Putting the "Star Trek" back in "Star Trek Online"
I know that for a first post the title is very provocative but stay with me for a moment. I'm not actually going to say "Yeah, Cryptic sux, STO fails, n00bs!" or something along those lines but want to provide and discuss some suggestions that could make STO more enjoyable for those of us who would like a higher degree of "realism/simulation" in their game without (completely) messing with the current ease of access into the game for new players.
The following list is my collection of "proud nails" I have with STO and each contains a suggestion on how to improve it.
1. The tutorial
ISSUE: A captivating and engaging tutorial is necessary to get the more casually inclined players to understand the game's mechanics and controls. However, is it really, REALLY necessary to throw the most evil and biggest badass the whole setting has to offer at the player in the tutorial? Not only are the Borg in the tutorial ridiculously easy to defeat, they also don't follow the mechanics of Borg encountered in a later section of the game (adaption to weapon fire).
This greatly cheapens the Borg as an adversary and gives a false impression to the player right from the start. Also, it really doesn't fit the background of the setting where the Borg "invade our space and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds and we fall back." Over 11000 Starfleet members died at Wolf 359, tough ships being shred to pieces ridiculously easy by the cube, but when the player first encounters the Borg they somehow forget how to fight efficiently?
SUGGESTION: Remove the current tutorial and replace it with a completely different. The new tutorial should take place in the Starfleet Academy, with the player starting out as a cadet. In this tutorial the player would "attend" various classes introducing him to the different gameplay elements (from weapons training on the phaser range, to crafting in a replicator control class, to learning the 101 of controlling a spaceship). The tutorial should conclude with the player completing the Kobyashi Maru and a scripted sequence afterwards where the character graduates from Starfleet Academy (similar to what's been shown in the F2P launch trailer).
2. Character advancement
ISSUE: Currently we level up like in almost every other MMO out there: gaining XP by doing missions and killing enemies and once you have enough XP collected you gain one level. Does it work? Sure, countless other successful MMOs are doing it. Does it fit the Star Trek flavor? Barely. Just as you don't advance in the US military from 2LT to MAJ by going to Iraq and killing 1927 terrorists, why should you go from ENS to VA by grinding Klingons, Gorn, Breen, Borg or whatever?
Further, it sort of really breaks suspension of disbelieve to have a VA running around, taking orders (!) from a LT or CPT and doing stuff that in the movies or shows would be delegated to some sort of medical team or engineering squad. Ranks above CPT are rarely shown as being in direct command of a single ship, but usually are either busy with some kind of organizational stuff in Starfleet or command whole fleets in large scale operations. So why exactly is my VA rank character running around in rusty space stations and wrestling with Breen instead of commanding a fleet against the Klingons?
The current character advancement is very "gamist" - it's purely based on a game mechanic and does nothing to support the lore and background of the game. So my suggestion is to lower the "gamist" part and increase the "simulation" aspect of this game element.
SUGGESTION: Remove the skill points based system and replace it with an advancement strategy based on "Recommendations" which are gained from successfully completing story missions. Also, limit the maximum rank of a player character to CPT to avoid having highly decorated flag officers crawling around all over the place. In the new system the character would gain a recommendation for each successfully completed story mission, and once he attained 20 recommendations he is promoted one rank. Currently there is a total of 74 story missions, which is not enough to advance a character from LTJG to CPT with the suggested required 20 recommendations, so a little tweaking is required in that case. This would not only slow down character advancement but also stay more in line with the established background, where promotions are not related to your killboard but rather to what you achieve for Starfleet (and considering how often you save Starfleet's backside throughout the various episodes they sure should hand over some new pips for you).
Obviously, this doesn't mesh well with the current skill and ship-access system, so that would have to change as well. For the skill system I can imagine some "talent" based system to work. Each recommendation would grant you three (3) talent points which you could invest into several skill trees. All skills you would currently gain automatically at certain ranks would become available by advancing through the talent trees. I'm working on drawing some mock-ups of the suggested system, but the basic idea is that there are 4 categories of talents: Command, Engineering, Science, and Tactical. Command talents would govern the general skills every captain has access to, as well as ship access and performance. Engineering talents would control the current engineering skills (hull repairs, resistance boosts) and provide bonuses to the performance of Cruiser class ships. Science talents would control the current science skills (debuffs, crowd control) and boost the efficiency of Science Vessel class ships. Tactical talents would control the current tactical skills (maneuverability, damage boosts) and make Escort class ships more efficient.
