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Archive for February, 2010

Let me axe you something

Awww yeah. That's one FINE piece of axe right there.

I haven’t been blogging a whole lot about raiding with The Anvil lately.  That’s because we’ve managed to get our collective ankles wedged firmly into a gap that Blizzard’s left in the content.

We didn’t have too much trouble getting through the Lower Spire in ICC 25-man.  Marrowgar, Lady Deathwhisper, the Gunship Battle, and even Saurfang fell before us with relative ease.  I wouldn’t call them pushovers the way that, say, Trial of the Wake Me When It’s Over was when we first started.  But we moved through Icecrown’s first four bosses in fairly good time, and prepared to assault the rest of the Lich King’s stronghold.

Then we slammed head-on into the Plagueworks.

If you’re just getting ready to head into Icecrown, 10- or 25-man, consider this a warning:  There is a big jump in difficulty between the first four bosses and the middle portion of the instance, the Plagueworks (Festergut, Rotface, and Professor Putricide) and the Crimson Halls (Blood Princes, Blood Queen Lana’thel).  That jump in difficulty has stopped us dead in our tracks.

We quickly reached a very unpleasant realization on Festergut, supposedly the “easiest” of the bosses…we couldn’t kill him.  Not “we can’t kill him because we’re making too many mistakes”–a totally unqualified “we can’t do this right now.”  We ran up against cold, hard math.  Festergut’s enrage timer is so short (5 minutes) and he has so much health (40.44 million) that how well we handled the mechanical aspects of the fight with gas spores and healing through his insane damage didn’t matter.  You need a five-minute average of roughly 135,000 dps from your raid to drop Festergut before he splats you.  Before last night, on our best attempt, we had 91,000.  No amount of sleight of hand or focusing on eliminating mistakes could get around the fact that if you don’t bring that 135,000 dps, you don’t kill Festergut.  Full stop.  Before last night, our best attempt on Festergut was hitting the enrage timer at 30%.  Not.  Even.  Close.

Rotface isn’t quite the insane DPS race that Festergut is, but it’s a crazy fight–Grobbulus on speed, with even more raid-wide damage and shadow-crash-style flying angry exploding poo-poos to dodge.  And you still need a ton of DPS, because otherwise, you get so many oozes running around that your coordination breaks down in terms of the kiting that’s required.  Our best attempt to date on Rotface is around 17%, which, considering the insanity of the fight and our relative DPS level, ain’t shabby.

Well, last night, we went to try and sell Arthas encyclopedias yet again.  We did it in the middle of the godawful crippling lag that has had the entire Cyclone battlegroup by the balls since the Love is in the Air event started up.  (Servers in Cyclone, Ruin, Bloodlust, and Reckoning have been getting crushed for days now with 5+ minute zone times, minutes-long loot lag and mailbox lag, etc.  Multiple maintenance downtimes haven’t done a damn thing to fix it.)  The lag was so bad that my wife couldn’t even join the raid, and then we lost two more regulars due to illness.  We managed to pick up enough subs to fill out the roster, and gave it a try.

Go figure, but it was the best raid night we’ve had in a month and a half.  Maybe the lag got people to dial it in and focus, or maybe the phase of the moon was just right, I don’t know.  Not only did we one-shot all four bosses in the front, but we had two near-perfect Festergut attempts and got him to 8%, and then 6%, before he enraged.  Magically, we’ve somehow picked up over 30,000 dps on that fight in just a few weeks.  If we find about 10,000 more in the glovebox and under the sofa cushions, we’ll own that mutant potato right in his ugly face…uh, OK, one of his ugly faces.  He’s got spares.

It was one of those nights that invigorates my desire to raid with this awesome bunch of maniacs I run with, because we were hitting on all cylinders and having a great time doing it.  The one sad part was that my wife missed it…especially when the druid loot dropped.

