Star Trek Online
First impressions are important, and Star Trek Online knows how to make one. You start on the bridge of a ship, watching out the window as a Borg cube (the hive-mind cyborgs' favourite ship) ominously scars your hull with lasers. People are dying around you as you hurtle along corridors shooting Borg, and teleporting them into space, before you become, totally by accident, the most senior member of the ship - and captain by default This leads to a space battle, a search-and-rescue mission, and a flurry of back-patting from your superiors, who sound a little too surprised that you're both alive and a good pilot Before starting the tutorial, of course, you're able to customise your captain to a ridiculously minute level, choose a class, and name your ship. Soon after you arrive on Earth's space station, you're even given the ability to customize some aspects of your craft itself, down to what kind of thrusters are on the back and what colour the top is.
This is a great start for STO, and even makes newbies feel like a proper captain from the outset, rather than being the Federation's whipping boy (as one might expect) for the first few hours. In fact the game does the opposite - you're thrust eagerly into a dazzling array of star systems, nebula and planets before you even really know what's going on.
The crux of the game comes down to the classic MMO formula of going to a mission-giver and going off to save the galaxy/some miners/harvest some space gas. The difference in STO is that your adventures are split into two distinct areas - space and away missions. For the most part you'll spend your time behind the wheel of your craft either flying across Sector Space to travel to a destination or in combat. Piloting the craft takes a little getting used to - particularly because you control its speed and pitch in three dimensions, and depending on where your ship is in relation to a target particular weapons may not fire.
Stellar combat works much like Sid Meier's Pirates!: you attack by activating certain weapons, but each one fires in a different arc, and each shield has four sections - front, both sides, and aft. For example, your fore and aft phasers can both be fired at orice if you turn your ship's side to face the enemy. However, once you bring down their shields, you'll have to turn your ship, so its bow faces the gap in their defences to unleash devastating proton torpedoes. Depending on how large the battle is you may also be taking fire from any side. You can, as a result, control power to your shields, forcing energy into areas that are being damaged the most.
This sounds a bit intimidating - overcomplex, even - but you'll quickly get the hang of it. In fact it's about the perfect system to really nail that classic Star Trek battle - tactical, ponderous, and with plenty of frantic button tapping. It's surprisingly absorbing and, in the controlled chaos of the larger fleet battles, it can get rather dramatic.
Really, the ship-to-ship combat is good enough to be a game in its own right, once you begin to get deeper into modifying your ships. Once I'd progressed further into the game, my entire space tactics had changed. Instead of sweeping around enemy craft seeking to wear them down, I'd charge at them, my new disruptor cannons ripping open their shields before a few torpedoes blew them up.
You should also note I'm not the biggest Star Trek fan - I know Klingons and Vulcans and that's about it That said, I found myself whooping madly as I took part in a gigantic open Fleet Defense outside Starbase 24, huge groups of Federation crafts bringing down Klingon Birds of Prey with controlled strikes.
I have to applaud how well Cryptic have done with the space combat - it takes up a large chunk of your time, and it's more engrossing and tight than any MMO I've played in memory. From 50-ship, epic space wars to two-ship scraps, the combat staves off repetition by being addictive beyond the simple gaining of loot, experience and killing of enemy NPCs.
Which is a good thing, really, because once Star Trek Online tries to be a normal MMO, it doesn't totally succeed. Levelling up in STO is a bizarre mixture of skillpoints, ranks and titles. There are five titles, each with 10 ranks, similar to Dungeons & Dragons Online. Instead of using experience, you gain nebulous amounts of skill points that gain you ranks. Graduating to the next title, however, requires the expenditure of different amounts of skillpoints.
These said skill points are spent in various areas divided by your class, and further divided into both spaceship and on-the-ground character abilities. As if this wasn't confusing enough, you also get away team members who you level up independently and gain different abilities in space and planetside.
While Cryptic may have wished to keep in character in this system, all they managed to do was obfuscate what should have been a very, very simple way to level up. The class system makes a little more sense (see Classless Society), but is still needlessly complicated by menus and arrow-boxes, similar (yet not quite as bewildering) to Star Wors Galaxies' infamous stat-fest.
Ironically, once you arrive on the surface of any given planet with your away team, the game becomes dull in its simplicity. Where Tabula Rasa attempted to bring at least a semblance of shooter-style aiming, the ground combat feels like it's from 2005, with errant tapping of abilities and waiting for that one specific ability to cool down.
Furthermore, many of your weapons are phasers, assault rifles and the like -but many enemies blunder towards you and awkwardly swing at you. It stinks of a 'me too' section of the game that Cryptic just felt that they had to include to appease what people believed an MMO had to be.
It's not even that it's totally awful - in fact, with the remarkably intelligent away teams (see Go Away!), it can be a kind of cack-handed fun-it's just awkward and anachronistic in a way that won't make anyone smile.
