Star Trek Online – Refits complete, Captain

All systems are go, warp engines primed and ready. Time to come aboard, Captain.

It’s official – as of Tuesday, Jan. 17th, Star Trek Online is now a Free To Play (F2P) MMO game. Throngs of new players jumped in to play, several being previous subscribers who just found the game lacking enough content or substance. So far, pretty much everyone just jumping in now that it’s F2P, whether brand new to the game or returning after stepping away for some time, has been pleasantly surprised.

Taking place in the year 2409 (30 years after the events in Star Trek Nemesis), a lot has changed for the Federation. The Klingons have broken away and gone back to being on the offensive, absorbing several other races into their war machine. The True Way is rebuilding, the Mirror Universe is expanding into our timeline, the Romulans are embroyaled in a civil war over the remains of their empire after the destruction of their homeworlds due to the Hobus event, and the Borg have returned, more deadly and determined than ever.

One of the biggest new changes is the re-vamp of the currencies and replacing of marks, emblems, etc., with the new Dilithium currency and the Dilithium exchange. For anyone used to MMO games like World of Warcraft, I’m sure they understand the concept of having to repeatedly grind away at daily missions to earn marks or emblems that they collected to purchase special, high-level equipment. Well STO was far from an exception, but no longer. No more situations like having a surplus of seven thousand “Marks of Exploration Mk whatever-is-40-levels-below-you-and-useless-now” because you were grinding exploration missions to get the base-level crafting anomalies for that Aegis set.

All those marks and emblems have been replaced with Dilithium. Ships and some higher quality equipment of various levels are now purchased with Dilithium instead of Energy Credits (EC), and you can even purchase C-Points with Dilithium in a special new exchange panel. For many F2P players, this is an innovative idea; no longer are they forced to spend real money in micro-transactions for C-Store items, and people with extra disposable income and less time to play can sell their C-Store points for Dilithium to buy better equipment for their characters, rather than having to grind for drops for hours.

New Dilithium refinement means new systems.

Honestly, I say this is a total win/win for everyone, with Cryptic coming out on top the most with the extra revenue this will bring them. Right now I’m wandering the various missions on both my main character and a new character, exploring all the different ways there are to make Dilithium in the game. Another interesting thing they put in is the fact that most acquired Dilithium is in a raw, unrefined state. Only refined Dilithium can be used to purchase items and C-Points, and there’s limits to how much Dilithium can be refined by a player in a day. Subscribers are given a nice gift of having all their unrefined Dilithium automatically refined for them the moment they log into the game, and they also have a higher limit as to how much they can refine in a day.

They’ve also apparently put a cap on the amount of EC a player can accumulate, with a C-Store purchase that F2P players can make which increases this limit. I thoroughly approve of this. One of the big complaints a lot of people have had is that it’s too easy to earn EC and there’s just not been enough worth spending all of it on. Also, considering the cap is something like 10 million without the C-Store purchase, I really don’t see this being a huge issue.

"Captain, here's the Duty Assignments for today for your aprouval..."

The new Duty Officer (DOff) system has added a new layer of depth to the game, offering not only several new types of XP each with their own levels and awards, but an interesting way to level those various types of XP. I thoroughly enjoy assigning my DOffs to their various duties, then returning later to read their reports. Most, if not all, the missions also give at least a tiny amount of 5 Dilithium (some offering as much as a few hundred) which makes them even more worthwhile, especially if you’re a low-level player and want the extra Dilithium to get enough C-Points for a C-Store ship at your next tier.

I also like being able to assign specific Bridge Officers (BOffs) into assignments like “Chief Engineer” and “First officer.” These BOffs will then be able to give recommendations as to which DOffs would be best to assign to a particular mission, and i think there’s a bit more that assigning a BOff does, but I’ll look more into that as I explore the depth of the DOff system.

