Reviewed: March 22, 2010
Released: February 2, 2010
Space...the final frontier...these are the words that millions of loyal fans have been waiting to hear from the long awaited MMO, Star Trek Online. It is with the ultra smooth voice of Leonard Nemoy that the coined "Trekkers" and non-Trekkers alike got their first look at this star-filled title a few months ago. Star Trek Online was brought to life by Cryptic Studios, the minds behind Champions Online and my beloved City of Heroes. Cryptic Studios are no stranger to MMO’s with at least one hit success and neither am I. My first taste of playing MMOs was Runescape and has branched out to titles including WoW, City of Heroes, Guild Wars, Aion and even Final Fantasy XI.
Star Trek Online however is a bit different than your usual MMO. Most titles in this genre feature places based in medieval fantasy or modern cityscapes. There are only a few space MMO’s that I know about that are prominent but I'm sure there are quite a few that I don't know about. The one thing that Star Trek Online has that others do not is a rich and vast material bank. We've all seen the movies and TV series, read literature, and collect the memorabilia and are all well versed on the subject to some extent in our lives. The 2009 film alone has revitalized the millions of old fans as well as bringing new ones to the fold.
Star Trek Online features two distinct types of gameplay for players to enjoy straight out of the box. New Starfleet/Klingon Captains can engage in full-on space combat with their ships as well as taking the fight on foot in exciting ground combat. This is the first time a major MMO has offered both at launch and from what I’ve played over the past month, I’ve enjoyed the ability to do so. When it comes to space combat games, I have never been one of the finest pilots in the galaxy, but I was quickly able to adapt to the controls and become a better captain. Star Trek Online uses the traditional keyboard and mouse setup that I’m very familiar with. The controls are very simple and similar in initial setup to many MMO’s out there and can be tailored to a player’s preferred style.
I had little to no trouble whatsoever while navigating the numerous quadrants and systems in my Starfleet vessels although it did take me a little time to get used to the “inverse” vertical flight controls. On the flip side of things I instantly was acquainted with the ground combat and character movement. The characters movements are similar to another Cryptic title though much more “professionally” refined fitting the subject material. The character models and ships interacted with the environments remarkably well from what I played. I’m used to some level of environment clipping or other anomalies, but I found next to none during my time with Star Trek Online.
One of my favorite aspects of MMO’s is the ability to create custom characters that is uniquely yours. City of Heroes is perhaps my favorite MMO because of that. Cryptic Studios has carried that same care and aspect over into Star Trek Online with a character designer that features 52 different sliders to alter some of your favorite Star Trek races, including Bajoran, Trill, Klingon, and Vulcan or create a whole new race to call your own.
For my first character I took option to make my own race because well its fun to make stuff up in games. Players can go so far as to create a background story of their created character as well, which is something that Cryptic has offered in all of their games to date. Customization doesn’t just stop with your characters it also bridges over into your ships. Players can alter their ship using various parts within the ships own class as well as colors to create a ship that suits their style.
An MMO however should not only have a lot of customizable options but feature functional content. In my month of playing Star Trek Online, I found a lot of things that I liked and a few things that I didn’t like as much. My complaints might be minor but one thing that bugs me for the most part is the unfinished feel of the Klingon side of the game. I really enjoyed the intro given on the Federation side, but I was left feeling a bit stranded when starting up a Klingon character. Star Trek Online does have a Player versus Player (or PvP) mode, which is what the Klingon side really is.
Players start off on the Klingon home world with little to no directive on what to do. Maybe this is because the developers though that since players would already know how to play and what the lore is that they didn’t need to see it again. Unfortunately the lack of any information has hurt that part of Star Trek Online.
Another thing that has me somewhat confused after a month of playing is the unexplained meanings behind the benefits that each item has. Having played several MMO’s over the years I have an understanding of what some if not most of the stats mean from game to game but this time things were a bit weird. Usually the given attributes of an item are displayed by selecting them. It would be logical for one to look in the ships screen to see what effect the item or part would have but sadly you have to choose your character screen to see that information.
Enough about the bad stuff though. It’s time to cover the things that I did like starting with the lore and Cryptic’s decision to base Star Trek Online in the beginning of the 25th century. This allows for players and more specifically the fans to take what they already know and create their own adventure.
Besides creating your custom avatar, players must pick the type of officer that they want to play. You can choose from Tactical, Science or Engineering to start then as you go up in level in you can add gained skill points, gotten from leveling up, to specific career paths. For my run I choose to play as a Science Officer, since I prefer to play support-type roles. As a Science officer, I can aid in heals and buffs for allies or debuff my enemies to allow myself or other players in combat.
Besides being able to outfit your character and ship with equipment you can hire on Bridge Officers. These NPC’s are what actually defines your play style. Much like your own personal characters starter archetype, the bridge officers fall into the same tactical, science or engineer fields. Players can choose to fill their bridge as they see fit and are not required to have one of each. This allows you to ultimately mold your ship into the best it can be in a certain field or be balanced across all fronts. Bridge officers are earned by completing certain missions and even leveling up.
