Friday, February 17, 2012

STO Impressions Through Level 12

After approximately 17 hours /played, Lt. Commander Green Armadillo of the USS PVD-2 Escort ship has spent enough time in STO to have a bit of an idea of the game.  BlueKae seems to think I'm slow, but perhaps my speed is some combination of actual newbie-ness and taking the time to try some of the many things going on in the 24th century (or is it the 25th these days?).

The Main MMO
The DPS ship for level 10-19.
Beyond the IP, STO's primary innovation is a design choice to offer two separate types of gameplay.  There's the ground game, which honestly I find a bit lackluster - it feels like an odd hybrid of a first person shooter, a squad-based combat game, and a standard MMO.  The other side is the space combat game, which feels a bit more like a real time strategy game than either a standard MMO or a shooter.  This, and the Star Trek storylines, is by far the stronger half of the game.

STO has an unusually modular class system.  There are three "classes" - tactical (generally DPS), engineering (general tanking), and science (healing and utility).  Your ship "captain" (actual rank may vary) has a few unique skills based on class and any equipped weaponry (whether in your ship or on the ground), but this is a small portion of your hotbar.  The rest of your abilities are used by your bridge crew, and which crew you can take is based on the type of ship you are piloting.  For example, I elected to take the tactical escort ship at level 10 for better DPS and manuverability, so my engineering captain has two tactical officers, one science, and one engineering on his bridge at the moment.

I don't know what this does to replay value - especially since the content seems story-driven and thus may not repeat as well - but it's definitely interesting.

The Minigames
STO has two major mini-games that have probably slowed my progress through the ranks substantially.  The first is a crafting game - players harvest a variety of different things and have to truck them over to Memory Alpha - a specific star system with crafting stations.  As far as I can tell, there are no crafting subclasses.  Everyone can craft everything, given enough time to earn the requisite skill points and farm the materials.  I should probably punt on this thing and sell my mats for credits, but it continues to amuse me for the moment.
Yes, I somehow had two crew members injure themselves while scanning for stuff.  Perhaps one started singing and the other couldn't take anymore? 

Next is the Duty Officer system, which feels vaguely like a Facebook game, but manages to be fun despite this.  You can have some number of generic officers, civilians, and other people on your ship and send them out to do missions.  There are unlocks for more officer slots (you start with 100), and the option to buy the officers in the cash shop.  Different missions take different amounts of time - from 5 minutes up to two days.  Your chance of success depends on having the right types of personnel, sometimes supplying materials, and finally a random roll.  Rewards include XP, currency, and points towards what would be called reputation/faction/etc in other games, in exchange for rewards. On the downside, like a facebook game, this thing demands frequent attention, logging in to send your crew off on new assignments. 

There are other mini-games in the world - for instance, a Dabo-roulette which appears to have no discernible strategy other than clicking the bet button repeatedly (but is required for an optional objective in the new featured mission).  There are also mechanics that feel like minigames, like training up your crew through a variety of trainers, recruitment commissions, vendors, etc.  As I said, I probably spend less than half of my time in this game actually leveling.
If there's a strategy here, I don't know it.

The Business Model
And so, the controversy begins.  Good news first - large number of daily quest-like activities, including the duty officer minigame, award a currency called Dilithium, which can be freely exchanged for Cryptic points, albeit slowly.  I.e. in principle, everything in the game can be unlocked given enough time.

Unfortunately, while content is all free, there is a lot to unlock.  There are cosmetics.  There are ship slots, character slots, costume slots, inventory slots, bank slots, duty officer slots, etc etc.  There are also bridge officer slots, which are probably the first restriction that's genuinely irritating, as free players are really locked down in terms of being able to have different officers for space/ground, or for different ship types (which you would most likely end up having to pay to purchase).  These unlocks tend to run a couple dollars a piece, and aren't really a big deal. 

The C indicates Cryptic Point cash store currency.  This model upgrades the second engineering station to allow 2nd tier abilities (the officer's lieutenant skill, in addition to their ensign skill), and it also includes a transwarp (teleportation) drive that to my knowledge isn't elsewhere in game. 
Then there are upgraded ships.  These run from around $10 - $25 for the max level versions, but are strictly level-limited; in the space game, your stats and available equipment slots are fixed by the ship you are flying, so you are going to pitch that cash store ship the minute you gain the next level.  The cash store options include almost every ship available which requires the level 50 cap, unique perks per specific ship, and, even at my level, allow more and/or higher ranked bridge crew, for access to a larger array of abilities. 

I'm already two levels into my current tier, so I can't say that I would be impressed with the value for the money if I had paid for a premium ship.  Perhaps the higher levels will take long enough that it's worth paying $15-20 as a non-subscriber.  However, these charges stand even for subscribers (who get a stipend - you could purchase one level 50 ship in five months). 

Then, there's the lottery thing.  As Blue Kae and Tipa describe, especially desirable ships aren't even to sale on a fixed price; you pay your money for a lottery ticket.  The current promotion drops the lockbox at a high rate in game, forcing you to weed through your loot to avoid picking up and having to trash an item that requires a cash store purchase to open.  Assuming that the in-game spam every time someone wins this lottery does not lie, there are a fair number of these entering the game despite the cost.  Some may come out of points that the players in question didn't pay cash for, but it certainly looks like a successful, if unsavory program.