James T Curt
Sadly, this isn't the only problem with STO. The 'Genesis' missions - randomly-generated exploration tasks much like those found in Spore - can border on awful. One had me stuck on a randomly named planet where I had been told to look for gas. However, when I arrived, I was looking for a medical crate. After 30 minutes of listless searching - there were no map prompts -1 had scanned three rocks. From discussions with other players, this is rather indicative of these somewhat lifeless adventures.
Another had a party and I save a planet of people displaced by the war with the Klingons - but, unluckily, they had been invaded by the Klingons again. On arriving, we watched as every single enemy - around 10 of them - spawned in one spot stumbling upon each other like flies on a poo. Any attempt to break them apart unleashed them all upon you, killing most of the party in one fell swoop. The reason that I harness both of these examples is that they're not aberrations - Star Trek Online is, less than a month before release, critically bugged. Much of the time, when you enter an area on foot, you'll spawn as your space ship, awkwardly spinning until you turn back into a human - and vice versa in space. Sometimes, you'll spawn on a planet with no away team -against hordes of enemies that cannot be killed solo.
Many missions are unbalanced to the point of ridiculousness. For example, it's common you'll be told to patrol an area of space made up of four or five systems. Out of these, two will be easily solo-able and take all of five minutes to complete -the next may be ball-breakingly hard with no warning. One 'level 4' mission may be far harder than another - and it seems that after the initial newbie missions you're thrown into a world that demands a space fleet to compete in.
Lt. Uh-Huh Uh-Huh
There're plenty of smaller bugs, too - not being able to pick an instance to enter (the menu disappears), some parts of the map still have HTML code on them, and, occasionally, your map in an instance appears as a garbled, corrupted mess.
Well-documented and pervasive bugs, like your away team not spawning, continue to plague the game well into the latter stages of the open beta, and said bugs give the entire package a messy and ill-prepared feel. While the ship combat remains satisfying and addictive, the ground combat is turgid and unoriginal. Content fails to scale as evenly as you'd like, and reliance on groups grows at a faster rate than is comfortable - mere hours into the game, you're constantly running afoul of higher-level corvettes and cruisers with no wingmen to help.
While it's impossible to say this for sure, given the proximity to launch, it's very hard to recommend an immediate voyage to Star Trek Online. You'll want to wait a while before thinking about beaming down.
Bridge Officers take the place of troublesome social interaction
Throughout Star Trek Online you'll find yourself gaining Bridge Officers through quests, trades and vendors.
Each one is an Al-driven NPC from one of the professions. Each has their own abilities that level independently of yours: one for space, and one on the ground. In space a Tactical Officer can let you fire two proton torpedoes in one shot whilst an Engineering Officer can MacGuyver your ship mid-flight and repair hull damage rapidly. Likewise, on the ground said officers will be able to kick the enemy in the shins and protect you.
On the ground, they react relatively intelligently to what's going on around them. They'll heal both you and each other, and even any NPCs or other group mates. It's an interesting replacement for guild mates for the solitary gamer, and when it works, it works very well indeed.
Download Star Trek Online
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
The Franchise May be (ahem) a logical choice for the massively multiplayer treatment, yet the makers of Star Trek: Online have so far avoided the interminable hype machine - perhaps aware of how bluff and bluster can only end in disappointment (he said, looking at Star Wars: Galaxies). Still, the fabric for a fulfilling Starfleet jaunt is certainly here: nine playable races, all manner of starships and stations, crew-based ship-on-ship combat and many, many planets for beam down onto for tricordering and Prime Directive-ignoring.
Kicking off in a time of relative peace 25 years after the dullness of Star Trek: Nemesis, the game looks set to feature all the expected villains plus a brand-new enemy from the Beta Quadrant. Can a new challenger emerge in the wake of Star Trek: Legacy? Perpetual Entertainment aren't making a fuss just yet - but they certainly exude an aura of quiet confidence.
We've All Wanted a Star Trek-based online world for many, many years now. We've dreamed about it, plotted it out, made our plans for what we'd do, gotten excited over potential, and then steadied ourselves in moist anticipation once it was finally announced that the dream would be turned into reality all those press releases ago. And they've given us... well, a travesty.
Star Trek Online is almost comically bad in execution, an obvious sufferer of rushed production schedules, inept design and very, very poor execution.
At its base level, Star Trek Online puts every player in command of their own starship, complete with an automated crew, throws a mix of spaceship and ground combat at you, and coats it all in every Trek reference you could think of. Which sounds OK, until you play it and realise that none of it gels and everything has been horribly crowbarred into Cryptic's existing MMO format. A setup that, as anyone who's played Champions Online will tell you, was never that great to begin with.
Not all the blame can be thrust in Cryptic's direction, mind you. When you look at Star Trek in the cold, hard light of day, you quickly start to realise how awkward the universe's structure is for an MMO interpretation. Just to cite two examples: the Federation doesn't use any form of currency, and 90% of any classic Trek episode is actors talking to each other: hardly the stuff of low-attention span gaming greatness.