Each officer is unique with different skills and abilities that can be useful to a successful ship. Much like you own character you can assign skill points to better your characters via a collective skill point pool. The only thing that you really need to be careful about is that if you let an officer go you lose any points that you assigned to that character. So it’s best to choose wisely before spending those points on a whim.
The Bridge Officers not only have the ability to aid you while in combat but they are extremely useful in ground combat. Captains are able to take up to three of their officers to the surface via away teams. On the ground your officers can do anything from creating barrier shields and turrets to holding enemies via debuffs or laying cover for you to sneak around and get the drop on your enemies. Though you have a lot of options on how to approach ground combat a lot of times it just boils down to activating your toggle powers constantly without much tactical planning. The only problems that I ran into was the usual AI getting caught on doorways and crates if I got too far ahead of them.
Star Trek Online is quite manageable to play alone for the most part but like any MMO it’s always better with other players especially friends. The game is set to search for other players that happen to be doing the same missions as you and places you in the same instance, which is actually a really smart idea. This feature can be turned off to allow the player to go lone wolf if they want. Star Trek Online operates on an instance-based system that at times feels rather limiting and not exactly what I classify as being massive multiplayer. Though on the reverse it makes a little sense, since the more people you have the more the game lags, which is bad news for any MMO. I’ve seen players quit MMO’s for that alone.
The one area of Star Trek Online that I have almost no quarrels about is the graphics. The only thing that really bugs me is the pop-up on the character on the “view screen” windows. Instead of static images of people they actually use different rendered NPC’s. The problem is that these rendered NPC’s come on screen in layers and it would have been better if they just used well designed statics.
As far as the rest of Star Trek Online goes I have nothing but praise. The environments are amazingly well crafted and it’s obvious that Cryptic Studios took great care to create something that was truly awe-inspiring. Each sector and system is nicely detailed complete with nebulas, gas clouds, stars and asteroid surrounded planets. I also really like some of the instances that feature areas full of space debris of destroyed Federation or alien vessels. The eerie remains are an awesome prelude to a dangerous space battle. No matter what Star Trek movie or show that I’ve seen, the one thing that I’ve always liked is the transport “beam” effect. The special effect in the shows is brought to the game in fantastic fashion complete with the required sound effects and badge press.
I’m also impressed with the level of detail when it comes to the character creator. All of your favorite and not so favorite races are brilliantly recreated with painstaking detail. For those that decide to create their own race you have plenty of options to choose from. You can take some of your favorite features from the Star Trek universe and make a being that is either completely bizarre or one that will be the talk of the Alpha Quadrant. Okay maybe not, but it’s still fun to make things up. Besides the body designer, I am impressed with the clothing that they put in Star Trek Online. You can choose to go old school and wear outfits from Star Trek: The Original Series or go modern with uniforms from Deep Space 9. They even included uniforms from several of the original movies to boot. If you don’t like any of those then there are the newly created uniforms to choose from.
If you were to leave your TV on any of the channels that still air reruns of the Star Trek series you can instantly recognize the show by its signature melodies and famous “Space…The Final Frontier” speech. That same audible feel and style has been brought over to Star Trek Online. The music is fantastic and puts me in the mood to play, and that is one of the things that I look for in a game that I plan on investing a large chunk of time.
Star Trek Online also features quality sound effects. One of my favorite effects in the game is the beam transporter but the only thing I like more is the authentic sound effects used when using the warp ability, firing photon torpedoes and lasers. I also like the sound of all of the weapons that you can use. One of the highlights for me is the narration by the legendary Leonard Nemoy that you hear throughout Star Trek Online. He always has been on of my favorite characters in the Trek-verse. For those that didn’t notice Zachary Quinto (2009 Spock and Sylar) also lends his voice to the title.
Star Trek Online has the potential to have a lot to offer, as does any MMO out there. Out of the box I was very satisfied with the overall quantity of things to do. Having only played for a month I know that that I barely begun to scratch the surface of what Star Trek Online contains. Players can spend a lot of time traveling across the star filled galaxies completing exploration quest, doing large-scale battles with 19 other players per instance, and visiting places that they loved from the various TV syndications and movies. There are plenty of weapons, ships, kits and items to find, use and buy or trade. You can even upgrade weapons using a crafting system, which is really cool.
In my time playing Star Trek Online, I found that it is something that I want to stick around and be a part of. I’m by no means a devout Star Trek fan and I only know enough terminology and history to not get myself stoned at a Trek convention should I ever actually go to one. I had no intention of actually trying Star Trek Online had the opportunity not arisen but as fate would have it I found something that I plan to hold onto.
Through my adventure I found several things that I wasn’t a fan of but the things that I did like pretty much overcame the negatives, The folks over at Cryptic obviously put a lot of time and care into creating a wonderfully detailed world and it shows with every explosion, dust storm covered planet, asteroid belt and star cruiser. If you are fan of Star Trek then I definitely recommend this title to anyone willing to shell out $15 dollars to play each month. Even if you’re not a huge fan it’s definitely worth a try. You can pick up Star Trek Online at most retailers for around $50 dollars, which is usually the going rate for most new MMORPG’s, most of which pale in quality compared to Star Trek Online.