Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Star Trek Online beta review

I had great hopes for Star Trek Online. But when I played the beta I was disappointed and didn't like the game all that much. Thus I decided not to buy Star Trek Online on release.

You might be surprised that I start this review with the conclusion, but actually most reviewers form an opinion first, and then write a review to fit that opinion. This is my very personal impression of Star Trek Online as experienced in the late closed beta, with no claim to either completeness or impartiality. I played about 12 hours, distributed over three days, which was enough to get a good general impression of the game, but certainly not all the details, thus this is just a "beta review".

Star Trek Online is based on two different engines, one for the space part, in which you control a ship not unlike the USS Enterprise, and one for the ground part, in which you control your avatar, and quite often a crew of NPC as well. Now you might remember reviews of Pirates of the Burning Sea telling you how nice ship combat was in that game, and how badly done the avatar part was. Star Trek Online unfortunately has the same problem. The space part and ship combat are nicely done, and different from classical MMORPG combat. But the avatars aren't pretty to start with, the animations especially in combat are wooden, and ground combat isn't much fun. One gets a definitive impression as if Cryptic Studios started with the design of the space part, did the avatar part much later, and ran out of time before they could make that part as good as the space part.

The world of Star Trek Online consists of various sectors of galaxy. In each sector you can see players flying around, stationary star systems, and mobile encounters. Thus gameplay consists of flying to one of these star systems or encounters, and entering its instance. Everything in Star Trek Online is instanced, even the galaxy sectors or the space stations exist in several parallel incarnations with a maximum number of players per instance. When you enter a star system or encounter instance, a scripted mission starts consisting of some sequence of space and ground tasks, which can be solo, group, or public quest. This is completely linear, you have to follow the script or the mission doesn't advance. For example you enter a system, get hailed by a freighter in distress, do space combat against some pirate ships attacking the freighter, beam down to the freighter to do some ground combat against the pirates in the ship, beam back up to the ship to fight off some more pirate ships, and mission done, warp back to the sector. If you enter the same sector again, the exactly same script starts, and you can do the mission again, over and over if you want. But you can also either hail Starfleet command, or visit them in the Earth space station, and get quests there. There are two sorts of Starfleet command quests I found, one a bit more elaborate versions of scripted missions, the other "visit X star systems in this sector and do the local missions there".

There are different types of rewards, two sorts of xp, two sorts of currency, two sorts of gear, plus you can get crew members as a reward. Experience points can be either for you, or for your crew. Your xp gain you levels, and every 10 levels a new rank, plus you can buy skills with them. The crew xp are a pool shared between all crew members, and it is you who decides the skills of which crew member you want to raise with them. Currencies are either energy credits to buy various gear with, or Starfleet merits to buy crew members and train them. Gear can be avatar gear to equip yourself or your crew members with, or various weapons, shields, consoles and devices to equip your ship with. Thus there is a lot of stuff to collect. You can also gather resources like alien artefacts from "anomalies" appearing in space systems and on the ground, which are used in "research" to upgrade existing gear.

Star Trek Online is not a bad game. It is somewhat unfinished in its current state, and still has some bugs, but that unfortunately appears to be the industry standard for MMORPGs on release. The space part with its ship combat is nice enough, and the general gameplay of doing missions, exploring systems, doing the two sorts of combat, and cashing in the rewards works reasonably well. However with everything being instanced, and the missions being heavily scripted, Star Trek Online feels very much like playing on rails. While theoretically you have the freedom to visit whatever star system you want, practically you'll only want to visit each system once, and that preferably as part of some patrol mission for greater reward. Thus you end up with a very linear checklist of things to do: Accept patrol mission, visit systems A, B, C, and D for that patrol, do the predefined script in each of the systems, get the reward, spend the reward on making yourself, your crew, or you ship better, and start over. This gets boring, repetitive, and "grindy" pretty fast.

