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  1. #1

    Star Trek Online Goes F2P on Tuesday - Here's Why You Should Care/Play It

    That's today, by the way.



    It was the little MMO that couldn't. First developed by Perpetual, and went nowhere. With the license in danger, Atari just threw the brand at Cryptic and told them that they had 18 months, start to finish, to produce and release an MMO. Understandably, it was rushed, buggy, downright half-finished in places and didn't have a wealth of content. Certainly not enough to justify a monthly fee.

    Two years later, the Chinese MMO giant Perfect World have bought up Cryptic, and rather than make a slash-and-burn takeover, they've actually increased the development budget, undone the hiring freeze that Atari put on the studio, and seem to be providing far more support than the previous management ever did. The game is now almost unrecognizable compared to what was originally released. In a lot of ways, this is both the game that should have been released first time round, and the perfect business model for it.



    STO is not Eve Online. It's the polar opposite. It's a fast, casual, story-driven MMO that can be played entirely solo if you want - if you're playing by yourself, then you've even got party management aspects to keep on top of, as you bring your four best officers with you on each ground mission. It's also almost comically generous with XP. I've played maybe a couple of hours a day for the past week and am at level 29 of 50 with no sign of slowing. I'm also currently on the main story quest intended for level 17 players - thankfully, everything scales to your level (no one-shotting everything or vice versa), and there's sidekicking both up and down, so you can always play with friends with very few barriers.

    You can even level without playing - a new minigame provides a remarkably high XP reward. You build up a crew of named Duty Officer characters over the course of play, and send them off on 'off-screen' missions. Sometimes boring stuff like sensor diagnostics, sometimes interesting and risky stuff like breaking up a smuggling ring or breeding gene-spliced ubertribbles. If they succeed (and their missions continue even when you're not logged in), you get money, XP, loot and other rewards. It's pretty fun stuff, and you get kinda attached to your officers, especially when they die or end up in sickbay because something went horribly wrong.

    The biggest change between launch and now is what they did to the ground combat. When it first launched, planetside missions were traditional MMO fare. Two groups of characters played awkward animations at each other until one side fell over. Now, it's much more akin to Tabula Rasa, for those who remember it - you play it in traditional shooter style, with crouching, cover, dodge-rolls, grenades, zoomed aiming, etc, but with more of a focus on the RPG stats under that. Weaker enemies can be killed in just a couple of seconds, and stronger enemies in 10 seconds or less. Only bosses provide any kind of protracted brawling, and they usually only appear once per major story quest. If you never played Tabula Rasa, just think 'Mass Effect Lite'.



    On a tangent, the Borg have also been completely redesigned to make them more like they used to be - slow-moving intimidating cyberzombies that adapt quickly to your weapons, forcing you to stop firing and remodulate, or just bash them with something solid (you can't adapt against a Bat'leth to the face). They can also assimilate both NPCs and player characters. I've had to kill friends a couple of times because they got turned by a sneaky group of drones silently lumbering towards them. The latest major update brought a global event that happens every few days where all players (Federation and Klingon) team up to defend a whole open city map from a Borg ground army, and it's really impressive.

    jpeg.jpg

    Ground combat is solid now - not great, but fun enough. The space combat is still the high point of the game. Better now that they've re-done the entire skill system to make it more logical and accessible. Depending on ship type, you can play it traditionally Star Trek-ish, circling round with your space-battleship and blasting away with broadsides, or play it a little more arcadey if you favor a Defiant-style 'escort' craft, which tend to be much faster and have a strong focus on forward-firing cannons rather than omnidirectional phaser banks. The larger 'fleet action' space battles that you can join from just a few levels in are really impressive, with up to 20 players against sometimes hundreds of enemies at once. Constant explosions all the time.

    fd9c48a89bb6e3082652027c15618bbf8d3c5878.jpg

    In general, it feels like a singleplayer RPG with a strong (but optional) multiplayer aspect. There's no grind here - literally none. Just doing a couple of sidequests, I've ended up levelling past everything intended for my character. There's even difficulty settings - it defaults to Easy (although they call it Normal here), you'll want to bump it up to Advanced for better combat XP and loot, and an occasional challenge. Getting KO'd or killed on Advanced or Expert difficulties can cause injuries to your character, which start out mild and can be quickly treated with an item, but multiple successive deaths can cripple you and require a costly trip to sickbay. The same applies to your ship.