The new updates over the last few months are at their best right now. The new PvE and PvP cues really make it easy to get into the action from anywhere, as well as the new Mission Journal and Calendar system. The new daily events happening almost every hour is an excellent addition, so now there’s always something interesting and worthwhile to do at any hour of the day or night. The added bonus of being able to transwarp to any mission in the game from anywhere through the new Mission Journal for an EC cost instead of having to wait through sammich time… Sorry, I mean Sector Space (Chris of Jupiter Broadcasting & STOked fame used to joke that going through Sector Space was so tedious and long that it was the perfect amount of time to go make a sammich; that nickname for it has kind of stuck with me) is a hugely refreshing addition and a great economic sink that the game has been desperately needing.

Resistance is far from futile... but this won't be an easy fight.

The new layout for the Special Task Forces (STF) and the addition of the Defera Invasion by the Borg are excellent; the Defera Invasion especially is well designed, offering lots of variety for people. I will mention that your first time through that it can be pretty confusing and chaotid. Follow your map, it will come in handy in knowing where you need to be for various missions that you’ll need to complete. Also, DON’T GO ALONE! There are missions for each area that will become progressively harder, and the final one will likely require a team of three players. I have only done the City missions so far, and I was unable to complete the final mission because my team was short one person.

I only have one complaint about the new STF format. The story originally progressed in a particular order. Now, each STF has been split into seperate Ground and Space missions that can be taken individually, and there’s no indicators designating which order all the STFs need to be done in now. In the new PvE cue menu, the missions are listed alphabetically, with “The Infection”  missions (which were originally the first part of the story) is listed after “The Cure” missions (which were originally the second part of the story. Also, ground missions are listed before their space mission counterparts, and to be honest, I’ve not run any STFs past “The infection” and that was back about a year ago, before all these changes were implemented. I really think that Cryptic needs to re-name them with “The Borg Invasion: Pt (*)” as the initial title, with each ground & space mission being numbered as a different part of the story, so people completely new to the missions will be able to know the proper order of the story.

New end-game gear will not be easy to acquire, but worth the effort.

If you’re new to STO, as far as I’ve been able to find out, I believe the proper STF order is:

  1. Infected (Space),
  2. Infected (Ground),
  3. The Cure (Space),
  4. The Cure (Ground),
  5. Khitomer Accord (Space),
  6. Khitomer Accord (Ground).

The new rewards associated with the Invasion and the new STF format have been making me geekgasm since they were first announced, and I’m definitely eager to work my way to earning some of it. It’s even encouraging me to level my KDF character, and now with so many new players, the likelihood of the KDF getting some new recruits soon are pretty high. These new suits of armor and weapons have some visual aesthetics I’ve been hoping they would add to STO for a long time now, and making them rewards for these STFs was a pretty smart move, especially when combined with the new PvE cues. I’ll save the details about them for another post when I can get more time actually trying them out.

There’s actually been a few other rewards that were release that, I admit, I actually missed the announcements on; several new ship consoles and equipment. I’ve been hearing mostly good things, but that’s yet another thing I’ll have to investigate more first-hand before posting a review of them.

The battle to make the game just right is ongoing, and not everyone can have it exactly how they want.

There are still some minor flaws that aren’t so much the game itself as just the way things ended up happening. The game is still very solo friendly for the majority of it, and there aren’t enough reasons to team with other people in anything but STFs, PvP, and the Borg Invasion events, but even those are getting more and more PUG friendly (Pick-Up Group). The Squad system works fairly well, but there are still some things that I consider flaws; when a high-level player squads with a low-level player and they match to play at the lower level, the high-level player still obliterates everything. It’s also still a hit-and-miss sometimes to team up and have one person join another that is already in a mission.

