Jean-Luc Picard Is A Big Wuss

I’ve been meaning to write this article for a while now, but life decided to come by and slap me silly. (More on that shortly.)

Anyhoo. Star Trek Online. Oh, and please note this is not a review, I have spent in no way enough time in the beta to work up a review. This is simply an impressions and thoughts piece.

It sounds like the dream IP for a MMORPG developer. A huge pre-existing and completely obsessed with anything Star Trek fan base. An IP that is all about exploration, seeking out new life, and boldly going where no one has gone before. The TV series, all of them, have drama, diplomacy, puzzle-solving, space combat, ground combat, humour, and a hopeful outlook on the future.

It should be a MMORPG goldmine.

But, from what I’ve seen so far, I doubt that it will be.

Now to be fair, I haven’t spent all that much time playing the beta. I was invited to the closed beta just before Christmas and spent a single session of a game that seemed woefully incomplete. Since then I’ve patched to the open beta client and have found a much more complete version of the game. Lots of missing text and graphics is now in the game. There’s certainly been a lot of work done over the last few weeks, and a lot of improvements made.

To a certain extent, I’ve had fun playing the open beta of STO. The space combat is much more tactical than most MMORPG combat systems, except perhaps Eve.

But ultimately, Star Trek Online offers nothing of what made the television series(s) special.

There is space and ground combat to be sure, but there is no diplomacy game, the missions are all canned in that there are no real choices or consequences for the decisions you make. I haven’t seen anything that I have to figure out — do I kill that silicon lifeform rock-creature, or get Bones down to heal it? Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor not a bricklayer. — And the exploration seems inconsequential. There’s no relationship with my bridge crew, they just add stats and beam down with me on away missions.

In a nutshell, the game lacks content.

It’s odd because it feels like STO has less going for it (gameplay wise) than Tabula Rasa did at the same stage of development, and look how badly TR got caned for lack of content.

What Cryptic have with Star Trek Online is a great foundation for a MMORPG based on the Star Trek franchise. What they need to do is to take another six months for development and add in those elements that made Star Trek special.

  • Choices. Jim Kirk made his own decisions based on what he encountered. So did Picard and Sisko. (Janeway just parroted the company line.) He didn’t have a bunch of mission text leading him from one step to the next with no room to improvise. And maybe that’s what ST was all about. Improvisation. Can a Star Trek game, really be a Star Trek game without improvisation?
  • Real Exploration. While I’m travelling shouldn’t I come across the unexpected. A new lifeform perhaps a space jellyfish or some such thing? And it should have an associated story. See next point.
  • Solving Mysteries. If I’m sent to a star system to rescue a stranded freighter, don’t give me a damn slow escort mission that’s just a timesink, give me a mystery to solve. Or evolve the scenario into something interesting. Sure, Star Trek was in a “planet of the week” format, but each episode at least attempted to have an interesting story. So far the missions I’ve seen have been not much more that the kill ten rats or escort variety. It’s worse than that, it’s boring Jim.
  • Missions need to be Episodes. Following on from the previous point. Each mission really ought to be the equivalent of a weekly TV episode of ST. How many stories started with, “Starfleet has sent us to… ?”
  • Klingons. Don’t make them Monster Play only, unlockable at whatever level. The Klingon’s in the TV series, TNG onwards, were interesting. They had the best parties, and the Klingons seemed to laugh more than any other species. (Except for that stick-in-the-mud, Worf.) The Klingon’s also had the best ships in the first two series. TNG started developing a rich culture for the Klingon’s that was continued by DS9. There’s a wealth of content there for STO. Use it.
  • Away Team/Ground Combat. This needs to be sorted. It’s not very good and needs improvement. For one thing I have an away team, yet I can’t figure out how to operate them like a squad. I always end up leading the team into a room and get shot first. I need to be able to send my red-shirt in to danger first!

I think the real clincher for me is that when I think I should login to Star Trek Online and spend some time with it, I don’t really have much of a desire to do so. I end up opening up Everquest 2, or just sit down and read a book. It doesn’t give me any inclination to buy and subscribe to STO (let alone buy a lifetime sub — what a ripoff that is!)

From what I’ve read, Champions Online has become a virtual ghost town only a few months after release, due at least in part (in my opinion) to being released too early without enough content. I fully expect Star Trek Online to suffer the same fate. The only thing that may help is that die hard Trek fans could hang in there for a while longer than most.

My overall impression is that STO will be on life support within a year of release.

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  1. Longasc

    I think they should rather turn this into a Starfleet Command III Online thing than a classical MMO or a Bioware RPG. There is not much rpg content, and the ground missions are awful.

    This said, how can one recreate the tv series as MMO? With our typical combat based approach it is not possible, too much dialogue, not enough action in the series.

    There are some missions that recreate some old TV episodes, like the Guardian of Forever and the Doomsday Device. It just is not much, and you are right, Tabula Rasa was not successful and was a more complete MMO.

    I would like it as F2P game for those who enjoyed the space combat style of the Starfleet Command series. It is not a classic MMO and the way they do it now, it will never be one.

  2. Scopique

    I agree with the post. I’d like a more in-depth experience with STO, which is what is lacking.

    The camp is divided: Star Trek the IP is about exploration, and there are those who want that in STO (but ain’t gettin’ it!). But there are also those who think that diplomacy would be boring, since it deoesn’t involve blowing things up. I like to blow things up as much as the next gamer, but I’ve played more MMOs over the years then the USDA recommends, and 95% of them force-fed you combat as the major focus. If there WAS any ancillary content (crafting, housing, alternate gameplay systems, etc), they’ve been marginalized. In my (failnig) memory, only Vanguard’s crafting and diplomacy systems, EQ2’s and SWG’s crafting systems, are close to being on-par with the combat systems most MMOs offer. That is to say that in each game, you never have to pick up a weapon to play if you don’t want to.

    In the end, it’s not about switching STO to full-on-diplomacy gameplay and removing the combat. It’s about offering ALTERNATIVES to the same, mindless mission template over and over again.

  3. Stropp (Post author)

    @Longasc — that’s definitely an interesting idea, and given the nature of the current game, it’s a good one. There’s currently nothing RPG about STO unfortunately.

    I think it’s definitely possible to recreate a TV series like ST as a MMO, but it will take a lot more than the current generation of MMORPGs implements. I suspect that the story driven design behind SW:TOR is a step in the right direction, after all the Star Trek TV shows were all about story. The lack of story, I think, is the major flaw in the MMORPG genre to date.

    @Scopique — Absolutely. It’s about the alternatives to combat. If I didn’t like the combat aspects, I wouldn’t be playing MMORPGs at all since that’s what they’re predominately about. What’s needed is the addition of these alternative systems. And it’s more than just adding systems for diplomacy, crafting, or explorations either. What’s needed is a way to integrate all these systems in a way where players can develop their own stories and have those become part of the world. We’re not there yet by a long shot.

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