    I've been having a lot of fun these past few days - I just made my second character, a Gorn over on the Klingon side of the war (you unlock KDF characters at level 24, and they start out at level 20), and while the Klingon side of things looks to have a fair amount of content of its own, even if you combined both Federation and Klingon games, you'd maybe have 2-3 standard singleplayer RPGs worth of content. As a subscription MMO, that's bad. As a free-to-play game that you play with friends a couple of times a week? That's perfect. New content is being produced faster now, and the developers promise at least one major 'episode' (a major story quest with new locations, cutscenes, a boss, etc) added every week for the next couple of months.

    STO has been a very pleasant surprise for me. When I first bought it (again, £2) I played maybe an hour or two and then decided to shelve it until it went F2P, so I've effectively gone in blind as a newbie, and been very pleasantly surprised by what I've played so far. The early quests are a bit weak (it shows that they were developed first), but you get more cutscenes, bosses and interesting locations about halfway through the Klingon arc. I've not even touched the PvP side of things, but mass PvE combat has run very smoothly so far, and even provided some notable space boss battles which require some teamwork and thought.

    So, are we going to get a fleet (guild) going when it launches? Sidekicking works both ways, so low level players can play with veterans and vice-versa. High level players even get a respectable amount of XP from replaying earlier missions, which is nice. One thing I really like is that the game now acknowledges that you're in space and can communicate with people half a galaxy away - you get 95% of quests now from a massive captains log that just shows every quest available to your level and lets you accept and cash them in without having to fly anywhere. You can even pay a little in-game money to warp directly to the start of any major story mission. You can even replay it all again at your current level for a reduced (but still respectable) reward.

    On a final note, I'll say that this is one of the best implementations of free-to-play that I've ever seen. Content-wise, there is NOTHING that free players cannot do. No barriers, no limits, nothing. The only thing locked off to subscribing players only is the Foundry, which lets players create quests and upload them to the community repository. Free players can play those, but not make them. Cash-shop wise, 90% of it is just fancy costume items and rare player/crew races for those folks who just HAVE to be a former-Borg. There's a few premium ships, but stat-wise they're identical to non-shop ones, but with usually a single extra skill slot. Yes, it's an advantage, but a fractional one that doesn't matter at all in a 20-player brawl.

    And that's why I think you shouldn't turn your nose up at STO once it goes fully live on the 17th, and why veterans might want to give it another look. I will say this - if you're a vet, then roll a new character. A lot of experienced players have been really confused when they jumped back in because so much has changed.
    Last edited by Dominic Tarason; 17-01-2012 at 01:22 PM.

  2. #2
    The original version was developed in about a third of the time as any other MMO, thanks to Atari. I can only imagine how rough it was in beta. The F2P launch is pretty much the game it should have been in the first place.

    It's weird to be saying this, but Perfect World seem to be a remarkably understanding publisher.

  3. #3
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Cooper's Avatar
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    Im played a trial version. Hated it. Captured nothing about what makes Star Trek a great license.

    But, knowng it was free to play soon and had had a lot of work done meant I was planning on giving it a go when it went f2p. Getting a cheap activation key is a good idea. Thanks for the heads up.
    Quote Originally Posted by CROCONOUGHTKEY
    KING GEORGE IS A FROG
    le BANG~__-MICHEAL FUCK OFF~~__-INTERPOL KNOW YOU WELLBIENG~—
    OFF
    NOT RUSHMORE MOUNTAIN
    KILL WESTON KILL MUST KILLTHEWESTERNINMYHEADDOESN’TEXSIST
    TEXASISDEADINPARISHEWASAMAN..BINGBING.TETTOHEAD.SP ACEOK,TIMEDEADANDSTOPPED1920HOKKAIDO.UNDERSTOODAT1 ONE.
    UNDERSTANDTHISANDFUCKOFFPIRATEBAY.TIMEDOESNTEXSIST FORMEASIMPATEKPHILLPE.
    BANG

  4. #4
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    "Perfect World seem to be a remarkably understanding publisher."

    This is a truth. The only thing they've done with Champions Online is instituted a bit of cash shop gambling, but the items to be gambled for aren't that special, and are just minor variations on stuff that already exists. I'm not sure whether this is Cryptic putting their foot down (I kind of doubt it) or whether Perfect World just said "We want you to do this, but you understand your audience, so we want you to do it your way."

    And entertainingly, the gambling bags have been grossly popular because of that. It just goes to show what I've always said - if you treat people with respect, they'll pay you in kind. Respect is almost as important as having a good game, because if people feel that you respect them, and that you care about their input and their QoL in your game, then they'll be more willing to give you money. I'm certainly more willing to give money to developers like that. See, tight-fistedness on a developer's part makes me tight-fisted.

