Star Trek Online Review

by on March 12, 2010
 
Game: Star Trek Online

Developer: Cryptic Studios

Publisher: Atari

Available on: PC from Play, Amazon (UK Link | US Link)

Find out what we thought of the brand new MMORPG from Cryptic Studios, after the jump.

STORY: It goes without saying, fans of Star Trek will love this game. Cryptic have done a really great job at being totally inclusive with the lore. Whether you’re a fan of The Original Series, or Voyager this game will appeal to your geeky side. There’s a real Star Trek feel throughout.

Although the Romulan themed introduction is very reminiscent of JJ Abrams’ ‘Star Trek’ (2009) film, Star Trek Online is actually takes place in the same time line as all series and films, in the 25th century (approximately 30 years after Star Trek: Nemesis).

The Federation is once again at war with the Klingons (come on, how long could you see peace lasting, really?) – the Romulan home planet has been destroyed, and they’re in a state of disillusion, so you might want to stay out of their way!

The main storyline mission arc takes you through the entire Galaxy. Initially on the Klingon front, once you reach Commander you’ll venture out to the Romulan front and at Captain you’ll be in Cardassia. When you finally reach Admiral you’ll be facing the Borg themselves. Looking at these arcs I’m reminded of the ST Series in order: The Original Series facing the Klingons, The Next Generation with the Romulans, Cardassia from DS9 and finally Voyager vs the Borg. In-game it’s quite a gradual transition though and it really works. Like I said earlier, they’ve provided something for everyone. As a fan of Deep Space Nine, I couldn’t wait to board the DS9 space station! This game is so deep with lore, it’s full of boyish romances like this. The first time you get a ship that looks like the Defiant, or you take a trans-warp to Borg space.

One particular mission involves going back in time to assist the U.S.S Enterprise. Without spoiling too much, throughout the game you don’t directly get to meet any of the crew members from the original Star Trek, The next Generation, Deep Space 9 or Voyager, you do hear stories about them and possibly get involved.

Another tribute to the ST lore that pops up quite often, is the trouble with Tribbles. Anyone that’s seen an episode featuring Tribbles knows that these things self replicate at an annoying rate. In-game Tribbles give slight buffs to your character, so I tried one out. I can’t explain the surprising awesomeness of opening my inventory the next day, to find my single Tribble had multiplied into 5. Each with their own different aspects.

GAMEPLAY: One of the unique things about STO is that it takes place in both space and on the ground. These offer two completely different combat styles, and vast ranges of missions. Throughout the early levels, you gain NPC crew members for your ship. These become useful both on the land and in space, because not only do you have skill points for your own skill tree, but you also attain Bridge Officer skill points, to assign your crew with different abilities. This is a vital game mechanic – you might not become as attached to your NPCs as you would in other games, but you’ll sure as hell learn to love them for their skills.

Anyone that’s familiar with Cryptic MMOs will instantly feel comfortable during the ground combat. They have a formula that works, so they used it. It’s not the best combat system in the world – but it’s not terrible either. I found it quite enjoyable, beaming down to a planet for some ground combat every now and then – it offers a refreshing mixture of gameplay. Something different for a while. Saying that, I can see a lot of room for improvement here. One feature in particular would have took the ground combat from ‘okay’ or ‘fun every now and then’ to ‘masterpiece’ – and that would have been twitch-based combat. The ground combat is all 3rd person, and it’s actually not that dissimilar to Mass Effect (in a good way). There’s even very nearly a cover system. If Cryptic had allowed you to fire on mouse click, with real FPS/TPS twitch-combat, this game would really be on another level.

Space combat on the other hand, bodes well with traditional MMO style point-click combat. The verdict is still out on whether twitch-based combat works in space MMOs (see; Jumpgate Evolution / Black Prophecy). As you level up your character you get to chose a nice amount of skills, from a huge range of options, leaving plenty of room for unique playing styles. Ship choice is also fantastic. Within the three different classes of ships, you have a good number of ships to chose from as you level up.

