Critique

A 1-post collection

One Old Fart's Opinion: Star Trek the MMORPG

Well, since I can write and I don’t know how to do or teach, I’ll try turning my hand to critique.

Today’s subject: something I got online for free.

I usually say that anything you get for free is worth exactly what you paid for it, but since my budget for this thing is exactly zero dollars, I should probably shut that attitude right up.

Starter issues - it took me twenty minutes to figure out how to sign up and log in. Not helped by the multiple windows/tabs opened in the process. It’s easy for the inexpert to get lost. Since the core demographic is star trek fans, it’s safe to assume that they know a little bit about computers. To that assumption, I have to say this: my mum.

My mum was a Trek fan since the days of the velour shirts and gogo boots. My mum is also an incredible luddite/technophobe who panics at every pop-up window and can’t even install a virus. I shit you not.

Never assume, folks.

Character issues: apparently, you can’t make up your very own strange alien right out of the box. I tried for half an hour to create my own fantastic beast and repeatedly got booted off every single time at the final hurdle.

This has to be a “feature”, because the instant I picked a pre-fab critter - I was in.

To be completely fair, it’s probably designed to stop ten bajillion special little snowflakes running around the virtual worlds. My cynical self reckons you have to pay for extra services to attain special snowflake status.

And speaking of: Free to Play, But…

I’m well used to this in FtP games. Free to Play, but we’re going to bombard you with adverts for things you can’t possibly afford. Free to Play, but we’re going to shill all our other studio games every ten minutes. Free to Play, but if you want extra content, you’re going to have to fork over the dough. Free to Play, but the second the demo/tute’s over, we’re going to demand your credit card.

Star Trek Online is free to play - one character from the pick-and-mix box. And if you dare touch one of the “Advanced” option tags, be certain that you’re going to get booted before your toon becomes a reality. Extra character slots cost. Special snowflakes are even more.

Species issues: Changelings and Hortas are non-playable races. You can only do humanoids. No, you can’t even play one of the “hundred” [and you’re free to assume the Foundress was lying about everything she told Odo in that one episode] and have a special training zone where you can upskill shapeshifting.

I was quite grumpy about that.

I like Hortas and Changelings. They need representation.

Admittedly, it’s more work for the poor programmers - with little reward. There’s no ROI for making nonhumanoid aliens. One Noob-tube type shapeshifting option is the special ability “thin coating”. Form an undetectable surface on random object of the player’s choice. It could even have a plausible cheap animation loop.

And the shapeshifter’s fatigue debuff could also prove interesting to gameplay.

But enough about that. Onto gameplay.

The HUD [Head’s-Up Display] is nice and readable, at the cost of having about 50% of the screen for gameplay at any given time. Less if someone is talking to you. The programmers managed to nicely introduce the MMO standards of WASD to move, mouse to orient yourself during the on-ship training/tutorial.

Then they had to fuck it up in the space flight sections.

Suddenly and without warning, WASD controls pitch, yaw and whether you’re going left and right. The mouse is almost completely useless and can’t be used to steer at all. Sure, you can look around and target things, but that’s useless if you end up doing a nose dive every time you forget that it’s E for accelerator. And I forgot a lot.

My standard attack pattern dumbass consisted of carefully aiming myself at a cluster of enemy ships and spamming the attack buttons until the next mission window completely obscured all vision on my miniscule screen. If this happens in the middle of combat, the game doesn’t obligingly pause for you, no. You have to smite that enemy mob and any others you may have agg’d in the process. And there’s no easy way to get that mission window back after the picoseconds between popup and autodismiss because you’re desperately spamming the attack options.

Another twenty minutes were lost to me being lost and getting that all-important mission window up. Because there’s no other way to warp between areas.

I can only hope that changes once I’m out of the noob zone.

The switch between flight controls and walking controls is jarring and non-intuitive. And it also falls prey to muscle-memory-induced failures when the player instinctively reaches for exactly the wrong keys. It’s a steep learning curve and the whole interface needs to be improved. Even a simple right-left mouse button interface would be better than the WASD confusion currently in the game. Right mouse button to pan and scan, left to steer. WASD remains the same on the ground or in the cold, hard vacuum of space.

If a noob like me can think it up, why didn’t the dev team?

All that said: I’m enough of a nerd to keep going back to see if it gets better. Your mileage may vary. And hey, it’s free. At the end of the day, all you’ve lost is your time. And possibly some of your stomach lining to ulcers.