Star Trek Online is a great pastiche of familiar MMO gameplay and a wealthy expansion to the universe and franchise of pop-culture phenomenon Star Trek.
While Gene Rodenberry may not agree with the combat heavy and sometimes stunted mechanics, he would surely welcome Cryptic’s attempt at creating a vibrant and expansive galaxy for each player to explore, including famous landmarks such as Deep Space Nine or the Neutral Zone already established in the fiction.
Creating Races in Star Trek Online
You start by creating a character and ship, with instantaneous gratification coming through picking something akin to Ferengi, Cardassian or any number of the great humanoid races found in the Star Trek canon. The ability to create your own space faring species is a nice touch also, and gives small credence to the “where no one has gone before” feel of the series itself.
The creator is very in depth and you would be hard pressed to find yourself unsatisfied at the outcome.
Due to the dependence on weapons and equipment, the overall choice of being a Science, Tactical or Engineer Officer seems interchangeable and being that your assignable Bridge officers are often adept at healing and helping out your ship, it seems wise to be Tactical for a first character.
Although the ship builder has fewer options, they still give a great brevity to work with and something akin to the Enterprise won’t be too far out of reach.
After creating your character and the ship, you are thrown into narrowly escaping an attack from the unrepentant Borg, in a overt tutorial, only to find being promoted to acting captain of your own ship.
From this rather fortuitous occurrence (at least for the playing character), you begin to take on missions and actions close to the Sol system and Starfleet’s apparent base of operations.
After familiarizing yourself with both the sub-par ground combat (although assembling an Away Team gives some reticent nostalgia for fans of the TV series) and the surprisingly engaging ship combat, you start to branch out across the galaxy, looking for more extraneous missions and chained quests.
Space, the Final Frontier
Between missions you navigate the star systems through a laborious but welcomed warp space aesthetic which highlights borders between systems, other ships, anomalous readings (when analysed they yield materials that can be turned in for crafting), planets and space stations in the current sector.
It can be overwhelming at first, but with patience and time the confusing rhetoric and unending space will start to make sense, until you find yourself carrying out up to 15 missions at a time…although playing like that isn’t required and I don’t suggest it!
Becoming apparent quite early on that the meat of Star Trek Online comes from your vessel and it’s hired inhabitants.
Not only can the ship be customized and the player can gain a new ship every 10 or so levels to my understanding, but you also get to hire different bridge officers to act as your crew in both ship and ground combat (unless your partied up with a maximum of 4 other human counterparts).
It is notable that the Bridge can be accessed when roaming free space, however at the current time it is superfluous to do so, hopefully things are added to this section of your ship to give some more levy towards a fully realised Star Trek MMO universe.
Ready Photon Torpedoes!
While the ground combat is often poor, dull and especially repetitive, the ship combat of Star Trek Online is where the action shines. Although the combat heavy setting may be difficult to reconcile for Star Trek fans, the MMO treats the universe as a warring mess of separate factions and races each fighting to destroy the federation.
The space battles generally come down to well-timed manoeuvring and poised use of the abilities your ship has assigned to the games hotbar. Applauding this timing as opposed to brute strength is good and provides a solid mechanic, although it could be somewhat over-used and may become tiresome over time (for a Star Trek MMO I doubt that will matter too much however).
With the pivotal combination of auxiliary shield boosts and photon torpedoes, the stratagem and art of space battle is accessible to most players.
Set Phasers to Repetitive in Star Trek Online from Cryptic Studios
Getting to the away team combat, via beaming down to an instanced area (much of STO is instanced and can be a drag for more socially aware MMO veterans), it seems Cryptic made strides towards something in the essence of their previous titles City of Heroes and Champions Online.
Quickening the actions changes little in comparison to the often infuriating and repetitive shooting and hotbar selection of skills to perform.
Given that the weapons themselves have separate skills, as opposed to your character, it seems there is potential for more PvP focused layouts and hidden depth to the weapons that I didn’t become familiar with during my time with the Star Trek MMO.
During these instanced ground combat situations, the ability to Dragonage-like pause the action, is solid even if the addition comes across and redundant and somewhat unnecessary for an action-based MMO.
I will say that both the ability to crouch and the use of flank damage are solid features and if other areas of the combat are improved upon, with strategic and differing enemies among the changes, it could turn into a viable 3rd person combat system for an MMO.
Evolving Beyond Currency
Unfortunately, the limit of only 4 other party members (you’ll find that NPC bridge officers will take these spots on your away team unless you decide to party up with other people and join factions etc) has quite a detrimental effect, showcasing the lack of social interaction and events that other MMO’s seemingly excel at in comparison.
This plastic game world is furthered by Cryptic’s own marquee loot and crafting systems which unsurprisingly maintain there impenetrable entry level for understanding and feel hollow and lacking in the vibrancy of better economically focused massively multiplayer games.
Shields Down Captain!
A glaring weakness of Star Trek Online is in it’s randomly generated planets and missions, which Cryptic used to replicate the attitude of the television shows.
The random content is often arbitrary and makes no attempt to deviant from the existent blueprint of scripted missions (scan object, defend area from attacking ships, beam down and grind through a few packs of enemies while accessing a computer terminal or beaming back materials).
It seems the problems of Star Trek Online are found because of a lack of differentiation and some lazy mission design, however due to the rather rudimentary and lacking depth in the social, economic and crafting aspects of the game, it comes off feeling like a space battle simulation with poor ground combat laced throughout.
These Are The Voyages…
With time and attention from developers Cryptic, this could be a genuinely satisfying and great experience, for now, like most MMO’s at launch, its too buggy and endlessly repetitive to be anything but a good space battle game.
For Star Trek fans, it serves a great platform for experiencing the thrill of captaining a ship, encountering old and new races while getting involved in the universe and lore that is there to be appreciated.
For regular MMO fans, its confusing loot system, lack of social dynamics, repetitive ground combat and poor PvP play doesn’t leave much for anyone not already invested in Star Trek to sink into and the shortcomings of its rushed release make it a game to sit on investing in for another few months just yet.
Author’s Note - I would just like to add a couple of things I may have neglected in this article and give a fleeting opinion on them. Firstly, the PvP is dull and lacks any flair with its poor presentation and drab maps, although it could be improved in the future and like the rest of the game, has obvious potential for something good if unspectacular.
The game also allows for joining the Klingon Empire and playing as the Borg, however I didn’t get to experience this, although from playing it becomes apparent that a lack of Klingon’s may hamper PvP and the game world in general.
This post is part of the series: Star Trek Online Reviews
A collection of reviews for various editions of Star Trek Online.