On land, the game feels more like a regular MMO. As mentioned before, there are always five avatars to control. In a solo-mission, that means the Captain avatar and four of the NPC bridge officers you’ve collected. These are, as far as I experienced, very short instances. You beam in, accomplish your mission and beam out.
In one scenario, I boarded a ship that had some kind of accident. I fought through corridors with phasers, rescued the crew and got out of there.
Each weapon has three attacks. There is the basic attack, usually some kind of phaser blast, a secondary special attack and a melee knock back. One weapon I used had some kind of AOE grenade as a secondary that came in handy when a clump of people got together. The average gun just butted people in the face to get them to back off for the melee attack, which came in handy against battlef wielding Klingons.
“Ground combat is a bit more fast paced,” Zinkievich said, and he wasn’t kidding. If the ship combat was slow and tactical with a lot of variables to consider, the ground combat felt a lot more frenetic and the intermingling of the two in each mission made for a nice contrast.
The experience was a bit faster than intended though, according to Zinkievich, and that will be tuned. The idea is for it to still be a somewhat tactical experience. Positioning matters – it’s always good to flank enemies – and people the core mechanic they called “expose/exploit,” which basically means that one character uses an ability that sets up the enemy, while another swoops in and vaporizes him once in that exposed state.
While players are divided into three basic archetypes – Tactical, Engineer and Science – Cryptic has intentionally left a lot of wiggle room from away mission to away mission. Players equip “kits,” which customize their role on land. These can be equipped and unequipped so that players are able to coordinate and always be of some use to a group or situation.
The missions felt a bit fast and chaotic in the version I played. All the hallmarks of the MMO were there, and the crew with you seemed to help out without becoming a micromanagement nightmare, but it wasn’t quite “there” yet. Cryptic, though, readily acknowledged that and I expect they’ll spend a good deal of time between now and February buffing this part of the game to a fine shine.
Customization is a huge part of every Cryptic game to date, so how do you make people feel unique in a world where everyone wears a uniform?
The character creation, from an aesthetic point of view, pulled it off. CBS appears to have given them some latitude with the IP. You may be a Captain, but you don’t have to wear red shoulder pads. The uniforms can be customized both in colors and designs, right down to the kind of communication shield on the chest.
The faces are everything you’d expect from a Cryptic game and work much like they do in Champions Online.
The neatest aspect though is the custom race. Not all the races were in the game in the version I played, but they did have the ability to take elements from all over to define and use your own brand new race. It’s a wonder this was allowed in an IP driven game, but given the limitless of space, it makes a lot of sense. They mentioned specifically, they want to let people share these “races” they make with others too, which should be a neat little wrinkle.
The characters are divided into three core archetypes. These are, as mentioned, Tactical, Engineer and Science. Each of those three archetypes then has three careers off of it, where players can spec their skills as they choose.
For Tactical players these careers are: Soldier (damage), Security (defensive/tank), and Special Ops (stealth).
For Engineers, these careers are: Technician (Buff/debuff), Fabrication (turrets), and Combat (manipulation of the battlefield).
Finally, for Scientists, the options are: Researcher (Emitters, group buffs/debuffs), Scientist (individual buffs/debuffs) and Medical (healer).
Players progress through “ranks” as they progress in the game. Essentially, think of these as batches of 10 “levels” in a traditional MMO. These ranks are: Lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander, Commander, Captain and Admiral. Each of these ranks has 9 grades within them. So, for example, a Commander Grade 3 is, for all intents and purposes, level 22.
As players progress through the game they earn skill points that they then spend on skills. Once they’ve invested enough skill points in the skills of that Rank, they’re offered a promotion, which opens up the Rank above.
Aside from this, players also accumulate “energy” and “merit.”
Energy is essentially currency. It used to buy items and other content for your character, crew and ship.
Merit is used to acquire new ships and level up the crew you have.
More To Come
During our trip, there was more to see, including an in-depth discussion with Zinkievich about exactly how Bridge Crews and the actual bridges work. We’ll have that for you on Wednesday.
Star Trek Online is slated to launch on February 2nd, 2010.