Space, the Final Frontier. Hands on with STO.

Captain’s Log, Stardate 9842.1:

I was alerted at 12.00 hours by a Starfleet request that we investigate an anomaly on a planet in a nearby system. A system claimed by the Klingon Empire …

I was able to sneak a few minutes with the Star Trek Online demo at the Eurogamer Expo last week. It wasn’t really long enough to get a good feel for the game, but the demo let you fly your ship around in space, get into a dogfight with some Klingon birds of prey, and wound up with a firefight on a planet that looked suspiciously like an old quarry.

The game looked very slick on the souped up demo PCs, and all the visual clues … from the interior of the ship, to the facial shot of your comms officer relaying messages from Starfleet, to the gloriously over the top beauty of space, to the uniforms worn by the away team down on the planet surface … all of it screams Trek. The demo felt like a Star Trek episode (albeit rather a shooty one), the ship felt like a Star Trek ship, and so on.

Initially, you’re on the bridge of your ship. You can call up other stations on board to get reports from your officers, or to buy/ sell stuff at the replicator.

I did enjoy the brief burst of ship to ship combat. If only because all that time I spend playing Sid Meier’s pirates finally came good. It does feel slower paced than a typical MMO fight, and more dependent on positioning of your ship relative to the other ships.

There are shields which you can power in different directions. Your lasers have different arcs of fire. The idea is to avoid taking an undefended broadside, with the result that ships end up trying to circle each other. Or you could do what I did and spin on your axis wildly with one finger on the space key which signifies “fire all lasers” and trust the automatic targetting to do its thing. Although the lasers do lock on, you will still need to manoeuvre your ship, and from the short time I had with the space combat, I’d be keen to see more.

Planetside, the combat plays out in a more standard MMO style, although it felt very fast paced. Imagine a shooter which had tab targetting. I haven’t played Champions Online but I’ve heard that described in a similar way.

As I said, my experience with the game was very brief and I don’t have any idea what the MMO aspects are like. But I did like what I saw, I think that ship to ship combat looks good fun and I got a good Trek vibe from the game. Here’s another view from Eurogamer, about the same demo.

And one thing they have got very right is the Star Trek feel. If you are the sort of person who grins when you pull up the replicator window and sees that the first thing on the list is “Tea, Earl Grey, Hot” then maybe, just maybe, this one will be for you.

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9 thoughts on “Space, the Final Frontier. Hands on with STO.

  1. Ah, I loved Pirates. Ship combat was slow…ish, but it *felt right* as a nautical engagement in game form.

    Thanks for the link! I’m looking forward to this one.

  2. If there will ever be an MMO which can lure me away from WoW it will be Star Trek. I’m a fan since many years… Altough if I’m really honest with myself I don’t think I would ever fit into that world. Vehicle fights, 3 d-fights… it’s never been my strong side in WoW, to put it kindly.

  3. I feel bad because I know this isn’t a very useful first impressions post, but I was asked what I thought of it.

    And basically what I thought was that I’d like to play it some more to make up my mind, but I really liked the feel of the space battles and it did feel like Trek.

    I think, Larisa, when you’re thinking about trying a game that sounds a bit different from what you’re used to, it might be worth waiting for whatever free trial they eventually decide to offer. Because you need to really try it out to see if it’s something you’d enjoy or not.

  4. Your description of the space combat reminds me of Star Fleet Command III (SFC3). You can easily google some info about it if you want.

    The strength of its combat was that it is very simple at heart, yet still has quite some depth. Getting engaged in the close dogfight and turning wildly, while hitting not very hard or very much, is what most players do initially. But there are weapon arcs, turning rates, and all that. Federation ships usually have little focused fire power but some extra 360° lasers, while Klingons usually have mostly forward aimed disruptor cannons and supreme maneuverability.

    And it is not rocket science, as I mentioned – it is easy to control and to learn, but has surprising depth -> they would have done a smart thing if they adopted the combat system of this quite successful and popular Star Trek game series.

    Awww… I would so like to work for the Tal’Shiar again… :)

    http://www.gamershell.com/pc/starfleet_command_3/screenshots.html

    Some SFC3 screenshots – they somewhat reveal the combat mechanics/UI, maybe you find something familiar to this in STO.

    My main gripe is that I fear this game might become a wonderful, wonderful game with next to no content and an item shop. TBH I do not have much faith in Cryptic.

  5. I was at the expo on Saturday and had a long and involved conversation with a one of the Cryptic STO Reps. I came away impressed with the depth of thought that had gone into the back-end system (yay for simultaneous the planned world-wide releases, international games servers and all players on one server cluster) and transition between Ship-to-Ship and Away Team gameplay.

    My chief concern was whether the game had enough depth to hold anyone’s interest for longer than the trial period, but it was very difficult to draw many conclusions from the short demo. There’s a heck of a lot potential for some really cool features in the game, it’ll be interesting to see what the finished product looks like.

  6. Any word on how the 3rd Dimension is implemented here? Some space games treat it as a first class citizen and end up stumbling with a hard to manage interface; others, like the above mentioned SFC, blow it off entirely; many end up with what some call “2.5D”, that is, one of the dimensions isn’t as important as the other two (this often seems to work best in practice).

  7. Wotcha everyone,

    If I remember rightly, the main reason that Star Fleet Command 3 used two dimensions was that it was based heavily on a boardgame/wargame of Star Fleet actions. with three dimensions being hard to replicate on a tabletop with miniatures, it was largely two dimensional.
    I really enjoyed playing it; if Star Trek Online is half as good, it will be a great aspect to the game.

    Cheers,
    Hawley.

  8. Sounds very positive and makes me just that little bit more excited about the game. And yes, I am that guy who responds to people at work with the phrase “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.” when they ask me what I want to drink. They hate me.

  9. Pingback: A holiday, a holiday, the first one of the year! Best of 2009. « Welcome to Spinksville!

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