First Impressions is a regular feature in which Mary shares her -surprise! – first impressions of a game she’s been playing while she should have been making comics.

World of Warcraft was the only MMO I’ve ever played – until this weekend. I’ve been anticipating the launch of STO for a while, and even guested on an STO Radio podcast in the fall. But I completely dropped the ball about getting a preorder in so I could play the open beta, which ends today. I frantically ordered and downloaded the digital deluxe version from Steam on Friday night, and got a few hours of play time in this weekend. Why the rush? Well I’m interested in the lifetime subscription preorder deal, which expires Feb 1st, the day before the game officially launches. It’s $239 for the ability to play as long as the game is around, and includes two more character slots (STO is stingy with those – only 2 to start with!), and – the real kicker – playable liberated Borg. Of course, there’s no guarantee that they won’t offer the Borg as an available species later on. But it certainly is tempting, especially if the game has staying power. Playing for 2 years would mean a monthly price of $10 instead of the $15 they’ll charge for a normal month-to-month subscription.

But does it have staying power? Unfortunately I really wasn’t able to assess that in my first few hours of play. I can tell you I want to play more. A lot more. I might as well tell you up front, I’m a fan of the franchise. Trekkie, Trekker, whatever they call it these days. I admit I haven’t seen every episode of every series – except The Next Generation. Data, Captain Picard, goofy beardy Riker – I’m all about it. I watched every episode as it came out with my family and best junior high school bud, and then again on reruns. And even though I admit that the last movie featuring the TNG crew was pretty terrible, it still moved me to tears. I’m telling you this because I really have no idea if someone new to the franchise will appreciate this game. In fact, I’m kind of skeptical they will. (But what do I know? Check out Kyle Horner’s Non-Trekkie Guide to STO on Massively.)

I started the game with a series of quick tutorial missions that taught me how to move around, shoot my enemies, use kits (which seem to be belts that give you fun new abilities), and deal with space combat. A lot of it was basically, “Go over there and press ‘F’,” since that’s the key to interact with things like consoles or devices. But it was quick and fun and was telling a story, and I didn’t mind that I basically just had to press ‘F,’ or sometimes ’1,’ ’2,’ ’3′ to shoot some Borg baddies. It was a great preview to what I hope will be good story content.

The real fun for me started with the space combat. When I first heard this would be a huge part of the game, I was skeptical. To me Star Trek is about the characters and exploration. Not so much on the shooting stuff. But wow. I’m blown away. Cryptic really managed to capture the Trekiness of starship tactics. It’s all about allocating power between different parts of the ship, balancing your four shields for maximum defense, and exploiting your enemies’ weaknesses. There’s a lot I have to learn about it, but so far it feels like I’m making similar decisions the crew of the Enterprise were forced to make. And topped off with a space battle soundtrack, I’m living the show.

Another aspect I’m loving is the skill customization. Again, I’m barely scratching the surface of the game, but it seems like you can really fine tune your character, your bridge officers, and your ship with all kinds of weapons, skills, kits, and the character traits you choose at the outset of the game.

As for my gripes, there’s an overall lack of the epic treatment I expect from an IP like this one. Not any cut scenes to speak of, except a brief voice over from Leonard Nimoy as I arrived in sector space. Maybe they’ll spice it up after release, or maybe I haven’t gotten far enough. When I arrived in the Sol space station, I was running around trying to find an admiral’s office to get orders, and discovered a bank and an auction house (the exchange). I realized that this station serves the same function as a city in WoW. But it’s kind of…boring. When I first set my little gnome foot in Ironforge, I oohed and aahed. Maybe it’s unfair of me to compare a space station to an ancient mining Dwarf city, but I was disappointed just the same.

Also, I hate bumping into people. I vastly prefer the WoW way of being able to run through other characters. I don’t care if it doesn’t make any reality-based sense. It’s convenient. How do other MMOs handle that?

So…..I still haven’t decided if I’m going to take the plunge on the lifetime subscription. I’m about 67% in favor of doing it right now. I’ll let you know what I decide. In the meantime, look! It’s a poll! Vote up. And if you’re interested in starting the game, it looks like Massively has been doing some nice coverage and guides. Adam Holisky from WoW.com even started a Star Trek Online: 101 feature.