As the 3rd Anniversary of Star Trek Online nears, I take a look back at the past three years and share with you my thoughts of a franchise that is possibly not boldly going anywhere, any more
“Acting Captains Log, Ensign D’Llhran tr’Laithtrha in command.
It has only been a few days since I have graduated from the Academy and already I find myself in command of a Starship. One of the old Miranda class vessels no less. Clunky little thing, but she got us through the Borg crisis just fine. This was not what I expected when I first signed on, but I cannot deny the excitement I felt while on board the U.S.S. Khitomer, defending the ship from the Borg Intruders, before taking the Ship to the Vega colony. I know I made the right choice in joining Starfleet. Great adventures lay ahead…”
It has been almost been 3 years now, since I joined Captains from all around the world and stepped onto the bridge of a Starship to boldly explore the far reaches of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. I remember my initial excitement, being a hardcore trekker, when I first saw my toon, running down the decks of the U.S.S. Khitomer, Phaser in hand, ready to defend the Federation against the Borg themselves. Reading the mission briefings, watching NPC’s crouched behind crates in corridors, clearing a path for me to get to my next goal, it felt like I was taking part in an epic Star Trek fight as seen on both the little and big screen. After helping defend the Khitomer from the Borg intruders, my excitement grew when I finally got to command my first Starship. With my clunky little Miranda class Vessel that I called my own, I sped off at full impulse to rescue stranded crew members from damaged ships, fought against Borg Spheres and set course for the Vega colony to help liberate the planet from Borg on the Surface with my first Bridge Officer, A Vulcan of all things.
Once these first set of missions where finished and I reported to Earth Space Dock (ESD), I was promoted to Lieutenant, officially given command of the vessel and told why this is so. The Gamer in me was chuffed as pie. Hardly 20 mins and already a Lt. The Trekker in me thought this was a bit odd, but I had to remind me this was an RPG and not some sort of Trek simulator. After redesigning my ship, I left Earth to boldly go where, apparently, everyone had been before. Only, I didn’t get very far. First I needed to save the S.S. Azura from an Orion attack, and then it was off to P’jem to help defeat the Klingons and discover that there was an Undine Plot in progress. Jump to maximum warp to save the U.S.S. Valor and defeat some Gorn. Next Stop was the Bomari System to actually scan something and… defeat the Klingons. By this time, I sensed a theme to the missions.
I soon released that as hyped I was about playing this game, having followed it for years prior, it was just another MMORPG. Gather this, kill that, deliver this, kill those. The Gamer in me was on autopilot. Clicking and collecting, looting and finding the next target, while the trekker in me was wondering what this had to do with the vision Gene Roddenberry had shared with us over 4 and a half decades ago. Every conflict ended in death and destruction, and while we were apparently meant to be in a war, it didn’t feel like it was something they would have done on the shows.
“Captains Log. D’Llhran tr’Laithtrha reporting.
Yet another conflict with the Klingons. The enemy is relentless and tiresome. The moral on the ship is at an all-time low. I overheard a few conversations from crew members thinking of resignation. I cannot say I blame them. I did not sign on to wage war, I signed onto explore the unknown, to seek out new life and civilizations, and yet we only encounter those known to us and it seems every power in the Quadrant has decided this would be a perfect time to attack the Federation. I am beginning to question our leaders. On a side note, We passed a planet that wasn’t there last week. The darn thing just appeared out of nowhere. The Science departments are over joyed, and I hope this will be a good distraction for the crew…”
In December 2010, there was hope for all Captains that basically were tired of just killing Klingons, repelling Cardassians and fighting members from the Mirror Universe. Cryptic introduced the Foundry to the community, even if somewhat later than planned. The foundry, a system Cryptic had been working on for the upcoming “Neverwinter Nights”, promised the prospect of User Generated Content (UGC), a tool to create your own missions and Stories, allowing your Captains to finally scan more plants, meet more people and not have to kill them shortly after, but the initial release version of the foundry, didn’t live up to the high expectations of the community. While it did allow you to create interesting stories, many users found it complicated to use, others found it extremely limiting. Personally I found, that to make a good story with the initial Foundry, you should set aside several hours, if not days to get it just right. But honestly, we are gamers. Who has that sort of time?
