Star Trek MMO Log, Stardate 2010.02

Welcome to the first weekly instalment of the Star Trek Online MMO Log, a four-part weekly series, leading up to our review. In this first instalment, I take my first steps, and lose a great deal of sleep.

Star Trek Online is the first MMO title to be a part of Kotaku's new MMO review process. Our standard reviews require that we complete the game we are playing. That doesn't work with an MMO title. Instead, we'll be posting new updates every week for four weeks, logging our play time and letting our readers follow us through the experience. After four weeks we review the game based on our experiences.

Got it? Good. Let's begin.

Friday, January 29, 1pm Eastern

The early start program for Star Trek Online goes live, and so do I, becoming one of the first new starship captains inhabiting this new universe. My first task it to create a character. There are several classic Star Trek races to choose from when creating a Federation character, from the empathic Betazed to the blue-skinned Andorians, but I opt to create a custom alien, testing out Cryptic's character creation system.

And this is what I came up with. Having been programmed by years of the television show to expect humanoid aliens to have strange foreheads and nose ridges, I couldn't help myself. After a little fine-tuning I wound up with Mr Qix Qbert, a joke name I chose as a placeholder, only to find I didn't have the ability to change my name after the fact. When I try, I am told I have to purchase the ability to change my name from Cryptic's C-Store in-game, and the ability isn't up for sale. Oh well, Qix isn't too bad.

Before I get command of my own vessel, I have to go through a multi-part tutorial mission. Having gone through the mission multiple times during beta, I opt to take a little break.

Friday, January 29, 6pm

My work for the day is done, so I slip back online to take Qix through the tutorial. Set against the backdrop of a conflict between the Federation and the Borg, I learn how to interact with objects in my environment, target and fire upon my enemies, and most importantly, I learn how to roll. Does the rolling help? I can't really tell from a combat standpoint, but the immersion factor is immediately through the roof.

After my run-in with the Borg is completed, I am beamed back aboard my ship. With the captain and much of the crew conveniently killed during the battle, I am suddenly the highest ranking officer on the ship, and the only one fit for command. Starfleet must really be hurting for people if I am the only one fit for command.

This portion of the tutorial features a little combat, but starships aren't just about fighting. First I have to beam the crew off of several damaged vessels, transferring them to a transport. Then I get a little stationary target practice on some inactive Borg drones. Eventually I find myself a part of the fleet, taking on a fully-functional Borg vessel. Thanks to the efforts of some powerful AI companions, the fully functional bits are soon so much space debris, and I'm told I need to report to the Admiral at Earth Spacedock for debriefing.

The Admiral explains that yes, Starfleet is indeed hurting for people, and my little Ensign is now a Lieutenant, ready to take command of his first ship.

I'm so proud. I also need to be at Starbucks.

Friday, January 29, 9pm

My girlfriend works at a Starbucks on the other side of town, so I grab what passes for my gaming laptop and head out that way. Once there I take advantage of the free Wi-Fi, pulling out my trackball and wireless headset, establishing myself as the biggest geek in the store. If only they could see my screen.

My first ship is a Miranda class, which makes sense, considering the vessel has been used throughout the TV shows and movies as everything from science vehicle to patrol vessel to escort. With such varied function, it's the perfect ship for players who've yet to find their role in the Star Trek Online universe.

I give mine yellow and pink detailing, and the USS Kotaku is born. The Kotaku has two forward weapons; one rear weapon; and one station each for engineering, tactical and science officers. Assigning officers to stations allows me to access special powers during combat. For instance, assigning my sole officer, an engineer, to the engineering station, gives me the ability to recharge the forward shields during space combat.

Officers also have special abilities during away team missions, when you leave the safety of your giant warship to go traipsing about on star bases and the surface of dangerous alien planets. Tactical officers generally receive combat-oriented skills, with science officers offering buffs and healing and engineers close to useless without Jefferies tubes nearby.

With my ship situated, I take on my first mission, patrolling the Vulcan sector of space. travelling in Star Trek Online takes place on a galactic map, split into sectors. I suppose this simulates warp travel, which is generally uneventful. Once you drop from warp into one of the countless systems dotting the map, the real action begins.

Let's look at your standard patrol mission. You're tasked with dropping in on four or five systems, at which point you are given a task. In one system you might be completely confined to your ship, travelling around a planet's orbit, taking out Orion smugglers. Kill a set number, and you're on to the next system.

In other instances, you beam down onto a planet or into a space station, at which point your objective either involves combat or problem solving. Combat is relatively easy at first. Once you attack, so does your crew, healing you and repairing your personal shields as they drop. Later in the game it takes a bit more strategy, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Once again, it isn't all about combat. During my first patrol I am tasked with beaming down to the surface of a mining planet, where I have to hear the miners' grievances. Afterwards the head of the miners quizzes me on what the NPC characters have told me, to ensure I was capable of bringing their grievances before the Federation Council. It is a silly, simple little mission, no more than running back and forth hitting the interaction button, but it's definitely Star Trek.

Soon it's 11.30pm, and time for Starbucks to close. I pack things up, wait for my girlfriend to get off work, and head home. I play for another 20 minutes or so before the urge to sleep overpowers the urge to play.

