I long ago made a rule to revisit games, even if I hated them when I first played them. MMORPGs change -- they have to. They have to adjust to a growing (or shrinking) playerbase, adapt to a questioning (or screaming) audience, or react to market influences (or games that do it better). Despite understanding all of this, I was worried that the five bucks I spent on the STO special edition from Amazon would be wasted.
I found something I did not expect, that's for sure. Join me after the cut to find out more. Champions Online. CO wasn't really ugly, but it had identity issues: Was it a cheesy '50s style romp or a more serious graphic novel type of adventure? My first time in STO and CO had my PC moving like molasses, as well. As I patched up the STO game client, I patted my computer on the side reassuringly.
I forgot how amazing the character creation was. Suddenly I felt a wave of panic; I was being overwhelmed by choice. OK, OK, I told myself, calm down. Just hit random until you find something you like. So I did. Within a few minutes, I found a thin-looking alien who reminded me of a pale, more effeminate green giant. I started to stretch him out and played around with skin tones. What was happening? Normally I play a "shorter" race, or at least I make a character that is minimal-looking, but here I was making the tallest thing possible. I decided to try it out. Maybe there were other freakishly tall, purple-skinned monsters who would be my friend?
The game has obviously been improved and tweaked since I last saw it. It ran better, even at higher settings. It actually looked really damn good. I did have to turn it down to a more comfortable level, though, but even on medium or high settings the game felt great. What about the ships, though?
Oh no, not again.
I found myself overwhelmed again, this time due to the sheer variety and customization options for ships. One second there was a perfect copy of the original Enterprise floating nearby, followed shortly by that ship from Voyager -- you know, Voyager. I have played EVE Online for years and years and never felt the same sense of nerdy happiness that I felt when looking at a playable Enterprise. Where EVE ships are brown, dingy, dark and (I imagine) smelly-looking, STO ships are colorful, fantastical, detailed and powerful-looking. If anyone thinks that colorful or fantastical means silly or goofy, try again. It only takes a few sessions in a group with one of the larger ships to see real destruction.
Flying the ships during combat felt a little silly at first. You literally steer the things, using either WASD or mouse movement. It was truly odd to experience space-flight in a massive ship that held 200 crew members while steering it like some twitch-based shooter. My time in EVE taught me that even the tiniest of craft were not steered at all but automated. I shook off my past experiences and ended up truly enjoying the combat. I even began to use the WASD movement keys and found my fingers tapping shortcuts all over the keyboard. I felt like, I don't know, someone who actually knew what he was doing.
My fellow players were mostly helpful, peppered occasionally with some "your mum" kids who seemed to have stumbled in from a World of Warcraft trade channel discussion on Chuck Norris. Most players I asked questions of were more than helpful. I recieved several in-game mails wishing me good luck or offering help. One in particular was a three-parter, literally giving me more information than I knew what to do with. The player also attached three "very rare" ship parts to his letters. Yes, it helped that I had let the forum readers know that I would be playing their game this week (I tell most communities), but it was sort of touching. Kindness exists in the future!
Ground combat is where most of the issues came up for me. NPCs can be just plain stupid sometimes, and NPC away members can act as though they had never handled a weapon before. I selected one of my team members and told her to lay down some protective mines, but she decided to run off in some odd direction, placing them in an area that was pretty much useless. Graphical glitches are the norm during most of my missions; textures might flicker or twitch, and interactions or abilities sometimes took two or three button smashes before they activated. Needless to say, combat was smooth about 80 percent of the time. The bugs were not game-stopping, but they were still frustrating.
Still, there is much more good than bad in this game. Ship interiors are a dream for roleplayers. While the gargantuan corridors and ship lounges feel a little bit silly and out of place, they do come in handy for fleet (guild) meetings. If you think about it, try walking or hosting 25 fellow players in a ship with much smaller hallways and mess halls, and you would probably complain about feeling cramped. I forgot all that once I started enjoying the fact that I had a truly mobile home.
There's so much more to cover from my week with STO. The community is mostly top-notch, and not surprisingly, very intelligent. Whoever thought that this game was dead needs to go back to school. There were people everywhere, glorious shades and sizes of people. The variety of ships was equally awesome.
In the end I am going to say that I truly had a blast this week. I have a feeling that many of the issues I saw with the game have been around for a while, which is a shame. If those few items could be adjusted and fixed, there would be no stopping this game. It is challenging, relaxing, immersive, impressive, awe-inspiring and a perfect place for creative people. Roleplay would shine in this game, and the community is open to it.
Remind me again why I didn't look into the game sooner?
Next week we are going to be playing Uncharted Waters Online. I am not sure why I didn't get to this one earlier, either, but better late than never, right? My name in game is Beau! Be sure to follow my Twitter so you can see when I am playing and what I am doing. Now, go log in!
Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. We meet each Tuesday night at 9 p.m. EST; the column runs the following Sunday. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email, or follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Raptr!