I've got one last week to go before the conclusion of my Star Trek Online adventure, but unfortunately I wasn't at any major choice junctures last week. Instead, this week you voted to have me discuss what could make the game feel a little more like Star Trek, which is an interesting question because I think its biggest problem is that it tries too hard to feel like Star Trek.
Let me clarify: I don't think it needs to feel less like the setting. I think it needs to feel less like the series.
I've been re-watching Deep Space Nine while working out, and just finished watching The Ship. Add in a section of space combat, and the episode could mechanically work perfectly well as a mission in Star Trek Online. Beam down to a planet, fight a bunch of Jem'Hadar, explore the ship, defend against attackers, find out what they want, and done. Add on a space battle at the end and it's all there.
But go watch the episode. (It's on Netflix. This column can wait.) You'll note that absolutely none of that is relevant to the main plot of the episode. I'm not talking about the fact that the episode doesn't have Captain Sisko picking up loot drops from defeated Jem'Hadar; I'm talking about the fact that all of the interesting points of the episode are things that aren't tied to anything being done.
The point of the episode is trust -- the way it slowly erodes inside the ship, the tense interactions between Sisko and Kilana, and the ultimate realization that much of what happened could have been avoided if everyone had been a bit more open. That's a heady theme, something that's really hard to convey when you've just got a mission blurb and some clickable objectives to explain your plot.
All of the missions in STO try to recall some of the big things from the various franchises. The early levels are an homage to the original series with the Klingons, the Cardassian missions are direct references to Deep Space Nine, and so on. The trouble is that you can't convey the themes and messages of Star Trek through mission text. All you can do is remind players of past points of interest.
So what would work better? If the missions didn't try to recreate anything.
Honestly, I think the game would work better as a whole if the game focused instead on creating the right setpieces and let players fill in the blanks themselves. This is a game that could greatly benefit from a more traditional questing model instead of its whole episodic structure. You get into a sector, get a pile of quests, and then you're off to explore systems and try to find those quest objectives while stumbling across other events hither and yon. You have to engage 10 Vor'cha starships, but first you have to find them among a dozen systems. And when you drop out of warp at one system you find out that the planet has a native population under threat by Klingons unconcerned with the Prime Directive or anything of the sort...
Yes, it would need a lot of work. And it might muck up leveling as well, even though the game's current monopath isn't great either. But it would result in a game that feels a bit more organic, with a reason to go out and explore new systems. Right now there's nothing but the procedurally generated patrols and exploration missions; they're not bad, but much like radio missions in City of Heroes, they're very clearly thrown together by random strings. Nothing to write home about, in other words.
I think even the messiness of ground combat would be somewhat mitigated if it didn't feel as if every mission included ground combat as a way to kill time until you went back to space. The space combat is excellent, and it feels wonderful, and maybe it's entirely unfair to expect the ground game to ever match up to that. But it still feels like the filler until you get to the part you're enjoying.
At any rate, while it's fun to speculate what might change about the game, right now it's time for me to wrap up the series. While I wrap up one last week of adventures with Captain River Armstrong, you get to vote on a last pair of polls, and I rejoin you next week with my retrospective on the game as a whole.
All right, technically she's Lieutenant Commander River Armstrong, but you know what I mean.
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!