Early conclusions
Overall, the game gets points for being different, and telling the Trek story effectively.  The gambling thing is a bit pervasive and irritating - from generating bridge and duty officers to in-game roulette to the actual lockbox thing, larger portions of this game do seem to revolve around gambling-like mechanics.  That said, nothing about the business model surprises me given that Cryptic was selling access to iconic character types at launch - this is who you're doing business with. 

My guess is that this is a game I will play occasionally for the story but probably not turn into a primary game.  It will be interesting to see where I hit business model roadblocks and whether I end up paying for some of them, but overall I expect the game will be reasonably fun and return good value for the money I spend on it.  Given the game's increased willingness to put pure character power up for gambling in the cash shop under its new ownership, however, I'd be extremely hesitant to attempt to make a longterm home in STO.  The frustration is predictable, and you have only yourself to blame if you fail to avoid it.
Beaming up and out, the effects definitely fit the IP

6 comments:

Helistar said...

If you have not tried the community-authored missions, go for some of them (the top rated ones). While the design tools look limited, authors have managed to make a good use of them, and some I played really have the "feel" of a good Star Trek episode.
They are somewhat well hidden in hail starfleet -> available -> 3rd tab from the top on the left (to small to display "Community-authored"). Since missions are level-scaled you can run them even at low level, most also don't include much combat.

Warsyde said...

Just one minor correction -- most of the level 50 ships are 1600 c-points, so could be purchased with 4 months of stipends.

The one nice thing about the C-store ships is that they come with a unique console item that either provides a non-level based bonus or scales with level, and can be transferred to new ships (even non c-store ones) as you level up, so the purchase of a c-store ship is never truly wasted. It's a nice little perk.

It should also be mentioned that anything unlocked while a subscriber is kept when you go F2P (unlike many other games I could mention) so many people suggest playing as a subscriber for your first month just to unlock many of the perks (extra bridge officer slots, inventory, etc.) while you level since you won't lose them. If you're leveling slowly though, you're probably better off buying them piecemeal (or not at all).

Overall, I've been very impressed with STO's F2P conversion. There are NO content restrictions (unlike LotRO), very few system restrictions (unlike CoH), and a F2P player is in no way weaker than a paying player (unlike Champions Online). If they could just avoid bullcrap like the lockboxes I'd happily award them the title of Best F2P Conversion Ever (a title previously held by LotRO).

Yeebo said...

I want to try STO again, but I'm a bit superstitious about it. Champions Online and STO fried my two previous power supplies by pushing my rig to its limits (oddly those are the only games I ever had problems with, including ones with much higher system reqs). I have since bought a much bigger power supply and presume it would run just fine, but still I'm somewhat afraid to try STO again. Why risk access to all the other modern MMOs my backup PC couldn't possibly handle to check out STO? I'll probably put it off until I replace my current PC.

Green Armadillo said...

@Warsyde: I was looking at the prices on the Vice Admiral retrofits, some of which are 2000 CP, but I see that the price point is not consistent. It's hard for me as a newbie to gauge how the stat differences here compare, and I suppose the point is moot if all the good ships are going to lottery boxed from now on.

Interesting about the Universal Consoles. So, when it specifies a type of ship (e.g. "cruiser" or "escort") rather than naming a specific ship class, does that mean that any ship of that type can use the console? Specifically, can I use the transwarp coil from the advanced heavy cruiser in the Odyssey class cruiser I got off the anniversary event?

LOTRO also had the odd incentive where a non-subscriber saves a lot of money by subbing up for one month to permanently unlock a variety of features. I did some forum digging, and it looks like with STO the smart play for a slow leveler is to wait until LATE in the leveling curve before subscribing for one month. Slots that you "missed" while leveling without a subscription are granted retro-actively because it's not in Cryptic's interest to remove incentives to subscribe, so you'd want to make sure you were going to hit max level during that month (unlocking the maximum inventory slots, etc).

Blue Kae said...

For crafting, putting mats on the Exchange won't do too much good either as there's very little in the way of Energy Credit sinks in the game. Dilithium is the primary currency now and there's no way to convert from EC to dilithium.

Replay value on the game has, in my opinion, taken as step backwards. Before the F2P conversion the story-line missions were a bit more freeform so you could do them out of order or even skip ones you weren't interested in. While not quite new-user-friendly, it was nice for players going through on a second or tenth character to skip missions they didn't like. There is an ability to skip the occasional mission but it's limited and you're locked out from just skipping the Klingon arc altogether and going straight to the Romulan arc. One nice thing about the change though is all of the missions scale now, so you should always be getting level appropriate rewards/challenges.

Regarding the C-store ships and lottery, I don't agree that the most desirable ships are in lock boxes. Certainly if you're a huge Dominion or Cardassian fan that's true, but for a Federation fan or just a min/maxer all of the best ships are available for Dilithium.

I'd also wanted to second Helistar's comment about the community-authored missions. Some of them are very very good. An excellent example is "City of the Polmar Ree" by Alimac30.

Tesh said...

Yes, Universal Consoles that go on a given type of ship can go on any such ship at any level. It's a nice bit of flexibility.

Also, for what it's worth, you can turn off the "System" channel in the chat controls and kill those "X received a Galor class ship" messages.

I do think the Feature Episode reordering is sad, though. I liked having the Reman Prototype Shields at low levels.