Friday, 16 May 2014

Star Trek Online: I've Started


It's not official; it's rubbish; waste of time; pointless - and it's just shooting. That's not Star Trek. All accusations I've heard levelled at the Online universe since it's arrival four years ago.

With the announcement of Timelines however I thought it was about time I addressed the elephant in my Star Trek closet and tried out the Online experience. This blog article and more I suspect, are going to mark my first few hours online. No doubt I'll be dead in about 30 seconds but who cares. Let's see what all the fuss is about. Why precisely should I be playing it? I guess the best way to answer that is to have a go and take the hits like a man.

For those of you who have avoided it like the plague, lived under a rock only a Gorn could pick up or or whip yourselves silly whenever you hear the mention of the CGI offshoot, Star Trek Online is a vast online multi-player game developed by Cryptic studios and published by Perfect World Entertainment.


Now I'm downloading (yep, this is real-time), here's some blurb to fill you non-players in.

Set 30 years after the events of Star Trek Nemesis, the game has gone from being released on disc and subscription-based to being a free-to-play game which can be downloaded from the Star Trek Online website (lesson over). By the way it's a mega-huge download of 8469MB so grab a brew or three while you're waiting.

As the opening spiel reveals, the Klingons are back at their old, warring best, the Romulans are getting shirty over the destruction of their homeworld, the Dominion is on the move and lo and behold the Borg are back. Should keep you occupied for a bit.

Referencing lots of different stories from the past, the creators have even managed to pull in the vocal talents of Leonard Nimoy, the late Majel Barrett as the computer voice and most recently welcomed Michael Dorn and Tim Russ back to the fold as Worf and Tuvok respectively. Surely this is a sign of how well Online has been received by those who are associated by what we term as "official canon"?

Right. Download completed. Next step. What have I got to do now.


Next is making your first character. A fairly straight-forward process for anyone familiar with gaming. Choose your race, gender and specialization - whether it's engineering, science or tactical, make those little tweeks to give it the individual touch and you're ready to jump in and start the voyage into the Star Trek Online universe. Finally.


But why am I still hanging on after all this? What's the draw for someone who loves Star Trek but is more than just wanting to just pew-pew-pew a few dozen Romulans? 

The initial step into the Online universe is with kid gloves through a hand-holding tutorial mission which sees you dispatching (very unrealistically) a lot of Borg while rescuing a ship and resulting in some flash promotions that would make JJ-verse Kirk jealous. Fairly ABC stuff showing movement, the weapons controls, payloads, flight controls and the like. When you get past that, which all combined should just reach the end of the first hour of play.

Initial thoughts? It's better than I expected and I enjoyed the runaround. It's a bit Tomb Raider/Uncharted/GTA/Star Trek so it hits a lot of bases through the interaction, cut scenes, missions and in-game features. But what make me want to go any further? Intrigue is the answer - what's around the corner, what are you going to collect?

The problem is that once you start diving into the missions, as with many of today's games (and we'll probably see in Timelines), you need items - credits for warping to systems, credits to improve ships, credits to make your characters better. All well and good but it's going to get expensive because waiting to get those points through straight gameplay is going to take a long, long time. As I made my way into the first few missions it became fairly obvious that the gameplay is quite limited. Talk to a character (reminded me of Elder Scrolls), collect items, walk around, shoot things, back to the ship, have a firefight in space and repeat previous steps.

Maybe this is the voice of inexperience talking but this could well be any online RPG. Badging it with Star Trek ensures an audience but this isn't the kind of expanded universe I had hoped to find. A name it does share but as I walk into rooms or begin a mission it feels very, well, average. Of course it must be doing something right to still be going after eight seasons with a ninth a matter of days away but I am failing to see the excitement in sticking a ton of money into a game that will effectively bring me nothing in the long term. 


There just seems to be no depth and it's very much in the action/adventure mold of the JJ-verse that will take Star Trek into the next decade at the least. It's doing nothing wrong as games go and with the backing of Dorn and Russ it's certainly being accepted as part of the Star Trek universe however the morality, the personal stories and the originality that permeate every pore of the show and have done since 1966 are missing. It's gaming by numbers. I have to admit I loved getting hold of a phaser rifle, shooting an Orion or a Borg but after a while there's no surprise. Point, click, collect and go.

