Monday, 22 February 2010

STO: Broken, But Is It Fixable?

Post Soundtrack: “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” by Ella Fitzgerald

My timing really needs work: I finally gird my loins to post that I’ve unsubscribed and am leaving, citing (amongst other things) the lack of autofire in space combat and the devs finally come out and say they’re planning on enabling some form of enhanced autofire but it’ll probably be a little while.

As the line goes, if it ain't broke don't fix it.  Of course, if it *is* broke then one action springs to mind...

Also, in their latest Ask Cryptic column, they’ve released some sketchy information about their plans in relation to player skills.  In regards to the level cap:

The level cap will be increased to Rear Admiral Grade 10 in a larger update later this year. Additionally, a new Respec system will be added. At that point you can earn more Skill Points and purchase and rearrange your skills.

The level cap increase is interesting, although it is meaningless without content to play once you’ve reached it (as I found upon reaching it on my first captain) – fortunately by that stage they should not only have some variety of content for level 45 players, but they also have time to put level 50 content in place so players won’t be slamming into another glass ceiling.  I just hope they’re not so foolish they don’t jump to introduce respecs as soon as they can, as that really is an essential ability for a skill-based game like STO.

This is especially true when you consider the current assortment of Antiproton-everything badge weapons on offer from the endgame dailies – the only appeal of them is that they’re nominally “Very Rare” items (which is something of a joke when you consider how easy they are to acquire).  The inherent problem that arises with the system of purchasing skills in particular weapon types (especially with the high cost, especially for T5 weapon skills, and the limited pool of skill points with which to buy them) is that it limits the choice of a player when it comes to upgrading.

If (for example) an epic Disruptor Turret Mk X drops, it’s only worth taking if the player has the Disruptor skill.  If any other weapon type drops, it is less effective than a lower rarity level weapon type that the player has put skill points into. 

Let’s put it in WoW terms: imagine if weapon proficiencies were built into the talent tree (similar to the rogue skills for dagger and fist weapons, maces, swords and axes).  And now imagine that once you’ve put points into a talent, the points have been spent for good (or at least until the devs finally work out to to implement respecs). 

Now, a weapon proficiency gives the player a bonus to damage when using that type of weapon.  In STO the energy weapon types are Disruptors, Phasers, Plasma, Tetryon, Antiproton and Polaron.  Projectile weapons types (remember photon torpedoes from the original series?) are Photon, Quantum, Plasma, Transphasic, Chroniton and Tricobalt.  A player using a weapon of Type ‘X’ that they have maxed out gets a bonus of +52 damage. 

This means my Assault Cruiser captain, who has a number of Phaser Beam Arrays (Mk X) equipped, gets a bonus of +52 damage to each array.  With 4 arrays equipped, each doing 200 damage per hit, they gain a bonus of +52 damage each for a total of 208 extra damage (the equivalent of an additional beam array).

The problem comes with the need to spend skill points in order to level, with no way of knowing what skills you will be needing in order to take advantage of future item drops or rewards (such as the Antiproton badge weapons).  The system as it is currently set up benefits single or dual weapon-specific talent builds – the more of a single weapon type a player has, the more damage they can do.

From the devs comment on exotic weapon types:

Once you start breaking into the special weapons, you have to figure out which special effects work well with others. Just having 1 exotic weapon may not do so much for you, but if you can get a few, with special effects that work well together, that's when they get MUCH more powerful.

Unfortunately you don’t get any special weapons to play with until you’re at such a high level that switching weapon types would likely waste a large number of skill points that have already been spent (and currently can’t be reallocated).  Unless they mean you’re supposed to level your first character as a test bed to see what works so you can more effectively skill up your next character?  Or am I being overly cynical?

My issue with things like this is that…  Well, they just give the impression that Cryptic fails to think things through before they implement them.  The odd thing is, STO is actually (at heart) fun to play.  It’s just let down by the limited range of missions available, and an incredibly obtuse system of skills and talents.  Given time I think it’s possible for the devs to flesh out the game and give it depth that it just doesn’t have at this stage.  The lack of depth at the moment, though, is frustrating.

But enough criticism; it’s time to get back to time-wasting. I downloaded the free-to-play Allods Online client out of curiosity (the game’s in open beta, but appears to be pretty feature-complete) – I’ve seen a few WoW bloggers who’re dabbling (the latest being Elno at Plagued Candles) and have decided to give it a try myself.

Free-to-play never looked so good