Star Trek Online
- Most missions are relatively quick, so you can log in for a half hour, run a mission, and log out feeling like you got something accomplished.
- The customization options for characters and ships is very satisfying, as it is for all of Cryptic’s games. Space combat has a fantastic epic Trek movie feel.
- Due to the short length of most missions and the relatively low difficulty level (though a difficulty slider has recently been added) there is little reason to group with others to overcome the missions you have. While this is good for casual players, it puts a damper on social interaction and makes some people feel like they are not being challenged enough.
Space… The Final Frontier
These are the voyages of Cryptic Studios’ new MMO, Star Trek Online. Its continuing mission: to develop strange new worlds and new content, to seek out new subscribers, and to boldly go where most MMOs have been before.
I’ll spare you my operatic rendition of the original series’ opening credits since it doesn’t come across well in text anyway.
Five months after releasing Champions Online, Cryptic Studios has launched the game MMO playing Star Trek fans have been lusting after since it was announced back in 2004 - Star Trek Online.
The game is set in the 25th century, 30 years after the events of the movie Star Trek Nemesis. Cryptic has dedicated some good short fiction (which can be found here) which goes towards filling in the gaps between then and now in the universe’s lore. For those who like a quick summary: The peace treaty between the Federation and the Klingons has dissolved. The Federation and the Empire are now deeply embroiled in war. Meanwhile the Romulans, while trying to recover from the supernova that destroyed Romulus, are also spoiling for a fight with the Federation. To top it all off the Borg appear to be recovering from future Admiral Janeway’s neurolytic pathogen and ready to assimilate anyone in their way.
I could spend a great deal of time discussing the lore and role playing aspects of the game, but most people reading this review are probably more interested in how Cryptic have delivered the game’s mechanics.
Every player is the captain of their own ship, even though they begin their official rank in Star Fleet as an Ensign - the reasoning is explained in game’s tutorial.
There are three main “classes” to choose from: Tactical, Engineering, and Science.
* Tactical captains focus on combat abilities and delivering heavy damage.
* Engineering captains focus on devices, tanking, repairs, and enhancing allies powers.
* Science captains focus on healing, control, and reducing enemy powers.
Besides character classes, there are three types of starships on the Federation side in addition to the standard ship everyone starts out with as a Lieutenant: Escort, Cruiser, and Science.
* Escort ships are fast, manoeuvrable, and unlike other ships, Escort ships can mount forward-facing cannons that deliver a big punch. The shields and hull are the weakest of the three ship types.
* Cruisers are the largest ships (and turn like a Mac truck), but they have good shields and thick hulls. Cruisers also have a large crew compliment which affects shield and hull repair rates.
* Science ships have very good shields and can target specific subsystems on enemy ships - reducing the effectiveness of their auxiliary power, engines, shields, or weapons.
Any captain can have any type of ship, and you can have several ships at the same time. So a Science captain could fly an escort ship if they wanted to combine heavy damage with the ability to reduce the enemies abilities, or a Tactical captain could fly a cruiser to combine its hearty tanking ability with their damage increasing abilities.
A new ship is awarded when you increase in grade, for example when you are promoted from Lieutenant to Lieutenant Commander, but you can also purchase other ships with the energy credits you earn. You keep your older ships after you increase level, though I’m not sure I see a reason to use an older ship unless it’s for sentimental reasons.
Character creation, like all Cryptic games, is a lot of fun. You can spend hours creating your own customized alien race or tweaking the features of a canonical Trek race, such as Vulcan, Andorian, and Bajoran to name a few. There are also a variety of options you can use to customize your uniform. When you first get a new bridge officer you can also customize their name, appearance, and uniform - so your creativity doesn’t stop with your main character.
On top of all that you can also customize your ship’s appearance, name, and registry number. Like your BOs, the first time is free. Later changes will cost energy credits. The saucer section, hull, nacelles, and struts are the main visual options to tinker with, but you can also choose different hull styles or “paint schemes” for lack of a better term, as well as adjust your ship’s window light patterns.