And out of all that, I got a new toy to play with:

Now, I got a whisper last night asking me why I’d blow a “suicide” on a one-handed DPS weapon that wasn’t a tank weapon, when my DPS offspec is Fury and thus needs two-handers.  It’s a legit question, deserving of an answer.  The short version is, despite it not being a tank weapon, it’s a significant upgrade for me.  Now, the long version–half because I’m paranoid and still justifying to myself why I took it, and half as explanation of why a tank sometimes gets very good use out of a “non-tank” weapon.

Right now, Lin’s tank weapons are a Titanguard and a Burnished Quel’serrar from 25-man Ony.  The Titanguard has been Lin’s bread-and-butter tank sword for almost a full year now, and while it’s an excellent item (it was our first hard-mode Ulduar loot ever), it’s a tier or a tier-and-a-half behind current content.  I picked the BQ up to use as a situational weapon when I had to bring more DPS as Prot; it’s been part of my block-heavy gear set, and also has been what I use to tank heroics.  But it’s not well-itemized, and despite the old-school cool factor of it being a Quel’serrar, I’ve never warmed to it.

True, the Scourgeborne Waraxe isn’t a classic +str/+sta/+defense/avoidance tank weapon.  It is, first and foremost, a rogue axe in no uncertain terms–not really itemized awesomely for hunters and way, way too fast for enhancement shamans.  But for starters, 48 dps more on the tooltip is damned hard to ignore.  It’s even faster than the Titanguard (1.5 vs. 1.6), and fast for a tank weapon is good.  The stat tradeoff is surprisingly even–I lose the +str from the Titanguard costing me 24 shield block value, but I end up net gaining about 10 attack power, the stamina is close to even (loss of ~110 health), and the extra agility gives me enough dodge that even after losing the 33 parry rating from the sword, I only lose a net of 0.30% total avoidance.  In return, I get a huge burst of +crit (over 2%), a token bit of armor penetration, and a sizeable damage increase over the Titanguard, both overall and at the top end for attacks like Devastate.  It’s going to be a significant bump in my threat generation.  And I’m already running with so much excess Defense (578 with the sword), I can afford to lose 7 points of it.

In the end, I had to make a quick decision when interest in the weapon was called; using Rating Buster‘s breakout of stat pluses and minuses (which I trimmed from the tooltip screenshot), I decided to go for it.  And once I get that new axe Mongoosed, it’s going to become my primary heroic and trash tanking weapon.  The Titanguard stays in my bag for situations where absolute maximum avoidance and health are needed and threat is less of an issue–for example, if I’m kiting on Rotface, playing kissyface with Muradin on the Gunship Battle, or eating saber lashes on Marrowgar.

Besides, just look at it, peeps. It’s beautiful.  It’s huge.  It’s so big it goes over my back instead of on my belt.  It’s not standard-issue Wrath of the Lich King Tier 9 Brown, unlike everything else Lin wears.  It has frigging spikes on the blade. How can I not have my Panzercow walking around with something that utterly badass in his humongous three-fingered hand?

So You Want to Be a Prot Warrior: The Dreaded Heroic PUG

Your PUGs may be this successful, but I doubt they'll ever be this cute.

Patch 3.3 is simultaneously the best of times and the worst of times for new up-and-coming tanks.  It’s the best of times because the old sequential gearing paradigm–you need to do normal 5-mans to gear up for heroic 5-mans to gear up for Naxx to gear up for Ulduar to gear up for Trial of the Crusader to gear up for Icecrown–is right out the window.  It is now possible to skip many of the middle steps and load up on tasty Tier 9-level gear by nothing more than running heroic 5-mans and the occasional raid for weekly quests.  (Whether you’ll actually be able to get into a raid once you get that gear is another matter entirely, and not in scope for this post.)

It’s also the worst of times, though, because in order to get that gear, you’re going to have to run a lot of heroics.  And that almost certainly means, unless you are blessed with lots and lots of friends, sooner or later, you’ll end up using the Looking for Dungeon tool and end up as the tank…of a cross-server pick-up group.

(Insert lightning flashes, thunder, and jarring pipe organ chord here.)

