a) Star Trek
so really, Star Trek Online was a no-brainer for me.
Sadly, then the minimum specs came out, and I realised my PC was very much scraping the bottom of the barrel and may not run it (AMD 64 3800, Nvidia 7900 GS, 2Gb RAM). Fortunately a friend came to the rescue and passed on one of his 5 day demo keys so I could see if it would run.
The initial game download was a hefty 8Gb, however once that was done, I was able to get the game up and running. Despite my iffy system spec, with all the settings at minimum (barring resolution which I’ve got at the lowest 16:9 setting rather than the lowest 4:3), the game runs surprisingly well. Granted, there’s the occassional thing that takes a second to render, but so far its playable. I wouldn’t want to head into too busy an instance though as that might push my luck. I do have a better graphics card on order however, so that might let me make things a little quicker (and a shade prettier).
The game itself, I’m really impressed with so far. It combines ship-based action with ground-based away teams. So you’ll find yourself embroiled both in starship combat in outer space, and then beaming down to talk to colonists or beaming over to a ship you’ve just rescued to mop up straggling boarding parties. It really adds something to the game, and I love having these two separate aspects to the gameplay.
The starship-based stuff reminds me a lot of a simplified Starfleet Command. The ships are presented as slow-moving, with you having to take into account your different shield sections and weapon arcs when in combat. You get control of your power balance, allowing you to favour your shields, weapons or engines as appropriate, and your bridge officers (as you recruit them) give you special abilities which can employ in combat such as a more powerful torpedo blast, or jamming enemy sensors. As a big fan of Starfleet Command I’m enjoying these sections a lot.
Beaming down, you assemble an away team of your bridge crew and assorted redshirts and find yourself in familiar MMO territory running around maps, collecting items from boxes and crates, and using your weapons and special abilities to combat whoever might be in your away. The advantage here is you have your AI away team for support, and they’ll use their own special abilities, or attempt to move into flanking positions as appropriate to give your side an advantage in combat.
For a Star Trek MMO, to be honest, the Starship sim side of things would’ve been enough for me. But by adding in the ground-based stuff Cryptic have worked hard to capture the complete feel of a Star Trek adventure. By adding it in, it allows you to explore colonies, and when visiting Earth you can dock in the main Starbase, and wander around purchasing upgrades and acquiring new missions. The two styles of play feel well integrated to me and help make the MMO stand out (although I know that starships and their combat were also in Star Wars Galaxy, and its aspect of multiplayer ships is something I’d quite like to see added at some future point as the ship-based side of things becomes more developed).
One aspect of the game I’ve quickly come to love is that it feels more cooperative than a lot of MMOs I’ve played. By this I don’t mean forming teams or parties, but more generally. In most MMOs I’ve played there’s been the aspect of killstealling, whereby a player interferes in anothers combat, resulting in the XP being much lower for the player that started the encounter. Its generally frowned upon as it slows the rate of levelling up for the “victim”. Here random players taking part in each other’s missions and combat seems actively encouraged. For example, two players entering a sector on the same mission will find themselves automatically sharing that mission. So if the mission is to blow up 7 Klingon ships, a Klingon blown up by either player will count for both. Similarly when beaming down you will find away teams can seemlessly consist of several real players and not just your usual AI bridge crew (although you do get a choice to refuse). Its a system that I’ve so far found quite successful and adds to the feeling that its all one, big, happy fleet. Granted it could be open to abuse, by players entering a mission and hanging back, letting others do all the work and reaping the rewards, but overall I think its a good idea, and the prospect of the odd player abusing it is less important than the cooperative feel it adds to the game.
Overall, while admittedly I’m not that far into the game, so far its striking me as having a lot of promise, and I can see myself getting really hooked on it, as I get into it and start figuring out the various aspects of the gameplay. I also think, importantly, it seems like a solid basis. To an extent, on launch it can be a little early to judge an MMO, and its only really after the first few updates have tweaked things, and added in the content that they couldn’t quite get ready in time that you start to get a bigger picture for where the game is going, however my feeling is that so far this game is offering a lot of fun, while also showing plenty of options for expansion in the form of new playable races, the obvious new sectors with associated missions, new ship classes and abilities. There’s a lot of promise here, and I think I’ll definitely be sticking around for a while.