Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Star Trek Online – Final Beta Verdict & More

I promised you a final verdict on Star Trek Online before it goes live. The beta ends tomorrow and the head start period begins on Friday, so it is about time. You’ll have your verdict at the end of this post – but first: Latest beta updates & space is more boring than you’d think.

Beta Updates

Bugs be gone.

I was away for a couple of days and imagine my surprise when I came back to a decent overhaul of the Star Trek Online Interface. Aside from some beautifications and rearrangements of buttons, they vastly improved the sector map (not sector space, that’s still crappy). You can now see the names of all systems in the sector right there on the map to navigate, as well as huge arrows pointing to adjacent sectors. This, combined with the display of “quests in current sector” allows for decent navigation without using the system list each and every time. Finally one can actually plan efficient paths for questing instead of zooming back and forth across the sector. Alas, the galaxy map is still non-interactive. Why they can’t allow us to click through it to the appropriate sector maps at the very least is beyond me.

They also fixed quite a few bugs and made various improvements, a list of which you can find here. As I predicted, most of the changes at this point in time are bug fixes and balance changes, but the UI overhaul was a positive surprise. My guess is that it was started in closed beta and had nothing to do with suggestions from the current open beta. Still, I like improvements and it sounds as if there are more to come until launch.

In Space, Nobody Can Hear You Yawn

Space is intrinsically boring, most of it is just black emptiness. Star Trek solves this problem by rarely showing long stretches of space, but rather scenes on the ground or inside ships. STO does that too, but the most fun part of the game is space combat – and that can only be done in space, obviously. Sure, almost all fights happen near planets so you don’t have to stare into blackness all day, but there are only so many ways a planet can look. Most of the time you fly through some asteroid ring with a planet in the background. Sometimes you’re in a nebula and see diffuse colors swirling around you – but mostly these are just backdrops for the nothingness in which space combat happens.

Nice backdrops, but nothing else.

The problem with this is, that all space battles look and feel the same, you never get to see anything new. In World of Warcraft, for example, you get to move to a new area every few levels and even within an area you get to see various lovingly handcrafted details. Unless you’re in Desolace, there’s always some eye candy to be had and the player can feel as if their character is actually progressing through a world. STO doesn’t allow for this and that makes me fear for the longevity of the game. Sure, ground combat always takes you to weird new planets, but these feel lifeless and procedurally generated. There’s simply no sense of wonder to be had in the game (yet).

The Verdict

I haven’t been able to play past the original open beta level cap yet, so my verdict can only hold true for the open beta version of STO. Who knows what might change with release. That said, I will play STO at launch because I already pre-ordered it anyway. If I hadn’t, the choice wouldn’t be as easy. Space combat is definitely interesting and sticks out from other MMO combat systems. If you have some money to spare, get the game for the space combat alone – and maybe some nostalgic Star Trek technobabble. If you don’t, don’t sweat it. STO is not the next big thing and doesn’t currently seem to me as if it will hold me for long. It is likely that, like so many other MMOs before it, STO won’t hold my interest for more than the free month I get with my purchase. If you are short on money, go get Mass Effect 2 instead – and Starcraft II when it gets released.

Overall, Star Trek Online seems to be one of the more innovative MMOs of the past years, but lacks quite a bit in long-term potential. If ground combat was better and space combat more diverse, Cryptic could have a killer game at their hands. As it is, it’s merely a nice diversion for those that are ultimately bored with WoW (or whatever) but don’t want to give up MMOs completely.

Of course, if you’re a Star Trek fan, not much will get you past this game. Just have a look at what Scott “Lum the Mad” Jennings has to say. No it’s not a brilliant game, but he’ll still play it because, hell, it’s Star Trek after all.