MMO's are currently being released just as regularly as another cheesy Lady Gaga tune. Ok well maybe not quite as frequently, however when you look at how many have sprung up over the past 3 or 4 years from Cryptic Studios themselves then you could say that they are the Lady Gaga of the MMO world. So far they have churned out City of Heroes, City of Villans, Champions Online and now (possibly there most ambitious one) Star Trek Online.
Star Trek Online has been in development now since at least 2006 when initially announced by now defunct studio Perpetual Entertainment.After which the game went to Cryptic, they officially announced that they were working on it in August 2008 and only a year and a half later released it.
Like I mentioned earlier, my opinion is that this game is very ambitious. Trekkie's are renowned nit pickers, who are most upset if someone comes along and messes with Canon/Continuity OR forgets what Star Trek was all about in the first place. Had it not been for these devoted fans however Star Trek wouldn't still be around here and now. So Cryptic's first aim was to create a game which not only captures the essence of Trek mythos but also craft a game which non 'Trekkies' can get into. Overall I think they do a pretty decent job. Visually the game works well, the graphics are decent, the ships are well designed (even if some of the Cryptic designs are a bit random) There are enough graphical presentations which look like the famous 'LCARS' Menu system seen in The Next Generation TV show/Movies, this adds to the continuity. The game also sounds like Trek, incorporating the voice of the ships computer, little console bleeps the warp effects, everying sounds like it has been pulled directly out of a Star Trek Soundboard. We even get the pleasure of Leonard Nimoy and Zach Quinto doing some voice over work.
Star Trek Online takes place in the year 2409 which is about 30years after the events of the film Star Trek Nemesis. Elements from the franchise reboot in 2009 have also been incorporated into the storyline such as the disappearance of Ambassador Spock and the destruction of the Romulan homeworld. Setting the game in the future is a good move by Cryptic. It means they can carve out a history without stepping on the toes of what has come before. They have done a very good job in creating that story as well. I'm not wanting to go into too much detail about the storyline itself as I don't want to spoil it. The jist of it though is that the Federation and Klingons have gone to war, this has been brought about by a shape shifting alien race meddling in the affairs of other races and the Klingons got paranoid and over reacted (as usual). The basis of this storyline means that you can then go on and choose to play on the side of the Federation (Starfleet) or Klingons. It should be noted that because the Klingons have conquered different alien races you can also pick to play as Gorn, Orions etc all under the Klingon banner.
Okay so time to get to the nitty gritty! Quests in STO take the form of Episodes, which are generally connected to the main story. It starts out when you receive your orders from a superior officer, travel to the specified sector/star system and carry them out. They can take about 30-45mins to complete in full so its reasonably time consuming. Depending on the mission you could be engaged in Space Combat or Ground Combat. The main story missions aren't the only thing to keep yourself occupied with. There are also Patrol Missions, Skirmish missions and Exploration missions which you pick up as well.
- These tend to be small variable missions which can be either space based or ground based. You tend to have to patrol about 5 systems to complete that mission. The content here is rather hit and miss, some of them are not bad others are really boring. Grinding in space killing wave upon wave of enemies.
You are charged to protect Federations space from encroaching enemies, makes sense. So these missions are basically what it says on the tin. You fly up to an enemy signal and engage it in combat. What is slightly silly about these is the amount of enemies within the sector when you warp in. There can be dozens of squadrons. How so many of their ships can be so far into Starfleet territory is beyond me so i just shoot them all anyway.
Starfleet's primary focus is to explore new worlds. In the exploration missions you fly to a sector on the map and explore systems. They vary between ground and space based. On the ground you might have to scan 5 energy signals and beam back to the ship, same with the ship based ones. Overall, easy peasy and very boring! Easy XP and Minerals (more on that later)
Space Combat is carried out by using the WASD keys on the keyboard to control the ship, which is viewed from an external 3rd Party angle.It can also be controlled by using the mouse. Weapons can be fired again using the mouse or by hitting the hot key, or by using an action bar button. Like other MMO's the HUD consists of action bars, Mission Journal, XP bar etc and you also get your Bridge officer action bars as well. Like the TV shows or films the game allows you to control officers (AI Pets) who have their own abilities. Again these can be controlled by using the Actionbars/Hotkeys displayed on the HUD. Overall its not very complicated and established MMO players should be fine at getting the hang of it. Players who don't have a lot of experience (no pun intended) when it comes to MMO's also shouldn't find it too difficult to get the hang of the controls and indeed there is a good tutorial at the beginning of the game (voiced by Zachary Quinto, Spock from last years franchise reboot). Space Combat is probably one of STO's strong parts. The action is fast and fun, with emphasis on tactical positioning of your ship along with using phasers to bring down shields and then torpedoes on the hull to do more ship damage. The controls are mostly intuitive and responsive. I briefly mentioned Bridge Officers earlier. They are also a very important part of the space combat experience. As an example a Tactical Officer may give you the ability to fire a spread of torpedoes as oppose to just one, and an Engineering officer allows you to 'heal' other ships.
