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Preview, Part Two

Dana Massey Posted:
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Their insistence on redefining what people call levels has also helped. In STO you're not "level 8," you're a rank. These ranks are totally the same as levels if you do the math, but the presentation of a Lieutenant, Mark 8 is just different enough to maintain the illusion and fits beautifully in the Star Trek universe.

The downside is that, at least in the versions I played, progression is quite a bit slower than you might be used to. Mind you, I've only experience the first ten levels, but usually an MMO blasts you through levels one to 10 in no time at all. It's a glorified tutorial. Not so in Star Trek. After my entire experience, which was, as stated in the first article, probably somewhere around 20 hours in-game, I was still in the Lieutenant rank.

A few people in Beta chat were complaining of all the time spent in their light cruiser and were more than ready to move up. Some others had clearly progressed faster than me and spent time in search of ways to do it.

I just played. I didn't go for the most efficient or best way to gain XP. I just did what I wanted to do and let the levels fall where they may. It turns out that in Beta, PvP was by far the most efficient means of advancement, but my goal wasn't to grind out levels and skip content, so I shied away from it until the tail end of my time online.

The truth is that I am sure PvE progression will speed up and PvP progression will slow down. Champions Online suffered through similar problems right through their head-start and Bill Roper mentioned that it was one of the core lessons they learned from that game. No doubt they'll apply those lessons to STO and make sure to tune the system accordingly.

The key point is that while I was still in "the first 10 levels," I didn't feel like I was doing errand-boy missions. I felt like a Starfleet captain from day one and acted accordingly. Sure, it was a bit disheartening to peer at the fancy ships at the Requisition officer and be told I couldn't promote my crew until I hit Lieutenant Commander, but largely I was just playing. I think it could stand to be sped up slightly, but the way you get micro-bites of experience points to send left and right makes it a lot easier to swallow.

Bridge Officers

NPCs on major space stations let you tweak your Bridge Officers.

My avatar was named Tavlok and for some reason I rolled three Bridge Officers whose names started with T. It was annoying, so I decided to rename them. I found the act of giving them new names and playing with their bodies and faces helped me really develop an attachment and sparked the imagination.

At first, I felt detached from them. They are randomly generated physically when you activate them and have them join your crew. When you go to a Bridge Officer Requisition Officer or get one as a reward from a quest you only know what type they are and what skills they will have at each level. It lets you make an informed gameplay decision, but it doesn't tell you "who" they are.

Called me a Star Trek racist, but I hate Andorians. The blue people with antennas annoy the crap out of me and I don't know why. Naturally, I rolled my primary tactical officer to be an Andorian female with a name that started with T!

In fact, four of my five officers ended up being women. I had the Female Andorian tactical officer with a T name, a female Bajoran engineer (also with a T name), and a Vulcan female science officer (also with a T name). I also had a Vulcan male tactical officer, whose name thankfully started with an S.

Early in the game, I hated my crew. It was really bad luck, but in my brain, I wanted more humans and a better male/female split. I also could never remember who was who.

Then I discovered the customization NPCs. It didn't fix all of my problems, but it did help a lot. I first changed all of their names. Then, I begin to fiddle with their uniforms, faces and bodies. The controls are exactly like the player creation, save a few decisions are locked. Unfortunately, gender reassignment and race changes were not in the cards at that point. Although, according to my inbox, race changes have been added. Nonetheless, it was enough.

My Andorian female tactical officer became a self-loathing Andorian who tucked her antennas under the hair (I removed them) and wore long dark hair (instead of the original short white hair). She became a person in my brain, as silly as it was. A kick ass fighter who wanted to fit in with humans by looking like them. It's a strange backstory, but it was my creation and suddenly she went from someone who provided me a new ability to a full fledged person. I actually caved and used her as my primary space Tactical officer after this too (I preferred her skill, but could never bring myself to use her before that).

I made similar improvements to the other three T-named ladies as well and each developed their own levels of attachment in my brain. Slan, my Vulcan tactical officer I use on land, remained unchanged. As my first officer, I liked him fine, even if I had little use for him save his photon grenades.

I am sure the lack of males, humans and people with names that don't begin with the letter "T" was a complete and total coincidence, but the story showed me how customization can make these randomly generated pixels into people. Cryptic did a good job here, although I wish that they gave you the option to create them yourselves from scratch when they joined the crew, rather than auto-generating them and making you go fix them (with constraints) later. A random button could be there for those that don't care, but for me, that would be ideal.

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Dana Massey