Welcome, one and all, to another edition of Captain's Log, our weekly column on everyone's favorite Star Trek MMO, Star Trek Online. I'm afraid I must renege once again on my promise to tackle the Klingon beginner experience. But I forgot that Cryptic Studios' latest MMO will be 3 months old this Sunday!
That's right! STO launched a whopping three months ago, on Feb. 2, 2010. Why, it feels like just yesterday that my newly created Bajoran Science Officer took his first laggy footsteps on Earth Starbase in search of Commander Sulu. As we are wont to do with our favorite games here at Massively, let's look back at STO's first few months and take stock of its past, present and future.
Launching in 3 ... 2 ... 1
STO's launch window was a little messy. I say window, because while the game officially went live Feb. 2, many of us enjoyed the few days of early limited release provided by pre-ordering the game. Or we tried to, anyway. The headstart and the first few days post-launch were a whirlwind of server outages, bugs and login queues. I recall the client being a jittery mess, with lots of flashing and stuttering whenever I logged in or switched zones. And I crashed to desktop a little too often for my taste. After City of Heroes, City of Villains and Champions Online, you might have thought Cryptic would have MMO launches down to a science.
Even so, STO wasn't unplayably bugged at launch, and fun was had by all. We resisted the Borg and uncovered the Undine. But it didn't take long for players to notice something was missing.
Whither Art Thou, Content?
Fair warning: The availability of content will be a common theme throughout this week's Captain's Log. Moreso than usual, anyway.
Many players' biggest gripe with STO at launch was a lack of content. Most missions boiled down to shooting enemies in yet another asteroid field or on yet another embattled colony. Exploration and diplomacy were rare and meaningless. End-game options were nonexistent. Crafting was confusing and unsatisfactory.
And worst of all, Klingons got the short end of the stick in a major way. The game's second faction was relegated to PvP only. I vaguely recall gushing about that feature in January to a friend, only to realize in February that I'd been had.
Race to the Unfinished Line
It was pretty clear that Klingons only had access to PvP not by design, but because Cryptic hadn't taken the time to implement non-Federation PvE content. Combine that with the thin content in other areas of the game, the two-week open beta, and the game's breathtakingly short two-year development cycle and what do you get? The solid impression that Cryptic rushed STO to release and that fans had their hands on a very unfinished game. STO executive producer Craig Zinkievich tried to combat that impression with his first post-launch State of the Game letter, saying that STO was meant for a "core community that gets it." But promising a host of features that most MMO players already expect, including respecs and auto-attack options, did little to sweeten some players' sour first impressions. And things like the stickied forum thread asking for players' suggestions for game improvements probably didn't help.
Fortunately, change was pretty quickly in the air. When Cryptic promised prompt content additions, they weren't just blowing smoke up our warp nacelles. STO's first Special Task Force mission, The Infected, hit live servers in early March. The raidisode advanced the overall storyline of the "new" Borg plaguing Starfleet and introduced some actual end-game play. Two more STFs have come down the pike since then, and a third, Undine Terradome, should go live in the very near future.
The first really big chunk of new content arrived in late March. Season One: Common Ground, which we've discussed before, provided a slew of much-needed improvements, such as bug fixes and the ability to respec skill points. It also included uniform options, PvP interface upgrades and two new Fleet Actions. The patch even allowed Klingon characters access to some PvE content! And just today, Cryptic released the Season 1.1 Update, which introduces another bevy of much-needed features, including auto-fire for all starship weapons, the ability to change difficulty settings, and a death penalty.
The State of the Game
Today, STO is sailing along well enough, despite some early missteps. Those included the unpopular addition of Ferengi and Klingon as playable Federation races to the C-Store on launch day, and the disastrous Atari.com deal that discounted STO by $10 and offered 90 days of free play time. Although Cryptic said STO had 1 million registered accounts mere days after launch, the company seems pleased with the game's more than 100,000 subscribers.
So with the game settled in after three months, I thought I'd offer a few of my impressions of the game.