Star Trek Online – PC
Developer: Cryptic Studios
Publisher: Perfect World Entertainment
Release Date: February 2, 2010
Nerd Rating: 7 out of 10
Reviewed by Malefico
For those game aficionados familiar with MMO titles (and trekkers everywhere), Star Trek Online offers a lot to love, and a few things to hate. Originally released early in 2010, the game at that time required the purchase of the software and a monthly subscription fee. In January 2012, the sales model changed and now most of the game is offered as free-to-play, with special items and starships offered to those who choose to purchase them or players who continue to subscribe. The game can be downloaded from Perfect World Entertainment’s site, or through Steam.
Familiar MMO Gameplay
The game architecture offers little in the way of originality, but as mentioned before veteran MMO players will be able to jump right in. All the familiar elements are easily identifiable. Distinct character classes and familiar combat roles, talent trees, crafting, banks, mail and auction (here called the Exchange), player groups called Fleets (guilds, clans) and a progression in the power and rarity of items available to characters make learning the basics quick and easy. Available quests include story line, faction, daily, PVE, PVP and event quests. Although none of the elements are new and the implementation is mundane, the game is decently balanced and the skill-based progression allows captains to blend space and ground skills to complement their class selection. Regarding overall game mechanics, everything works as expected.
Players start by selecting a gender and race for their character. Currently there are three playable factions- Federation, Klingon and Romulan, with a further expansion planned for release soon. Each faction has a number of playable races, or players can generate their own unique alien race. Humans, Klingons, Romulans, Andorians, Vulcans, Gorn, Ferengi, Bajoran, Borg- these and many more are all here and ready to party. Next, players choose a career path for their character. There are three basic officer classes- Engineering (~Tank), Science (~Healer),and Tactical (DPS). As the player progresses through the ranks of their faction’s command structure, skill points will be accrued which can be spent to improve ground or space combat capabilities. In addition to the player’s character, separate points will accrue that can be spent improving Bridge Officers, a core cadre of officers that will accompany the character on ground missions and lend their expertise in space combat situations as well. As the character progresses, their bridge officers can be promoted as well, gaining additional abilities along with the player. There is a third level of personnel, the Duty Officers who can be assigned to space or ground duty and convey even more bonuses or abilities in combat. Duty officers can also be sent on Assignments- autonomously working to earn financial or reputation rewards for the player.
As career path affects the types of skills that can be learned, it also determines what ships will be awarded as players rise in rank. All players start with the equivalent of a Miranda-class frigate (the Reliant in The Wrath of Khan), though with each new ship the game offers you the chance to customize your vessel with elements of any of three available sub-classes, plus the color of hull, different window sets, and a two-tone paint job based on a number of available patterns. Captains who amass sufficient energy credits, one of three types of currency in the game, can purchase shuttle craft or combat fighters to tool around in when they are not interested in engaging in major space combat. Recently, a number of small-craft PVE scenarios have been added to allow players to savor small-craft combat in structured scenarios. As the player progresses, engineering officers will be awarded cruisers, science officers will utilize science vessels, and tactical officers will fly escorts. (NOTE: This is the Federation ship classification structure- Klingon and Romulan ships have different design characteristics and designations.) Other available ships include carriers and special ship refits and There are two ways to enhance the abilities of starships. Each vessel features a number of bridge officer stations. By assigning your bridge officers, their space combat skills become available to you. Skills are limited by the rank of the station occupied. Likewise, ships have console slots. There are three types of consoles… Yep, you guessed it, engineering, science and tactical. Every ship also has slots that allow customization of ship systems- engines, weapons and shields to name a few.
The Bottom Line
The game’s primary weakness is the inclusion of a large amount of bland, uninteresting ground missions. While only a relatively small amount of the storyline is resolved planetside, there are enough random patrol and exploration missions that involve away team action to make any player used to more competent implementations of ground combat systems alternately nauseous and embarrassed for the game developers. The ground controls are not as responsive or intuitive as in space, and in comparison to the almost limitless customization of starships, and thus numerous ways to effectively use your ship in combat, the ground combat system is comparatively shallow, requiring little more than mindless button-mashing. Additionally, weird glitches plague away teams. One special treat is beaming down to a planet only to have the rest of your team drop into the map, either all at once or with individual members one at a time. I have yet to find a way to successfully retrieve or command away team members lost this way. The only solution is to beam back up to the ship, effectively restarting the mission and losing all progress. An even more frustrating, albeit more perversely entertaining situation occurs when a group of AI mobs disappears into the terrain, rendering them invisible and invincible but not hampering their ability to kill you in the least. Another vexing element? The tricorder, that venerable trek accoutrement usually will not find the objects you are searching for. Instead, it will lead you to energy anomalies, the gateway to a mini-game that rewards you with crafting materials, and nothing else.
