I’ve been playing the beta of Star Trek Online over the last two days, and let me tell you – it’s really fun.
When the game was announced, I was worried that Penny Arcade’s comic would reflect the gameplay; that is, I was worried the missions would feel contrived to prevent you from using the types of technology that make Star Trek what it is.
More recently, I’ve been worried that the writing would be terrible; the reason for this worry was that the developers, Cryptic Studios, did an absolutely atrocious job of writing in Champions Online. (The fact that I still liked it despite the writing and terrible balance speaks volumes about how entertaining the gameplay can be.)
Instead, what I find is a surprisingly well-written, non-contrived set of missions. Indeed the game refers to them as “episodes”, and that’s kind of how they feel.
Space battles are quite entertaining, especially when they get large – two dozen player ships fighting a bunch of NPC battlecruisers makes for an epic battle scene – and the little touches make the battles that much more interesting. When an enemy ship explodes, you need to get out of the way; I’ve been destroyed more than once when my shields were low and I was too close to a defeated enemy when his warp core exploded.
Ground battles are, similarly, well done. I had been worried because in a lot of MMOs you just stand there trading blows with the enemy; that’s not how Star Trek portrays ground combat. Instead, you get a personal shield, and you can dive and roll out of the way of incoming shots, and you have an away team to help you.
I also like that group missions are automatically grouped for you. Say you’re patrolling the Risa sector; the game automatically matches you with other people also patrolling the sector so you don’t have to sit there waiting for people in chat to say they need to do it too. It makes perfect sense, and it’s so convenient.
The beta has some bugs; sometimes missions won’t complete, or the graphics glitch and you spawn in ground areas with the ship model instead of the player model (or vice versa, in space). But these things should be expected during a beta. In fact the most annoying aspect of the beta so far has been players complaining about bugs. Guess what? If you want a bug-free game, the beta is not something you should be playing. There is a price for early access. (The other annoying thing has been players not reading mission text, or not looking around. The answer to “where is the Admiral’s office” is “right where you beamed onto the station, under the big sign that says Admiral’s Office“.)
As a result of the entertaining time I’ve had playing the beta, I pre-ordered the Star Trek Online Collector’s Edition from Amazon. Now I just have until the game launch to decide whether I want a lifetime subscription; I’m leaning toward “yes”. I’m having far more fun playing this than I had playing Champions or Lord of the Rings or any other MMO I’ve tried.
At any rate, once the game is officially released and (hopefully) the beta’s kinks are worked out, I’m planning to do a Let’s Play series with Star Trek Online in the spirit of Shamus Young’s Let’s Play Champions Online series (which itself was in the spirit of Rutskarn’s Let’s Play Morrowind series). I’m hoping it will be an epic story of a young Starfleet officer’s efforts to defend the Federation, rather than a story about how a young Starfleet officer retired at age 30 due to nonsensical plots (as Shamus’ series ends). This will be an experiment which may fail completely, but nonetheless I’ll try.