You’ve probably heard the horror stories flying around about cross-server PUGs.  Of trigger-happy DPS who throw all their threat-management skills out the window and go balls-to-the-wall trying to top the Almighty Recount, and expect the tank to magically be able to save them from their own e-peenery.  Of healers belittling tanks and bailing on groups when the tank has less than full T9 and 40k health unbuffed.  And yes, those things do happen…but not always.  Not even the majority of the time, in fact.

Are you are a shiny fresh new level 80 tank ready to get on the LFD PUG treadmill to Triumph and Frost Nirvana, but you’re scared to press that first “Find Group” button?  Never fear, Panzercow is here.  What I’m about to tell you is all common-sense stuff that you may have already figured out–trust me, I’m not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, so if I know this stuff, it ain’t rocket surgery.  But it’ll help, and it’ll give you the foundation you need to stride forth into the world of cross-server PUGs and survive.

It all basically comes down to what I call the four “bes”–be knowledgeable, be prepared, be honest, and be confident.

Be Knowledgeable

Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.  –Sun Tzu

Tanking, with any class, is a learned process.  You need to have a sound, well-researched spec.  You need to learn your chosen class’s abilities, rotation or priority system, and emergency buttons.  Then you need to learn how to extend that to controlling agro on multiple mobs.  Then, on top of that, you need to build the situational awareness that all good tanks have, and advanced techniques like LOS pulling.  And then, as the final layer on the cake, you have to know the specific instance–patrol paths, where you can LOS pull safely, kill orders of specific groups, and, of course, boss strategies.

A cross-server PUG, with four people you don’t know, is not the time to be learning all of it.

If you don’t know an instance, run it with friends first–or at least read up on it on any of the various sites out there on the Web.  If your babytank is an alt, start paying more attention to “tanky” things when you’re in the instance on your main.  Watch how your tank grabs groups and where he tanks them.  Watch his facing.  Note which mobs are casters that need to be silenced.

As for your own tanking, it should go without saying…you need to have a solid grasp of the basics of tanking instance pulls before setting foot in a heroic PUG.  Run more forgiving normal groups (PUGs if need be) or heroics with friends.  You should’ve been instancing as you leveled anyway, quite honestly, so by the time you’re ready to do heroics, tanking instances should be second nature to you.  Chances are, a PUG is going to push your tanking skills to (or beyond) their limits, especially if you are a fairly new 80 grouped up with well-geared DPS.  Be ready for it–have your own skills squared away before you queue up.

Be Prepared

Bring war material with you from home, but forage on the enemy… use the conquered foe to augment one’s own strength.  –Sun Tzu

There are some very unrealistic expectations floating around in PUGs these days.  Yes, sometimes, people flip out and drop the group when the tank isn’t already ridiculously overgeared–God forbid some of these mouth-breathers actually have to take ten extra minutes to finish Azjol-Nerub.  You, as a fresh 80, can’t do anything about that.  You have to run the heroics to get the gear.

That doesn’t mean, though, that you can’t be as well-prepared as possible going in.  Once you hit 80, find a friendly neighborhood blacksmith and make friends.  Things like the Tempered Titansteel Helm, Tempered Titansteel Treads, and especially the Titansteel Shield Wall will go a long way toward getting you to where you need to be.  Before trying a heroic, your goals, in my opinion, should be:

  • 23,000 health unbuffed
  • 21,000 armor unbuffed
  • 535 Defense (this is non-negotiable and should be your top priority)
  • 130 hit rating (+4% hit, half of what you need to never miss unless you’re Draenei)
  • at least some expertise, preferably over 10

Now, I know people are often slack about gemming and enchanting sub-ilevel-200 stuff.  The thought is, “why waste the money when I’m just going to replace it in a few weeks?”  Well, sorry, folks, but that’s a bad thought to have.  You should always gem and enchant your gear with something. You don’t need to be dropping 250 gold on Solid Majestic Zircons to put into an ilevel 187 breastplate unless you’re absolutely dripping in gold.  But you can pick up blue- or green-quality gems for a fraction of the cost and use those instead.  Similarly, true, a chest enchant like Powerful Stats (+10 all stats) would be a waste.  But what’s wrong with Super Stats (+8 all stats) or even Powerful Stats (+6 all stats)?  You can snag scrolls of those on the AH for much less money, and they provide a good benefit.  Make sure you get factional enchants (like Sons of Hodir shoulder or Argent Crusade head) as soon as you can–snag them on your main if your babytank is an alt.  It is especially important for a tank to push their gear to the limit and get as much out of it as possible.  Don’t slack.  Gem and enchant, but do it wisely.  Make the most out of what gear you have and you maximize your chances of success.

