Star Trek Online, Early Review

My history with Star Trek Online started way before their first beta. When it was announced, I created an account hoping I would get a beta key when it started. I got a key indeed, but it was (and still is) a Windows only game and I wasn’t in the mood to do a Boot Camp just to play a game when World of Warcraft was playing fine on OS X.

The story would end there if it wasn’t for an offer appearing on my Steam window after playing Terraria. The game was now being offered at US$ 3.75 and, since I now have a Windows partition (just to play games), I decided to finally check it.

Installation

Not that many people take notice of the install process, but I kinda felt there was something wrong when the Steam installer said it would need “10.000 Mb”. I mean, such round number seems someone really didn’t care how much space it takes; it was just someone saying “Meh, just make it 10Gb” instead of doing their job and checking how much space the game really uses.

With 20Gb free, there went the installer. Downloading 5.5Gb. Compressed around 50%? What a damn compression they have there, huh? Toping at 300kbp/s, it took a whole afternoon to download the thing. Rift, on the other hand, have to download 8.5Gb, but it goes up to 1.1mbp/s, giving me a playable game in around 2 hours.

After the download completed, the launcher appeared: A complete white screen with “Wait, loading…” Again, another sign that something was wrong: A launcher that looks like crap. After a while, a somewhat decent launcher appeared, asking login and password. The only reason I can think of for such awful thing is that the launcher is, actually, an HTML that needs to be downloaded from the server — or maybe they never heard of parallel programming or threads. Also, another sign of things going bad: pressing Enter after entering your password does not work; you must click the “Signin” button. After all that, the launcher pointed that “there was a problem with my account”, the problem being I didn’t had the game in my Atari account.

The launcher will launch the launcher when the launcher launchs

I got the keys from the Steam launcher, which kept popping their damn overlays all over my Firefox all the time telling me to add the keys to my game account in every chance it could. After a while, I got really fed up, copied the key to the clipboard and set it to go away and never come back.

Adding the key to the Atari account was as easy as you could imagine: You log in on your account, point that you want to add a key, paste the key, done. After that I thought I could finally play the game.

Not so fast. After the key was there and the “problems” with my account were solved, the game decided it needed patching. Another 4.5Gb download. And yet another sign something was wrong. I mean, if suddenly your patch is almost the same size of your initial download, maybe it’s time to redo your initial package install, as downloading large amounts of data only delays the experience for new players — which is something you’re trying to get selling your game at US$ 3.75. After a whole afternoon just trying to get it run, I gave up and went to bed.

Next day, new surprises: This time, the Steam launcher sent a 2.5Gb patch to the game. At first I thought it was the remaining of the previous day patch, but after it completed, the launcher went into patch mode again. Again, no amazing speeds.

The game

After the whole downloading was done and gone, I could finally see something that assembled a real game instead of a flash, in-browser game.

Captain, who you want to be today?

There is nothing fancy about the character creation screen: You have a character list, a create character button… Which gives access to Federation characters, and an option to create klingon characters, although you first need to unlock them (how is not explained). One thing you can notice there is that you can rename your character using Atari Tokens. Lots of content is available through those tokens, which you can buy with real money in the Atari Store and use on whatever games Atari have. My account had about 500 Atari Tokens and a rename costs around 180, if my memory doesn’t fail.

After you create your character, you’re greeted with him/her standing in the lounge of a ship.

Future captain Thor, of the U.S.S. Asgaard (believe it or not, I did manage to create such character)

The first thing you’ll notice is how cramped the screen looks. And how bad the graphics look. There is a reason for that: Apparently, STO is not capable of getting your current resolution, so it defaults to 1024×768, which is not my monitor native screen resolution. It took me a while to realize that was the problem and not that the game actually looks that bad ’cause… well, ’cause I didn’t had to change a game resolution for ages. World of Warcraft starts in the right resolution, Portal 2 starts with the right resolution, Rift starts with the right resolution. STO starts with whatever resolution the developers feel like.

Also, disregard the yellow bar right in the middle of the screen. To take screenshots on a MacBook Pro, the key combo it kinda messy like Shift+Fn+Alt+F11. In the game, Shift gives you a running speed, which can only be kept for a while, indicated by the yellow bar. Since I was pressing the Shift key, even without doing any movement, my “run power” was running out.

The first thing you learn is how to interact with your surroundings.

Aaannndd.... ACTION!

The action in itself is good and bad at the same time: Once you get close to anything you can interact, a popup appears asking what you want to do with it (most of the time, there is only one action, though). It’s good ’cause it helps to find what you need to interact to continue. It’s bad ’cause it’s a freaking box that pops up right in the middle of your screen and there is no way to dismiss or move it. It may not look so bad here, but once you’re in warp space (I will get there, don’t worry), near a solar system, trying to find the next point you need to go to complete a mission and the damn box is right in the middle of the screen, covering whatever you have there, including the names of the solar systems — even the one you’re trying to find — you just want the thing to blow up and die horrible in a fire.

One of the things I like is the ground combat. It is not that different from combat from Rift or WoW, but it gives a bit more stuff, like “couching”, which increases your damage, resistance but reduces your movement speed. And that’s basically it, but it gives a bit of a different taste to this game compared to the other MMORPGs. Everything else is the same: Move with WASD, use the right button to select a direction with your mouse, move the camera with your left mouse button… pretty standard movement.