I quickly scurried through the first mission to rescue the crew of the SS Azura and see off a few Orion raiders. Easy stuff but you just know it's only going to get harder and require more time, funds and effort to knock down one enemy ship let alone a whole fleet. Finishing that first encounter and getting levelled up to Lieutenant (2) I chose to head off to Vulcan and some emotionless ambassador who needs me to give him a lift to P'Jem (the monastery from Enterprise no less). I dropped through the next few missions blasting Undine, Borg and Klingons in a few days, occasionally waiting for some credit to build up so I could warp off to the next sector (can be a drawback to getting anywhere fast but does stop me from spending hours at the laptop). This also led me to wonder about joining a fleet.

I know a few of you that do read SKoST are somewhere in the Online universe and if you are, drop me a line (Clivos79) and I might be a new recruit for you. Rest assured it will also mean future Online posts concerning my Noob activities will contain references to your fleet. Thanks already to +Hassan Thomas and +Martin Randell for their help. It seems that this in itself is not a two minute job due to the different natures of the fleets - hard-core, casual players, those focused on certain attribute levels....Any help and advice here is welcomed because at my tender old age it's all getting a bit over technical.

While I'm head-scratching and working out what I'm going to do here, if I am going to stick with it, why would I? I decided it would only be fair to list some reasons for those who might be tempted to give it a go and perhaps to justify my time online to myself in the process.


It's an alternative to the JJ-universe

Some of the concepts do follow the old point-and-shoot principle and are more based in the mindset of the 2009 feature however Online is set in the Prime Universe. It's familiar, there's LCARS all over the shop, you can even pick The Next Generation movie uniform. Unless you're a writer it's a great way to immerse yourself in the Star Trek universe and, initially, very cheaply. It's also the only new Star Trek in any form that you'll see set in that universe for the forseeable future.

There's Always Something New

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Nine seasons and counting. Welcome to the future. Dyson Spheres, Borg invasions and now the Legacy of Romulus. Those Perfect World people know how to keep the attention of their audience with new and interesting twists and stories in each season. Adding in the blogs and development information is a stroke of genius which means there are always teasers of what's being planned and what you'll be spending your hard-earned cash on in the next few months. Save up those pennies for your next tour of duty. Season Nine is already on the way and we're barely into the Season 8.5 stuff. Sadly being so lowly on the ranks I don't think I can get to the Good Stuff just yet. Need to blow up some more Klingon D-7's first and rescue a couple of Vulcans....


Interaction

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It's a superb way of meeting other Star Trek fans. Already just discussing fleets has opened up conversations with several fans that I've not spoken to previously. There will be some people on there purely looking at it from a gaming PoV but Online does give fans the chance to get into their favourite universe, fire a phaser, fly ships and interact with other fans as well as elements of the canon universe. Of course, the fleet system means you'll be involved in some elements of teamwork so make sure you schedule your tea and your job around those launches. That or jack in your life and be 100% connected to your PC for eternity. See you in Star Trek Online Season Fifty-Six.

Customise

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Not just your ship or your character as you voyage through the pixellated universe but in the fact you can design your own missions and build your own corner of the Star Trek experience. What a great opportunity! I'm not quite up to trying this at the moment but I've already made some minor alterations to the USS Restoration and added myself a couple of senior officers. I can see the attraction to this aspect of the game as it really can become your own ship/fleet with things that are specific to your preferences. It'll be a while before I can worry about the dizzying heights of captaincy or the admiralty but as long as I can have some impact over what it takes to get there aside from firing a few phasers and torpedoes then I think I'll be happy. Customising will, invariably lead you into the shop if you become a hardened player - ship sets, costumes, weapons are all at your disposal for a price.

Commitment

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I don't feel that when I'm offline I'm missing out on a chunk of stuff. Once or twice a week is fine and I hope to find a fleet that doesn't mind my flittering attention. I enjoy it but it's nice to play when I want to and have the time to rather than be committed to being around on a certain day and hour. I have a life, family and job. Not having to be committed to a cyber group and play at my own pace is great. Also I don't have to pay for anything unless I want to. Run out of funds? Turn off and come back tomorrow, you'll have enough to do a little bit more.

That's it for now - next time we'll see if I've found a fleet and mastered upgrading properly!

What else makes Star Trek Online such a great experience? What makes you play and keep going back? Let us know here and join me on my Noob journey into the online universe!

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