The greatest problem with the Foundry was that it seemed the Devs had given up on creating more content and basically said “Here, you go, you do it. We are busy doing… stuff” And this kept going through, what is now being called as “The Year of Hell”. Cryptic managed to release season 4 in this year, but apart from a few adjustments, the revamping of the Klingon Home world, and the ability to enter shooter mode,(because if you are forced to kill, why not in First Person Shooter Mode) there was not really anything more to look forward too. No increase of the level cap, no good new missions to enjoy. The Galaxy was filled with bored and annoyed Vice Admirals, who without having much too do, met up in Quarks to enjoy a root beer and swap stories of days gone by when they still had something to do.
“Admirals Log, Fleet Admiral D’Llhran tr’Laithtrha on board the U.S.S. Letye Gulf.
The constant conflicts are weighing heavily on the local sectors, if not the entire quadrant. Many of my captains demand to be reassigned to deep space explorations, no longer able to take the strain of the monotony that has become standard. I try to motivate them, remind them of the importance of building more bases, helping the Romulans back on their feet, but I must admit, even I grow tired of it. I find myself on the holodeck a lot, running simulations in a galaxy far, far away, only stepping out if I really have too. Each day, I read reports of more Captains resigning and I fear that soon Starfleet will not be able to compensate for its losses. Perhaps this is the end. Perhaps, it is time I returned to my people…”
3 years down the road, having set course for countless worlds, fought the Borg and the Undine, repelled the Tholians, aided in Starbase construction and mined Dilithium till my fingers bleed, I find that the game has lost its appeal to me. Weather this is because of the monotony one feels playing most MMORPG’s or if I just don’t really feel the Trekness of it any more, I don’t know. I still log in, invest my crystals into a flawed currency system, fly my ship into the next Special Task Force, knowing even with the worst team, the ship is kitted out well enough, not to really have to worry, still ignoring my Bridge Officers, because nothing really compels me to care about them. It’s only the community of Role-players that actually holds my interest in the game. The short content spurts from Cryptic has never been enough to hold many of us, that we just create our own stories, be it with the updated, yet still lacking, and now more complicated foundry, or via RP’s that meet at social hotspots to start their own little adventures.
The game has been Free-to-play for a year now and has brought in a vast amount of new players to the game, players who might not even have a connection to Star Trek and as a trekker, this pleases me. It has opened the door too many to get to know a bit more about Gene Roddenberry’s vision, but at the same time, it’s a game about conflicts, more than it will ever be about Peace and Tolerance. Sadly, while most Dev’s seem to be trekkers at heart, there seems to be a general lack of enthusiasm as of late. Most new additions have come in form of money grabbing things, be it player skins, overpriced ship packs or the selling of the Lock box keys on the C-Store so that you can open the countless drop boxes that clutter up your inventory. I can understand this income method, as subscriber numbers have dropped and honestly, if I knew then what I knew now, I would think twice about a lifetime subscription, but I also think they have themselves to blame.
3 Years ago, the game still seemed a challenge to anyone who played it, but since then, especially after going F-2-P, the game has been altered so much to accommodate the Casual player. In comparison, I like my main toon, it took long hours to max him out, to get all the nice and shiny things, running countless STF’s for that super rare drop. Yet the last toon I created, not too long ago, just proved to me how much they have dumbed down the game, for lack of a better term. It certainly is not the same game that launched 3 years ago, and I’m afraid the Final Frontier, may be closer than we think…
Overall I would not say STO is a bad game. It still has its moments of fun, provided you have a good strong buddy list, because it really isn’t a game to for the casual solo player in the long run. For someone who has not heard of Star Trek before, (shame on you!) it can seem confusing at first, as there are many references to Trek Lore, spanning the TV series, the Movies and even some of the books. I’m sure once that hurdle is overcome though, the game will be more enjoyable… for a time at least. For the Hardcore Trekker, it can be frustrating, to see the continuity conflicts in established trek history (not that the Series and movies are not full of them). If you just want to slip on the Uniform and power up your shields, then full speed ahead. You certainly get that in this game, but for those that want to truly feel like a Starfleet officer, there are older games out there, that do that far better. The still on-going Elite Force RPG community springs to mind.
My only hope is that Cryptic will use the upcoming Season 8 and 9 to finally deliver on really immersing the player in a game that feels like a true Star Trek MMO and not one that is basically “Point, click, shoot, but in a Starfleet jumpsuit” Will we boldly be going where no gamer has gone before or is it time to initiate the self-destruct?