Fail: Star Trek Online
“If you do not learn from history you are doomed to repeat it.”
I first heard those words when I complained of being bored in history class in middle school. Being a child of such fortunate circumstance to have been blessed with sharp wits at an early age, those words sunk in and I passed that class with an A. I have always tried to learn the easy way, allowing those that came before to learn through toil and trial and pass on their hard won knowledge to me so that I would not have to waste time and effort doing it. This is an obvious and effective means of education; the concept that we do not have to keep reinventing the wheel with every passing generation.
Yet it seems that some game developers cannot learn from the past. Games that are rushed have problems. Content that is rushed will be buggy and untested. And gamers, as a whole, are not stupid. I point to the brutally obvious example of Star Wars Galaxies to illustrate this point. Even developers of that game have come forward to admit mistakes were made on an epic scale. There are numerous blogs and news articles detailing why that game failed so miserably. Their words, apparently, have fallen on deaf ears.
It’s been a month since Star Trek: Online has launched. Of course, there were a few technical problems at launch, but far less problems than I’ve ever seen in an MMO to date. Even the 600-pound gorilla in the room, World of Warcraft, experienced massive problems at launch. It is an expected growth hurdle, and Star Trek Online weathered it well. No longer are people being stuck forever in login queues. Character avatars are not falling through the terrain and running in space. Bridge officers no longer decide to leave you alone on a planet to face the enemy solo because they couldn’t be bothered to leave the ship’s bar (I don’t know if there IS a ship’s bar, but if I ran a ship, there sure as hell would be).
The space game is pretty. No, it’s gorgeous. It’s the best space experience I’ve seen yet. Better than EVE Online and SWG: Jump to Lightspeed by far. It would be nice to have a screensaver of just your ship flying around at warp and through nebulae and by big cloudy planets. I can’t get over how much I like the space game. It’s a whole lot of fun, and probably worth the initial purchase.
However, simply weathering technical problems and looking good does not make a game shine. Content is king, and World of Warcraft had plenty. There were 60 levels content to explore and numerous 5-man raid areas, lots of different character choices and areas to see, and a wealth of eye candy. Star Trek Online has.. well, a bunch of ships and characters that all kind of look alike. It’s space, so there’s a limit as to how much cool stuff you can see in space. And the ground missions are just tedious. In fact, most players don’t drop a single skill point into ground abilities since most of the game is in space (maybe 60% if I were to guess).
Now, I’m a Trekkie. (If you just corrected me in your mind and said “Trekker”, you are a much bigger nerd than you need to be, and should probably re-examine your life.) I like the Trek. I can forgive a lot just to play in the Star Trek world. Judging by the amount of subscribers and how busy the endgame areas are, so can a lot of players.
But the endgame for this game really IS the end of the game. I’m at 45, the max level (halfway through Rear Admiral). I tried to stretch it out and make the middle levels go by slowly, but I ran out of missions. I explored every single system I could, leaving no stone unturned and no green alien chick unmolested. Some of the missions were fun and iconic, don’t get me wrong. If they weren’t I wouldn’t have bothered to keep playing. But now there’s nothing to do but run a daily random mission over and over, building up points to buy gear that I don’t really want because the blue (or “rare”) gear is barely different from the purple (or “very rare”) gear. So all of us die-hard Trekkie gamers must sit calmly and anxiously await new content. To use a sports metaphor, I will call all of this, this lack of content and assy ground game, “Strike One”.
So here comes the first “Special Task Force” content (read: 5-man raid), titled “The Infected”. This is supposed to be the first of a 4 part thing. Ok, we’re all excited. We get to fight Borg in a new storyline. I loved First Contact, and I think the Borg make good enemies. So here we go.
I lucked out and found a good group of experienced players that were all on Ventrillo (voice chat) so we could coordinate effectively. For once, my problem with an online game was NOT the other players. Far from it; in fact, I “friended” them all afterward. The problem, and when I say “problem” I mean “PROOOOOOOOOOOBBBBBBLEM”, was the mission itself.
The first part is fine. It was tougher than most space missions, and I welcomed the challenge. We died often, but since there’s currently no death penalty it was ok. It was a lot of fun fighting off the Borg ships. When they institute a penalty for dying, this will be a whole other matter.
The second is where everything fell apart. It was a ground mission. The enemies were tough, and if you’ll excuse the WoW lingo, there were a LOT of trash mobs (worthless guard enemies that serve no purpose than to be filler between you and boss fights) to fight, and they were quite difficult for trash mobs. But that isn’t the problem.
The problem is the boss room. You have 4 minutes to complete the first part of the room, where you must deactivate 4 shield generators and upload a computer virus to take down a shield protecting the boss. To deactivate each shield generator, you must have 3 players each enter a sequence (hit a button and wait a couple seconds for it to finish) at the same time while not taking damage. Also, you have to jump around on platforms to get to each shield generator, located in 4 corners of the room. Also, there’s plasma on the floor that will kill you instantly. Also, there are Borg shooting at you all over the place that tend to respawn instantly. Also, they hit you with DoTs (Damage over Time). Also, you can accidentally push other characters off into the plasma. Also, the boss is stupid hard (I’m told) and can one-shot-kill a player and has sick DoT damage. Also, if any players die for any reason, they respawn outside the room behind a shield and cannot enter until everyone else is dead, and the room restarts. Also, the rewards suck.
So I reiterate for you here what I stated on the forums in hopes that the developers may listen.
1) MMOs are not platformers. Some people experience a whole second of lag between the time the jump button is pressed and your character actually jumps.
2) Characters can (and do) easily knock each other off into the plasma by accident.
3) The sequences must be entered at almost exactly the same time, which makes playing without a voice chat option effectively impossible.
4) The sequences must be entered at the almost exactly the same time, but the borg shoot DoTs at you, delaying what little time you have to do this in.
5) It’s been reported that the end boss is exceptionally tough (a one-shotter), and if the boss wipes the party, the party must suffer the shield generator gulag again.
6) 4 minutes is BARELY enough time to overcome all these other obstacles.
7) Uploading the virus does no good until the generators are down, so why have the option to do so before then?
8) The rewards vs. the time invested to beat it are simply not worth it. There’s little effective difference between blue and purple loot as is.
I have played and ran numerous raids in other games and I expect some learning curve when dealing with each boss room. However, there’s isn’t a “trick” or a “sequence” to learn here. It’s just a gulag; a killing field. And worse, an unbalanced timesink.
This content was rushed, as was the game. I understand that it is Cryptic’s intention to bring us the best MMO experience possible and to do right by the IP (intellectual property), and I’m sure a lot of them are die hard gamers and trek fans as well. But really, there’s no excuse for this. They needed to hit this one out of the park, but missed the ball.
As I am a Trekkie and a gamer and I really WANT this game to succeed, I will not cancel my subscription as many others have done (to the point that the forum moderators have had to lock many “I quit” threads). I will, however, continue the sports metaphor and simply say, “Strike Two”. I am not hopeful there will not be a “Strike Three”.
Barry Robb is a freelanceweb designer and webmaster/producer/co-co-host of a certain pop culture webshow. He was a Ferengi at Star Trek: The Experience for 5 years and a leader of a few MMO guilds, and is currently playing Star Trek Online (for now). He wishes he were a pirate instead.