Star Trek Online Beta: First Impressions
Mine should be considered an uninformed opinion, but not necessarily an uneducated one. I come to the Star Trek: Online beta with virtually no preconceived notions, no passionate devouring of every blog post and news tid bit and no big expectations except that the game might provide a nice diversion. Having played the beta for a few days, I suspect that's a good thing.
While my time in the game to date has been substantially limited -- this first entry of which there may be others is limited to the first few hours of gameplay -- the game already strikes me in much the same way that other MMOs do in their earliest stages. Precisely, this is a game that is not ready for primetime, but one which offers the promise of better things to come.
That may not be a terrible thing. Early adopters who have a passion for the game will probably get their money's worth and provide the vital experience from which Cryptic can distill a more broadly appealing game. That said, if you're on the fence, this game seems ripe for waiting a month or two for issues to stabilize. Yes, things may change in the next few weeks of beta, but I've been round the block before and I know warning signs when I see them.
That said, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic here. ST:O does a good job of evoking a Star Trek atmosphere, though it will be far more compatible to Next Generation, DS:9 or even Voyager (before it completely stunk) sensibilities than old school Trek. Certainly sound and visual design gives the foundation of that Trek feel, but even the opening encounters, revolving around a strange Borg incursion, evoke that sense that you are a cog in a nice big mythology episode. Whether that can be maintained once you get into the grind of patrol and away missions remains to be seen, but first impressions are vital.
One of the things I had feared early on is that I would not comfortably identify with both a character and a ship in equal measure, and when I was on an away mission I would wish instead I was flying into hostile Klingon territory to duke it out with a Bird of Prey, or vice versa. So far, I'm pretty happy with the way the two major combat dynamics are evened out. Away missions tend to be comfortable MMO mechanics, and once you get the keyboard layout sorted to your desire you can engage comfortably.
Space combat, on the other hand, turns out to have some nice challenge to it. While the combat is in three dimensions, it is very much rooted into a clear X axis and Z axis. While you can move up and down, it is always clear what is up and what is down, which is very different than a more sophisticated space model. While this does limit your maneuverability, it also keeps you from getting distracted and disoriented. It strikes me as a fair compromise for realism versus playability.
All that said, this is still clearly a beta product, and while I'll avoid passing judgment my experience playing a lot of betas suggests that the initial launch is almost certain to be plagued with unforseen challenges. Look for more impressions as I get in more time and we get closer to launch.