Still plugging along

Still working my way through Mass Effect 2.  If it weren't for the fact that the Olympics are going on right now I probably would have finished it already.  Still, I am OK with taking my time on it, at least on the first play through.

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Oh Mass Effect, how I love thee!

I posted about Star Trek Online almost 2 weeks ago, and I have played some more and fully intend to spend more time in that universe.  However, Commander Shepard has grabbed my attention with her "save the universe" antics yet again.  Mass Effect was my favorite game of all time and I spent more time in that game than any other the last couple years playing it over and over again.  So as one might imagine, I had some pretty high hopes for Mass Effect 2.
 
Bioware did not disappoint.  I will say there are some changes I am not as happy with as other, but overall the entire experience just seems to feel better, from the redone inventory system (or lack thereof really) to the pretty tight shooting mechanics.  I could do without the mining mini game...my left trigger finger will end up being super strong by the end of the game, but really you manage your investment in the mini game, so if you don't like it you can skip it.
 
All the new features aside,  Mass Effect always boils down to two things: characters and story.  Luckily Mass Effect 2 seems to still be great in these aspects.  I don't love all the new characters, but there are a few I do really like.  I think Mass Effect 1 edges out in terms of characters I like, but luckily there is still some interaction with these old friends friends to varying degrees.  And as to story, well that still rocks (of what I have seen so far)!
 
So I shall be romping the galaxy with my Mass Effect crew for a while.  I already have many sleepless nights. :)

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Star Trek Online: The Early Experiences

So I know I have a huge backlog of games to play on my Xbox and my PS3, but I have been trying to dabble in MMO's again of late.  I played Champions Online for about a month or so, enough to scratch my super hero itch and get my money's worth out of the game.  I also bough Aion, though I haven't booted that up yet because of the holidays and other games.  I think Aion will wait a bit longer as I move into another MMO just out, Star Trek Online.

I have a longstanding passion for Star Trek having watched at least some amount of all the TV series, reading lots of books, and of course the movies.  Over the years there has even been some games I have played, not always great, but some of them actually pretty fun.  So along comes an MMO based on Star Trek, and to my mind this seems to be a bit of crack for me in the making.  I watched a lot of the QuickLook stuff they did here at GiantBomb and any misgiving I had about trying the game were pretty much destroyed.  If you want to check out that series of videos you still can here

That is all well and good, but I have now finally got to play the game and wanted to give my initial experiences and thoughts.

Hello Lt. Uanu!
First off this games simply oozes Start Trek-ness.  From the art style to the sounds, anyone who has a passion for Star Trek will feel very much at home.  When you start up you have two character slots initially, which doesn't seem like a lot, but I think there are ways to expand that.  Being a Cryptic game (the makers of City of Heroes/Champions Online)  the character creation process is, of course, very detailed allowing you to start by picking general "class" stuff and then getting down to adjusting color of your pants and the crinkle of your nose.  Beyond the usual menagerie of races that inhabit the Star Trek univers,  you can even create your own race, spots, horns and all.  This is the route I took for my first character, and so Uanu Fal'Dara was born.  I did have a moment at the end where I was having trouble coming up with a name for my starship, but I settled on some classic mythology by going with the USS Orion.  I was surprised to get this as I though it would be taken, but they must allow duplicates, that, or people are really going for other names.

So many sliders, what to choose...what to choose.

Once create your character and ship you are thrust into the action right away with a series of ground and space based ship combat missions versus the Borg that serve as training to teach you all the basics of the game such how to move and shoot.  Anyone who has played a MMO should feel comfortable here.   The other thing this introduction does is establish the premise for why you, a lowly Ensign, would be given command of a Starship.     
 
At the end of these missions you pick up your first bridge officer which is a pretty cool concept.  Your bridge officers are NPC's that become part of your crew and go with you on away missions and man all the shipboard posts, so it is sort of like always having a group without all the LFG hassle.  These bridge cofficers are characters in their own right with skills to progress that parallel your own as you level, though at a bit slower rate.   
 

At the Starbase getting missions, "Hello Admiral!"

Once you get through the initial training missions, learning how to both control and fight with your starship, as well as your away team on the ground, you settle in at the Starfleet Starbase in the Sol system (Earth).  This is basically your starter city in space were you can find all manner of things such as quest givers, merchants for both personal items and starships, a bank, crafting terminals, and a marketplace.  There is everything you might expect from a fully fledged MMO, just with all the Star Trek trimmings.   Other than the first hour or so of my time spent creating my character, this is where I spent most of my initial evening with Star Trek Online.  The place feels fairly large and you can sink a decent amount of time in wandering around and seeing what every vendor sells, getting all the flavor text read, and seeing what other people have come up with for characters.  The Starbase, like just about every other zone in the game, and true to Cryptic's way of doing things, is instanced.  So the place never seem totally overwhelmed by too many people, but still feels full enough that you don't feel all alone.  Once you have had your fill of wandering Starbases you click the button to beam up to your ship and off you go.  
 