If space combat is Star Trek Online's strong feature then Ground Combat is probably the worst. Okay i'm not gonna say its terrible. Cos it isn't. It is however... unpolished? I'll start with the positives. It is different. Unlike MMO's you're not facing off against enemies with a sword in one hand and a shield in the other.. Technically you do have shields but again i'll touch upon this in a moment. It is a sort of Run and Gun type of gameplay, squad based when you include your away team members (bridge officers). Again the officers bring along their own abilities such as photon grenades and medical tricorders for healing. (in fact if you become incapacitated the fight goes on and if your away team win the battle they may even be able to revive you, thats a nice touch) Again the controls are handled pretty much like any other MMO. Like i say the ground combat can be fun. At this present time however it does feel quite clunky and unstructured. Your away team can run into a room of enemies and it just becomes a mess of characters running about shooting, there's no strategy involved and it can get pretty overwhelming. I think with a bit of time and more focus the ground combat aspect can be cleaned up and possibly slowed down a little?
Before you get to set off on your ship you must first create a character. This is where Cryptic get to show off yet another character creation system. The one in City of Heroes and Champions online was pretty awesome but this one is a cut above. If you choose to play as Starfleet then you get preset human, Vulcan, Bajoran, Andorians etc. But also an Alien Creator which lets you splice together your own creature, select its own perks and give it some history. At this stage you are also requested to select a career, be it Tactical, Engineering or Science. These are the classes of the game and all hold different paths. They allow you to equip certain abilities and make you more effective at captaining certain ships. Star Trek Online focuses heavily on Total Customization. Not only do you create and kit out your own player, and gain XP (Skill points) but you can also do the same to your bridge officers and ship. Bearing in mind bridge officers are integral to how you play the game so its worth making sure that they have decent weapons and shields for when they go to battle on the ground. You can also customise your ship which means you can change the appearance of it and what systems are on board. There is frankly too much to go into with regards to the customization aspect but it is definitely the best thing about STO. You can spend a good while on a starbase tweaking your ships systems, buying or selling items and making sure your bridge officers are all kitted out.
In the 25th Century there is no money, so how do you purchase your items? Well Cryptic have gotten around this by introducing a few different items of currency within the game. Energy Credits are used to buy items to equip to your character/bridge officers on the ground or items for your ship. These can be purchased from vendors or the Exchange (Auction House) There are Starfleet Merits, which are used to obtain bridge officers and to buy new abilities for them. Other items can only be bought using badges. These are obtained by completing exploration missions. There's also PVP based rewards as well.
In STO there are 5 ranks each with 10 grades. You start as an Ensign, for the purposes of the tutorial only. As soon as you complete your tutorial you're promoted to Lieutenant. To increase in grade, you need to obtain and spend 'Skill Points'. Skill points are gained by completing missions. They are spent within your character journal. They increase certain attributes which are specific to your career. You also get Bridge Officer skill points which are used in exactly the same way. Once you get promoted you are also allowed to then promote your bridge officers as well which means an increase in skills available to them also. The whole aspect of this is pretty nifty, it is a refreshing change to the old way of just gaining XP and levelling up. You need to be quite hands on with what skills are being updated and what impact thats going to have on your character and crew. I think initially it can be quite hard to get the hang of but eventually its quite easy to use.
It is without doubt that Star Trek Online is not going to be everyone's cup of tea. One of the main reasons behind this is because it still feels quite underdeveloped. Its not quite as polished as some other MMO's are when they've been released. I think it is quite obviously been rushed out the door by publishers Atari so that they can stay attached to the hype created by the movie last year. There is a lack of fun side missions. The Patrol/Exploration missions are a great idea but so far poorly executed. They can be very tedious. Also there is no real RPG element. No decent diplomacy model so far either, you cant talk your way out of battle. Isn't it Starfleet's preference to preserve peace? I haven't gone into the crafting system as its rather poor at the moment and I've not gone into PVP either because i've been focusing more on the mission content. Also the crafting system hasn't yet been implemented yet so it isn't really fair to judge it. Throughout the beta stages Cryptic have done a lot of listening to the fans via the forums and have implemented ideas from the fans. Also they have made improvements based on fan feedback. Even since launch there have been numerous patches which are tweaking the game, removing bugs. I'm full of confidence that the flaws the game currently contains can be straightened out. If you are a casual gamer as well you can find that carrying out some of the missions will go in relatively quickly if u have a spare 30 mins or so you can do some of the patrol missions as oppose to getting stuck into a story mission and find you have to leave half way through. It makes it largely a user friendly experience. Overall i'm impressed with what Cryptic have done along with their willingness to listen i'm eager to see what they have in store.