As it turns out, it is possible to complete Star Trek Online, and it’s possible to do it without paying any money at all. Because that’s what I did.
I know that for many people, the game here is all the endgame content, playing with others, doing the same missions over and over and collecting all the ships and stuff. That’s not for me. I reached the cap of level 65, then finished all the single play missions remaining, and that’s it. And it was mostly OK?
I’m still baffled how buggy it is, especially since some of the bugs I came across were there and reported on the official forums three or four years ago, and how clunky it all is. The menus are unwieldy and the menu navigation controls clearly suffer from controller rather than mouse use. The animations are PS2 level woodeness, characters randomly stand on chairs and tables (or sometimes, inside walls, doors or furniture), and getting stuck inside asteroids or rocky outcrops in caves is such a frequent issue that rather than fix it, they included a “warp somewhere nearby” option in the menu called “I am stuck”.
It’s repetitive. It’s broken. It’s ugly. And, although this isn’t the game’s fault, it doesn’t even fit into the Star Trek universe any more. But I enjoyed it enough to spend what is probably 125+ hours on it so I suppose it must have done something right?
If you’re a long time reader of this diary, or you follow me online generally, you probably know I don’t play games online very often, and I never play MMORPGs at all. Well, not since a brief dabble into Anarchy Online some 17 years ago, anyway. Why, you might ask, am I playing Star Trek Online then? And I would answer you with, I Really Don’t Know.
As a free to play game, I did a bit of research first. Mainly to find out how free “free” was: Are later bits impossible without spending money? Are you limited to just a few areas/missions/etc. unless you subscribe? That sort of thing. It turns out that Star Trek Online is surpisingly generous – there are something like 15 main “stories” (at least if you play as a Federation character – I think they’re different if you choose Klingon or Romulan) which are fully playable without paying for anything, and you can reach Level 60 with your character before you hit the “endgame” content which may require some outlay. In all, it looks like you get a good 100-odd hours out of it for nowt. Not bad.
But why would I play an MMO? Again, research suggested it’s all playable single player. And, having reached Level 30 and the rank of Captain, I can confirm I’m yet to see anyone else in the game at all. Apart from a strange impromptu party which happened on the space dock at Earth, but that hardly counts:
What I’m saying is, I’m playing a big ol’ Star Trek RPG, on my own, for free. So it’s not really an MMO at all, is it?
Not that you get the best things ever for free, of course. There are compromises, and it’s hardly Mass Effect levels of slick or Fallout New Vegas in Space in terms of combat or plot. It’s clunky, it’s jerky, it’s wonky and it’s fiddly. There are so many menus and items and options that it’s overwhelming. There are bugs galore, which seem to break quests for people frequently enough that they give you a “skip quest” option. It screws with Star Trek lore, although it does try to reference everything Star Trek has ever done, and some of the voice cast are actually straight from the various Trek series. There’s LCARS everywhere and all the ambient Trek noises you’d hope for – ship hum, door swish, computer bleeps, etc., so it’s trying very hard at least. It’s also set some time after TNG/DS9/Voyager.
As a single player RPG it’s a Numbers Go Up game. A boggling array of weapons, shields, upgrades and technologies for you, your crew and your ship ensure that at least 10 minutes of every hour’s play is poking around in the inventory checking to see if the DPS of your latest gun pickup is 0.1% better than the one you’re currently carrying, or if the 414 DPS antiproton phaser bank with a 250 degree firing arc and a 2s cooldown is better or worse than the 382 DPS plasma bank with a 360 firing arc but a 3s cooldown, or if you should ditch one of your quantum torpedo launchers so you can have both the antiproton bank and the plasma bank together instead. It’s like a complicated optician’s appointment.
In terms of gameplay, missions are split between space and ground events. Those in space usually involve dogfights or scanning stuff, and those on the ground are typical Star Trek away mission fare, albeit without dead redshirts. You explore planets and caves and derilict space ships and board the odd vessel to assault it from inside. As I said, there are about 15 stories in total available, each with around 10 missions. The stories link together too, with the overall plots involving Romulan rebels, the resurgance of the Klingon Empire, and Iconian gateways. It’s interesting having new Trek stories, if nothing else, and it’s certainly better than the nonsense Discovery came up with.