There seems to be a decent array of quests, at least so far.  You have the expected "Patrol System X" and "Escort Ambassador Z" missions, but there are some other ones that are a bit more meaty with story, something at least worthy of screentime in a Star Trek TV episode.

 

You gotta have a (Space) map!
I am pretty sure this is taught in school, but just in case it isn't anymore let me say this.  Space is really, really big.  In order to manifest this in game form such that you get the point without getting too bored traversing the vast distance between interesting spacial objects, Cryptic has come up with an "overworld" type of map mechanism.   Known space is broken down into sectors which effectively are your zones in MMO-speak.  The Sol and Vulcan systems for example are in the Vulcan Sector, which in turn is part of the Sirius Sector Block.  There are lots of sectors in STO, some of them cover Federation Space, but the Klingons, Romulans, Kardassians, and even Borg Space are covered.  So you could imagine yourself starting off working in the mostly newb friendly areas around Earth and the Sol system as you learn your Captaining craft, then moving on to the more dangerous parts of the galaxy.
 
 

Set course for fun, Warp 5...engage!
Once out of the Starbase you basically are prompted to Warp out of the Sol System and into  "Warp Space".  This is the physical representation of the zone you are in and you are able to fly around in this area.  In this area you will see holographic images of solar systems as well as other eye candy and destinations.  You also will see other ships travelling around in here, mostly real people, but I definitely ran into traveling NPC trader vessels that I could hail to buy and sell from.  As you fly through these sectors your speed is measured in units of Warpfactor, so this is effectively you traveling through warp, even though you are able to maneuver your vessel pretty much anywhere you want to go within the designated confines of the space.  As you approach a system that you are able to enter, say on a mission, you are prompted to drop out of Warp and enter the system.  This loads you into an instance of that space and you are now flying around at impluse speeds to do your deeds there.  It is here where most of the combat happens, either solo or with a group. 
 
Speaking of groups, one thing I applaude STO for is that they have crafted some missions to be shared missions.  Many times you will have the same mission that a few other people will have.  Even though you are not grouped up initially, once you drop from Warp into the system to start the mission, it will automatically group you up with a few other people doing the same thing.  It sort of feels like Starfleet is sending a group of ships to accomplish some mission together which is kind of cool.  The mission seems to scale to the number of players, so you do have to make sure you are following your compatriots (and vice versa), otherwise you can end up with some pretty tough enemies and not enough firepower.  I know it sounds like this all might be a bad thing, something where bad players will ruin the fun for all, but so far this has not been the case for me.  I have rather enjoyed the experience. 
 
Open fire, all weapons!
Space combat is probably the most fun I have had in the game so far.  It just feels like I want it to.  Star Trek is not about dogfighting with highly maneuverable ships, instead it is about moving large capital ships into positions that give you advantage over the enemy.  You are lining up broadsides effectively, like wooden sailing ships of olden times.  To that end, I think Cryptic did well.  There definitely is a balance struck such that you do get some amount of maneuverability to make the combat seem more exciting, but you soon learn that when you make an attack pass on a ship you don't get to immediately flip around and attack again.  This maneuverability also plays into your defensive tactics as you have to watch your fore, aft, starboard and port shields and always try to turn your ship so that your strongest defenses are toward the enemy.  You do also have the ability to shift power from shield to shield as well as manage power levels to all your systems, including weapons and engines. 
 
As you collect them, your bridge crew also helps out in combat with their abilites.  For example my Science Officer has a beam he can fire every once in a while to drain an enemy's shields, my Tactical Officer can fire a spread of torepedoes, and of course my Engineer can put emergency power to the shields!  All these things, along with the abilities you personally accumulate, are accessible through your hotbar, true to MMO form.   Combat then becomes a dance of selecting various attack and defensive actions, while in real time trying to maneuver yourself into a better position.  
 
Tricking out the USS Orion
The combat has definitely been a lot of fun for me.  And of course there is space loot!  You get to pick up items from giant golden buoys that appear after you defeat an enemy giving you items for your ship usually.  When out of combat you are free to explore the space and look for anomalies that gain you items that can be used in other aspects of the game.  I am still trying to figure out exactly what these things I am collecting are used for, but I believe they components for the crafting system, which I have not seen at all yet.  I have just been saving them up for when they will become useful.  The rest of the loot that you don't use can be sold off for "energy credits" that you can use to buy more gear for both you and your ship, things like weapons, clothing, and ship systems.  This all plays into another very awesome thing that Star Trek Online does and that is allow you to continue to customize your character, your crew and your ship.  If there is something you don't like, you can tweak it, all for the price of some energy credits.  That is very nice compared to older games where you were stuck with how you looked pretty much from character creation until you quit the game.
 
I am going to sign off for now, I have some more I want to talk about, including the ground combat, but I want to get a little bit more time with it to get the feel of it.  I definitely have spent more time in space so far, though that is not a bad thing.  
 
Until then.  Sersie out.
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