Ship access would be handled by advancing certain Command talents (e.g. "Cruiser Command", or "Escort Command") to higher ranks. The higher the rank in those talents, the higher the tier of the most powerful ship you can command. These talents could not only regulate access to higher tiers of ships, but could add bonuses to lower tier ships' performance and thus allowing players to fly their prefered ships (e.g. the normal Defiant class) for a much longer time than current game mechanics allow.
3. Combat mechanics
ISSUE: The combat mechanics for both space and ground combat suffer from the same problem as character advancement. They are very gamist with little to no connection to Star Trek's background. In many occasions STO plays very similar to WoW or Allods Online only with different textures. Death, Respawn, Death, Respawn, Death, Respawn, etc. etc. are about as disconnected from the setting's flavor as it can get.
SUGGESTION: Remove the respawning mechanism from space and ground combat and replace it with something else.
Ground combat could instead of the character dying and then respawning have:
* An EMH materializing next to the character and patching him up.
* A dead-man trigger on the character firing and initiating an emergency transport to his ship, where he is patched up and beams down again later.
* Q showing up and making the character play a silly game before sending him back with full health.
Space combat could instead of the ship exploding and then respawning have:
* The enemies open a channel demanding your surrender and you use the time to reroute power to boost your systems.
* An emergency short range warp to get out of the combat zone to perform repairs with experimental adapted Borg technology.
* Q showing up and making the character play a silly game before sending him back with full health. (Yeah, Q's just that annoying! :P )
All options would take exactly the same amount of time as respawning and getting back into the action, but with more variety and not a big disconnection from the setting flavor.
ISSUE: Currently missions are very linear and provide very little ways to truely differ the available careers from each other. From my knowledge there are only very few missions where an Engineering captain has really different options than a Tactical or Science captain. Also, optional mission goals are always "hit or miss" - either you can easily and completely solve it or you're never ever to complete it.
SUGGESTION: Change the system from the current binary system ("either you are a[n] Engineering/Tactical/Science officer and can complete the optional or you're not") to a system that allows a more diverse approach that also takes into consideration that the player's character is not alone but in command of a ship with possibly hundreds of crew members. My idea would be that instead of requiring the character to follow a specific career to complete an optional mission goal, the game should award points for completing optional targets.
For example, imagine the mission confronts you with a Starfleet officer who was severly injured and gives you the optional goal to save him. Currently you can only achieve that goal if your character is a Science officer. Applying my suggestion to the situation would lead to the following options:
* If you heal the injured officer yourself you are awarded 4 points.
* If you let one of your BOFFS heal him, or have your ship beam him to sickbay, or request a medical emergency response team from your ship, you get 2 point.
* If you just stabilize him with a hypospray and leave him to his fate afterwards, you get 1 point.
* If you ignore him and let him die, you don't get any points.
The same principal would apply to Engineering/Tactical bonus objectives. At the end of the mission you'd gain a bonus reward depending on the number of points you achieved. I am aware that obviously some missions couldn't make as much use of the system as would be required (especially all time-travelling missions), but at least you could be allowed to delegate handling those bonus objectives to the other members of your away team.
Further, make missions more complex with more options available to the players. Give the different careers more to do in each mission (at least 2 unique bonus objectives per career per mission) with those bonus objectives influencing the rest of the mission. For example, imagine a mission with the following flow: [see next post].
Still with me? Great! You made it past this tactical cube'o'text and I'd really like to hear your opinion on my suggestions. Do you think they would make STO a better game? Would they make it a worse game? Although I know that the chances of actually seeing any of those ideas implemented are rather low I'd still like to discuss them.
And here's the image of the mission flow I talked about in the OP but which couldn't fit into the character limit any more: http://img528.imageshack.us/img528/6156/missionflow.jpg
A mission with such a flow would play more different depending on the career the player chose for his character and would have a much higher replay value (either with a team or with a different character). Further, this would move the missions much more towards the "interactive narration" thing a certain other recently released MMO seems to have made very popular.
So, in short...you want the devs to redo the tutorial..the leveling system, the skill system, and the combat system?