The biggest disappointment for Star Trek fans is that STO reduces the drama, dialogue and interaction of characters of the series to combat. Star Trek Online is a simple combat game; the only non-combat interaction possible in the game is getting close to an object or person and pressing "F". In most cases there are no dialogue options beyond the choice to either accept or cancel quests; there are very few quests in which you have to talk with NPCs and do a little multiple-choice dialogue to solve the quest. There is nothing to do on the bridge (as of the beta), nobody to talk to, and if you want to sit in the captain's chair you need to stand on it and use a /sit emote. And instead of boldly going where no man has gone before, we will quickly see some website listing all the quests on all the systems.

So while Star Trek Online is certainly playable, there is a chance that you might be disappointed by its linearity and shortcomings. I am posting this review at the time where the NDA drops and the open beta starts. So I can only recommend you play the open beta yourself, and form your own opinion of Star Trek Online.
Sounds like even Wing Commander: Privateer provided a more open-ended feeling to its galaxy. I was hoping for more of an exploration element from the Star Trek IP. It just seems to fit so perfectly with a more exploratory theme.
I have not yet seen any indication that the NDA has dropped though. But if those starting to play in Open Beta do not have to agree to an NDA it will be a moot point anyway.
There was an official Cryptic post on the beta forums that the NDA has dropped at the same hour that the open beta opened. But you need to have a link to the beta forums to find that announcement, they are somewhat hidden from view.
Interesting... I agree with Moxy though it seems like Star Trek IP would be more open ended.
There is a recent Cryptic Studios interview that descibes ST Online will be following the Champions Online template. That tells me triple dipping for money, buy the box, pay a monthly fee and purchase items in game. Purchasing in game items will not come out for two months into release.

I refuse to support that business model. I'll pass Cryptic.
Hmmm, a comment moderation bug seems to have eaten several comments by accident. My apologies.
Not a bad game? STO is not only an awful Star Trek game it's an awful MMORPG!
You forgot an FCC disclaimer ;)
Theres alot in STO that playing the beta doesnt scratch yet, such as things like starclusters which took a while and werent implemented fully until now, at any rate (procedurally generated content, remember?).

The Instanced content is also quite interesting in that the more group members you involve, the more difficult the content can become. I enjoyed redoing content (which isnt exactly a love of mine) in a group because it offered a different challenge and better loot.

I do agree with you somewhat, but its all a matter of taste. I'll get the game, i'll play it - but at the end of the day it is a game. Combat sells. That said, I did encounter several missions with no combat content at all (and starclusters are apparently heavier on that, which is always nice and new).

Also, radical concept, being able to hail your quest giver and not run back just to be told to go away again, gotta like that, no? :).

For 2 years of work, its good. Will it hold its own? I certainly hope so. It needs work, but the only way it will get that is through support which i'll be happy to give.

Er, anyway, rant over.
I think my comment was eaten...

Anyway, is this review saying that since it's simplistic and linear and if you already have a subscription to wow or can get one, it's not worth it?

And then I wrote something of shakesperian brilliance, but it was eaten, so just trust me on that...
I haven't seen a single good Star Trek game. ever.
I actually haven't seen a single good Star Trek movie ever!

As soon as Star Trek content is produced for the mass market the thinking goes like that:

The fans will buy our stuff no matter what we do. So, let's focus on the rest: Let's add a lot of combat, violence, sex etc.

What you get is a game/movie that has absolutely nothing to do with Star Trek - especially not with The Next Generation series, which has been the only real good Star Trek Series. Deep Space 9 is ok and Voyager is mostly still watchable.

Star Trek TNG is a typical example for designers who do not understand why their product is so successful.

Have you seen the last movie? I watched it with my dad who also liked The Next Generation for thoughtful, credible, intelligent episodes.

And these producers dare to present a movie that is among the most uncredible, uninvolving there is. Fortunately the cinema was half-empty when we watched it!

I had no hopes for a Star Trek MMO. None at all. The previews supported my opinion and your beta-review will probably make me not even buy the game.