Yeah babe, shoot that borg! Shoot that borg good!

You have access to a map but… Meh. It does it’s job but there is nothing impressive. The first times I looked at it, I couldn’t figure out if there was a waypoint to my quest or not. It took me a while to realize that there was a circle and the “i” pointing to the direction. “Oh, you dumb”, you must be thinking. Well, there is this: First, the starting zoom doesn’t take the zone with your waypoint. Second, if the waypoint is out of screen due the zoom, there is no indication about that. Third, even when the waypoint is in the screen, it doesn’t blink or have a higher contrast to get your attention. If you’re not used to it, it just looks like another element in the whatever you are.

Damn, Google Maps in the 25th century looks really bad.

As you progress through your missions, you get equipment that can be attached to your character, to your team or to your ship. The interface is basically the same.

This goes... here!

The game changes the borders to where the piece can’t go in red, with low contrast again, which doesn’t get that clear that the piece can’t go there. If the places where the equipment would go in, say, bright cyan, the location would be much much easier to find.

Once you complete the ground missions you get your first ship. And that’s where the game falls flat on its ass.

Space Movemento and Combat

Space! Spaaace! I'm in space! SPAAAAACE!

Knowing how the other Star Trek games handle space movement (I had one for the PSP), I knew I’d be steering a cow in molasses. What I wasn’t expecting is that they would put such stupid restrictions in space like having a fake horizon, not allowing your ship to pitch up or down more than 45 degrees and make the ship “center” on the horizon every time. I played EVE 2 or 3 years before this game was released and they didn’t had an horizon, which gives a better illusion that you’re flying in space, not on Earth.

Not only that but, in space, you have to use your keys to control your ship. Oh, you can use your mouse, yes: Left clicking select a target, right clicking select a target and both keys let you move your ship — and your camera. There is no way, with mouse, to move your ship still looking for your target.

It may not sound that bad at first, but when you’re fighting 3 destroyers, twice the size of your ship and you want to change the side of your ship to face them, allowing your shields to regenerate, it becomes simply impossible to do. Either you have to use the damn keys or you’re fucked.

Not only the game takes you to that route, but warp is, actually, just another space. “Data, set destination to Wolf 359, Warp 0″. And then there is the damn action window popping when you just got into “warp space” and you’re looking for the damn system you need to go to complete your missions.

Once you complete the incredible easy starting missions — one single ship destroying borg drone ships? One guy with a single phaser killing borg drones with just 2 shots? — you get to the star base, which have a pretty crowded parking zone, you can customize your ship a bit.

Piece A connects to piece B...

The design options are a bit limited for starting ships, but you can get more stuff once you reach the rank of rear admiral — or so it seems, as most of the content you can buy with your Atari Tokens is for rear admirals. How long it takes to reach that rank is unknown to me: After playing for about 2 hours, all I could reach was the rank of “Lieutenant”, which is around level 3.

Also, as I mentioned before, you can get more crew for your ship, with a tactical officer, a science officer and a engineering officer. As your own character you can customize them.

Don't even try to make a hottie like Beverly Crusher. It's impossible.

Some settings are just weird to watch them in effect. For example, changing the torso length and seeing it happen in real time actually looks like someone is stretching them, almost breaking their spines. Ugh.

Stretch the torso, freak out and throw up.

Glitches Galore

In just one hour of play time, I managed to get increasingly annoyed by some small glitches.

For example, just because you’re an admiral, it doesn’t mean you should stand up on your chair.

"I'm an Admiral! I was fighting the borg even before you were born, kid! I can stand up wherever I want!"

And then there is the little to no differentiation between NPCs and players. Because you can customize the hell out of your appearance, including your uniform — and not counting the uniforms and races you can buy with those Atari Tokens — and they used that same thing for NPCs, you are never sure who is a player and who is a NPC. I mean, come on, wouldn’t a star base at least have a dressing conduct or something?

One of those 3 in front of me is a player? Can you spot it?

And then there is the quest order you need to keep doing for NPCs to talk to you. For example, because I didn’t talk with the admiral first (actually, I did, but I had to talk to him again to complete the previous quest), I couldn’t talk to the NPC I needed to, even with the quest objective appearing right in front of me.

Commander Samuel Winters doesn't give a shit about your objectives.

I understand that those are small issues, but it keeps piling up and that is just the starting quests.

Curious Aspects

One thing that really caught my eye was the user content. Yes, users can create quests and such, which is rated by the users.

Spirits! In spaaaace!

There is only one thing: Because the content is created and rated by users, some… conventions are completely ignored. Or maybe the game simply doesn’t understand that people from different countries can be playing the same content.

Gespenster! Im weeeeeeeltraum!

Opinion

Honestly, although I call myself a trekkie and such, for US$ 15 per month, I’d prefer play Rift. Or even go back to WoW. But the game feels half-finished, even after a whole year after release. If it was cheaper, like US$ 3.99 per month or free to play — which could happen, as they have the whole C-Store and Atari Tokens — I’d seriously consider it. But, again, it feels half finished, some sequences are real killers and the price is too high for it.

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