Also, do not be afraid to use buff food, potions, elixirs, scrolls, or anything else you’ve got in your backpack.  Every little bit helps.  When you’ve got 40,000 health, you won’t have to worry about “flasking up” before a heroic.  When you’ve got 23,000 health, it’s not a bad idea to go ahead and do it, just in case.

Be Honest

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.  –Sun Tzu

So you know how to tank, you know the instances, and your gear is as ready as you can make it.  And there you are, standing at the entrance to your first heroic…grouped with four people from different servers, none of whom you know and none of whom know you.  And you can tell by your unitframes that they’re all targeting you and wondering why you have 23,300 health when you’ve got the little shield icon by your name.

This is not a situation you can bullshit your way out of, so don’t even try it.  Be honest and get it all out right up front.  Say, “hey guys, FYI, if you couldn’t tell, I haven’t been 80 for long…work with me on this and I’ll do my best for you.”

If people start giving you crap like “lol” and “ffs noobtank” and bailing out?  Screw ’em.  You wouldn’t have wanted to run the instance with them anyway.  I think, though, that you will be surprised at just how many people will respond positively to you being honest with them.  We tend to think of PUGs as being composed of nothing but nasty knuckle-draggers who actually want to make your life a living hell, but that’s not true.  The majority of the hundreds of people in the Cyclone battlegroup that I’ve run heroics with, on five different characters (one tank, four DPS), have been competent, and if not pleasant, at least polite.  They want to finish the run as quickly and smoothly as possible, get their badges, and move on.  No, they don’t want to take an hour to run Azjol-Nerub, but they also don’t want to go hellbent in there, pull all three Watchers at once and wipe, either.

If you’re a little fuzzy on part of the instance, don’t hesitate to ask.  If you think you need assistance as you’re going along, don’t hesitate to ask–“hey, Mr. DK, think you could death grip that second caster over here when I heroic throw the first one?”  Don’t try to bluff your way through, because it won’t work.  Honesty talks, bullshit walks.

Be Confident

The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.  –Sun Tzu

Now that you’ve got yourself ready, your gear ready, and you’ve prepped the group for what to expect…take charge.

Now by “take charge,” I don’t mean start acting like a douchemuffin and bossing people around.  That’ll get you votekicked in short order.  But, you are the tank, are you not?  You are the one who does the pulling and controls the agro, yes?  Then do it. Make sure everybody’s ready, take a deep breath, and pull.

“Taking charge” means that you assert yourself as the tank.  You, as the tank, are going to control the speed of the run, so pull at a pace that’s fast but comfortable for you.  Check the healer’s mana before every pull–his is the blue bar you care about far more than the others (except your own if you’re a paladin).  If the healer’s drinking, wait.  If people are falling behind, wait a second for them to catch up, then go.  If they’re yelling “gogogogogo” in your ear, do not speed up unless you and the healer are comfortable with doing so.  NEVER let yourself get pressured into going faster than you can handle.  At your gear level, you are not going to be able to bulldoze an instance at the speed of a well-geared tank, and you’ve already let your group know that up front.  It’s their decision whether to work with you or to bail out.

You may get people who decide that they should pull “for” you.  Personally, I have zero tolerance for this, and you shouldn’t either.  When I’m tanking a heroic, I pull, period, unless I work out with a hunter to do a misdirect pull (very rare).  Otherwise I tend to see mobs running at a squishy while I have no rage to do anything.  So if you get “assistant” pullers, I say let them tank it!  If they somehow manage to live, great.  Before they run off and do it again, tell them in no uncertain terms that you don’t want them to do it.  If they do it again, wish them fun tanking, and drop group.

