Star Trek Online: The Next Generation
Star Trek Online is finally going free to play beginning this month on January 17th. However, for retired captains like myself there is an early start letting the subscription free adventuring begin as we speak. With that, I decided to hop back into the boots of Captain Trent Powers and give the galaxy a spin to check out some of the new features that have been implemented since I was last enlisted with Starfleet. This log is not a full review, it is only meant to highlight some of the new features all you F2P captains will get to enjoy. For those interested here is the matrix of what the F2P gamers will get as compared to the subscription players: F2P Matrix.
Cryptic seems to be giving away the farm with this one, as there really isn’t anything major F2P gamers will be locked out from. There are really only 3 major restrictions I can see in that list:
1. Limited chat and e-mail: There will be a limit on F2P accounts on how much they can utilize chat and mail. This makes sense as it will cut down on players getting the free client and simply spamming chat or inboxes with junk and scams. If you look at the notes for this anyone who has ever paid for the game is instantly exempt from the restriction and all free players that log 20 hours will be exempt as well.
2. Limited guild creation: I’m not sure of the full details of this one, but it looks like free players won’t be able to create guilds. They can still join them though, so this shouldn’t be a dealbreaker.
3. No Foundry Creator Access: The foundry is the STO level creation system. You can still play created levels, you just can’t create any yourself.
The rest of the game appears to be open to everyone: all sectors, PVP, both Federation and Klingon gameplay as well. Just like DCUO, STO is giving enough away for absolutely nothing that you should definitely at least check it out. With all that said lets get on with the real meat of the log and take a look at whats changed!
Your Orders From Starfleet
One of the biggest problems with the original run of Star Trek Online was how convoluted the quest and mission structure was. As Star Trek spans an entire universe, quests could come from literally any planet in any system of any sector. The game tried to keep things contained by limiting leveling areas to each sector, but it was still difficult to find and keep track of what missions you should be doing. On top of this, early on there was very little story content to move through so a lot of missions were repeatable tasks such as visiting star systems and just scanning them, this made it very difficult to sift through which missions were worth playing and which could be skipped if you didn’t need the experience.
The first way to combat this was the introduction of Seasons with episodic quests, each season containing about 5 episodes made up of a few individual missions. This made questing a more focused affair and gave the player something to pay attention to as they cruised the galaxy, however these missions were still hard to keep track of as many of them required traversing large sections of the galaxy to begin new threads. Thankfully all of these problems appear to have been resolved now with the new and improved Starfleet menu system.
The new menu is broken up into 3 clear sections:
1. Episodes: These are your basic story quests that you should be doing for advancement. They have a clear start and end point with a contained story surrounding them. When you view the episodes section you will be given a listing of every available story mission, broken up by Sector space. If you are level appropriate to begin the quest you can click the hail button from the menu and immediately begin the quest. You can even use the Transwarp button for a small fee and be instantly taken to the start of the quest vastly cutting down on empty travel time.
2. PvE: These are your queues for joining non-story mission repeatable quests. These include fighting off enemies invading certain star systems, or doing diplomatic or science missions. You will be paired up with other players to fight off larger enemies than you would normally face in the episode quests.
3. PvP: This is the pvp queue, fairly self explantory. It will dump you into a PvP arena to do battle with other players.
Also of note is the Events calendar shown below the regular queues. In addition to the standard MMO holiday events there are daily events by the hour each day now. These aren’t major events but rather small bonuses to certain quests at timed intervals. For example, from 1pm to 2pm there may be a double XP bonus for completing Borg Defense missions, or other quests may give extra cash or items. These aren’t game changing, but they are an interesting way to stem the tedium of running dailies.
Shut Up Wesley!
The next major update that has been introduced is the new Duty Officer system. Now your starship actually FEELS like a fully staffed and working ship. At the basic level (I think you can purchase increased officers and roster slots with real money) you get 100 crew slots where you will recruit crew members for handling day to day tasks and side missions. These are different from your Away Team crew members. The Duty Officers cannot go on away missions and you don’t level them up or interact with them directly.
What you do do with them is quite interesting though. The closest analogue I can think of is the crafting skill system of Star Wars The Old Republic. You are given a number of missions, each with certain needed skills to succeed and each giving various rewards such as XP, money, and items. You are then tasked with assigning Duty Officers to the away missions and then sending them off on them, usually taking a few hours to complete. If you chose the correct officers with the right skills they will complete the quest and you get the rewards, if not they will fail and you get nothing, and in some extreme cases the officers can actually die on the away missions.
Your main crew members are assigned as department heads, such as chief security officer or engineering officer. When choosing Duty Officers for away missions the appropriate department head will make suggestions on which members you should send so you don’t have to sift through 100 individual crewmates to find the correct ones to send.