There are a few bridge options to choose from, though they will all cost energy credits to change from the standard option. However, there isn’t much to do on bridges yet besides invite your friends to beam over and hang out.
Your Gallant Crew
One of the biggest alterations from the standard MMO, and the best in my opinion, is the concept of Bridge Officers. Your bridge officers have abilities that are used in space and on the ground. On away missions your bridge officers fill empty team slots that you can give orders to follow as you feel necessary. This allows you to effectively always have a full team for ground missions. In space your bridge officers need to be assigned to a bridge station on your ship to access their abilities. Each ship type has varying crew stations, so captains will choose ships that fit their personal tastes in available bridge officer powers. Escort ships focus on tactical stations, cruisers on engineering stations, and science on science stations.
The powers bridge officers have are specific to each discipline the following examples I give only cover a few options:
* Tactical officers have ground abilities that augment attacks or reduce enemy resistances and space abilities that buff your weapon power or defences.
* Engineers can boost personal shields and fabricate turrets or mines on the ground and repair shields and hull damage in space.
* Science officers can root enemies with a graviton beam or heal others with a medical tricorder on away missions and lock down enemies with a tractor beam or scramble their sensors in space combat.
I’ve found the combat AI on away team missions to be relatively competent, so I rarely give my bridge officers specific orders unless I see a particularly dangerous enemy, such as the Klingon Swordmasters. Some people have complained about the pathing AI for bridge officers, but I’ve never seemed to have an issue with it personally. The space-based abilities are always manually activated by you.
The best part is that if you have multiple bridge officers with different skills, you can reassign them on an as needed basis. If you know you will be entering a space combat mission with lots of enemy ships, you could swap out a tactical officer that gives you a damage increase to your phasers with one that fires a wide spread of photon torpedoes - thus trading out a single ship shield damaging power for a one that damages the hull of all the enemies in an area of effect.
Finally, if you requisition a bridge officer and don’t like some of their abilities, you can retrain them with a different ability. You don’t need to be concerned if you spent a lot of officer skill points on leveling the skill you’re going to replace. Even though the points spent will be lost if you train a new skill, officer skill points are plentiful.
We Come In Peace, Shoot To Kill
While I discussed combat abilities, there’s more to it than just targeting an enemy and spamming your powers.
I find ground combat fairly interesting and even hectic at times. You have an away team of up to 4 bridge officers that go with you on away missions. If you don’t have enough bridge officers for a full team you can fill the empty slots with security personnel. That’s right… redshirts!
If you’re teamed up with someone else they take up an away team slot and usually get to take one of their own bridge officers. I’m not sure how the seniority works for determining who gets to take along more bridge officers, but as you get more live team-mates you have less AI controlled bridge officers along.
Your position in relation to a target can affect your damage output. Attacking from the side or rear gives you a flanking damage bonus. The same goes for enemies though, so don’t ignore that Gorn Brute that just ran past you. You can double tap a directional key to do a Shatner-esque combat roll. This is useful for quickly escaping an enemy in melee, diving behind cover and breaking an enemy’s line of sight, or dodging out of the blast radius of a plasma grenade.
Space combat has a very Wrath of Khan feel to me. You make sweeping, graceful turns while maintaining the rush of fast-paced combat. You rake your enemy with phasers to bring down their shields and then try to manoeuvre into position to loose your photon torpedoes on their vulnerable hull. In my case this is also accompanied by shouting “Hard to port!” at the computer screen while turning (usually annoying the wife and scaring the cat). In the meantime your enemies are trying to do the same to you, while manoeuvring their vulnerable side away from you.
You have four different energy settings to chose from, Attack, Defence, Speed, and Balanced. Each setting has an initial pre-set value, however you can also modify these settings to your personal tastes and game style. If you open with an Attack setting but things start to go poorly, it is easy to switch to Defence to try to outlast the enemy or switch to Speed to try to get away. For example, I use a lot of sensor jamming and tractor beam abilities with my science ship, so I adjusted my Attack setting to have a little less attack power and more auxiliary power than the original pre-set value.
