STO has gone free to play, and you may remember my last post on the subject nearby two years ago when the game first released. I’ve gotten a few people into it now that there isn’t a monthly subscription fee, and overall, I feel the game has improved a great deal. Some little annoyances with the UI have been fixed, and a lot of new content has been added. My favorite are the Duty Officers, because they give me a menu to poke at when I can only log in for 15 minutes on one of my breaks at work.
However, I feel like there are a lot of things about this game that are unfriendly to new players. Both major and minor issues that I am putting up with because I love Star Trek and it’s free, but I’m sure a lot of people are being driven away by these things.
1. The game feels like it is intentionally confusing.
There is a lot of information that I feel like I should have known several levels ago that I am just stumbling onto (I don’t think I realized I was given Evasive Maneuvers at level 2 until around level 8, for example), or simple questions I have where the answer is hidden deep down a submenu rather than being explained. What is your Auxiliary power level for? The other three power levels are self-explanatory, but I had to dig through the Library Computer specifically looking for this information, finally finding it in an advanced space tactics page.
The game often feels like it is hiding information from me. It almost feels like this is intentional, following the old Everquest mentality that if you make the game hostile, the players will need to band together to defeat it — if you make the game confusing, players will need to talk to each other to figure it out.
This is a problem from the moment you first create your character. Even the “simple” explanations of the traits you need to pick don’t make any sense, because you don’t know what any of it means yet. Improves the power transfer rate of my ship? Is that useful? Increases Warp Core Efficiency? I feel like I need to play this game with a browser window open to the wiki to look things up at the same time. (Not that the wiki is good at answering most of the questions I have…) I feel like picking Traits should be something I do later, maybe around level 10, once I’ve had a chance to play the game a bit and have a better idea of what these things are for.
I will have conversations with other people who just started, and point out a few things to them that took me a long time to figure out:
- Right-click your space weapons and they’ll auto-fire. Makes combat infinitely easier when you don’t have to constantly spam the space bar to fire your phasers, but I stumbled onto it by accident.
- Right-click your armor/kit to turn of visuals so that you can actually see the uniform you just spent 20 minutes perfecting. (I’ve spoken with several new people who ranted at me about how stupid it was that their armor covered up their uniform, and they were extremely appreciative of this hidden function.)
- Check your power window, your quest log, and your accolades window every time you level up, because you probably got some kind of reward and you need to dig for it.
- Yes, Sulu IS in the Admiral’s Office, that thing you think is a window behind the Admiral’s desk is actually a viewscreen and there are stairs down to a lower area behind it. Not that it matters, because the patrol missions he used to have were removed from the game and there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to talking to him any more.
In a lot of other situations, new people ask me questions and I have to honestly say “I have no idea” and move on. What do the numbers on your skills MEAN? It’s increasing something by 10, 10 what? 10 percent? 10 points? Where can I see all of these stats? Most of the things affected by my skills don’t appear anywhere in my stats panel. Unless there’s some hidden extra “advanced details” panel I have to open by right-clicking on something unintuitive that I haven’t chanced to right-click on yet.
I find it especially annoying how often I’m faced with complicated ship parts that say they give +10 in Shield Emitters or EPS Conduits or whatever, and I have to go dig through my skills menu to find out what that item actually does. I wouldn’t mind the tooltip being a bit bigger if it would just have a little sentence saying that it increases power drain or shield healing or something, just like the bridge officer tooltips tell you what their traits and skills do.
2. It’s hard to keep track of what all of my powers do from their icons.
They are all the same color, and the icons on them are very abstract, with little or no connection to what the powers are used for. I have a very color-oriented brain, and having a dozen buttons on my hotbar that are all exactly the same color scheme makes it very difficult for me to remember which icons do which things. I’ll probably learn them eventually through pure repetition, but when I’m constantly switching out my bridge officer skills to try out different things in order to figure out which combination is best, it’s going to take a while.