Likewise, if people are rude to you because they don’t think you’re going “fast enough?”  Let it slide off your back.  If they continue to insist upon being assholes, thank the good people in the group, and leave.  (Or votekick the asshole if possible, which is the best outcome!)  Tanking is a stressful activity at the best of times, you do not need somebody insulting you while you’re trying to give your best effort.  Do not take crap from haters.  Stand your ground, and if it gets too nasty, leave.  Take a break while your timer ticks down.  Then immediately requeue, as soon as you can.  Get right back on the horse.  You’ll probably get a better group and have a more pleasant time.

My final thought is this:  A significant portion of what makes good tanks good is mental toughness.  You’re going to screw up.  You’ll wipe groups.  You’ll get mental midgets who aren’t fit to carry your mousepad insulting you because you’re a “noobtank.”  Do not let it get you down.  Stay strong.  Take a break if you’re not feeling like tanking–hey, it is still a recreational fun activity, right?–but don’t get run off from it permanently.  In the end, if you are knowledgeable, prepared, honest, and confident, you will prevail.

Where no cow has gone before

I've blown up more shit in two stardates than they did in three years of the original series.

Meet Lieutenant (Grade Eight) Jonathan Harmon, erstwhile commander of the Federation light cruiser USS Altair, NCC-93165.  Jon comes from a family of totally undistinguished Starfleet officers; he’s the sixth generation of Harmons to serve in Starfleet, and not one of them ever made it past Lieutenant or commanded a starship, so he’s already ahead of the game.  Fresh from graduating in the bottom half of his class at Starfleet Academy, armed with nothing more than youthful idiocy and a bad haircut, he was all set to continue the family mediocrity when he reported to the Altair for a training cruise, and then things kinda went wrong at Vega Colony…

Yes, your humble Panzercow has taken a couple of days off from WoW and is giving Star Trek Online a whirl.

Now I’m not a huge Trekkie or Trekker or whatever they want to be called these days.  Yes, as a kid in the mid-’70s, I grew up on reruns of the original 1966-1969 series broadcast every afternoon at 4:30 on local TV in Lynchburg, Virginia.  But by the time Star Trek:  The Next Generation came out, I was over it.  In fact, I learned to dislike the show by sheer reflex–most of my friends at the time were absolutely addicted to it, and if I was over visiting them when it came on, everything frigging stopped–talking and noise were verboten for that hour.  It was annoying.  I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an entire episode of Deep Space Nine or Voyager, and never saw any of the ST movies in the theater.  The only one I ever suffered through on TV was Star Trek V:  The Final Frontier and I still haven’t quite figured out why, because it was a total piece of crap.

But, there’s something about the richness and depth of the Star Trek universe that’s appealing.  Plus, I’m a sucker for games in space–I still have an account in EVE Online and play irregularly, and was very heavily into the Lucasarts X-Wing/TIE Fighter series and the whole Wing Commander line as well.  (In fact, true geek story–I met my wife, the lovely and gracious Aggro Kitty, fourteen years ago on a Compuserve board devoted to tips and fiction around the Lucasarts X-Wing/TIE Fighter games.)  So on a whim on Monday, while still snowed in at home, I picked up STO via Steam.  I ended up playing most of the day Monday and Tuesday evening, which means I’ve taken my first two-day hiatus from WoW in months, maybe years.

Star Trek Online is set about thirty years after the events of Star Trek:  Nemesis, the tenth and (thank God) final of the original series of ST movies.  It’s 2409, and as you’d expect in an MMO, things in the Federation have gone to hell in a replicator.  A supernova has destroyed the Romulan homeworlds (as referenced in the J.J. Abrams reboot movie Star Trek), despite the heroic efforts of Spock, and the remnants of the Romulans are pissed off.  The Klingons have broken with the Federation for reasons I can’t quite figure out and are one of the primary Bad Guy races.  (You can roll a Klingon character after you get 6 levels as Federation.)  The Orions, Gorn, Nausicaans, and a shapechanging race called the Undine are causing trouble all over the place.  And, oh yeah, as you find out early on, the Borg are back and there’s gonna be trouble (hey yaa, hey yaaaaa, the Borg are back).  No, you’ll never run out of things to do in your Starfleet career, or at least, never run out of stuff to blow up.

