Sunday, 14 February 2010

STO: Encountering The Level Cap

Post Soundtrack: “Fly Me To The Moon” by Julie London

One curious thing about this game has been the way the level cap was lowered (along with a corresponding cap to the number of skill points a captain can earn) right before launch.  The previously announced level cap of 50 (nominally Rear Admiral, rank 10) became 45 (rank 5), along with much noise and fury on the official forums over the changes.

The reason I mention it is because I’ve finally reached it myself, after 4 days and 13 hours of time /played.  Meet the newest member of the Discordia family, the Discordia-D.

All she needs is some go-faster stripes.

The tier-5 ships become available upon reaching level 41, after which you have another 4 levels to play with them before hitting the brick wall of the level cap.  This is equivalent to the level cap in WoW, where all further increases to your character’s abilities come from your equipment (which in STO means from Bridge Officers, along with ship and personal equipment).  Unfortunately there’s barely any endgame equipment available at this stage, and only one place to get it.

At launch, once you reached the cap there was only exploration quests and DSEs (deep space encounters – a space-combat PvE system where you and a random group of other players would get to kill packs of hostile NPCs) – there are only enough missions to get you to the cap, and no more became available once you reached it.

Following another assault cruiser into the ruins of a shattered planet in an attempt to rescue another federation vessel.

They’ve since introduced the hub for the initial round of end-game content, amusing referred to as “Raid Episodes” (which WoW players may recognise more appropriately as “5-mans").  Unfortunately it would appear that there isn’t going to be any larger-group content any time soon, so this will be all there is, once it goes live (apparently sometime next week).

The hub consists of a new space sector, with a corresponding new exploration zone.  A new series of three once-only missions became available featuring the Borg and Undine, presumably setting up the repeatable 5-man content yet to come.  A new defend quest is available for the zone (where you’re fighting off borg probes, spheres and cubes), and a daily exploration quest offers 5 tokens that can be used to buy epic Mk X equipment for ship and player – the token gear is apparently to be used to fill gear-gaps in preparation for the 5-man episodes.

The Borg sector space - green much?

All in all, it’s become fairly lacklustre.  Even with the new content slowly filtering down from the developers, the impression I’ve received is that the real end-game intention of the developers immediately post-launch is that players will just roll new characters to go through the levelling grind again, either as Federation or if they enjoy PvP, as Klingons (who are still pretty much bereft of any other levelling method).  And with the immediate limit of 3 character slots (with another two slots available for players who’ve taken the leap of faith with a year or lifetime subscription) this is a quite limited alternative (and no hint of when additional slots will become available for purchase).

It’s feeling more and more like I’ve reached the limit of my patience with the game as it stands, and am considering cancelling my subscription and move on to whatever the ‘next game’ will be (if I don’t return to WoW) – revisiting STO in a few months may prove more satisfying, when they’ve not only given players at the level cap variety in things to do, but have also knocked down more of the gameplay and balancing bugs that still have potential to annoy and irritate.

A borg base, and one of my first multiplayer experiences in the game.  (It was about as silent as a post-3.3 LFD heroic)

I’ve also spent quite a while trying to work out what game STO reminds me of, and finally figured out that it’s the super-casual-friendly free-to-play title Free Realms.  In STO the occasionally-challenging space combat can be fun, as can the occasionally-entertaining (albeit more primitive) ground combat, but with the complete lack of any kind of death penalties the game comes down to a you-will-win-if-you-play-long-enough grind that undermines what little complexity the game offers (and that complexity is something that the game does its best to deny you access to, due to pretty dire in-game documentation).

One a more personal note, one little bug that left auto-teaming broken until very recently meant that I ended up soloing all of the content until I reached the new hub at level 43.  Between that, and the severely instanced design of the game world, I’d have to say this MMO was (for the duration of the levelling process) not bad as a single-player game.  As a social title, though?  In my experience it has failed quite comprehensively.  Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the sandbox nature of Azeroth in WoW, but the instanced-everything nature of STO has been very isolating, and even Fleets (the guild equivalent in-game) are currently limited in function to another channel to chat in and some extra bank slots.

Shocking, isn't it?

But for all my complaining, the game has been kind of fun.  The environments are bright and colourful (apart from the ones which are, by design, dark and muted), and the ship combat can be entertaining.  I’m still in two minds about dropping the game, as it can be a fun little time-waster; I’m just wary of subscribing to a game on this basis.

Well, I should probably see about updating my Priest PvP gear guide now that the new arena season has arrived – although maybe I’ll work on it after I do my STO daily (the singular one that’s in-game at the moment).  And enjoy some more screenshots.

Further into the rescue mission referenced above.

Another view of the borg base - all your vegetation will also be assimilated

Funny who you run into in the depths of space...

Another view of the Q from further into the mission

Some asteroid fields are like being attacked by orange popcorn

Where there are Jem'Hadar, there is usually an angry Founder in the background, trying to strangle you

The threat of a borg cube is trivialised when you can solo them...

"You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike"

If you've seen one borg cube, you've seen them all

I quite like the albino cardassian in the background, but it was Mr Swollen Head who caught my attention at the time.

Out of curiousity: the T5 Fleet Escort.  (Odd little thing, isn't it?)


Sure it's better than the T4 cruisers, but I still WTB a custom gloss paint job in fire-engine red...