I did not know Clint would be talking about MMO free trials when I planned this week’s article, but it is interesting to follow it because I did buy into an MMO after a short trial. That game? Star Trek Online.
First, a little background. I play Lord of the Rings Online. I’m sure that comes as a shock to some of you considering my reviews of the animated “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Return of the King.” While being able to play in Middle-Earth attracted me to the Open Beta of the game, Turbine has (for the most part) kept me a dedicated player since that time. With a mix of gorgeous landscapes, an epic storyline that follows just behind the fellowship, and a pretty friendly community (at lease on my server — Elendilmir represent!), I always come back to LOTRO, progress my stable of characters, get reacquainted with the members of my kin (the LOTRO term for guild) and just enjoy exploring new sections of Middle-Earth as they become available.
But right before LOTRO went live, I was also on City of Heroes. I mention this because it was developed by Cryptic. They eventually sold CoX (as Clint calls it), but a lot of the things that left me dissatisfied with that game are present in Star Trek Online. But let’s get back to that story …
The buy-in was 20 bucks for the privilege of the game client and a gratis month subscription. I was intrigued enough by the trial and decided to continue the career of my custom alien, Evert.
One nice thing right off the bat is the choice of costumes. Though I received the Movie style uniforms for free, original series, DS9, and other uniform packs are available for an extra fee. While paying for it is kind of rank, the presence of the costume options is nice. Evert was initially an ensign on the U.S.S. Prickle, when the command staff was suddenly killed in a Borg attack, he took command. This is the story of the tutorial area when one learns to shoot, dodge, and command the ship when in battle. There’s plenty to learn following that, but the key stuff is all covered before being promoted to lieutenant and being allowed out into space.
STO has a certain amount of diplomacy missions, straight up fights with enemies of the Federation, and a top-level “exploration” concept that tends to drop you into one of the mission categories. While all MMOs have a sameness to them, I found the STO missions to be particular samey. It’s not helped by a limited number of environments:
Though true to Star Trek’s often limited budget for alien worlds, an online game should not be similarly hampered. Back in C0X, I found it frustrating to go on mission after mission in abandoned warehouses, torn up office blocks, and dank caves. The worlds I’ve encountered in STO tend to have that same uninspiring scope. Why try to discover worlds if they look like this? Or worse, this:
Compare these to this non-mission vista of Lake Evendim in LOTRO:
The ship-to-ship combat is also slow because one must be constantly steering the ship to maintain shield power and utilize all weapon banks (fore and aft). After nearly forty Klingon Birds of Prey, I can tell you there’s little excitement to it. It really this middling pace that makes me less interested in the game and eventually saw me leave CoX alltogether.
If I’m paying a monthly subscription fee, I need to be rewarded often and in a satisfying way; a story reason, a level up, good gear, a nice some of gold, or a region becoming available to me are all great rewards. STO’s rewards tend to be esoteric. Instead of gold, there are two monetary systems: energy credits and latinum. They tend to be difficult to get and the more interesting gear is outside of my price range. Completing a mission generally give use a quick list of rewards that literally flies off the screen before you can see what you’ve accomplished. The reward gear has no real weight to it because it is generally components for the ship.
And, like CoX, leveling up seems to take forever and more of a relief when it happens than another carrot to keep you going. Only in STO, the leveling feels more arcane because Starfleet rank is attached to each group of ten. Once I hit level ten, I can become a Lt. Commander and so on. I have to say though, it’s kind of silly to find yourself an Admiral and still doing the sorts of tasks the game asked of you when you were an Engisn.
Granted, LOTRO had these sorts of problems as well when the game expanded into Moria. Being the Dwarven realm, environments tended to look like this:
Also, the Mines of Moria expansion tended to focus on high-end raid gear and tough instances that rewarded the hard-core player, but left the casual player in the dust. The leveling seems to grind to a halt and the sense of accomplishment dwindled. Now that the game is on the other side of the Misty Mountains, the landscape, goals, and feel of the game has broadened again. That variety is also a key aspect in keeping me involved an MMO. It’s a level of variety I’m not finding in STO.
With only a few days left on my month in the Federation, I appeased Justin’s request to see Deep Space Nine. To him, being able to visit that station was the most interesting notion in the game. You’ll notice in the DS9 Interior and this shot of the Prickle Bridge a certain sparseness. I found, much like actual space, STO to be a largely solitary experience. While I enjoy questing by myself in Middle-Earth, I also enjoy getting together with others and taking on some of the tougher group quests and instances. In STO, it seems you are automatically group with other people on certain missions without an incentive to communicate. It makes some of the larger space battle more baffling as I’ve literally warped into a conflict area only to be greeted with “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!”
It’s really the variety of play, environment, and people that keeps me coming back to an MMO. Of the three I’ve played with any consistency, only LOTRO keeps me invested. Only there have I been part of an on-going group. Only there do I feel I’m constantly reward for the time I put in. And this is the key, while STO and CoX have fans who enjoy the features of those titles, it’s the investment cost versus a sense of accomplishment that leaves me cold.
But, as it happens, I forgot to cancel my STO subscription before the month ran out. I now have sixty days. Will I get to Lt. Commander and get a new ship? Or will I just continue in Middle-Earth with the path to the Enedwaith recently opened and the Grey Company needing my help as the march to Rohan begings? I imagine I’ll report on one or both next month.
… and the adventure continues …