Saturday, January 30, 2pm

I wake up extremely late today, slipping into the computer room to get a few more hours of gameplay time in before Saturday evening festivities begin.

I try my hand at a large-scale battle, travelling to Starbase 24, where an ongoing conflict with the Klingon wages constantly. Players fight in large groups, taking on hordes of ships, with a set number required to move on to the next stage of the conflict. It's much like the public quests in Warhammer Online or Cryptic's own Champions Online. Once the ships have been defeated, I'm given a chance to warp to the Starbase itself, taking the fight to the Klingons invading the station.

While I generally prefer the starship battles in Star Trek Online to the on-foot bits, in this situation I found my preference reversed. The large-scale of the space battles makes it far too easy for the player to find his or herself alone against a fleet of enemy ships. Perhaps it's better when you group up, but I don't know where these people have been.

Retreating from the fray to patrol a few more sectors, I log off for the day.

Sunday, January 31, noon

Today I am filled with a strong sense of purpose! I am now a Lieutenant 5, the lowest of five ranks in Star Trek Online. It goes Lieutenant - Lieutenant Commander - Commander - Captain - Admiral, each rank consisting of 11 levels. Each rank also qualifies for an upgraded ship, and the USS Kotaku is getting a bit too cramped for my style. With launch two days away, I decide that I shall be a Lieutenant Commander before Tuesday morning, or die trying.

After playing for 20 minutes, the servers go down. Drat. I decide to check out Global Agenda, another MMO that went live last Friday. Its servers are also down. I get a lot of reading done.

Sunday, January 31, 11pm

I awake after a post-dinner nap to find the servers back online, and I immediately jump back into patrol duty, which players in the main chat channel keep assuring everyone who asks is the fastest way to level.

During my journeys this evening I receive a distress call from a nearby system. The mission that it leads me to is ultimately forgettable, but I received a distress call! That's how a good 30 per cent of Star Trek episodes start!

I also take some time to explore crafting, or what crafting there is in Star Trek Online. As you travel in the game, you come across anomalies, both in space and on foot. Scanning them earns you materials, which you can trade in certain combinations for rare equipment at Memory Alpha, a base in the Alpha Centuri sector of space. It's not exactly crafting, but it scratches my itch slightly.

With my immersion levels through the roof, I continue fighting, exploring, and by the time I am ready for bed I am at Lieutenant 9. And it's 6am, with three hours to go before work. Today is going to hurt.

Tuesday, February 1, 1.30am

After my work day is done I take a nap on the couch in front of the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica spinoff Caprica, only to wake up around 1am with terrible heartburn. Pepperoni and service station doughnuts do not mix. Lesson learned and heart burned, I decide to see if I can reach my goal within the time allotted.

Things are slow going, however. While early space combat encounters were easily surmountable by simply flying within weapons range and firing your torpedoes and disrupters while the enemy came straight for you, as I level the enemy ships are getting smarter, using tricks, and manoeuvring to conserve their shields. It's not hard to adjust to; it simply takes more time.

The same goes for ground combat. After seven or so levels of easy encounters, the enemies are beginning to wise to my tactics. I find myself using team commands more, ordering my crew to consolidate fire on a single target rather than letting them make their own decisions. For the most part, the away team are morons, getting trapped behind walls as I navigate station corridors, causing me to have to sit and wait while they catch up. They are dumb as bricks, but they are my bricks, and I am becoming attached.

At 5am Eastern time, Cryptic announces that the severs will be going down at 6am for a patch. At 5.20am, I reach the rank of Lieutenant Commander. The ceremony was lovely.

After graduating to the next rank, I head up to ship requisitions to choose my next ride. My choices consist of a Science Vessel, a large Cruiser, or a sleek, dangerous Escort ship. I go with Escort, heading down to the customisation vendor to craft a bizarre, pink and yellow-trimmed amalgam of the Saber, Rapier and Ushaan class vessels. Then I take it for a spin, and explode. The feeling of accomplishment is tremendous.

The Game So Far

After four or so days of playing Star Trek Online, I am both intrigued by the game's promise, and worried about the repetition I'm seeing at such an early stage. Missions requiring me to fly around a planet, shooting X number of enemy squadrons have been plentiful, while those that involve diplomacy and deduction are few and far between. Away team missions either feel me with joy or dread, depending on how many team members are given me. If a fully party is required, it means repetitive ground combat against countless hordes of Klingons, Gorn, or Orions. If it's just me and one other crewmate, that means I'll be mediating a dispute, or perhaps solving some sort of mystery. I live for the latter, while the latter quickly grow stale. Still, with enemies becoming more intelligent as I gain more experience, there is definitely promise here.

Technically the game has been semi-solid. I've had a few disconnects, and experienced a bit of server downtime, but nothing far from normal for a major MMO launch. Unfortunately, that could be about to change.

As of this morning, the game has opened up to the masses, officially going live. I logged on long enough to see that lag was taking its toll on the servers, an issue that Cryptic should be ironing out over the coming days, and to set up the next phase of my Star Trek Online experience, seeing how things work from the more player-versus-player, Klingon side of the game.

Next week, it's the revenge of the Orion slave girl.


    I live for the latter, while the latter quickly grow stale.

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