Each crewmember comes with 1 skill, either space or ground based, as well. These skills aren’t active abilities, but rather similar to other games passive skills. For example a security Duty Officer might give a 20% chance to lower the cooldown of torpedo attacks. You are allowed to designate 5 officers each for ground and space combat respectively, giving yourself these bonuses. It is a new way to augment your combat skill which also insentivises using the Duty Officer system to level up your officers and get better abilities.
Ground and Pound
While these new features so far have added some new and interesting meta game and organizational abilities the real meat of the game comes from its combat, whether it’s space or ground, as that’s what you’ll be doing with most of your time. While the new combat feature had been implemented the last time I played, it would seem remiss of me not to mention it here and go over it. Ground combat now has two modes that you can use and switch between on the fly, RPG and Shooter modes.
The RPG mode is the same old ground combat that STO shipped with and works similar to most MMOs. You click on enemies to select them and use the abilities in your hotbar abiding by their cooldowns before activating the next ability, all fairly standard stuff. The new additions are the shooter controls, most easily thought of as a poor mans Dead Space. These controls put a reticule where your mouse is and give you full mouse aiming with your guns and abilities. If you have an MMO mouse with multiple buttons for mapping abilities this layout is superb as you can quickly and easily aim, run, dodge, and attack on the fly. The ground combat in STO still won’t blow most players away, but the fast frenetic shooter controls can at least keep it interesting.
A major problem from the previous iteration of STO though was its leveling skill system. Players earned skill points which they could use to level up a myriad of abilities. The problem with this was there were way too many abilities all with skills and powers that made little to no sense and had very poor descriptions for what they did. For example, there used to be skills for each individual torpedo type, does the game really need to make you skill up photon and proton torpedoes? Functionally there is really no difference between them, and even when you did level them up it simply showed a number, such as +10 or +15 to the skill, there was no indicator as to what this exactly did.
Thankfully the skill system has been COMPLETELY revamped. Skills are now based in Space and Ground abilities, and then broken down even further. Ground abilities are understandably limited to two rows of standard things such as increased weapon power, health, and shields. Space abilities are broken down into 3 major roles: tactical, engineering, and science. Tactical increases your weapon power, engineering your ship defenses, and science your skill abilities. This is all much simpler to follow and keep track of. Also, at each officer rank there are only 2 skills per group available so it is easy to decided what abilities you want.
A few other minor changes have been implemented into the game as well. While these aren’t gameplay changers or even really important features, they are still nice for adding that Star Trek touch and really fleshing out the universe. The first being the addition of an actual Starfleet! Previously when you visited Earth there was just the space dock, which had all your usual MMO major city amenities, but it felt sterile and empty. A loop of corridors each sectioned off by what the vendors there provided and all cold metal grey, it certainly wasn’t very inviting. Now you can actually beam down to Starfleet and walk amongst the gardens and buildings, checking out the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. There really isn’t much you can do on Starfleet that you can’t on the Earth Spacedock, but it’s a nice touch.
Additionally, you can now actually enter your ships bridge and walk around amongst your crew. Again, there is little gameplay value here, though some missions do have to enter your bridge and speak with passengers. This is simply a novelty touch that some users would actually like to SEE the inside of their ship. Of course there are multiple interior layouts you can purchase to give your ship the personal touch, you can also invite your friends onto your bridge to hang out and… dance maybe?
The final nice new touch is the addition of a music player in the game. I’ve played a lot of MMOs and other than TOR there really isn’t much need to listen to the actual game. With no voiceover and the same ambient music tracks for hours I prefer to listen to my own music while I play. What’s nice about the in game music player is you can set the music volume in line with the game sound effects, so you don’t have audio muting out one or the other. The torpedo explosions and phaser blasts all roar as they normally should, just now they’re playing over whatever playlist you perfer to cruise the galaxy with.
Q… We Don’t Have Time For Your Games
Well, that about wraps up my tour of the new features. These have all gone a great way to making the gameplay much more user friendly and intuitive for all the new players. Star Trek Online is a game that I hated when it originally released, and grew to like with the introduction of the Episodes. Now with all these new features it’s a game that I absolutely love and would recommend to any Star Trek fan or even fans of space sims. The space combat is very enjoyable and is what really keeps bringing me back. The ground combat has made strides to be more enjoyable, and the Star Trek license has actually found its footing with the addition of diplomatic, science, and exploration missions. The F2P version isn’t holding anything back from the full version so you aren’t losing anything by giving it a try. If you are hesitant about joining MMOs now is a wonderful time to try them out as there is a plethora of free options that are all worth playing, and if you played STO before but have been away for a long time it’s certainly a great time to get reacquainted with a game that has come a long way from its infancy.