    PW however have been putting a lot of money into Cryptic and a lot of good things have been happening to STO and CO. They've got a lot of new staff, and they've offered some of their staff better paying jobs within Perfect World, and they're cross-pollinating staff. Cryptic themselves seem to have only good things to say about them, too.

    So, yeah. It's... really surprising.

  5. #5
    Network Hub Bungle's Avatar
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    The ground combat video didn't exactly sell the game. It showed a bunch of stupid AI characters standing still until they got shot. That didn't look fun to me.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Bungle View Post
    The ground combat video didn't exactly sell the game. It showed a bunch of stupid AI characters standing still until they got shot. That didn't look fun to me.
    That's an old video from when the new combat engine first appeared on the test server. Enemy AI is far more responsive now. I'm fairly sure I'm rushed down by a melee guy in every single fight, which is annoying but understandable.

    Enemies outside weapon range are effectively blind, so you can take out a squad at a time without getting jumped by reinforcements.

  7. #7
    Lesser Hivemind Node icupnimpn2's Avatar
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    I am quietly excited about this one because of the single-player experience as you've described.

    Dominic, does it let you save mid-mission or anything similar? Not being able to start and stop when I need to is a big barrier with MMOs for me.

  8. #8
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    Thanks for the great write up, Dominic. I'll try to find time to give this a go. Actually, since it seems the best way to get the new baby to sleep when he's cranky is to put him in a sling attached to me, so I spend some time sitting around being a mobile hammock. That'll work.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by icupnimpn2 View Post
    Dominic, does it let you save mid-mission or anything similar? Not being able to start and stop when I need to is a big barrier with MMOs for me.
    Each mission segment (usually 5-10 minutes or so) has a checkpoint, so you might lose a little progress, but you won't have to restart an episode from scratch.

    One thing I do like is that you can jump into any raid-type mission in progress so long as it doesn't have the maximum number of players, so even that stuff is accessible, and this is all launched from a 'games in progess' list, so you don't have to worry about travel, so even large-scale co-op stuff is easily available.
    Last edited by Dominic Tarason; 15-01-2012 at 02:00 AM.

  10. #10
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    I played the first month and I wanted to like it but there were some staggeringly big issues...

    The ground combat was appalling - tedious, repetitive nonsense below the standard of most F2P games - within a week I was actively avoiding it as much as possible.

    The space stuff was actually quite good - but levelling was slow, encounters often lasted for a LONG time (repeating the same actions over and over).

    Worst of all tho, there were just not enough 'carrots' to make you continue. When you play an MMO, there should always be a short-term goal - whether it's skills, a mount, new gear or whatever. In STO such things are few and far between - a new class of ships takes EONS to unlock and even then you often find nothing has really improved.

    Then there was the PvP - which was as tiresome and repetitive a grind as I've ever seen - made worse by the fact that people would cheat wholesale reducing the whole process to more of an exploit than a game.

    That's a lot of stuff to fix...

  11. #11
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus The JG Man's Avatar
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    First of all Dominic, great write-up. Secondly, god damn the Star Trek theme tune, it's too good and inspiring. I used to be quite the fan of the series, particularly of some of its games. Anyhow, I wanted to give STO a try, but after its release I, understandably, turned away from it. Can you clarify something for me though, if you know? If I were to buy a copy of it at retail, how would that affect my account? I imagine you could easily buy it fairly cheap now at retail, so if I was to do so, would that give me any discernible 'advantage'? I figure if I do end up playing it a bit, I'd be happy to drop a few quid if it was worth it.

    As it goes, whilst the idea of playing with a Prometheus (is that in there?) or a Galaxy-X IS incredibly enticing, I'd have to go Klingon. The idea of kit-bashing some of those parts together is just too engaging.
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  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by trjp View Post
    That's a lot of stuff to fix...
    All of that stuff has been fixed. Ground combat still isn't great, but it's fast and arcadey stuff and they've cut down heavily on the number of enemy waves you have to cut through.

    Space combat is even better, and levelling is almost absurdly fast now. I've been playing for a week, fairly casually, and have just hit level 33. You literally gain a level for every two major quests, or 4-5 sidequests.

    I'm pretty much drowning in fancy loot and XP and bonuses. I'm on an all-carrot diet. Just got some rare (but not befitting my build) ship gear for coming 1st in a couple of Fleet Actions that'll fund my next ship upgrade very easily.

    PvP I haven't tried yet, but if it uses the same rules as the regular PvE combat, then I don't see how it could be broken. Heard good things about it, and you can join PvP matches directly from a match browser window, and queue for up to 3 game-types at once.