This digestive system icon is the Evasive Maneuvers skill. What? It’s a silhouette of a person, showing a line going down their throat, into their stomach, then to the side into their intestines. Tell me you don’t see a simplified diagram of the digestive system there. I know that it’s SUPPOSED to be a curving line to represent the fact that it helps you move around, with the person outline to represent… I’m not sure. That you’re using it on yourself? But I can’t look at it and see anything other than digestion.
I wish I could at least have little customizable color sliders to make all of my damage abilities red, all of my shield-healing abilities yellow, all of my hull/health healing abilities blue, all of my buff abilities green, all of my debuff abilities purple… I’m used to playing games that have abilities in a wide range of colors! Or even better, give me a macro system and let me use custom icons for said macros. I’ll be happy to design some myself that actually help me remember what they do.
Right now, when I’m running low on health or shields in a panic, I’m just hitting all of the buttons I have that are off cooldown in hopes of hitting the one that will help in this situation, because by the time I mouse over all of them to read their names/descriptions and remember what they do, I’ll probably be dead.
Also, it’s incredibly irritating when my bars rearrange themselves without telling me. Maybe I’ll temporarily be on a different ship for a quest. Maybe I’ll just load into a different sector. Suddenly half of my abilities are gone and the rest are on the wrong buttons, but I don’t notice this until I’ve loaded into a space combat mission and am trying to figure out where my Beam Target Shields button went. I KNOW that I just arranged those buttons yesterday….
3. I continue to have constant rubberbanding issues.
The game constantly slams my characters into walls when I’m just trying to walk in a straight line down a hallway that I recently turned onto, or pulls my ship backwards when I’m moving in a straight line through sector space. One time, I was standing in a doorway for several seconds, shooting at someone, before the rubberbanding pulled me safely back into a hallway. I failed the “slingshot around a star” quest the first time because my ship got yanked to the left just as I was about to fly through one of the rings.
I use a wireless router at home, but it should not be necessary for me to snake an ethernet cable through my house to my computer in order to play this game. I have been playing online games for many years and none of the other games I have ever played have had this problem. I might be unable to loot something or my attacks might stop dealing damage for a moment as the server catches up, but I have NEVER been slammed into walls due to lag except when playing Cryptic games.
This is the sole reason I stopped my subscription to Champions Online the month after it was initially released, and also the reason why I have never returned to that game for more than about 30 minutes at a time. I keep checking back on a regular basis, and every time I’m surprised that nothing has been done to fix this yet.
4. I don’t like how many of the passive traits are species-specific.
I like one trait from this species, but I don’t like their other required trait, or I want to make a character with a certain look. Why are so many of the good traits locked away in specific species? Can Betazoids really be the ONLY empathic race in the galaxy? Is it impossible for another species out there to have a symbiont similar to the Trill? It seems pretty silly that you can’t use a lot of these traits on Alien characters. If it’s for balance reasons, then why are some races given multiple good traits while others are given multiple bad ones? For example, is there a legitimate reason to ever play a Pakled character?
Just saying that if you put certain trait unlocks on the C-Store, along with an item that lets you reset your traits, I would definitely buy it. I’m rather surprised there isn’t already a race/trait reset item, since you tend to make this decision before you know how it will affect you, and are forced to remake your character from scratch once you have learned.
Good to see this game accurately portrays the racist mentality of the show. You know, the “oh, maybe this cardassian ISN’T sneaky and unscrupulous… oh wait, yes he is” that constantly pops up in the episodes. We don’t care what color your skin is, but “I’m sorry, Surisa, but you’re a saurian, and this betazoid obviously makes a better science officer because of her racial traits. You’ve been a loyal officer since I was level 5, and I haven’t even met her yet, but the choice is obvious.”
5. The Reply to Tell feature makes me very nervous.
A friend of mine sent me a tell, and it’s very hard to figure out how you’re supposed to have a conversation this way, other than by typing /tell and their handle, or by right-clicking on their name in chat, every single time. I was later clued in to the fact that there was a keybinding for that, but the fact that you have to take focus OFF of the chat menu in order for that keybinding to work makes it rather annoying to attempt to have a conversation via tell.