That is although I still am a big fan of credible, intelligent Sci-Fi, like Star Trek once has delivered. Seems like it was an accident back then.
Having played the beta this evening, I can honestly say you hit the nail of the head with everything you said. As a lifelong trek fan I would have loved nothing more than to have a great trek game but this doesn't feel like this is it.

Like you said this game is nothing more than a space combat Sim with occassional ground combat thrown in that tosses trek references. Don't expect the game to be true to the core of the series, beyond the combat. Gone are the moral decisions, diplomacy or even real Science/exploration.

Having said that my real complaints with the graphics style in the space portion is that all the planets look the same with varying degrees of color change. I mean each planet will have the same gas cloud and asteroid belt.

I'll certainly play until the end of the beta period but beyond that I'll wait till the game is at the price point champions online is now.
So your biggest complaint will be the main selling point of SW: TOR.
Isn't Bill Roper involved with Cryptic now? This sounds like it borrows a lot from the Hellgate London model.
is this review saying that since it's simplistic and linear and if you already have a subscription to wow or can get one, it's not worth it?

No, this review is saying that COMPARED to WoW STO is overly simplistic and linear, and offers far less of an open world to explore.
I grew up a huge TNG fan. I didn't mind the other series but I loved, and still love, TNG.

I really do hate making assumptions about a game I've never played but I can't help it with this one. STO just seems shallow. As Nils and others have said Star Trek was always about more than just combat.

I honestly feel that after the first month of release the only thing I'm going to hear about STO is the random reference on Massively.
I guess im having some trouble understanding what some people are saying, STO is still in beta, dont forget this. This is very much testing, and not a free play preview unlike most MMO's of late.

STO has exploration content, go find it (ironic, I guess.). STO has science content, Memory Alpha is built around that concept.

I also have to say if you expect to find a narrative outside of scripted content in any MMO, it doesnt happen often. WoW is extremely linear if you want a story - its consistently quest after quest in pre-determined areas, have we all forgotten that games are games and certain things just arnt practical or fun for everyone?
I really think that some of the characteristics you mentioned(such as the simplicity) is a huge downfall in the mmo industry today. I really feel that more companies should be going on a limb, trying to implement creative content and features. Star Trek had the intellectual backing and money for it. They should have really done more.

I will try the game, but if your review does justice, I am sad!
I started playing beta yesterday and was really shocked at the lack of luster the game offered. Unfortunatly my impulsive nature bought the digital download before I knew what was happening. I wont say I didnt have fun but I was really disappointed in the lack of quest diversity. Some companies take there time and do it right before launch...ahmmm...bioware, and some throw there game together to beat the potential competition (STO vs Star wars: old republic) release date. In time and if they listen to there player base, STO can evolve into a fun game or it can get vaporized by a big fat torpedo. At any rate thats my .02 cents. I will play it for awhile and hopefully end up having a positive experience or I'll suck it up to another gambal lost to my impulsive nature.
Funny, I like it very much.

But I see it as a fast MMO, not an everlasting MMO.
Imho, cryptic has a different view on mmo's. They design the games for lasting about 0.5-1 year, after that a new game will be released.
They don't expect to last it for 5 years.
I find that very nice design.
cba to play mmo's for years and years
The sad thing about STO is that Cryptic really has very little say in the overall content of the game. Paramount/CBS have always and will always hold a tight grip on the IP, which means pretty much everything has to be double checked, everything has to be finished when they say so, etc.

Add on the demand by Atari for a big release by the end of their financial year and you have a recipe for "before its ready". As said, what is there shows promise, though. Some of it is trash, but then again, I'm used to that in any game.
i am in agreeance with you...the game does not feel finished at all.

The user interaction is not clicking on targets doesn't work have the time.

There's no Auto-attack which really pisses me off.

The Loading screens are death.....................