Installation was quick and easy, and really, for an initial release, the game feels surprisingly solid.  Yes, there are a few bugs here and there, but I have yet to find anything truly crippling.  Probably the worst so far was a bug with forcing anti-aliasing in the game on my Geforce 8800GTS; as soon as I turned it on via the Options menu, shadows appeared several feet in the air.  So that’s turned off for now.  There’s been a couple of weird things happen with missions, and some intermittent server lag (and one crash on Monday), but so far, it looks like the beta period did a good job cleaning the game up.

And it is a very pretty game.  The backdrops for space missions are gorgeous.  The ships are vintage Trek, beautifully rendered.  Phasers, disruptors, and torpedoes look great, and come complete with vintage Trek sound effects.  Ground environments aren’t quite as spectacular, but they’re still nice.  Animations are a bit jerky for my liking, but that’s a relatively minor nit to pick.

The character creator is what I wish the WoW character creator was.  You have tremendous flexibility over your toon’s appearance and size, and can be one of any number of Trekiverse races–you can even create your own alien.  In the end, though, they’re all bipedal and roughly human-sized, so sorry, no gnomes.  (I wonder if I can make a create-your-own-alien look Tauren-ish.  Hmm.  Lieutenant Linedan.  I’ll make a note to work on that.)

Once you create your character, you play through a few hours of introductory tutorials structured around a Borg invasion of the Vega Colony.  You come out the other side as a fuzzy-cheeked Lieutenant, Grade 1, with your very own starship to play with and a couple of simple starter quests–uh, missions–to get you going.   There are 50 levels, split into five ranks–Lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander, Commander, Captain, and Admiral–with 10 “grades” within each rank.  You gain ranks by spending “skill points,” which are like experience points in other games, on various skills within a skillset limited by your chosen specialty at creation (tactical, engineering, or science) and by your rank.  Earn and spend enough points, and eventually you’ll get promoted from Lieutenant 10 to Lieutenant Commander 1–at which point, a whole new set of skills open up, and you get to drive bigger and fancier starships.  Your starter ship, a “light cruiser,” comes with two phasers front and back, and a photon torpedo launcher up front.  You can upgrade the various bits on your ship–weapons, shields, engines, etc.–through loot that you get off destroyed enemy ships, or by buying it, or by mission rewards.

But how’s the content and gameplay, you might ask?  Well, content-wise, it’s not bad so far.  There are WoW-quest-like “episode missions” where you’re led through a scripted series of linked actions–go here, blow this up, beam down here, blow the bad guys away, warp out, profit.  There are “patrol missions” where you’re given a list of star systems in a particular area to visit, and you end up getting a different mission in each one.  These patrol missions are what Cryptic calls “open instanced” content–you will be automatically teamed up with other players in the same system on the same mission in sort of a forced random PUG.  In fact, I have yet to see a patrol mission involving ship combat that could be soloed in a default light cruiser.  They do require minimal teamwork, and can get pretty nasty if you don’t have at least 3-4 people, or somebody in a bigger ship.  There’s also “sector patrols” where you find enemy contacts out in deep space–in these, you’ll be in the same instanced area with other players, but you aren’t forced onto a team.  It’ll still take all of you to kill the eight squadrons of Klingons you need to fulfill the mission, though.  There are exploration missions, which (surprise!) tend to end up with you in star systems blowing the crap out of stuff.  And finally, there are “fleet actions,” which are humongous recurring battles with massive NPC fleets that reward high scorers.  You do not want to get caught in one of these, alone, with a light cruiser.  Trust me on this.  I lasted about two seconds.