But what really saddens the game-loving heart is how clear it is that, even with the challenges in front of it, Cryptic haven't even tried to make the most rudimentary attempts to translate the true spirit of Star Trek - that force of nature that can survive multiple awful films, several turgid spin-off shows and a host of God-awful cash-in novels and merchandise.
You can almost see the developers at Cryptic looking at the huge whiteboard of All Things Trek in the initial stages of design, realising the amount of creative effort that would be required to pull anything decent off, and just saying "Ah sod it, let's re-skin the Champions engine and make a basic combat game instead."
It's not like there isn't precedent to try this stuff. BioWare is busy creating a' solid-looking story-based MMO. with Star Wars: The Old Republic. EVE Online has shown that a space-based MMO doesn't have to be all about fighting. And just about every MMO under the sun includes guild structure tools that let multiple players team up and follow orders, provide unique roles in situations and contribute to a greater end result in different and meaningful ways. Are you honestly telling me that we couldn't have had ships made up of multiple bridge positions, with the guild leader sitting in the Captain's role and not have had a meaningful Star Trek experience?
That's what comes across most when you play STO: the sheer level of laziness in the development. Of course it looks lovely, yes all the words are correct, the nods to content from the rich Trek history is all there - from pet tribbles to the Guardian of Time, from raktajino to the Crystalline Entity - you literally can't move for fanboy-sating references. But none of it feels as though it's being used in any sort of meaningful way. It's all just being thrown at you as if to say "See! See! It's Star Trek! Lap it up!" regardless of whether any of it makes narrative or logical sense.
So that's why this really doesn't cut the mustard in terms of being a decent Star Trek property. What of its actual gaming credentials? Does it at least have the saving grace of being fun to play, regardless of narrative accuracy? No, it most assuredly does not.
Using the term 'game' to describe Star Trek Online is really pushing the definition of that word to its outer limits. Most games have some sense of challenge to them, some potential for failure in order to keep things interesting. Even MMOs, with their lax attitude towards character death, usually at least try to make the content engaging, varied and difficult enough to disguise the grind at work behind the scenes.
STO has none of that. For all the pretty colours and fancy ship models on display, there is no challenge on offer. The much-vaunted tactical ship combat very quickly becomes a basic case of flying in circles pressing 'fire all' when the countdown timers run down, and since there's no death penalty worth a damn, there's simply no reason to worry if you get blown up as you'll just re-spawn 10 seconds later and jump back into the fray at full strength again. This is attrition gaming at its worst. You never fail to progress, it might just take a few re-spawns to get there (although even that miniscule threat is practically eliminated when you're in a team), but any progression you make isn't going to come about through any displays of gaming skill or tactical nous, you just hang on long enough, pushing the same two buttons when they light up and eventually you'll be an Admiral.
It's not even as if the enemies offer any threat When they're not getting themselves stuck inside scenery (a very common bug), they just go through their one party trick (throwing out mines, cloaking for 10 seconds, whatever) while turning around in circles around you, waiting to explode.
On the ground it's no better. In fact it's far, far worse. For all its flaws, ship combat at least somehow manages to offer a smidge of interest with the foursided shield system (although don't be fooled into thinking this is a 3-D game -that's yet another illusion. Like Khan, STO displays very two-dimensional thinking).
When you're planetside, STO manages to capture all of the worst aspects of MMO gaming from the last five years - tiny zones, limited variety, the same three or four character models being used over and over again, little in the way of effective communication tools, overly confusing on-screen cues, no strategic gameplay and again, nothing in the way of meaningful challenge.
Ground missions do make some attempt to capture the flavour of the various TV shows, but again, only by referencing Star Trek touchstones. The gameplay boils down to either shooting your way past loads of enemies in order to press the action key on a particular mission goal, or just running around empty landscapes, pressing 'scan' five times when you're told to. No challenge, no thought, pure grind.
So, with all that having been said, there is left one niggling question - why, for all the many, many, many faults on display here, do I keep wanting to return to the thing?
Star Trek Online does one thing well -just one thing, but I've found that for many people, that one thing is enough: it provides enough fanboy service to help the diehard Star Trek fans look past the fact that the game is beyond terrible.
The basic fact is that if this was the exact same game but without any of the Trek trappings, no one would give it the time of day. As it is, Trek fans have been wanting an online universe to lose themselves in for years now and as flawed as this is,.it's all they've got and by God, they're going to take it.
Annoyingly, this means that the online game that Trek really deserves isn't likely to ever get made any time soon. Still, Star Wars has survived the mess that was Galaxies and looks like being given decent service by The Old Republic. So there's still hope something similar will happen to Trek.
Right now, Star Trek Online is a mess of a title with little to recommend beyond the novelty of flying around in a replica of the Enterprise. As soon as that novelty wears off (ideally within the 30-day trial period), this will be one universe badly in need of a reboot.