Overall the space combat feels very much like an epic Trek movie to me. Some fleet actions and sector defence missions, which are large public quests, can be outright chaotic and almost overwhelming.
While combat is the main focus of most missions, there are some that have you explore a system scanning anomalies or deliver medical supplies to a needy world. The developers have started that they are working on more of these non-combat and diplomatic types of missions because there has been a fair amount of demand from the players for this kind of content.
Today Is A Good Day To Die!
What would Star Trek be without Klingons? Unfortunately there isn’t much to say about the Klingon side of things at the moment. While the ships are cool and Player versus Player (PvP) combat is fun, the overall experience as it is now is somewhat disappointing… well, unless you really Really REALLY love instanced PvP.
Klingon ships are categorized differently than Federation ships: Bird of Prey, Raptor, Battle Cruiser, and Carrier
* Bird of Prey ships are fast, manoeuvrable, and most closely resemble Federation Escort ships. Unlike other ships they have officer stations that are not limited by profession, so you could have all tactical bridge officers or all engineering bridge officers rather than having to maintain a balance as other ships do.
* Raptors are larger than the Bird of Prey and while not as fast or manoeuvrable they have better defences. Their bridge officer stations favour tactical, but they all have at least one science and engineering station. You can obtain these ships once you have reached the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
* Battle Cruisers are the largest ships in the Klingon fleet next to carriers and closely resemble Federation Cruisers. Their bridge officer stations favour engineering, but they all have at least one science and tactical station. You can obtain these ships once you have reached the rank of Commander.
* Carriers are the largest ships and are the only ships to carry fighters. Their bridge officer stations favour science, but they also have one tactical and engineering station. You can obtain these ships once you have reached the rank of Rear Admiral.
Personally, I’d like to have a Klingon Player versus Environment (PvE) experience as deep as the Federation one, but that hasn’t been developed yet. However, Cryptic has said that they are working on it, so I expect Klingon PvE to be a big thing on their To Do list. Hopefully we will see some soon.
What We Did In There We Did In A Day
On the subject of content, so far it feels like is plenty to do without the need to grind repeatable missions or finish every mission that is offered. I’ve found the storyline missions entertaining enough to repeat with new characters. Some people may not agree with this sentiment, since one of the most frequent complaints I read on the official forums at the end of beta was that there was not enough content. Even so, I have not heard any of our fleet members that have reached the rank of Rear Admiral complaining about grinding repeatable missions to get to that rank. Of course there is always room for improvement and too much content is always better than not having enough.
Issues with bugs and crashes have improved much from issues seen during Closed and Open Beta, but they are still around. However, I have rarely had any issues since the game went live and none that I’ve experienced have been game-breaking.
All Good Things…
While I have tried to be extensive in this review I have not covered the subjects of skills, crafting (Memory Alpha, tribble breeding, or the upcoming Bridge Officer trading), currency (energy credits, merits, and marks), personal equipment (weapons, armor, shields, kits, and devices), ship loadouts, or endgame/raid content. Doing so would probably add several more pages to an already long-winded review.
Overall I think STO is a very entertaining game and has a lot of promise to expand into something really fantastic. It’s up to Cryptic to deliver - and I have faith that they will.
The Good: Most missions are relatively quick, so you can log in for a half hour, run a mission, and log out feeling like you got something accomplished. The customization options for characters and ships is very satisfying, as it is for all of Cryptic’s games. Space combat has a fantastic epic Trek movie feel.
The Bad: Due to the short length of most missions and the relatively low difficulty level (though a difficulty slider has recently been added) there is little reason to group with others to overcome the missions you have. While this is good for casual players, it puts a damper on social interaction and makes some people feel like they are not being challenged enough.
Score: I would give this game a solid three and a half stars out of five for graphics, gameplay, and engaging mission content. Introducing Klingon PvE content would make me re-rate it with four stars.
I hope to see you in the final frontier!
What do you think of Star Trek Online?
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