Tuesday (12th Jan) saw the launch of the open beta phase for the much anticipated Star Trek Online (STO) Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) which meant that those lucky enough to grab an open beta key from sites such as TenTonHammer & Massively get a chance to play a pre-release (but pretty much finished) version of the game for a period of 2 weeks. In this article I’m going to cover the installation & very early game experience / impression. This will not be an in-depth review as that should only be done in my opinion on final retail releases. My experience didn’t start off too well, I had my first 2 downloads cut short from FilePlanet so I gave up using them. I wandered off back to the STO official website and found an official BitTorrent file had been posted, this was much healthier with the client completing its download over night. For those interested here’s a link to the torrent file. Installation on the other hand was a breeze with nothing of interest to comment about. STO uses a launcher application before you get into the game itself, this is slightly different from the World of Warcraft (WoW) launcher as you actually provide your login credentials before getting into the game, this more closely represents launchers for games such as Everquest & Star Wars Online by Sony Online Entertainment. Patching is also taken care of here, plus any ‘breaking news’ such as server shards being unavailable due to maintenance. I’m going to break down my first couple of days experience into quite simple ‘Good stuff’ & ‘Bad stuff – I’m not going to go into great detail as this post is purely designed to be based on first impressions:
Cryptic have clearly invested a lot of time, passion, Trekkie love and money into the character creation process & customisations available – I could only choose a Federation character at this point however the amount of races available would make any Trekkie drool – these include (but are not limited to) Humans, Bolians, Andolians, Vulcans and Bajorans. I selected a Vulcan Tactical Officer as my character and was then able to customise my uniform, skin tone, eye colour etc before finally selecting talents unique to my character. The amount of detail you can change/customise a character isn’t as high as say The Sims 3 but it is far superior than most MMORPGs
The graphics quality is generally pleasing to the eye with lots of available options to anyone confident enough with changing graphics settings. There’s native support for both 4:3 & 16:9 displays, there’s a few glitches e.g. like background image of a previous zone flashing on the new zones loading screen – but on the whole it is relatively bug free. It’s certainly not going to win any awards but it feels modern enough for a game that had been in development for quite a long time
A major attraction to the game for me when it was be unveiled was the ability to customise your ship, crew and fight other starships in space. The combat system is very simple, your opponents ship has sheilds and hull integrity. Using your phasers you knock out your targets shields and use torpedoes to take out the actual ship (either weapon can be used on shields or hull however phasers are much more efficient against shields and vice-versa for torpedoes). At the same time you have to manage your shields to ensure they don’t go down or rotate your ship to avoid the damaged/downed shielded area being hit – There’s much more to combat but this is covered quite well by the in-game tutorial.
Is fantastic … I certainly felt that after the tutorial encounters (some of which are instanced but you’re still with other players) when docking on the starbase over earth the whole area was teeming with players, NPCs and other little touches which add to your immersion in the Star Trek Universe. The soundtrack does have several main Trek themes and also some which I’ve never heard of but none-the-less make the experience of being in space much more realistic.
Lag, lag, lag …
… and more lag – It’s truly awful , there’s not a few minutes that go by without a lag spike occurring & my character or ship getting pushed back into it’s previous position (maybe to prevent exploits?). I understand that there might only be a few servers for beta testing purposes which may be under strain due to the amount of participants on the open beta, however Cryptic have to understand many people (including myself) are using the open beta to see if it is worth purchasing. They should either open up more servers, increase capacity (hardware / ISP wise) or introduce queuing (/spit), whatever course of action they decide they need to do it soon or reassure the community that this will be fixed on the final retail servers.
Is very basic, does the job but I find it hard to follow plus there doesn’t appear to be any channels, just one main channel in each area. To be fair at least the chat system isn’t suffering from Barrens Chat behaviour or any other nasties, this could vary from server to server though depending on the demographic type of people using it.
The user interface looks visually attractive and mirrors an LCARS type of theme, however there’s a very clunky & delayed feel to this when using it, I think the majority of these issues I’m having are due to lag, it’s just not as fluid and streamlined like the basic WoW UI. There are a few tutorials on how to access the various menus/screens however they don’t tell you how to operate each screen.
I was really looking forward to pilotting my starship and engaging some nasty pasties in combat, however the control system for flying ships leaves a lot to be desired. You have 2 options of control; either keyboard (WASD) or mouse (by holding down both main buttons). Pitch & roll of your starship is like that of an aircraft and whatever control method you use the Q & E keys are used to control the throttle. It sounds perfect on ‘paper’ however in practise it is very cumbersome – It actually feels like you’re flying a brick and maybe Cryptic intended it to be that way as a starship ain’t no Hackney Black Cab when it comes to it’s turning circle capability. The control system is again further marred by lag, however within a couple of days I’ve managed to get much more used it.
Again, before I comment on this I think the regular lag mentioned above is causing this as well; Each time I change zone from character to starship mode for around 10 seconds the wrong type of model is shown after zoning e.g. I see my Vulcan character standing in the middle of open space and then he suddenly gets replaced by the correct starship model. It was quite funny the first couple of times I experienced the bug, however it’s just a bit annoying now.
Cryptic have created a far from perfect MMORPG at the open beta stage, however this can be said of many previous MMORPGs such as WoW which also had its fair share of teething problems some of which are still being addressed 5 years after launch. As long as Cryptic address major issues such as lag & quirky bugs I’m quietly confident STO will enjoy a long & prosperous lifespan. It’s too early to say whether I’m going to start paying to play it, it’s not that I don’t want to but I simply don’t think I have the time to have a life, play WoW, PS3 and my Nintendo DSi in addition to STO – I’m not willing to give up any of the former at this moment in time. To anyone else interested in STO but are unsure of whether it is any good, I would advise them to signup to the open beta (still over a week left at time of writing) and experience it for themselves and make an informed choice. I’m pretty certain Cryptic will offer the usual 10-day free trial of STO when it launches on 2nd Feb.