I’ve been meaning to talk about my recent return to Star Trek Online, but one thing or another kept pushing this article back. I wasn’t initially going to fire back up STO following its F2P switch — too much other stuff going on — but one evening’s worth of curiosity got the better of me, and I’m glad I did. Here are six things I’m loving about it so far:
1. The free-to-play model suits me perfectly
One of the reasons I never stuck with STO for longer than a month here or there is that it’s the type of game that I only want to play sporadically. A couple times a week, maybe. And a “couple times a week” is not a valid reason in my book for a monthly subscription, so that had to go.
But F2P? That’s a winning ticket right there. There’s no subscription pressure to play, and every time I’m looking for something different (ship combat still rocks), it’ll be there for me.
2. Its free-to-play setup is surprisingly generous
Here’s what shocked me about this return. I really thought that Cryptic’s F2P version of STO would be painful at best to experience. I haven’t been that glowing about how the company neutered Champions Online’s best feature — the freeform creation and growth of superheroes — when it was designing the version for free players. So I anticipated something as bad or worse for STO.
In actuality, it’s about one of the most generous free models I’ve seen in an MMO. Take a look at the features matrix and try to pinpoint where the game is “punishing” you for not being a subscriber. Slightly smaller inventory and currency cap? Ouch. I’m going to be sore for days.
People who denounce F2P as being this great evil that’s corrupting our beloved MMOs from the inside-out don’t often acknowledge that there are many ways to do F2P, and while some are aggressively bad and harmful to the game, others are finding a great balance between giving a free experience while tempting players to pony up dough. I’m not fond of STO’s gambling-like mystery prize boxes you can buy, but most everything else in the store is either cosmetic, a different fun ship design with minor advantages, or various services. Yet there’s nothing that has to be purchased to enjoy the game to its fullest, either.
3. The leveling is faster
Every time I return to STO, I feel compelled to start a brand-new character (I really don’t know why). So I’ve been through the first 20 levels or so of content several times now, and have never really liked how painfully slow the leveling process was. I guess between the time I last played and now Cryptic tweaked the leveling curve so that you not only level quicker (I was to Lt. Cmdr. within two play sessions) but you can level primarily through the episodes alone.
4. Ground combat is less… slow
I never really disliked ground combat the way some people did, but I’m certainly not complaining that it goes a lot faster these days. They’ve added the option to even play it in a pseudo-over-the-shoulder shooter setup, but after trying it, I’m sticking with the standard format.
5. It sates my desire for vehicular combat
My plate is full of MMOs where I’m inhabiting the body of some humanoid running around endlessly, so having one game where my main avatar is a ship is a refreshing change of pace. STO’s space combat is tactical, eye-pleasing, and fairly easy to understand. It just has a wonderfully different feel to it all, and I dig that.
6. The duty officer system is a fun diversion
Also new since last I played is the Duty Officer (“doff”) system. I had no idea what this was before coming back to the game, but it turns out that it’s a variant on the time-based progression gameplay that’s popular in titles like FarmVille, Tiny Tower, and even Star Wars: The Old Republic’s crew missions.
Basically, you start off with a bunch of crew members that you can either (a) assign to duty to give you buffs in different areas or (b) send off on missions that will hopefully net you goodies. Missions take time and can be stacked up in ridiculous amounts — I think I had 17 missions going on my second day of fiddling with this system. There’s a bit of strategy involved with the system, as crew members’ traits can impact your mission’s chance of failure or success. Fail badly, and your guy can be injured (taking him off the roster for a while) or even killed. So it’s in your best interest to minimize the odds of failure as best you can.
For someone who can’t always dump a lot of time into a game, knowing that I can log in for five minutes, send out my crew on missions, and know that I’m accomplishing something during the day is a heady feeling.