I was quite excited when I heard through a friend that an open beta of STO was now available, so I was even happier to find out I could be one of the lucky few to play it just by getting a simple code from a website and downloading it.
It was at this time that I realised it might not be quite so straightforward as, despite the game’s promise, the fact that it’s a ‘beta’ version is very apparent right from the offset and it also reminded me why console gaming is so much easier / better then PC gaming.
You see, the download itself is nearly 8GB in size and took an entire evening to download from a server in the States, as no other more local one seemed to work. So, the evening I had set aside to download and play became an evening of simply checking the status of the download every hour or so and then going to bed disappointed when I realised that half midnight on a ‘school night’ was far too late to start an MMO for the first time. More to the point, when I had installed it and thought, “I’ll just load it up and have a quick look,” I found out that, not only are the servers down, but I’ll have to download a 90MB graphics card update just to get it to run in a ‘slightly better than default mode’!
Needless to say, I wasn’t really that bothered when it eventually did load up after all these problems, and didn’t really have high hopes for it considering my colleagues who had already played it explained it had terrible “rubber banding” (lag) issues and the servers were down a lot for maintenance (tell me about it!).
However, when it did load the geek in me had a huge smile on its face as I jumped straight into designing my first character, and listening to all the beeps and whistles made me really feel like I was delving into the world I have loved since childhood.
With a choice of race, class and outfit amongst others, the variations of character possible in this game are near limitless.
Without giving too much away, the story begins with your ship under attack (there is no easing you into it) and, as the enemy have targeted officers and you aren’t one yet, you are tasked with saving the day and helping out as best you can.
What follows are several missions that introduce you to the game mechanics, with certain controls explained to you as you go. You have the third person mode where you wander around ships or on away missions, using various kits and weapons to complete missions (eventually with a full away team which you choose). Armed with a standard phaser to begin with, it’s most satisfying to take a target down and it’s not long before more impressive weapons come along.
What I like most about the attacking side of this is that you are encouraged, where possible, to attack from the sides or from behind the enemy, and you are duly rewarded with a flanking bonus which does much more damage. It adds tactics and strategy to your approach and stops you wanting to ‘run and gun’ so much, as you know if you successfully flank your opponents you’ll not only dispatch them easier but also earn more XP for it.
The HUD with all the controls is relatively clear and easy enough to use and gradually more and more control functions are revealed to you as you progress through the first few missions of the game. Each weapon usually has a primary and secondary fire and, if there is not actually a secondary fire, then it’s replaced with a trusty melee attack.
The other aspect of game play puts you in control of your ship. The same controls apply, with the added feature of setting impulse power to get from A to B and, of course, being able to ‘divert all power to the engines’ to give you a temporary boost in speed. This does, however, mean it drains your shields overt ime so, as it advises you, don’t boost towards an enemy.
When it comes to space combat there are strategies here as well. Attacking enemy craft side on will allow you to fire both front and rear phasers at the same target as well as the occasional photon torpedo. The field and range of each weapon are clearly shown once selected and the general rule is to be within 10km of a target to unleash your full attack capabilities.
Once a mission is complete you will then either dock with a space station, warp to another area with a touch of a button or beam to a nearby planet / ship for the next mission.
As with any beta version, there are a fair few problems while playing. After I beamed back to my ship from a planet, instead of displaying my ship to enable me to fly off, it displayed my actual character, who then proceeded to fall through space until he reached the bottom of that area (considering space is infinite, he didn’t fall that far!). Then it allowed me to go to the next section and, upon docking with a space station, my ship was displayed instead of my character and I proceeded to fly, or rather slide, across the floor until I reached a turbo lift, which then made me magically re-appear as my character!
That said, the Star Trek Online (Beta) is fun to play and I’m generally looking forward to it being completed and fully operational. For now, however, it’s a definite ‘work-in-progress’ well worth a look if you can get a beta key. But I doubt many will pay a monthly fee to play it upon release when there is a certain Star Wars MMO on the way, which is already looking to be far superior.
Only time will tell with this one, as it’s still early days, but if you have even a remote interest in Star Trek then you’ll want to give this a go while you can for free before making a decision when it’s released.