You can’t enter a separate channel for tells on the dropdown, and you can’t see if the front of your message contains the /tell tag after you’ve typed enough for it to scroll to the side, so I’m constantly second-guessing myself and deleting my message to make sure it started with /tell. I get very nervous that I’m going to mistell something embarrassing to Zone chat (my friend actually did this within a few minutes of starting our conversation), and have ended up making custom channels for any conversations more than a couple of messages long.
Also, one time someone PMed me at DS9 to tell me that I was still displaying the Lieutenant title even though I’m a captain, and when I tried to respond to thank them for the heads-up, it told me that “new accounts cannot send tells to non-friends.” Excuse me? I created my account over two YEARS ago. I don’t think I qualify as “new” any more.
You know what would be really neat? If you could open a chat window that’s like a subspace communication, like the windows you use to talk with NPCs — it could have a picture of the other person’s character, like I’m having a video chat with them like people do in the show. I could minimize it while I’m in combat, make it flash when there are new messages. Maybe I could have buttons to make my character do little animations on screen when I want to smile or something.
6. Minimap zoom amount is very inconsistent.
I often find myself on ground missions where my minimap only displays a bunch of blurry pixels and is completely useless to get my bearings. I try to zoom out, but I can’t zoom out at all, I can only zoom in to what is even more blurry and useless. It would be nice if I wanted to know exactly how all of the enemies within 5 feet of me are arranged without actually looking at them, but is completely useless to find out where I’m supposed to be going from this room without opening up the zone map.
7. Quests are often extremely unclear about where I’m supposed to go.
One of three situations will happen. Either I’m supposed to inspect several objects, and the highlighted zone on the map is the ENTIRE map, which is not helpful at all. Or the thing I’m supposed to inspect is so tiny that the scaled-down edges of the selected area are nearly invisible on the zone map. Or there is no highlighted area on the map at all.
Oftentimes, the quest gives me little information other than “use the computer” or “scan the rocks” or “administer the antidote.” Who am I administering the antidote to, and where are they? Where are the things I need to scan?
I try to look in my quest log, and it only shows the description for the overall quest, no help for the specific subquest that I’m currently working on. I look through the log at the things my bridge officers told me, and they’re not much help. They might tell me who to administer the antidote to, but I still have no idea where this person is. They tell me that I need to scan the thingamabobs, but they don’t even give me a general direction.
It’s nice that I can use my V-key scanner to look for interactable things, but it doesn’t help at all in some situations. Scanning finds both quest items and anomalies. Several times, the anomalies are underground or inside a building and I can’t get them to go away, but the scan keeps pointing towards it. I just have to run around the giant circled quest area in hopes that I’ll stumble onto one of the things I need to find, because my scanner has been neutralized completely.
8. Bridge officer recommendations for duty officer assignments are often not the best choices.
I keep trying the bridge officer recommendations, but I am constantly finding that there are other people in my roster who are not being recommended and are better for the task.
This isn’t just a case of the recommendation choosing a green-quality person with no matching traits when there are white-quality people with several matching traits. I’m talking about my bridge officers recommending white-quality people with NO matching traits, when there are several white-quality people who DO have matching traits as well as green-quality people with no matching traits.
Here’s an example. One time, the three that were recommended to me were all white-quality officers without a single matching trait between them. Out of curiosity, I clicked to see the full list, and there was a fourth person — a green-quality officer with TWO matching traits. Selecting one of the non-matching officers left me with 8% critical and 92% success, but selecting the matching person DOUBLED my critical success! Isn’t a higher chance of critical success better?
What kind of criteria is it using? Is there some reason other than RP for slotting certain bridge officers as the leaders of certain departments? Are some bridge officers better at making recommendations than others? Or is there some reason I would WANT to use someone with no matching traits over someone with several? This goes against how the duty officer system was explained to me, and also what the percentages are when I compare these officers.
Edit: Ooh, I’ve got screenshots!
