Cryptic have taken on mammoth task in attempting to develop a MMO for Star Trek that meets the expectations of both MMO players and Trekkies. Some would say the task was well nigh impossible. Star Trek has become such an integral part of our social consciousness with words, actions and characters making up some of our lingo and vocabulary. “Beam me up” or “It’s life, Jim” are understood by almost every living being in the western world so beware anyone who comes along and mucks it all up. Yes, if I’d been a part of the team working on this MMO I would have been more than a little afraid of making a tactical error.
Even though this preview is based on the Beta, with many more in-game amendments sure to come before the grand release date in February 2010, Star Trek Online (STO) vibrates with the spirit of Trek.
From the moment you begin you feel as if you’re a part of the Federation. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Trekkie or not, the game plays out neatly enough for even the most bewildered to enjoy the experience. For fans, however, it’s a feast of visual and technical delight.
When you first start out you get to play around with the character creator. This is very much in line with the genius that Cryptic has shown in a similar vein for City of Heroes and City of Villains. You are bound to spend hours fiddling with the various controls while creating an alien creature that can amuse or terrify. As a Trekkie I did the geeky thing and created a macho Tiberius J. Krik and named my ship The Vigilant. Yes, I know...
During the character creation process you’ll get to choose the vocation of your star wandering captain. You can opt for engineering, science or tactical. If you specialise in engineering you’re all about defences, attack developments and other such technical advantages, science officers can heal and have versatile combat abilities, and tactical is combat damage and tactics.
Then you’re on to managing your traits – each one of these has different bonuses and abilities that affect your overall character – and personal character information. I wasn’t overwhelmingly impressed with the uniform options or the colours available. This wasn’t improved upon later on when I had the chance to modify my ship. I understand that a neon pink starship is not very Trek but it would’ve been nice to have the option to do so.
Once you start playing, however, it’s something of a revelation. It’s fast, relentless and adrenalin-fuelled fun. You don’t have the luxury of fannying about with learning controls or talking to nice Starfleet personnel. Instead you’re smack bang in the middle of a battle with one of Star Trek’s biggest foes. Trekkies will find it hard not to shiver a little, with delight and fear.
After you’ve played out the scenario you’re free to pick up your quests and head off into space. Exploration is divided into two distinct spheres – space and planetside. On the planet surface you’re given the choice of who you want on your away team and what choices your team makes.
As you progress through the game you’ll pick up loot via rewards or kills that you can use to buff up yourself and your officers. Don’t forget your officers, the more you promote and gear them up, the better backup they’ll be in a tight situation. There’s a whack of away team customisation options and strategies that really do make you feel like you’re living on the set of the TV show itself.
Space exploration is good. I’m impressed with the maps, the ease of use and the vastness of it all. I’m not overwhelmingly in love with the combat. This could be largely due to user error – there are tons of controls and hotkeys you need to get used to – but it hasn’t quite captured my imagination as effectively as ground-based combat.
Initially you’ll have to get the hang of manipulating your ship through three-dimensional space and managing your blast arcs. I spent a lot of time going in slow circles while being phasered to a pulp until I discovered certain hotkeys and manoeuvres.
I loved the fact that I was happily exploring space only to end up in the middle of a huge battle with three Klingon Birds of Prey that I’d inadvertently pissed off. Another player swooped in, phasers firing. I flanked the sod that had me pinned down. We took those birds down with precision and team work. I could hear the music roaring in the background. It was pant-wetting, keyboard smashing fun at its best.
A slight downer for me was that some of the battles seemed to drag on a bit but the game has clearly been designed to appeal to all types of gamer.
I’ve been playing for several days now and genuinely haven’t even touched the sides of the game. The scope is breathtaking and the options for character development and ship modification impressive. It will take many pleasant customising hours to get the right combinations to create the Ultimate Captain and Starships. Yes, you can own more than one ship and choose the one best suited for each mission.
From what I have encountered in the Beta, Star Trek Online looks to satisfy most hardcore Trek fans while still appealing enormously to the newcomer. It’s entirely up to you whether you want to delve right into the bowels of starship design or just pootle along in space meeting hot blue aliens. Not your standard out-of-the-box MMO, STO may well be the golden goose of 2010. Resistance is futile.