I’ve been trying to get back into Star Trek Online. I haven’t played for three years, exactly three years. Every few months, I download the latest version and never play it. Well a few days ago, I was determined to play it. Then I remember why I couldn’t get back into the game. Its confusing to just be dumped back into a game with complex controls. Oddly enough, there’s 360 controller support, if you set all the buttons yourself. Well there are a hundred things you need hot keys for. Not just for one control scheme, but for three control schemes, over the shoulder shooting, role playing and piloting your star ship.
Unable to get back into the game, I decided to restart my level 20 commander back to a lowly level 1 cadet. Restarting reminded me just how much I don’t like the MMO style in general. Not just having 100 useless keys that you need to remember when a controller would suffice, but first making your character. Right off the bat, no gameplay or acclamation, here make yourself before we let you play. Details so deep you can get lost in them for as long as you want. Alien races, three classes and your look. Well I don’t care. Even if the perks are nice, I just want to get into a game and play it.
To kickoff the real game, that involved walking and talking amongst some wooden characters that would become my loyal crew. Some of the voice acting is pretty bad, “Go to the. Bridge. We will secure. This. Area.” The dialog scenes reminded me of why I can’t go back to Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The characters are just so stiff and you’re zoomed up to their face and shoulders. They’re not talking to you so much as talking to the camera. For the most part you have no say, but occasionally there is a choice. Without Star Trek Online telling me things like +10 respect gained with crewman Daniels, I don’t think that the choices in flat dialog matter. On missions they seem to matter more. Do you stay and collect data while all of the jocks go fight the Borg or do you go with them to fight the Borg?
I didn’t remember the first mission at all, and I thought they had changed it around to be Klingon target practice. This was awful having to double click to shoot an enemy. Its just so dull and sterile. I’d much rather have a controller with a trigger to shoot. After the first battle, I had to rearrange my keys to be more efficient for a human.
Then it was off to give a speech where chose to act humble before complimenting my crew. What did my choice of speeches do? I have no idea. Maybe if I insulted them, they’d be cowardly, fearing my wrath rather than the happy crew that I got. Afterward I got to talk with them each, but their dialog appeared in thought bubbles and not Oblivion style looking at their face. It seems inconsistent if not a missed opportunity. I can understand thought bubbles to get your attention or in the heat of battle, but not talking with someone.
Back at the academy, my tactical officer mentioned seeing whales in San Francisco Bay, but in my previous 60 hours, I wasn’t able to spot them. Later on she mentioned last one to the console buys the first round of drinks. I really feel like that should be followed up on at least to boost morale and have a sense of life in what feels like a pretty lifeless game. Its full of bodies, but they’re all doing nothing. When I told her to call me Sir it was a joke to her or maybe I’m just bad at understanding her raspy tone of voice.
On the bridge, there are a lot of glaring issues. Having high bloom made the entire port of the bridge blindingly shimmer. I had to turn it down to low bloom. Running into a wall only froze my animation instead of putting my character at a stand still. Running with a rifle clips my character’s arm through the rifle. The rifle would disappear several times from my back and my hands. Trying to sit on a seat meant my character would stand on the chair, then sit. Pop in textures and objects are still an issue 5 years into the game. Eyes would spawn in before the face of characters. It was only a split second, but it was noticeable.
This crew is far too friendly and knowledgeable. I started questioning why I was the first mate. The vice captain. The number one. Oh and the captain didn’t forget that I was number one. Number one. Number one. I guess it makes sense, because the captain can’t address your own unique name, but did he really have to say number one time and time again?
It was funny having to make choices as a silent protagonist. My crew would ask me things, fully voiced with the camera actually facing my character and I’d have to say “fire.” Without a voice, it still says fire in text. Its just a silly overlooked detail. I know its my character, but I’d rather pick a voice and hear my character interacting with the crew instead of silently selecting choices. There could have been a lot more drama.
Well how much drama could there be when every character is just so stiff? I understand when Vulcans are emotionally repressed, and the Federation has protocol that has regulation and regimen, but there was no personality in the voice acting. That is until my captain died. That could have been a big moment, it had its own cut scene, but the crew didn’t seem to care that much after a paragraph of dialog. Then they were back to their happy selves. It should be a somber moment, but maybe that’s what my speech instilled in them its okay that we’re on our own in our first official mission. I wonder why I became the captain as a cadet when the first person aboard my ship was a Lieutenant. Of course maybe that’s a different department. I don’t think the head chef should become the CEO when Donald Trump dies. I do know that a Lieutenant outranks a cadet or ensign.
With our captain out of the way and the Klingons destroyed, we were free to do what I wanted. Heck even a Vulcan captain from the Federation came in to help, but with him being a superior officer, he didn’t tell me what to do, he gave me a choice. I chose to follow his order, even though I know it was the game’s way of letting me do as I pleased. I respect rang especially since this character just graduated the academy the previous day.
I think it was onto the second mission where a colony was being attacked by the Borg. Yep second mission in, level 2 already fighting the Borg. Not just fighting them, but destroying them. Me being a rookie captain and all. We went to the colony on the ground and the Borg seemed content to return fire with my group. I’d think the Borg would just put their personal shields up and continue to not care about us until we had proven ourselves a threat. Not these. They already had the planet well under way to being assimilated with nanites or nano probes or something. By that logic if the nanites can almost instantly convert the planet, they can convert my crew on the planet. Who cares? Its just a game.
We murdered some Borg, while I used myself as a human shield to protect my crew. Their weapons were laughably ineffective. I guess because its just the third mission. I let my crew slaughter the Borg as I did combat rolls. My tactical officer, who I assume is now my first mate would throw a grenade at a single Borg when she could easily just shoot them in less time. Getting a tactical advantage over an enemy means just shooting them in the back. The ground troop intelligence is really dumb and stodgy, they won’t take cover or try to hide. Instead they just keep doing what they’re doing. They’re sadly mindless.
After that, it was up to the star ship to space fight the Borg. Then we were suddenly outnumbered half a dozen to one. It was pretty funny how they just spawned on top of my ship. They tore my ship apart, but only because I had power devoted to weapons and not shields. With those ships destroyed, our allies arrived with more Borg ships. That battle was followed by a cube. Yes a giant cube, the most dreaded space ship from the Next Generation was a weak space boss. Even in a four on one fight, I still feel like the cube should win. It was pathetic how quickly that poor cube went down. I know its again the third mission, but it felt like a cube should have been spared for a higher level. If an invasion force is coming why send your weakest cube that a few Federation ships lead by a cadet can take out. Of course Kratos from God of War took out a giant gold titan as the first boss of his second console game.
Several characters mentioned the Janeway tactics to defeat the Borg ships, but in the game, they were never learned them. Why not mention how someone in the Next Generation came up with phaser frequency modulation? Fighting the Borg as the second and third missions in just didn’t have enough setup and it felt squandered. Perhaps developers wanted to get plenty of things out there quickly for people that didn’t want to fight Klingons exclusively.
Its not the Borg I’m ashamed of, its the developers. I didn’t feel special for destroying the cube, I felt bad for it. The thing was so outmatched, that we could have taken them prisoner, taken their technology or something. Disabled their weapons and kept them as pets. Maybe that’s cruel, but hey its a role playing game, I want choices. Perhaps if I wanted a challenge, I could crank up the difficulty level.
The two hours I spent in the game grew on me, despite what I feel are awful controls and wooden mannequins. The first two missions were easy enough to get my feet wet and I feel like continuing on my level 20 commander.