STO – To boldy develop what no community has wanted before
Often when a MMO is released these days, we hear it is better than expected. Well if that does become a measure, we can all vote Fidel Castro for President, because in the end his reign was better than expected. I’d suppose after 2+ years of MMO letdowns the expectations are pretty low for most MMO gamers.
One thing I must give Cryptic credit for is making credits… or rather dollars. Their ingenuity to milk every possible cent from a product is really admirable, from a mere business point. Various versions of collector boxes to assure the rabid fanboy will buy multiple boxes, contracts with chains like Del Taco for pet shuttles and the unavoidable Cryptic Shop, where you can buy extra what in better days of gaming was included in the box, like additional Klingon and Ferengi races for the Federation player; not to forget the almost standardized Lifetime Subscription, which of course can only be bought until the game goes life, and thus successfully annihilating any chance to see the product you spent a substantial amount of money into, and that’s something I found particularly devious. If you offer a “flatrate”, it is outright deception to only offer it before people can even see the game. Any serious offer of a flatrate sort of payment would be always acquirable. But it is becoming gaming usus just like outsourcing parts to downloadable extra content. Sims 3 furniture or Mass Effect extra companion… today all companies milk their products as good as they can, and one could only wish the creativity of marketing would swap over to the creativity of the game making.
Looking like Champions soon sells their new lv 37-40 zone for money, we can expect to see the cut out levels 45-50 with another paid expansion in April 2010 and extra Klingon PVE content for another cheap $19.99 in May (* sold in 7 different versions with tribble, glowing bath’let and other uber cool extras). Wanna bet?
You know, one could admire a company which releases one new MMO every year, and after Champions in 2009 and STO in 2010 I wonder what will be the next conveyor belt product in 2011? Harry Potter Online? Teletubbies Online? (That would at least have no ugly translation issues like CO and STO.) What really bothers me about STO and CO is not that they are all bad. They are casual fun for a short time. What bothers me is the implementation of the most minimal effort, with maximised simplification of the production via building kits, just like the old Neverwinter Nights fan modules where made. Same engine, same visuals, just a bit new way to arrange the boxes, and voila, here comes the MMO developed in less than two years. Combined with the money making creativity it is a real business masterpiece, I must say.
However, for us gamers it doesn’t look so bright and it might even overshadow the evilness of WOW, because if THAT line of developing MMOs is seen with favour by the bean counters and stockholders, God be merciful for our gamer souls, and we’ll probably see years and years of cheap, fast done, simplified and soulless MMOs made of construction kits.
One of the things which unsettles me above all things is that STO is not Massive as in “MMORPG” at all. It is indeed more as if you play Star Trek Offline with a chat box. The number of other players you share your game with is never much bigger than an old lady’s tea party. There is nothing massive in a world divided into hundreds of instances, zones and loadscreens. For a MMO I see that damn loadscreen WAY too often, and the Sector Map travel is outright ridiculous. Whereas a SPACE MMO suggest a spacious experience, I never felt so crammed and confined into tiny rooms as in STO. Heck even LOTRO when it was released felt bigger. There are a handful of shoebox sized Sectors and a dozen or so worlds in each, and most quest make you patrol them one by one, with a creativity that would honor Tetris developers maybe.
90% of the quests I had were either “Kill 5 Groups of X” - Klingons, Nausicaans, Orions. ALL over. I suppose they just have these three enemy mobs. At least I never saw anything else. Or scan five XYZ – asteroids, stations or satellites. Almost every single quest is made up entirely of these two parts with some fishy “story” in a quick and quite un-Trekkish popup window. (edit) One example that stands for many. You find some "eggs" on a planet and that disturbs the colonists. Where ARE the colonists? Why don't I see them? The only thing I DO see are 5 eggs in a SUPER TINY empty and barren ground space. In any Trek Episiode you would SEE the space moths birth at the end, to give some emotion, some soul. You'd hear a debate between afraid colonists who want the eggs destroyed and the scientists who want to study them. SOMETHING to give feeling and emotion! And not "scan 5 eggs text blah blah" and THATS IT.
Now, granted. MMORPGs rarely have stuck out with choices or consequences. But when you play a STAR TREK game, your Officers hail everyone before you even ask, no choice, nada, and 95% of all missions are solved by default with VIOLENCE, something is VERY VERY wrong with a Star Trek game! Gene Roddenberry’s vision was a better future, a future where humanity solves it’s issues with conversation and diplomacy, and the utmost violence between Klingons and Federation in Star Trek TOS was a ******n barfight on K7! I mean, I can understand eras change and a video game can’t be all talks. But WTH possessed Cryptic to make a Trek MMO without any diplomacy, without ANY quest to find other solutions than “kill everything that moves”! That would even in any non Trek context feel ridiculous but in Star Trek even more. And that is where construction kit development entirely and totally fails to create anything of quality. When the subjectively felt 12 Cryptic employees quickly fumble together another action clone and paste a Star Trek pastiche over it, you can’t expect a gaming masterpiece to be the result.