The missions themselves have a fair balance between ship combat and ground combat, but the key word is “combat.”  This is not your father’s idealistic Star Trek.  You, Lieutenant, end up kicking ass and taking names more often than not.

Ship combat is, to me, the more interesting part of the game.  EVE Online disappoints me in this regard; typically, combat against NPCs involves me making sure I’ve got aggro on all the nearby ships, then launching a bunch of drones from my battleship and running bravely away while my drones chew things up and my weapons autofire.  Boooorrriiiing.  90% of PvE combat in EVE is in the pre-fight ship setup.  STO is more active.  You actually drive your ship around (with the mouse or good old WASD) and try to get a good firing position while watching your four shields (front, back, left, right) and keeping your strong shield toward the bad guy(s).  The starter ship has two phasers with wide arcs of fire that overlap to the sides, so broadsides are good–but the torpedo launcher, your big nuke, has a narrow arc forward, and torpedoes are only truly devastating once you chew through shields.  It’s sorta-kinda three-dimensional; you don’t truly have three degrees of freedom, and there’s no top and bottom shields, but you can maneuver up and down to a limited extent.  You can juggle the power levels on your ship to bias things toward weapons, shields, or engines (and adjust shield power to boost a weakened side).  Imagine a fight in WoW where you have to keep moving constantly, and yet still pound buttons to use your weapons, without auto-attack.  That’s a ship fight in STO.

Ground combat is similar–in fact, it’s fairly generic, similar to WoW.  You’ll have an “away team” of four NPCs–typically your bridge officers, filled out by generic disposable redshirts as needed–following you around like hunter pets, and you can give them limited orders.  You can equip two weapons and switch between them on the fly; each weapon seems, so far, to have one primary attack mode bound to “1,” a secondary attack mode (with a cooldown) bound to “2,” and a melee attack bound to “3.”  Yes, that’s right kids, you can take that phaser rifle and go upside somebody’s head with the stock.  There’s no autofire, not that I’ve yet found.  So for me so far, ground combat has been spamming “1” like a rogue, hitting “2” when it’s up, and hitting “3” when something gets in my face, so I can knock it down and hit “1” again.  Not exactly as demanding as a prot warrior’s tanking priority system.

Speaking of bridge officers!  You get three manning the stations onboard your ship–Tactical, Engineering, and Science.  Each one ranks up just like you do, and you train skills on each one just like your toon…and like you, they have skills useful on the ship, and useful on the ground.  Now personally, when it came time to beam down to a planet and shoot some Klingons?  I’d rather send in the Marines.  It’s not like Bull Halsey landed on Okinawa right alongside the Marines, y’know.  But this is Star Trek, and apparently, all bridge officers want to be Marines.  So they get to perform double duty.  Bridge officers are a tradable commodity, just like items.  You can have them train your existing crew, or you can trade them to other players (gotta catch ’em all!), and you even get them as mission rewards.  You can also customize the appearance of your ship by rearranging the types of nacelles, saucer, struts, etc. that you have.  All ships of a type have the same basic stats, but you can tweak the appearance in myriad different ways to create a look that’s right for you.  And yes, the name you give your ship is proudly displayed on the saucer, as any good Star Trek ship’s would be.

So, in the final analysis, is this going to be a WoW-killer?  Nope, certainly not for me.  It’s a nice diversion, certainly.  I’m enjoying it.  But at the same time, I’m concerned about the content getting repetitive, depending on how many variations of “ZOMG KILL ALL TEH EBIL GORNS!!” I get on patrol missions.  Cryptic is going to have a challenge keeping the content fresh as the playerbase levels and heads toward whatever counts as the endgame.  They’re also fighting with server lag and stability issues due to the number of players.  Instancing virtually every piece of content helps (even when in open space, you’re in an “instanced” area and can only see and interact with a limited number of players) but they’re still trying to cram tens of thousands of players onto one single server cluster.  EVE Online’s been putting 50,000+ on one server for years, but the EVE universe is much bigger than STO’s.

In STO’s favor, however…there are tribbles.