Technical issues aside, there is honestly just not enough reason to group together or do much in the way of actual socializing. Sure, the STFs are a good start, but that’s at the end-game. There’s very little reason at the lower levels right now. Sure, there’s lots of people who RP; Star Trek has always been a ripe ground for RP opportunity. But as it stands, there’s very little in-game mechanic reason for people to play together, when they can play solo just as easily, and the game being so instanced actually makes playing solo a bit easier. This has been an issue and a complaint by a lot of people for a long time now, and I understand Cryptic wanting to not put a system in unless they’re sure it won’t be seen as a penalization for people who prefer to play solo. I also understand if they’ve been so busy with so many other things that they haven’t been able to focus much time on this problem. They’ve been working overtime for almost 2 years now, trying to keep this great game running. This is a big issue, just the same and one that I hope they can start looking at soon.

Finding ways to work together

One plan that was mentioned was to remove the restriction on forming a fleet – currently, it takes 5 people, all subscribers, teamed up in-game to be able to form a fleet. With F2P now live, the number of premium subscribers likely wont be big when compared to the number of silver (free) players, so finding four others willing to form a fleet with you will be difficult, to say the least. Their plan was to remove that minimum so that a single subscriber can go and start a fleet. This was a good idea, to me, and I’d like very much to see this happen. Another option, I think, would be to allow people to purchase a single month of Premium subscription with C-Points, similar to EVE Online’s system. Then people could, worst case, grind Dilithium, buy C-Points with that Dilithium, then buy a month with the C-Points, just to try it out at least.

Here’s an idea I had to help encourage people to play together – why not increase the frequency rate at which items drop from mobs by 1% for the number of people you’re teamed up with? It doesn’t have to be an increase in the drop quality, just the drop frequency. And having a bonus of frequency of 2%-5% isn’t a lot, but still significant overall. heck, increasing by 2% for each team member other than yourself would give a frequency increase of 2%-8%; still small, but nothing to scoff at, and with more drops happening, that gives players more reason to either team up with people they know, or even use the “Open Group” feature. . Because it only affects the drop frequency a small amount, not the drop quality, the difficulty settings would not be affected drastically, and would retain their balance. Players who want to play solo would not be penalized, the base drop rate would remain the same.

The Squat System works fairly well, but could still use a little fine-tuning.

I’d also tweak the Squad system (which allows players of any level to team up and match the general level of the squad/team leader) so that when people of various levels join an Open Group, the system automatically sets the squad leader and play level level to the lowest team member’s rank or level band. That would allow more people of various levels to meet up in Open Team groups across the board, and still keep some balance.

Either of these wouldn’t be much of a change, should be fairly easy to add to the game code, and would encourage more people to team up together at all levels. Frankly, I want reasons to team up with other players more often. Right now, the game is very solo friendly, which makes sense, but it’s so solo-friendly that it makes teaming up and socializing almost feel like too much effort or a waste of time. That may be great for people who are against how harsh other MMO games are on solo-play, but it can also be detrimental to building a community. And isn’t building a community a big part of what Star Trek is about?

The only other major gripe I have is just little details not being explained as clearly as they could be in the tutorial. I really think that things like changing the auto-fire settings and the expose/exploit system should be explained in much clearer detail, though I think that these things need to be explained clearly through voice acting, and maybe even cut-scenes. To take a cue from other games , look at EQ2 or SWTOR – even if STO didn’t make every NPC interaction and dialogue a cut-scene and only did that for key tutorial information, I’d be very much ok with that.

Great idea - disappointing execution.

Let’s be honest – the STO tutorial voice overs by Zachary Quinto were far from his best work. Frankly, I think the guy only did it because he was obligated by his contract to CBS and it paid decent money, but I don’t think he really wanted to, and it was not really written that well. I’d like to see all his voice-acting replaced, and I’d like to see more Voice Acting added.

Especially to other NPC dialog boxes – imagine not only seeing the face and the text dialog when interacting with NPCs, but hearing their voices. They do that in the Romulan Featured Episode series. Yes, I understand it’d be a lot of work and I get why it’s not been done already; I’m just saying I hope they continue to add more, especially to the missions already there. When going to rescue the S.S. Azura, I’d really love to actually hear Captain Brott calling for help.

Despite the few things that lack and the improvements that still need to be made, Star Trek Online is an excellent game and the time has never been better to jump into the Captain’s seat.