rewards of XP and loot. If it sounds a little like The Old Republic‘s crew skill missions, you’re not far off, but the “skill-matching” part of things reminds me very heavily of another Star Trek game I’ve got some passing familiarity with. In any case, the system just feels more Star Trek-ky than just going around blowing up Klingons.
(As an aside, one mechanic in the game that I’ve really found that I like and wish more games would adopt is the use of your scanner to find anomalies and occasionally mission objectives. I’ve lamented the hand-holding that games now incorporate where you simply have to navigate to the section of the map where it tells you to and complete your objective. I’d love to see a more “organic” means of finding mission objectives like using a personal scanner, or, in lower-tech settings, maybe a mystical artifact or locating spell, like Clairvoyance in Skyrim. Following a light beam from your character sure beats starting at an arrow on a mini-map or pulling up the area map every 20 seconds.)
The game sill has plenty of combat, too, and managing five crew members in fights is still as easy as herding cats. But there seems to be plenty more to do than fight, another nod to Roddenberry’s vision. I’ve yet to figure out what the major benefits of diplomacy XP is and I haven’t played a game of dabo yet, but I know they’ll be there whenever I get around to them. Right now, I’m enjoying a mix of the space combat, ground combat, and non-combat missions, and I’ve recaptured that wonder of “Ooh, this is Star Trek!” that I had when the game initially launched but quickly dissipated. I don’t know how long that will stick with me — and some of the bugs I’m finding are definitely dampening my enthusiasm — but I’m enjoying the ride so far.
More than anything, though, I think that I’m just in a different place than I was when the game launched two years ago. I was just starting up with Massive Online Gamer and my tastes in MMOs were still a touch primitive. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to try out a much wider variety of games and, for better or worse, become more quickly bored with the same old style of progression and combat mechanics found in most games. I’ve barely played LOTRO in the last month and I’m already starting to feel “meh” about SWTOR. Star Trek Online definitely isn’t “more of the same.” It’s got a unique feel to it, and, like games that don’t follow the tried-and-true conventions, it’s going to have issues. But right now I’m looking for something different, which wasn’t the case two years ago, so I’m enjoying the ride. If you’re in the same boat, give it a shot. It’s free-to-play, so you’ve got nothing to lose. It may never fulfill the promise Cryptic had for it, but it might yet make for a quality “niche” game.
And if you get in the game, feel free to add Seryv@Karzender to your friends list!