I’ve completed six or so of these stories, with my randomly generated Bajoran officer who looks just like Major Kira from Deep Space 9. I have a ship which looks a bit like Voyager only is black and translucent and has 4 nacells, and it’s called the USS Shootyboi. I think I’m having fun, but I’m not entirely sure why. The Numbers Go Up draw, perhaps. There’s always a new ability or target to reach. It’s how they getcha.
Returning to the clunkiness though, it’s hard to ignore. From the terrible animation and collision detection, to the PS2 graphics and environments, to the overly complicated systems (especially the seemingly superflous crafting and duty staff management), let alone stuff like the video below, it’s not a well game. The camera is wild, the controls unresponsive, and your away team frequently get in the way or get stuck in or under things. One mission I had to complete five times because the final “trigger” to send a report back to Star Fleet never appeared. If I’d paid money for this, I’d be somewhat miffed. As I understand it though, “clunk” is pretty synonymous with MMOs, and this one is now over a decade old (and free, I think I mentioned), so I shouldn’t be too harsh. Plus, being on my PS5 rather than PS4, the loading times are virtually removed, so that’s something.
Anyway, I could just walk away, right? Right. After the next mission.
The name change from Gods and Monsters to Fenyx Rising was enough to put me off ever buying this, and the quick price drop on release and middling reviews did nothing to convince me otherwise. What did convince me, however, was actual Real People saying it was alright actually but more than that was the dearth of things to actually play on my PS5. yes, Spider-Man, I know, but this was £21.
Also a negative was just how much like Zelda: Breath of the Wild it appeared to be. It’s all just in the graphics though, right? It’s actually more like Assassin’s Creed, right? Well, no. It’s actually much more like Breath of the Wild than I’d imagined.
That’s not to say there’s no Assassin’s Creed here – it still feels a bit like it, albeit in a fantasy rather than realistic setting, and the voice cast is made up seemingly entirely from the same people as Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, but yeah, it’s Zelda. You climb things and have a stamina bar, just like Zelda. You can glide from high places, just like Zelda. Ride horses? Zelda. Shrines with puzzles or feats in? Zelda. Crafting buffing potions? Zelda. Four main “bosses” then a final “dungeon”? Zelda. Magnesis powers? Zelda. Bow and arrow? Zelda. Baddies that explode when you kill them? Zelda. Trees to chop down? Heart and stamina upgrades? Switch puzzles? Zelda. It’s very Zelda.
But that’s OK. Breath of the Wild was A Very Good Game, so anything which manages to be half as good – especially in the absence of Breath of the Wild 2 – is fine, really. And it’s not all Zelda!
Fenyx’s quest is to restore some of the Greek Gods back to their former selves, and defeat Typhon who has beaten all the Gods and turned almost everyone to stone. So you set off to find and return the Gods’ essences which restore them back the way they were – Ares has become a cowardly chicken (literally), Aphrodite has lost her vanity, and so on. Doing this mostly this involves climbing tall places, fighting big monsters, and solving block-on-switch puzzles and shooting arrows through a series of axe handles. Because, you know, that’s what I’d lock progression behind if I were a Big Nasty.
Besides the main quest, there are the usual Ubisoft plethora of side quests, things to collect, skill trees, upgrades, chests to open, and so on. I did quite a few of these, but some of the vaults (the Immortals version of BotW’s Shrines) were too fiddly, difficult, or dull for me to bother with. Turns out you don’t need to upgrade yourself anywhere near as much as I spent time doing anyway, as the final boss is a walkover and I didn’t need more than a couple of my potions or special moves I’d taken in with me.
Difficultly being all over the place aside, it’s a really enjoyable game. The mostly blue skies and great traversal and combat mechanics more than make up for the repetition and lack of variety in the enemies (there are only really about six types in the game!) and it’s much better than I was expecting.
