Inside Beta: A Three Hour Tour
Ever since I first heard that Star Trek was going to be made into an MMORPG, I have been chomping at the bit to get into closed beta. I love Star Trek, not to the point I have my living room made up to look like a bridge but I enjoy the shows, movies, and lore. Needless to say when I was presented this opportunity to play closed beta I was all over it.
I have heard many game companies say that most players quit a game in the first 15 minutes. So when logging in I was thinking "How will Cryptic grab me by the seat of my pants and hold my interest?" It's a fairly simple question, and one that could easily be answered during my three hour play session. If they don't have me hooked by the time they turn off the servers for the night, they've failed.
When logging in for the first time my task was to create a character that would be part of Starfleet. The choices were standard Starfleet races like Human, Vulcan, and Bajoran to name a few. The game also offered a custom race you could make. Looking at it quickly, each race has attributes, some of which are required for that race and some are optional. Using these Attributes you can create your own unique race. You can also customize the look of your character quite a bit. Star Trek Online also has new uniforms which were designed for this game and you can change the color and look as well. You then have to choose a class and have Tactical, Science, and Engineering to choose from. I did not spend a lot of time looking at the skills because I wanted to dive right in to the action so I blew through most of this to get into the game.
Right out of the gate, I thought that Cryptic did a great job making the tutorial seem like gameplay and giving players a way to get accustomed to the game while not stopping the action. I've played a number of tutorials where the action stopped every few seconds for explanation and while there are indeed some voiceovers explaining how to play the game, they felt unintrusive to the gameplay.
I especially liked the fact that through the tutorial and beyond, you never felt the need to load up on missions. You got missions as you went and it had a very quick flow to it. In time, you finish the tasks presented to you and you get command of your ship to fly into battle.
Space combat is pretty fast paced and fun. I would say it's very similar to Pirates of the Burning Sea's naval combat but at a much, much, faster pace. Also, this is three dimensional space so combat can get a bit disorienting at times. I found myself flying into a group of NPCs that changed my direction by accident quite a bit. Overall though, I was having fun shooting photons and phasers at the mission objectives. All of these missions lead up to a fight with a Borg cube. Once you complete the task you head for a Starbase in orbit around Earth.
After docking, you are free to move around the Starbase. There are lots of things that you can do while on the Starbase: character customization, equipment, ship customization, socialization, and the like are all available. At least in the early stages of the game this starbase acts as a hub.
Even with all of those things to do, your first trip to the station is on business. You have to meet with an Admiral who gives you command of your ship and commends you for a job well done. You will also be able to grab missions from various NPCs around the Starbase. Once you are finished with all of your business, you beam back to your ship and warp to Sector Space.
Sector Space is where I spent most of my time. Each individual system is its own instance while Sector Space is a public zone. It is in Sector space, along with your fellow players, that the exploration part happens as you navigate your ship from system to system. When you find one you like, or need to visit, you are able to enter the system's instance.
Instead of exploring deep space, I headed back to the Starbase to pick up some missions and stay close to Earth. One of the best missions in terms of the new player experience asks players to visit a number of different systems, giving them an opportunity to explore space, get a feeling for how Sector Space navigation works and take part in a number of both ground and ship based scenarios.
When I first warped into a new system for this mission chain, I was given a choice. I could enter the system solo or with a group. I almost chose solo, but stuck with the group instead. Some people left and others were added in but I finished my mission in no time. This kind of reminded me of Warhammer Online's public quests. Overall, I was impressed with how easily the grouping flowed.
One of the last things I did before logging off from my first STo experience was customize the look of my ship. You can change body styles and for your introductory ship you have some options. They have some new looking light cruisers that are pretty nice. However I was able to customize this ship to look like the USS Reliant from Star Trek II "Wrath of Khan".
This not in open beta and is still only in play test which gave me only three hours to try things out and get a feel for the game. However I can honestly say that it had me in the first 15 minutes. Like the newest Star Trek movie, this game puts action first and really does a good job of grabbing your attention. After logging out I was asked what I thought and I said, "If City of Heroes and Pirates of the Burning Sea had a baby, it would be Star Trek Online." I thought overall Cryptic did a good job of capturing the spirit of Star Trek and presenting it in a way that was enjoyable and fun.