The character progressions is lame...

probably a 5/10 in overall for an open beta client (having betaed over 20 MMOs in Open/Closed settings, this one is almost as bad as Matrix Online in terms of overall flow).
Thanks for this review. I was wondering whether to splurge the $60 on it, but knowing how horribly instanced and combat based it is I think I'll wait for SW:TOR.
Thanks for this review. I was wondering whether to splurge the $60 on it, but knowing how horribly instanced and combat based it is I think I'll wait for SW:TOR.

Two minor problems with that plan: A) SW:TOR was just announced to be postponed to 2011.
B) There is no guarantee that SW:TOR will *NOT* be horribly instanced and combat based.
Hello Tobold,

I remember you all the way back from when Magic Online first arrived =)

Do you have any tips on how to get into all these betas?

Do you have any tips on how to get into all these betas?

Two words: Fileplanet Subscription

Yes, it does cost money. But they get you into nearly every beta, and you also get a good download service for game demos. So if you DON'T buy just 2 games per year because having them tested for free, you're already in the black.
B) There is no guarantee that SW:TOR will *NOT* be horribly instanced and combat based.

It is Bioware. I'll give them enough credit to know what an MMO is. At least Hellgate London wasn't ADVERTISED as an MMO. STO is epic fail.

Any MMO pushed back gains great momentum. If the game devs aren't happy with their product and they want more time to perfect it, more power to them.
I finally wrote up my own thoughts on Star Trek: Online. Long story short, it's the worst MMO I've ever played. Such a shame. The game is nowhere near ready.
First up, although our comments are based on a beta version of the game, realize that this game is going live January 29th (pre-release early entry date). It's just not possible to transmute poo into gold in 9 days.

@Mafti: No one invests the millions it takes to develop and run a MMO hoping for 0.5 years lifespan. Everyone wants to hit WoW/EQ paydirt. That Cryptic's games are seen to be expected to only last that long is telling.

Right now Cryptic is offering 12mo plans for 120 and Lifetime subs for 240, both of which will only be available to pre-order customers. In my opinion, and that of many others, they are clearly trying to cash in before it goes public and is a ghost town after 3 months.
SWG pre NGE was my original first MMO love. Having played the game pre-CU all the way to the NGE i absolutely loved the open sandbox world. After the catastrophic NGE (New Game Experience) I quickly left as it became another WoW clone. I did play WoW, EQ, AoC, WH, and several other less than satisfying labels. All with the expectations of some sort of openness.

That said I will agree with the railed and linear questing. I can honestly say that most MMOs conform to this model though. There might be different flavor but even Eve online (imo one of the most open mmo worlds since SWGs downfall) missions are linear in the sense that you travel to point A, complete objective, travel to B, turn in. Granted they have good crafting content and pvp is awesome. Still most PvE experience are just flavored lines you follow to the objective.

What i do like about STO is that character customization, appearance or progression, is absolutely customizable. Starting as one of the three classes the game offers means nothing. You are not locked into a specific set of talents and abilities that you are in most MMOs. This coupled with Cryptics fully customizable character generators gives me a real feel of genuine individuality that I havent felt since SWG.

The heavy instancing is somewhat annoying IF you come from large open worlds. I personally dont think it breaks immersion any more than lag from a wide open world or chuck norris jokes though. The shard template does reduce on lag and its easier to change instance than trying to get the kiddies to be mature in spatial/general chat.

ALL mmo's (I dare you to name one that was perfect.) Had shaky if not horrid launches. Bug's were abound in most. Even on WoW launch some people had to wait 2+ hours to log in to even play. Content was unfinished and corners had to be cut. The people that stuck through it and "invested" the time, money, and patience because they were passionate about the label or genre are the greatest benefactors of later players.

A company has a basic concept of how they want to deliver a product. The implement their ideas, test and revise as needed, but until they have the support and influence of the players, it is only ended to meet their goals. STO has an incredible amount of potential. While i'm probably not the trekkiest, i have had my feel of the medieval/fantasy worlds. I am very passionate about seeing a sci-fi mmo succeed so Cryptic will be gaining me as a customer. I will however expect to see more from them as time goes by.