Another thing which is quite irritating is the always odd size proportions. Why are bridges like huge warehouses where the Captain has to yell to make himself heard? Why is DS9 entirely devoid of ANY sort of life? A handful dumb NPCs scattered all over? Hello? A nine year old child with the Neverwinter Night toolset can make that! I never felt that any of these Space Stations are actually alive, and the totally out of place proportions surely add to it. On the other hand are those tiny, crammed sector space maps (prolly the worst part of the game), where there is NOTHING unseen to “discover”, where you can travel from one end of the Galaxy to the other in moments. These sector maps are devoid of EVERYTHING exciting, everything that feels like travelling through the vast regions of space! Sorry, but the person who invented those sector maps is in serious need of a new job!
While it is quite possible to be entertained for a one time run through for a few months, Cryptic has repeated it’s idea of total zip replayability which also plagued Champions Online. What good is it for to roll another ship or class when you play through all the same content in exactly the same way? I don’t know, but is no one at Cryptic thinking about the long term value of a game? Maybe different starts for the different classes would at least make a different start. And some more quests and places, something to make the galaxy actually feel BIG and vast!
As to quests: where is in this game the story? I guess compared to an EQ era MMO STO wouldn’t have been so bad. Games like EQ and EQ2 were usually just half assed quest stories dropped all over the world, because in most cases people didn’t even care. But ever since LOTRO happened, we can see what is possible, and at least for me going back to pre-LOTRO storytelling is a hard thing. Like being used to drive a Mercedes and suddenly being stuck with a Fiat Punto. You DO miss something. The big vision of stories which create this wonderful big carpet of a world story, region by region, and there is that line of events which connect all the parts and one by one lead you to a big story of sorts. Here just like in CO the STO quest world has little to no coherence. Klingons and Orions attack, and prolly it’s their fault, since both are not known to be quite ingenious in their plots. They seem to just randomly attack here and there, well it’s war after all, and that’s it.
As a sort of resumee I can see two things after playing Champions Online and Star Trek Online. First, it takes a lot more time and effort to make a good MMO than to make a half baked MMO. Creativity and detail can not be accelerated by standardized rubberband methods of fabrication. You can do that, but the result will be less than mediocre. Second, it is apparent to me that Cryptic is entirely unable to grasp such things like “story”, “atmosphere” and “longevity”, for their MMOs are entirely devoid of them. Where CO had *some* feeling of “soul” and some sort of “story”, however basic, STO seems entirely empty of it. Copy-Paste Klingon/Nausicaan/Orion attacks all over, reason, rhyme and soul: zero. I travel from system a to b to c, kill X of Z, scan 5 of X, and it adds up to nothing. They could as well place those systems in a line to save us the travel time and be done with the totally superfluous and boring sector space.
But the really outrageous is that Cryptic dared to bribe the almost 80 years old Trek icon Leonard Nimoy into supporting STO! As a Trekkie I find that the sin which can not be forgiven. You really had to drag him down into this? I think not.
Verdict: given our expectations have been constantly fallen in the last 2 years of MMO making it’s ok for a brief time if you are a hardcore Trekkie. Therefore a mercy verdict of 60/100.
I agree, much of the built in audience of Star Trek likes things that are in Star Trek. And even with action, there is still moral tales, and dilemas requiering thought.
I agree there needs to be more thought in the quests.
You make a few good points, I figure the game will go one of two directions.
Either they will expand the content with ideas that match a long running game, and tailor for longevity.
Or they will do the milk and run approach from the movie "The Producers"
One of the reasons I gave this game a look, is because the franchise is so well loved by so many people, a throw away game would be hard to get away with. Nor would it be what it would seem they would want as either developers or owners of the franchise rights.
I think it is either the audience they decide they want to tailor to, or on a deeper level the audience they want to create, that determines the depth and breath of the game.
After 3 days of play, the ground and space combat is well done in my opinion. Although I agree that it feels more like many small mmos, you never really get the sense of running by lots of other players like you are all in the same game.
I have not figured out how to switch instances, nor if they change when entering a system or stay constant, but agree that it seems a bit fragmented.
Holy crap batman. You really are a big block of black and white text today, aren't you?
Let me just put it plain and simple for you: They're working on the bugs first (most of which have been fixed...). Then the content will be perfected and added. They have promised a lot of content for us on their 45-day megapatch. Stick around.. this game can only get better.
Cryptic is not evil. You're just looking for excuses to hate them.... Stop whining. Hello 5th day of STO! I think it's rather well done for this stage of development.