At first, Maneater is a great fish-chomping game with slightly annoying combat (with crocodiles and barracuda) and a funny faux Deadliest Catch style narration, but it soon starts to become tedious and repetitive. And then, even though the game doesn’t change, it becomes fun again. I’m not sure why.
You’re a baby shark, who eats to get bigger and evolve, ultimately to take down Scaly Pete, the fisherman who killed your mother. The waters you swim in are broken down into areas, with you starting in a swamp and moving through an industrial area, a nightlife filled city, the open sea, and so on. Each is opened up by completing tasks, such as munching a number of humans on a beach or destroying a fishing boat or culling some seals. Bigger water creatures attack you, and if you cause enough damage or eat enough people, the humans start to hunt you down.
There are RPG elements, as each thing you consume gives you certain “nutrients” which are spendable on upgrades such as gnashier teeth or a whippier tail. You also get different types of body part, such as bone or electric, for progressing. As well as this, you’ve 10 increasingly difficult hunters to coax out and eat as a sort of side story, and a number of Tony Hawk style floating objects to collect or Assassin’s Creedy hidden chests to smash open.
As for why I tired of the repetition before getting back into it and having a whale (a sperm whale, actually – I ate a few) of a time – perhaps I just switched off a bit of my brain and embraced the simplicity? There’s not much depth (except in the open sea, ho ho), and it’s not very hard (although I had a couple of hurdles that required levelling up a bit), nor is it very long, but don’t go in expecting Skyrim with Sharks and you’ll probably enjoy it too.
Maquette is a very clever idea married with a nice story but neither has much to do with the other. It’s basic premise is that you’re in a world and in that world is a miniature representation of the same world, and at the same time the world you’re in is a small version of a larger world. It’s turtles all the way down.
But they’re not just models – items that exist in one sized world also exist in the other sizes, and you can pick them up and move them from, say, the smaller world to the “normal” world, and then they become tiny in the small world. Or vice-versa to make them big. Puzzles revolve around this, with you needing to make keys for doors bigger or smaller, or place items on the other side of the small walls so they’re there in the larger world where the wall is too big to jump over.
It’s very clever, but flawed. A number of times the physics thwarted me by bouncing an item out of reach. Or I fell through a floor that had no solidity. A later puzzle involves slotting Tetris-like shapes into a partly populated grid, but the controls and “snapping” of items made dropping them in exactly the right place incredibly frustrating.
The final chapter involves the you being able to move the domed structure you’re in (the maquette of the title, presumably) by moving a smaller version of it already inside it. While the brainknots this causes are impressive, it all seems a bit too much for the, uh, feeble PS5 as it carrying the dome around makes the game chug along with sometimes more than one frame per second. And it crashed twice, once taking a saved game with it – thankfully I had a “spare”. Not what I expected from The Most Powerful PlayStation.
The story, which has no real bearing on the game bar the basic tone and the odd object that’s referenced, is actually about the chance meeting of two people, them getting together, moving in together, and the relationship stagnating. It’s not twee, nor is it sad, but it doesn’t fit with the game.
So, Maquette is a clever puzzle game ruined a little by technical issues, while you listen to a podcast about a young couple who met in a cafe.
I thought this game was going to be about painting murals on walls, which then come to life. And, for a while, it is. You paint genies who can help you move objects, activate power or open doors, and you can paint random stuff on most vertical surfaces. However, it’s a lot darker than that and the first third of the game involves a lot of hiding from some not very nice bullies.
There’s quite a bit of Assassin’s Creed style traversal, which I wasn’t expecting. Not sure how Ash, the boy you control, has the skills needed to use the underside of a crane arm as monkey bars without freaking out he’s going to die. There’s a lot of collecting scrapbook pages that float around the rooftops, again giving the feel of Assassin’s Creed III.
But it isn’t Assassin’s Creed of course – it’s a painting game as I said. Until it isn’t. The final part of the game introduces attacks, a skating mechanic, and a health bar, as you suddenly have enemies to fight. It also introduced a bug where one of the enemies wouldn’t move and was invincible. These bits of the game, and the final boss, aren’t really what I signed up for and don’t really fit. It doesn’t help that the “lock on” button very rarely actually locks on to the baddies, and when it does it doesn’t stay locked on for long. I don’t know if that’s a bug or by design, but either way it hampers beating them and just adds annoyance to the end of the game.
