Star Trek Online: Hailing Frequencies Open

The continuing adventures of bastun_ie in Star Trek...

Having finished the tutorial, as written about in Part 1 of this series, my starship arrived in Earth orbit, approaching Spacedock. Wow. The visuals are impressive. Spacedock is a huge space station, surrounded by other structures and a flotilla of other players' ships, floating above a gorgeous planet Earth. Approaching the station, I was given clearance to dock, and beamed over to Spacedock.

Hailing frequencies open
At this stage, it's appropriate to mention the chat system, because this is where it becomes in-your-face. STO is instanced, like Champions, but Zone chat allows you to communicate with everyone in the same zone, regardless of their instance. And the brown chat of Spacedock scrolls by very quickly. Most of it starts with "Where is...?" - and fill in the name of the next NPC the questioner needs to talk to. I think WoW's Questhelper addon may have a lot to answer for. My first objective was to talk to Admiral Quinn. I materialised in a wide lobby, across from a flashing turbolift (mission objectives in Champions and STO flash white), with a large sign next to it saying "Admiral's Office". I guessed this might be where I needed to go. I was right - who'da thunk. I visited with the admiral, who told me to report to Commander Sulu (yes, descendent of Hikaru Sulu) for my orders. I turned around, and there was Sulu, behind another desk. Meanwhile, oodles of players were spamming Zone chat, seeking his whereabouts. It's become something of an in-joke.

My advice - use the Chat Settings to create a second Chat tab, which has Zone chat disabled. For the most part, Spacedock's Zone chat is like Barrens /general all over again. One interesting thing is that the chat is integrated with Champions - you can whisper, and receive whispers, from Champions players. This integration is visible elsewhere - as mentioned previously, you can access your in-game mail for both games from within either, or on the Cryptic website. You can also, if you're so inclined, provide your social networking credentials, and automatically update your Facebook, Livejournal or Twitter when you achieve something in-game.

After exploring the station, it was time to return to my ship for some missions, and my first encounter with navigation. The map screen is broken into three tabs. The Galaxy Map is the high-level view. It shows all the areas currently available in the game, namely large chunks of all four Star Trek galactic quadrants. You can see that the galaxy is broken down into territory controlled by the main factions currently in the game, and further broken down into named Sector Blocks, each of which contains three sectors of space. The Area Map is the smallest scale map, and shows local space. On missions, this will generally indicate the main area of interest for the current mission. Lastly, there is a System list. This is a list of every system in your current Sector Block, and it also lists every adjoining Sector Block.

To travel to a destination outside of the system, you need to order your ship into "Sector space". Warping there, your ship arrives on a stylized star map, which shows trade routes, sector borders, and all points of interest, such as systems, other mission points, other players' ships, and NPC ships such as traders and "enemy contacts". From here, you can manually pilot your ship around the map, or, using the System List, have the ship navigate there automatically.

This system takes a while to get used to, but it quickly becomes intuitive. An annoyance is that as you near a point of interest, your ship stops, and you receive a hail asking if you want to enter the star system, talk to the enemy contact, and so on. Reject the hail and you resume your journey. An option to ignore such hails would be nice.

STO has several types of missions available. In the Star Trek universe, "Genesis" was the name of a device that could bring life to a barren planet (or, y'know, destroy all life on a planet that already had some). Genesis is also the name Cryptic have given to their content-generation software. Basically, there are two sectors (at least, I've found two so far) that are "unexplored". Repeatable missions send you to these sectors to conduct exploration. Approaching an anomaly in one of these sectors will either allow you to scan it (scanning anomalies is the game mechanic for gathering resources), or explore a new system. Doing the latter warps you into the system, which will have a randomly generated mission, created by the Genesis software, with linking text provided by the developers. The Genesis missions I've found so far have ranged from the very quick and easy ("Scan 5 anomalies in this system/beam down to the planet and scan 5 anomalies"), to requests for aid ("We need 10 of X commodity"), to combat missions involving space or ground combat, or both.

Other repeatable missions are "Secure X sector" - basically jump into a random space encounter from the sector map, where you and other players must defeat enemy fleets. Patrol missions are somewhat similar, sending you to several systems within a sector, where again you will face a mix of space and ground challenges.

The meat of the PvE content, though, is in Episode missions. These are longer, taking about 30 minutes to an hour to complete. Generally, they will involve interaction with NPCs, leading to space combat, an away team mission, and more space combat to finish. These missions serve to unfold the storyline, which will be further developed by Cryptic. The idea is that many of the episode missions will feed into a story arc covering a "season", and apparently there is about three seasons available at launch. The early episode missions focus on the threat from the Klingons, and so far I've uncovered a plot to prolong the current war, which fits nicely with the lore. Not every episode will be tied to a season arc, though, and there are interesting diversionary episodes too. I haven't encountered it yet, but one includes time travel and a visit to the 21st century.

The Trouble with Tribbles
Otherwise known as gripes and problems. Beta play has been mostly stable - after the first couple of days of open release, anyway. The first night saw lots of lag, disconnects, and login screens saying "Server busy, please try again later." Basically, Cryptic severely underestimated the demand, and far more than they were expecting took up the numerous open beta invites that were floating around. They struggled to cope for the first few days, and to be honest, it wasn't reassuring to see them say that they had a rush order in for more servers, so
close to live launch. I expect the problem to be worse then, but we shall see.

Other things I planned to write about in this section have largely been addressed through two major and several smaller patches, so there's no point going into them now. The patches have introduced some balancing, bug and stability fixes, UI changes, a more interactive map, and really useful things such as being given the direction of anomalies when you scan for them (prior to the patch, you were just told how many there were).

One continuing gripe, though, is the number of character slots. Just three are available at start. So assuming you want one Klingon character, you're limited to two of the three Federation "classes", and can only try out a fraction of the races. Presumably more slots will be available in future, either as an in-game reward or by purchasing them via microtransaction - but it still seems stingy. Those who have pre-ordered, though, have been offered a "lifetime subscription", for $240, or an annual subscription for $120 (closing date 1st Feb). This gets you two extra character slots, and, in the case of the lifetime sub, an extra playable race - reclaimed Borg! $240 works out at about 16 months worth of a normal subscription, so seems like excellent value. If I'd known I'd still be playing WoW after 5 years and Blizzard had had a similar offer...

The next part of this series will look at both ground and space combat, and Klingons' speciality, PvP.

Posted by Drew Shiel at January 26, 2010 8:14 PM

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