Take a look at my recommendations for this assignment. Nothing matches!
Let’s look at the full list, shall we?
I’ve got 10 officers in my total list who match at least one trait, two of them matching two traits. I’ve got ten officers who are green-quality, some of them matching traits. And there, in the middle of the list, is Nemekra, who not only matches two traits, but is green quality! Why is she not being recommended to me? Why are NONE of these people being recommended to me??
9. It is very time-consuming to travel to other places to complete quests.
I log in, and find myself sitting at Earth Spacedock, where I often log out for the night. I poke at my Duty Officers to get them all set up, I toss a few items on the exchange, and then I look at my quest log. I think to myself “hmm, I think I’d like to get a few quests done.” I ask the diplomacy guy where I’m going today, and he tells me “the opposite side of the quadrant!” Ugh. I don’t want to fly all the way over there… I think I’ll just log off and watch an old episode of Voyager.
It’s great that the main story missions give an easy way to teleport directly to them, but why isn’t there an easy way to travel to the other zones quickly? Most other MMOs give easy ways to travel long distances. I feel like flight paths have been abolished and I’m being asked to run on foot all the way from Stormwind to Blasted Lands every night. At least in WoW, I could hop on a gryphon and fly all the way across the continent while I go do something else, but in STO, I need to actually be paying attention while I travel in order to say “Yes, I do want to warp to the next sector” and then wait through a loading screen, aim my ship in the proper direction, then wait for the next sector-change popup. It’s nice that I can auto-route to systems within a sector, but that doesn’t help me when my destination is three sectors away.
More wormholes/transwarp locations, please? I love that I have one for Earth so that I can jump home when I’m done with whatever I was doing in the far corners of the galaxy, but the trip over there in the first place takes way too long.
In a similar vein, loading screens take WAY too long. It can take me five minutes to get into Earth Spacedock or DS9. Occasionally, it would get up to 94 or so and then just hang there. After a few minutes, I’ll give up and restart the game, and it loads me in just fine. But more often than not, I’ll start flying in a straight line through sector space or encounter a loading screen and alt-tab out to read some blogs. A half hour later, I’ll remember that I was playing STO and alt-tab back to the game to find that I’ve been logged out due to being idle. I wouldn’t do that so much if travel wasn’t so time-consuming.
10. Where are the Borg missions, and how are they triggered?
I seem to run into these at random when traveling. I want my friend to come help me so we’ll be more likely to succeed, and it takes five minutes for him to travel to my location. It seems specific to not only my sector, but also the instance of that sector. I need my friend to be exactly where I am in order to come help, and the quest is mostly over by the time he gets there. I really wish there were an easier way for party members to join in on these, especially since they’re timed.
I could understand if it were an hourly event, say every hour on the hour, there is a borg attack. But for there to be a borg attack at THIS time, in THIS instance of THIS sector, and nowhere else, is just weird. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to it, so that if I want to fight some borg, I can never find them anywhere, but they’re always popping up when I’m on my way to do something else.
11. The economy is totally screwed up.
Not that I’m complaining, but why the HELL are people willing to pay 8,000 Energy Credits on an item they can buy from their own ship’s replicator at any time for 10% of that, or from cargo ships in sector space for even less? Is it because people are idiots, or aren’t paying attention? Is it because the game does a really bad job of teaching players where they can buy commodities, so that when they encounter a quest requiring these items, they think they HAVE to buy them at that price in order to complete it? Is it a side effect of having a 40-item limit for the Exchange, meaning there is not enough supply to meet the demand?
I’m not sure where people are getting all of these Energy Credits, but I think there’s something horribly wrong when I can earn huge amounts of money by buying common items from NPCs for pennies and relisting them. In our WoW terms, this is like those people who sell individual glasses of milk on the auction house during the holidays because there are people too stupid to know they can buy it from the innkeeper 20 feet away. You scoff because you don’t think anyone will actually buy them and those people are wasting their time, but you know deep-down that whoever’s listing them wouldn’t do it in the first place if they weren’t actually selling any at that price.