Concrete Genie is a very pretty game (perhaps more so as I played it on the PS5), with some clever bits and a nice world and story, and the painting bits are enjoyable, but the world traversal is clunky and the game style switch was a bad idea.
Let me preface this by pointing out that I won’t be going into detail about the game itself. Enough has been written elsewhere about the premise, and to mention too much about the plot will just be spoilers anyway. Instead, I’ll tell you why it has taken me OVER A YEAR to complete it.
Well, the main issue was the loading times. After all the DLC was installed, it took more than ten minutes from turning on my PS4 to being able to control Kassandra (like I’d play as Alexios) in the game. Fast travel was anything but, with horsing my way across the map genuinely feeling faster (and although most of the time it wasn’t, at least I could pick up wood and ore on the way). To be honest, after a few months of hour-or-two sessions, I’d started to not play it most of the time just because it took so long to get into. In August 2020 I made another stab at it, but again after a while the loading got me down so I stopped.
And then I bought a PS5.
Playing Odyssey on that has been a revelation. OK, so the load times aren’t instant but fast travel is a few seconds now, not minutes, and from boot-to-control is under two minutes. Plus I’ve taken to using suspend and rest on the PS5 so really, loading has mostly gone. And it’s like a different game.
There are probably graphical improvements and fewer frames dropped too, but I wouldn’t notice. They’re much less important, anyway.
So finally, after a couple of months, the achievement popped for completing Kassandra’s Odyssey (and an email from Ubisoft – in real life – came through congratulating me, which just feels weird). I’ve not killed all of the Cult yet, although I’ve made a good go at it, not least because after finishing off Deimos and doing a few forts, I discovered I’m completely invincible, thanks to (presumably) a bug:
This means I can take down anyone with impunity, and attract as many mercenaries to attempt to kill me as is possible because, well, they can’t. Turns out one of them was a cultist too – bonus.
The game itself is fun. It’s more of the same as Origins, albeit with lynxes instead of hippos and with more boating. Kicking people off cliffs with my Spartan Kick never gets old. The problem is, it’s too big. There’s too much to do. Although I’ve completed the main questline (and a handful of side quests), and I’ve spent over 85 hours on it, there’s still about 1/4 of the map completely unexplored. There’s still 27 open quests (plus however many I’ve not even found yet). There’s two entire lots of DLC I’ve not touched. I still have some cultists to assassinate. I’m level 47 with a cap of (I think) 100. And who knows what else. Sure, you can’t complain you don’t get your money’s worth here, but I’ve other games that need playing!
Yes, i bought a PlayStation 5, and yes, I know I’ll regret it at some point, but let us not get into that right now, shall we?
My first completed PS5 game is this free one that came with the console. It’s clear that the main purpose of Astro’s Playroom is to show off the features of the DualSense controller, but in the form of a playable game. I have to say, the way in which the features of the pad are used here are incredible, from the feel of hail hitting the controller to the haptic feedback and variable-resistance triggers. I’m sure 99% of games will never use most of what it can do, but it’s a great tech demo.
It’s also a great game. It’s a platformer, with the aim being to ultimately collect all the jigsaw pieces and PlayStation related items across four main levels, with which to fill a sort of museum in the hub world. It’s not difficult, but it is varied. Each level is based around some element inside the PS5 console, like the GPU and the SSD, and so is themed to match. The SSD level is all neon and futuristic, for example, and scattered everywhere are little robots acting out various PlayStation games from the ages – most of which are lost on me because I’m not a fan of most Sony titles.
There are a number of nods to Mario titles in the gameplay too, with Mario Galaxy’s spin attack and Mario Sunshine’s FLUDD hover thing, and although it’s nowhere near as good as a Mario title (and Mario Odyssey still has the edge graphically, despite the gulf in power between the PS5 and Switch), it’s still a lot of fun.