The ground mission element of the game feels like an afterthought, or perhaps an after(brain)fart. If you compare the quality of ground models, environment and gameplay with Cryptic’s Neverwinter, a D&D based title, you have to wonder why STO is so bad in this respect. If it was to be a significant element in the game, more effort should have been put into it. If it wasn’t going to play a crucial role, why include it at all? Unfortunately, that’s not saying much I am firmly convinced the entire ground element could have been round-filed and its loss wouldn’t have detracted from the game at all. It’s almost unfortunate that it’s there, because to me it serves as an annoyance, something to be suffered through. It takes the focus away from the true strength of the game After all, it’s not “Wander around on a brand X planet deciphering alien mortuary hieroglyphics” Trek, is it? No, it is not.
This brings us to space combat in Star Trek Online. Without exaggeration, I can say that the space battle is as good as the ground stuff is bad. The ships are detailed and nicely rendered, the game offers numerous space patrol and exploration missions and dozens of PVE and PVP scenarios designed for ship groups from flotilla to full-fleet scale, five to 20 players on a side. To be fair, as in most aspects of the game, the implementation of the Star Trek space combat is not new, with most concepts in the game hearkening back to Amarillo Design Bureau’s tabletop classic, Star Fleet Battles. Weapon firing arcs, shield rotation and power allocation are all important in this game, just as they have been in every Star Trek-based board and video game ever created. Also, the environment is not truly 3D- although the battlefield does have depth, you can’t do barrel rolls or Immelmans, unfortunately. However, the lack of originality is forgiven because the space combat just works. The action is fast and fluid, the animations look good, the physics incorporates the ship’s relative bulk when turns and acceleration/deceleration are attempted (sometimes resulting in delightful, “Fast and Furious” power-drifting) and the game offers you 101 ways to wave hello to your galactic neighbors. And by “wave”, I mean “mercilessly attack with vicious energy weapons”. And by “hello”, I mean “goodbye”.
There are three major types of currency: Energy credits, gained by completing missions and selling items to vendors or in the exchange. Energy credits are easy to amass, and since players can craft and sell high-quality items in the exchange, you can appoint your ship and crew very nicely with nothing but EC. Dilithium, awarded for completing certain repeatable missions or playing in PVE/PVP scenarios, can be used to purchase high-quality equipment and certain ships. Like all free-to-play games, the game offers players a chance to buy special currency, in this case called Zen. Some ships and items can only be purchased with Zen. And although dilithium can be traded for Zen, the exchange rate is horrible and it’s usually better just to pony up a couple bucks and buy some. Other currency includes Gold Pressed Latinum (yes, you can play Dabo, Quark!), Lobi Crystals, and many others.
Star Trek Online offers Trek fans and gamers everywhere a chance to jump into “the chair”, set a course for their favorite system, and lose themselves in a detailed, entertaining and engrossing game world. As a subscription-based game, I would say it’s a worthwhile expenditure. Now that most of the content is free, it’s definitely worth a look. For those wanting to try an MMO for the first time, STO offers reliable servers, a mature, helpful community, and the chance to learn MMO basics in a stable, well-developed game environment.
If it weren’t for the annoying ground portion of the game, I’d give it an 8.5. STO is a very good-quality game, compared to a lot of the FTP offerings out there, and even considering other games that require you to purchase the software. With the benefit of Star Trek’s vast amount of source material, the game gives players a chance to explore a large galaxy, create their own unique persona and have a lot of fun doing it. Entertaining space combat is backed up by good graphics that don’t require expensive hardware to play. Yeah, the ground missions are terrible, but if you can put up with the roughly 10% of the game that forces you to partake in them, the rest of the game is well worth it.
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