  13. #13
    The F2P relaunch happens today. You really should give the game a look - it's not the greatest RPG you'll ever play, but I've had quite a bit of fun so far, and as far as I can see, the only time the game really nudges you into spending *any* money is when you hit the level cap and need more funds (in Dilithium, which can be exchanged for cash-shop points and vice versa) for your top-tier ship. You get free ships at levels 10, 20, 30 & 40. Just not 50.

    You could still grind your way to it - it's still buyable using only in-game resources - but that'll probably take a while.

    And yeah, my earlier comment still stands - I have never played an MMO where you level so quickly before. It's faster than many singleplayer RPGs, no joke. You'll easily go up a ship/tech tier (10 levels) every couple of days, and I just gained half a level (pushing me up to 36) overnight - as in, while I slept - due to my Duty Officers.

    Everything you do is scaled to your level, so you don't need to worry about out-levelling content, which is good.

  14. #14
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus The JG Man's Avatar
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    Just had a look on the wiki and...well, the Klingons don't get much in the way of ship variety, do they? Is their kit-bashing any good? Otherwise it's escort (need me some MVAMing) or cruiser (Galaxy X!!!!!!) for me.
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  15. #15
    Klingons get a lot of cooler, more unusual designs, but yeah, they've basically got half as much content as the Feddies. Makes sense, as you unlock them at level 24, and they only go from 20-50.

    Someone on SA posted these two charts showing off all ships for both sides:
    http://imgur.com/c8lWk
    http://imgur.com/VIjmu

    Klingons also get carriers, which are pretty cool. Feds don't really do the whole 'fighter' thing.

  16. #16
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Drake Sigar's Avatar
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    My gripe was that the game involves shooting anything that moves. I realise that's true of all video games, but it's especially noticeable here because that kind of attitude goes completely against the Starfleet philosophy. I'm sorry, but if you bring the action to the forefront while removing the diplomacy and dry political maneuvering, it's just not Trek.

    It's like editing out the five minutes of The Good the Bad and the Ugly where they stand around preparing to draw their weapons in favour of keeping the action going. That scene IS the Good the Bad and the Ugly.
    Last edited by Drake Sigar; 17-01-2012 at 03:08 PM.

  17. #17
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus The JG Man's Avatar
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    I mean all the banding of ships look fairly similar, but that was something unique to the Feds; all their ships looked like kit-bashes ANYHOW. You can still edit parts of Klingon ships though, right?

    I agree, Drake. It seems to be a tendency of ST games to go "Oh, here's a short-cut to violence!" It's why my favourite ST games were Klingon Academy because...well, you were the Klingons, so it was okay, and Bridge Commander because there were times where combat was ill-advised and didn't just save you from fighting, but aided you later!

    Also, tensest scene in film, apart from maybe the beginning of Inglorious Basterds. Still, the entire film is absolutely fantastic. It helps that the music during the stand-off is perfectly synchronised too. What a damn good film. Might have to get it on physical media...
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  18. #18
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    Has anyone grabbed Rock Paper Starfleet?

  19. #19
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus The JG Man's Avatar
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    Isn't that kinda redundant unless we were all on the same server? That'd require a bit of organisation which there isn't...yet. Despite that, it's good. I'd also propose Rock, Phaser, Shotgun.

    Also, just to ask again about something I brought up previously; if this was bought at retail, would that give any advantage or change any of the benefits I had? Like I said, paying a few quid extra for longer benefits is pretty nifty.
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  20. #20
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Cooper's Avatar
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    STO is all on one server, right?

    I'm pretty sure it's all one server with PvP limited just to certain areas.

    Anyway, I'll be firing it up later.

    Rock, Paper, Starships? Or is that in use for EVE?
    Quote Originally Posted by CROCONOUGHTKEY
    KING GEORGE IS A FROG
    le BANG~__-MICHEAL FUCK OFF~~__-INTERPOL KNOW YOU WELLBIENG~—
    OFF
    NOT RUSHMORE MOUNTAIN
    KILL WESTON KILL MUST KILLTHEWESTERNINMYHEADDOESN’TEXSIST
    TEXASISDEADINPARISHEWASAMAN..BINGBING.TETTOHEAD.SP ACEOK,TIMEDEADANDSTOPPED1920HOKKAIDO.UNDERSTOODAT1 ONE.
    UNDERSTANDTHISANDFUCKOFFPIRATEBAY.TIMEDOESNTEXSIST FORMEASIMPATEKPHILLPE.
    BANG

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