The open beta caught near a 1G patch that opened the world (read universe) and squashed several bugs just yesterday. Im actually eager to see the 45+day patch.

While i don't agree with the triple dip business model that Cryptic has reverted to, some will. The customer always has a choice on how he spends his dollar in any mmo. In WoW you can buy gold or power level services (heavily frowned upon and i dont recomend) but the option is still there. Eve allows aquisition of in game items or ISK right through the company.

TL:DR, MMOs are only as successful as the customers allow them to be. Will STO slay WoW? Not likely. Will it be a decent Sci-Fi, Star Trek mmo? Im willing to bet 15$ a month that it will.
"Hail your quest giver" a radical concept???

Thats in Cryptic's firsrt MMO, City of heroes, which pre-dates WoW. And wasnt exactly new then.

Just because it isn't in Wow doesn't mean its new. There were plenty of MMOs before that. And even were it new, if thats what passes for radical innovation these days I guess its time to give up on the whole genre.
STO is one of the worst MMOs I've ever had the misfortune of playing in any iteration. So much potential, none of it delivered. There were so many quality gameplay suggestions during closed beta, all of which were summarily ignored.

For those folks who are praising the character customization, bear in mind that character customization is Cryptic's one-trick-pony. They sold City of Heroes and City of Villains on the depth of character customization, t ey sold Champions Online on the depth of character customization and now they're using the same bullet point to try to sell STO. At the end of the day, it will be just like any other Cryptic MMO: Big on promises, low on initial content, slow on bringing out substantial content patches to keep people interested which translates into a game with a very small community.
Well all i have to say to you people is go back to wow you addicted anyhow , this game was fun had a blast and thats what its about , and trust me ive played em all , wow when released was no better than this , in fact it was a slide show most of the time .... oh and BRING BACK DAOC
After the open beta, I too was vry disappointed.

Land based play reminded me of single player rpg's and were very simplistic.

Space based play, the best part of the game, was far less than it should have been.

When I started the beta I was hoping for an Eve Online meets World of Warcraft hybrid with the best of both games. Unfortunately, there is little of either of the two games' successes evident at the end of closed beta.

Depth of play is severely lacking. I predict, barring some pretty radical changed to the game, a 3 year life before everyone has max ship(s) and max gear and begin to get bored with the game (and I'm being generous).

One of the simple things I discovered that nags at me, and indicates the bottom-line development philosophy this game was obviously put together with, is that the space combat is not true three dimensional combat. I found this out several times when attempting a negative G barrel roll that would put me right square on my targets' tail....I would hit this invisible wall, and would have ro re-orient my ship to the 'correct' orientation before I could get back into any kind of combat position.

Now, come on, this is 2010....if you don't have the vision to incorporate true three dimensional space combat, what are you doing in this genre? I mean, Eve did it years ago....

If developers are listening, the next generation game will be an Eve-like world/Universe, Warcraft-like player interaction, Everquest II-like crafting engine, and will have player owned and built structures (ie, Horizons), and, selective PvP (ie, PvP servers and PvE servers with selective PvP).

Paul E. Mason
Just a lttile something I would like to add:
I pre-ordered the game through amazon with the stipulation that I would be able to join Open Beta. I was not afforded that, yet when I purchased a drink at a Del Taco, I was able to use a ticket from the cup to enter Beta. I am very disappointed in this service. I still have a pre-purchase pending through Amazon, but have not recieved any codes so that I may take part in the head start. another disappointment. So, will I be able to take advantage of any of the Pre-Game perks or should I just cancel my order and never open an account?
I played the open beta for several days and can describe the game in four words: "Low Bid Indian Software."

The entire game appears to be a mix-mash of open source software that was patched together to try to compile a complete game quickly and on the cheap.

The ground combat software works like your standard first person shooter game, but infortunately with shoddy graphics. The NPC crew that joins into the combat with your character looks and acts like a collection of WOW non-combat pets with some dodgy AI attached to allow them to look as if they really paricipate in the fight. It's garbage.

