The Inevitable Disappointment of Star Trek Online

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a phaser cannon, shooting at a Bird of Prey, forever.

Last week, BioWare released a new game. As is entirely natural, I played it until I couldn’t see properly. But that’s not what we’re here to discuss today, no sir. Today, we’re ignoring the Mass Relays and hitting maximum warp as we delve into the Alpha Quadrant to administer a stout kicking to Star Trek Online.

I promised this a while back, so apologies to any die hard EDRites who have been left headbutting their monitors in frustrated anticipation. Thing is, STO slipped unnoticed from my gaming heartland with impressive speed, the USS Intrepid and it’s crew of busty Vulcans left kicking their heels somewhere in the Alpha Quadrant. Salute the lost, comrades. It’s a sad day.

The poor, poor MMO. For so long the MMO class was packed full of go-nowhere sticky-palmed kids sniggering into the copies of Reader’s Wives hidden in their text books. Then one day, little Billy Wow caught the eye of Mr Blizzard, the inspirational teacher who’d sent that RTS kid to Oxford all those years ago. Suddenly, little Billy’s life changed. Suddenly, he was the breadwinner, sent out into a high stress big bonus city job, working hard and bringing home the bacon. But what about his classmates? What about the ones left behind?

Seeing the Alpha Male Billy became, what chance do the poor dears have? The parents want results, they want their kids to grow up just like Billy. No! cry the parents, no dance classes! No! they cry, no Art degree! Toe the line! Follow Billy’s footsteps into the world of big big supermoney!

So they try. Bless me but they try. They try to follow Billy, they try to do what Billy did, but the harsh upbringing has killed their creativity. It’s all been done, and what’s left for these kids? Benefit fraud and bloated indolence, scrapping desperately over the detritus of the underclass. Sorry kids, them’s the breaks.

What makes it particularly saddening this time around is that this is Star Trek, a tellyvision show fundamentally about science, progress, negotiation, the importance of peace. Star Trek, it hardly needs pointing out, has very little time for needless action scenes. In fact, Star Trek barely has time for necessary action scenes. Punching, shooting, conflict – these are the antithesis of Star Trek. Surely the Star Trek MMO was the perfect chance to innovate while still being assured a sizeable audience willing to cough up a tenner each month for the privilege of running around in lycra and a badge?

Seems not. Instead, Cryptic have delivered a grimly workmanlike effort. Social hubs. Instanced quests. Damage and support specs. Easy respawns. No penalties, ever. And, over all of this, fighting. FIGHTING. Endless, eternal, relentless FIGHTING.

God, it’s depressing. It feels as though Cryptic have lifted the WoW template, snaffled the combat model from Pirates of the Burning Sea, sapped out all the glee, all the invention from the two games and replaced it with extra fighting. Now, I would hate to be unfair to STO here – the spaceship fighting is actually quite jolly. Phasers making that “bzzzeew” noise, photon torpedoes steaming laconically around the place, glorious space-vistas – it all makes for an entertaining spectacle. Think naval combat but with asteroids instead of dolphins, and it’s rather good. For a couple of hours.

Then of course, the inertia takes over. This is an MMO. The MMO model, as it stands, is all about repetition. Hugely similar tasks, minimal variation, with the tempting carrot of slightly better stat bonuses dancing in tantalising fashion just past the next level barrier. Cryptic have this down pat. Repetition? No problem. They even have a slight advantage here – as I have said, the basic ship combat is significantly more enjoyable than in many other MMOs.

But other MMOs have different advantages, and most of the time, these win out. Pirates of the Burning Sea has excellent player versus player combat, and a cracking good economic model. WoW has vastly superior quest design, better art, better music and crucially, better environments. It’s that last one that lands the killer blow. Space, pretty as it may be, is boring as hell. It’s just a big black pile of nothing, peppered with the occasional asteroid or big cloud of green gas. Compare the tedium of space with Dun Morogh, or Darkshire. Compare it with Lothlorien, or the Shire. Hell, even compared to Cryptic’s own Champions Online, Star Trek comes off worse.

Cryptic have cynically produced a depressingly average MMO by the numbers, perfectly happy to fulfil the lower expectations of the genre, but without any of the joy, any of the sparkle of World of Warcraft. It feels like they picked up the license on the cheap one weekend and knocked it together without too much thought. What, one feels compelled to ask, is the point of a Star Trek game where problems are always solved with shooting people, and exploration is skull thumpingly tedious? The answer, I’m afraid, is not much.


Of course, all my experiences come from the Beta. However, bearing in mind that it is being released in the next few weeks, I feel fairly sure that sweeping content changes are probably not on the cards.

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2 Comments on “The Inevitable Disappointment of Star Trek Online”

  1. Wow, that’s pretty sad. I was really hoping they’d bring some innovation to the genre rather than just slapping Starfleet uniforms on orcs and dwarves. I’m worried the exact same thing will happen with KOTOR Online, even though that decidely is a combat-heavy game. I found it ironic how the original Star Wars: Galaxies took a combat-heavy setting and turned it into a dull, grinding universe focused on crafting macros.

  2. Paul S Says:

    Well, I think TOR has a better chance. Because I’m a dribbling BioWare apologist, natch, but also because they seem to be bringing something new to the MMO table, and that can’t be a bad thing to try.
    BioWare also have a very strong track record with good single player RPGs, and this is important; these chaps know game design. Most MMO devs just make MMOs, and seem to have a very peculiar distorted perspective on the market. BioWare are just the chaps to give the genre the hefty shake-up it needs.
    I want to marry BioWare.

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