Thursday, 28 January 2010

STO: Thoughts Following Beta

Post soundtrack: “Captain Bacardi” by Antonio Carlos Jobim

Well, the beta has finished (albeit with more than a little mass spawn-camping – I’d describe the end-of-beta event as more whimper than bang) which means it’s time to start girding my loins for the head-start in a few days.

The good ship Patrician, T2 Escort.

I did manage to complete the primary goal I set myself; namely to reach Captain rank (level 21).  The questions now:  What class will I level as?  What class of ship will I specialise in?  What haven’t Cryptic shown us yet?  And most importantly, why do they insist that this severely instanced game is massively multiplayer when (if the beta was anything to go by) you’re unlikely to see more than a dozen people at any given non-mission location?

Fun with the character creator.  WTB more female clothing options though.  (Yes, she is female)

The last is probably the single thing I noticed most from the beta – hopefully it’s just a side-effect of it being beta, and numbers will be higher after launch.  But the game seems to lack the equivalent social spaces that capital cities in WoW are – the STO starbases are surprisingly tiny (like the opposite of the Doctor’s TARDIS, much smaller on the inside).  Again, though, I’ve yet to see how this server setup (fragmented though it may be) works with the numbers that the launch might (should?) bring – it’s the opposite of WoW’s setup, with one server which is divided into multiple shards for each location; all the shards for a location seem to share a single chat channel, however, and it’s simple to switch between shards.

For all its faults, STO does offer some stunning vistas to explore...

The chat system is also irritating, especially after I’ve had time to get used to chatting with the WIM addon.  There appears to be a single chat window, but it’s possible to create additional tabs within in which you can filter different entries into (such as combat messages, team or fleet massages, specific channels and the like).

I didn’t play around with it that much, though, so I’m not sure just how configurable it is – I was mostly just solo-leveling, so didn’t miss it much.  (There’s a “Report Spam” right-click action available, which also sets that player as ignored – a positive sign, given the spamming I’ve grown accustomed to in WoW.)

It was nice to see some of the creative races people came up with.

There are group-PvE instances called Fleet Actions which have the potential to be fun, but the reward structure for completing them is currently completely broken; the highest dps participants are eligible for rare equipment as loot, which is quite blatant in its bias against cruiser and science vessel captains.

Plus this is the first game I’ve encountered that allows players to be spawn-camped by PvE mobs, thanks to a perfect storm of upwardly-adjusting mob level and numbers (the more players joining an instance, the more higher-level mobs spawn to match the players, but if players leave the high-level mobs remain there) and a single spawn location which has a PvE mob spawn adjacent to it (once I zoned in with my T2 escort and was flattened in seconds by 4 escorts and 3 frigates).  Spawn-camping also occurred in ground PvP matches – hopefully there will be some fixes coming for that.

Bigger and better: my T3 escort, the Teutonic

Balance (especially in space combat) seems to be a work-in-progress, when I went from the ease of T1 ships, to challenge in my T2 escort, and then hitting something of a wall while working towards my T2 escort.  Perhaps my choice of captain skills, bridge officer skills and equipment is at fault - which brings me to my biggest complaint:

Cryptic seems to be not only the name of the developer, but also their documentation philosophy.  Seriously, if you want to work out a levelling strategy for your captain that won’t gimp you at higher levels, you’re going to need to rely on the forums.

Funny who you run into out here...

The tooltips for your skills (even with the added information they now have, although it’s hard to believe they could have displayed less) offer minimal information about what they do and which abilities they affect, and the numbers they do offer are pretty useless without a baseline to compare it to:  “+5 to Photonics” means very little when they don’t say what Photonics actually is

Apparently, however, this is by design – if you’re a theorycrafter, the designers are going out of their way to frustrate you.  Fortunately I’ve picked up some useful information from skill discussions on the forums that I’m hoping will keep me from being the STO equivalent of a hunter wearing spellpower gear with +spirit gems.

Lacking the time to try it in some missions (because I didn't have the right equipment to set it up)  only took it for a spin around the Sol starbase:  my T3 cruiser, which lost 100% of it's value as soon as it left the lot.

Hopefully the servers will at least pretend to be stable, and the bugs won’t be too overpowering – I’d like to at least get my 30 days out of the game, as I’m not certain at this stage that the game will hold my attention long enough to get any subs out of me.  It’s entirely possible that there’s more content in the release version that wasn’t in the beta, and indeed I’m hoping that is the case.

Plus, release means people seriously starting to create fleets, along with a larger pool people to level with – that was probably the thing I missed most, people (ideally who I know, but I guess that comes with time) to talk with.

Captain Noube will be back - provided I can remember what sliders I used...

My plan?  So far, to level an Engineering captain in a cruiser, with a view to being a damage-sponge at higher level.  I might roll an escort captain (for the pew pew) as well, depending on how long-winded the leveling process is, but it’d depend on my enthusiasm.  Plus there’s always the option of rolling a Klingon captain as well, but with no quests and only PvP it would really depend on how entertaining post-release PvP turns out.

Of course, hopefully my copy of Mass Effect 2 will be delivered soon as well, so STO may face some stiff competition for my time.  We’ll see (but I suspect ME2 will win, at least briefly).

One last query of my handful of readers – are any WoW bloggers giving STO a try, who would be interested in forming a fleet?  “Azeroth’s Pride” has a certain appealing ring to it…