The space combat is better, but pretty soon you get very tired of pressing the same three buttons repeatedly and having to rotate your ship to face the least damaged sheilds towards your enemies. After the first four or five battles it gets so boring you actually look forward to getting into the crappy ground combat just for a break.

I really had high hopes for this game and I am quite sad (almost angry) that it turned out to be total garbage.
Yeah, watching the videos of gameplay, STO just looks charmless and unfortunate.

It bears the signs of a game designed before J.J. Abrams showed Trek could be fun. I’m not sure any Trek game has shown any old school zest since 1993’s “Judgment Rites.”
You've confirmed my fears. Most of the videos are about space battles, and the few ground battles look painfully stilted.

I was hoping for something that captured the flavour of TOS: exploration, first contacts, interesting mysteries and so forth. I know it's harder than space battles, but I can think of a number of really old computer games that created an interesting galaxy to explore, story arcs, and mini-plots.

The paranoid universe paradigm, where everyone is plotting or out to get you, characterises many of the later shows (including Abrams' movie), and is, in a word, boring.
It is Bioware. I'll give them enough credit to know what an MMO is.

And why would you do that? Bioware has never done an MMO before. Furthermore, Bioware has been using the exact same recipe for games since 1999, so you can hardly call them an innovator. The one area they excel in is storytelling, but that makes their games probably the least replayable of all. And that isn't a good sign for a company that is launching an MMO. The whole idea of an MMO is to offer enough content in terms of volume that people will play for an extended period of time, despite the fact that quality has been - by necessity - sacrificed to achieve that quantity. I think most MMO players have forgotten by now that in the early MMOs like Everquest it was socializing between the players that made the grind fun. Now it seems to be just about the grind. I play most MMOs and I can't even remember the last time I "met" somebody in an online game that I actually started thinking of as a friend. I think I can thank WoW for that.
Social Interaction is the only reason to play an MMO. With games like Fallout 3, Dragon Age Origins etc. that have a great story, polished graphics and superb storyline why would I want to play an MMO.

Clearly the online aspect of the game is to enjoy socialization with other people. STO fell short on this, terribly short. Several of my friends started playing beta together. We tried to run missions together, but no. With a linear story, it was impossible to progress together. So Fail.

Out side missions and gameplay socialization was impossible. Watching the chat channel was like learning to speed read. It was unbearable. Inside the space station you felt like a super bouncing ball being jerked everywhere. The ruberbanding was insane. Even after adding additional equipment, it was terrible.

I started with high hope again, only to be let down once more. Maybe the next Final Fantasy will be WOW killer, or perhaps the next SW game. Who knows, but I do know it won't be STO.

I miss the good of days of Ultima Online and Everquest. When MMO's were worth playing.
Hi there all.For the largest part i agree but to be honest through i believe you were a bit kind to cryptic as personally i believe the game is REALLY bad.As a old time trekkie myself i was looking for this game since its first days were the game was made by Perpetual.In that version the game was played in a first/third person view with actual
ship handled as vechicles in a real time smoothly transitioned world.There were some amazing renders that truly evoked what star trek is.Sadly the company went bankrupt and Cryptic took the ip to make a quick cask exploiting the jj abraams movie.The game uses actually ONE ENGINE the city of heroes v2 engine and EVERYTHING is seperated in very small levels called instances.Space instanses take a grind map form.Also there are no vechicles(ships) as your ship are actually your avatar and it has no interior and no modeled crew to speak about.There is even a bug from time to time when moving from space to ground and the opposite where you see your captain in space and then replaced by the ship and the opposite.The animation for all characters is very bad and the voice overs are very very limited with everything being text.Also between missions you just go in front of characters and read text without any animation exchanged between them...You know some sort of cinematics were you actually see characters doing something or at least speak would be nice...
Anyway avoid STO like its the black plaque
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