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Choose My Adventure: Star Trek Online IV - The Voyage Nowhere

Eliot Lefebvre

Captain's log, Stardate 86253.9. After collecting stolen goods from several Ferengi traders in the area, the USS Xiang Yu has been sent on a dangerous mission to retrieve a defector from the Klingon Empire. The only expected resistance is a handful of ground forces and a lone potential cruiser.

Following this mission we are set for shore leave for at least a week, which should give the crew a chance to relax and unwind. Unfortunately, our shore leave will be confined to a dingy and unpleasant trading station, thus rather curtailing my hopes.

Morale has been low following an escalating series of minor incidents, including a shipwide system failure caused by my first officer attempting to rewire the internal chronometer. As it turns out, she was submitting her latest duty officer report one day late and was worried I would have her demoted. I've asked my chief engineer to put together a fashion show in the hopes that it might distract the crew.

She really needs her own Spike following gamely behind.I have to admit that I'm starting to remember why I fell out of love with Star Trek Online in the first place. And while it doesn't help that I'm all by my lonesome out in the game at the moment, that's hardly the only reason.

This week's poll sent me back into the thick of playing through the main storyline missions, and I feel bad criticizing them in any real fashion. The missions work, they definitely focus on very appropriate themes, and there's nothing glaringly wrong with them. But I find myself playing through and getting almost tragically bored with the whole process.

Star Trek Online gets the experience as right as it possibly can. The trouble is that it can't insert all of the necessary feeling and emotion into your various bridge officers simply because they're essentially setpieces. Any personality you assign to them is entirely on you. There's none of the bickering respect found in Deep Space Nine or the calm professionalism of The Next Generation or even the desperate camaraderie from Voyager, just a collection of officers bouncing around as the story progresses in fits and starts.

As such, you don't have many feelings for these people. Reoccurring enemies are just names that you see more than once. You get sent from location to location with no real sense of commitment or overall impact. It hits all of the right notes for Star Trek but it doesn't quite get to the music.

Part of this is really my own fault; I'm playing through the game for a second time, so it's obviously going to feel familiar. But there's also a strong push from the game to go this route. There are no alternatives as you level to the very fixed progress through a series of episodes. Yes, you can go off and do exploration missions or other random content, but even World of Warcraft launched with multiple places you could go for content. In STO, you have a set of episodes, and you've got to eat your asparagus or you don't get any ice cream.

If you like asparagus, assume we're talking about a vegetable you don't like.

Really, you can only take so many shots of a ship zooming across a field of stars.The other big problem the game has is that ground combat, despite the revamp, is not all that great. The ground game is functional at the best of times and awkward at the worst, bearing the marks of a shooter without quite moving fully in that direction. Plus, the net result of having four bridge officers with you at all times is that combat feels messy. Abilities go off all around you, huge swarms of enemies rush at your team while you lay down huge walls of fire, and the whole thing feels like a confused rush with only moderate impact from the player.

None of this prevents the game from feeling fun, but I found myself a little less enamored this time around precisely because I not only knew these missions but found caring about any of them to be an uphill battle. There's no personal investment or sense of the game changing with you; there are no NPCs that stand out from the pack. This week I found it just a little bit wearying, ultimately.

Of course, this is not the same as finding something not fun. Diminished enjoyment is still enjoyment, and for all my intellectual irritations I can't help but get a rush when I open up with torpedoes after someone's shield comes down. Even ground combat still winds up being fun, albeit a kind of messy and disorganized fun. So onward I go, playing the main storyline and leveling steadily.

Oddly, I think this might be one area where revamps have hurt the game a little. Tying the featured episodes to a specific bit of progression instead of just putting them out there for a rainy day leaves you stuck in a very straightforward track without many alternatives. Alternatives are always good.

This week's poll is a little different. Since there aren't many different options for what I'll be doing, I want you to tell me what you want to hear about, either from your perspective as a player or as someone just keeping an eye on the game from afar. So cast your vote as always and tune in for another installment next week when I focus a bit more closely on one field in particular.
Eliot Lefebvre has been choosing his own adventures for several months, but now it's time for him to head back to the front lines of Choose My Adventure, the Massively column where you make the choices about what our writer will be doing each week. Come back each Wednesday for a new installment and a new set of choices!

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