While some things definitely have merit (namely a Starfleet Academy based tutorial), what you're talking about is nothing less than a fundamental rewrite of the game, which is impractical to say the least.
Also, some ideas sound more complicated than they are. The combat mechanics change for example should have probably been called "Respawn changes" or something like that because it actually is only this - a change to what happens once you hit 0 health/hull. The combat mechnics themselves (damage, chances to hit/miss, skills and abilities, etc. etc.) would remain unchanged.
And the suggested changes to missions also sound more complicated than they are. Especially since Cryptic apparently is already going to revisit some of the missions. In that case it shouldn't be that complicated to introduce some more decisive points into the missions. And I'd rather have missions where I can really feel like a captain with a crew at my command and important choices to make, than cheesy cutscenes in an engine that doesn't lend itself to it and moderate voice overs on some of the NPCs.
"Back" in star trek online?
Like the 3rd mission has your avatar walking into a bar and killing everyone there AS A STARFLEET OFFICER.
There isn't much"trek" in STO
The intro was made that way purposefully to tie in with end game content, such as it is.
In the STF Khittomer Accord you discover a temporal gateway leading back to that very invasion in the intro. You go back a little earlier and lay waste to the borg and damage them significantly enough so your previous self can defeat them with ease.
1) There are borg and there are borg. When first introduced, they were 'omg, humanity is doomed' level, but they got toned down a lot over the course of the series.
If they were still as tough as when introduced in TNG, they wouldn't have needed to even consider a hokey time travel plan in First Contact. In the tutorial, perhaps the feds temporarily have enough of a tech edge to compensate for borg adaptability without extra manual measures. Perhaps those borg aren't properly regenerated and aren't fully functional.
At any rate this is set well after Wolf 359. Star Fleet has learned and adapted and are holding their own. The Borg have been to Earth and been defeated there. The Borg have been infiltrated with human concepts in the TNG episode 'I, Borg.' Federation tech has also advanced radically. The borg war has been going on for ages now, and the Feds may not be advancing, but they are no longer constantly 'falling back' either.
2) While it is more than a little silly for everyone to be an admiral, Kirk did seem to end up commandeering ships (usually but not always the enterprise) despite his rank, and orders delivered by those of lesser rank still come via star fleet HQ one way or another. Besides, aren't all missions in STO optional? How does that fit with any rank less than admiral?
By the way, depending on how those 1927 terrorists were killed, there might be a promotion directly to Major. There are several wars on on several fronts, and battlefield commissions are hardly unheard of. Just because PC's immediately respawn on death doesn't mean that is true of NPC's or even the official story as far as in game canon (most likely there was a daring escape that allowed your ship and crew to survive, complete with faked explosion to confuse the enemy).
3) Your big problem with combat is that you want death avoidance spelled out for you? Why not just imagine any or all of the things you listed (and Q? seriously? You have a problem with the borg being too easy in the tutorial but no problem with Q showing up and saving you? You do realize Q doesn't have to reveal himself to do anything..... ) By the way if you respawn in ground combat you generally go back to an earlier save spot on the map and your tactical situation isn't neccessarily better. Besides you don't have to respawn, you can have one of your landing party save you... which is exactly the mechanic you seem to be insisting on.
So if respawning bugs you, why not abort the mission and restart if you wipe? The option is already there....
I think as Cryptic moves forward with remastering previous missions, you'll see more profession-specific objectives like what has been in the past FE series.
I think these could be considered long term goals at best..given that the underlying tech of the engine might not be able to handle such tasks, and reworking things to fit this sort of design would be, well...a challenge, if even within the realm of possibility.
Baby steps, friend. Again, you're talking about a virtually a whole new game based around some of these design concepts. Which arn't bad designs necessarily, but I think what you're talking about would require ALL content in-game to be reworked/redesigned/rejiggered to make it work under these new systems..and all future content would have to be halted and designed with these new systems in mind...and that's not not a realistic possibility at all.
Really if they want to put the "Star Trek" into Star Trek Online, then the main thing to revamp isn't the combat, leveling, or Borg. It's the exploration missions.
I enjoyed them at first but I think a revamp is in order. I know it's been "on the list" since like... launch, but I wish it could get prioritized over cash grabs like the lock boxes. I know that's a pipe dream though.
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