Under the ST mask you can see the comfortably familiar MMORPG class system, with the three choices of Starfleet Career; Engineering officers being the tanks, Science officers similar to healers and Tactical officers managing the DPS. Your NPCs may also have different classes to yourself, so between you, you should be well balanced. Saying that, you’re not really forced into a class in this game. Just because you’re a Tactical officer, does not mean you can’t fly a Science vessel. It still works out fine. In fact, technically you could own one of each ship type, and chose style you want to play on any specific day.

Customisation has always been one of Cryptic’s strong points. Your not refined to simply choosing a character template in their games, you’re much more the designer. You can select from a number of races, or you can actually create your own. There’s no forceable reason for your character to look absolutely anything like anyone else’s. There’s also even a degree of customisation of your ships too. You can select Starfleet approved parts and mix them up, so your ship stands out a little. There’s even options to paint patterns on the hull if you so chose.

Space in this game is just so beautiful. It really is. Star Trek Online takes the view that Space is much more than a black backdrop with white specks. There are gas nebula’s and meteor clusters of all kinds, just as you’d expect. Every planet is uniquely ‘painted’, it’s all so artistic. Makes for a far better gaming experience.

Currency is a bit of a strange one in STO, since currency is not really used in the Federation, at least not in the sense that we’re used to, Cryptic had to get creative. There are energy credits, which can be spent on the Exchange (player based market system), and there are a few medals/reward currencies which can be spent at special Starfleet NPCs, primarily at space stations. All of which are earned by doing missions.

I won’t go into the mission system too much, because I mention it earlier. But another really cool little token to the very story-based mission system, is that you don’t have to physically travel to/from your mission-givers all the time, you can hail them from wherever you are. Of course, this is as it should be in a ST Universe, but compared to other MMORPGs, this is a really nice touch.

At the moment there are two playable factions in STO, there’s the Federation and the Klingon Empire. You initially start off in Starfleet, but once you reach level 6 you’ll unlock a Klingon player slot. Initially this affected the balance of Player vs Player combat, but now that the game has been out over a month, we’re seeing the player-base even out across factions. Cryptic plan to add two more playable factions in the future, the Cardassians and the Romulans. This should make for a very interesting dynamic.

PvP is very in depth in STO. A decision was made not to make the an open-PvP Universe. Whether you agree with this idea or not, the game isn’t as Care Bear oriented as you might at first suspect. There’s a PvP queue system, to jump into PvP at any time, as well as certain planets/systems that are PvP battle areas. In these PvP arenas there are different objectives; whether it be Team Deathmatch or Domination. These objective-based PvP arenas work well, but you will also receive missions in open-PvP systems, this will involve you getting on with your mission while avoiding any enemy Klingons that might be spoiling for a rumble. If you play as  Klingon in the Empire, while there are an ever growing amount of regular PvE story-arc missions, you’ll find you also level up a lot through PvP missions at the moment.

BOX SETS: STO offers a number of unlock-able in-game items. Some of which were obtain by pre-ordering, by purchasing from certain retailers, registering on the forums before a certain date, buying a lifetime account or a special edition box. This can get rather confusing for someone first buying the game. After playing for a while, I’ve come to the conclusion that the GameStop deal is actually the best bet. In this package you get:

  • Deluxe Packaging: Futuristic 3dX holography set in a high quality brushed aluminum finish. Heavy duty construction with magnetic closures and nested compartments for all components.
  • Deluxe Manual: High end, hardbound, art book, manual, and disc case in a single, elegant package. “HD Printing” on over 40 glossy pages of exclusive art from the Star Trek Online Universe.
  • Communicator Badge: High quality cast metal design based on the in-game badge model. Fully 3d Sculpted with recessed burst and curved contours.
  • Guest Passes: Credit card style buddy passes to invite three of your friends for a ten day trial of Star Trek Online.
  • Red Matter Capacitor: A unique item that charges up and delivers extra energy to all of your ship’s equipment for a short time. A device that, when used, gives you a small bump in energy, has a long recharge.
  • Next Generation Uniform: Uniform Options from the Next Generation. The timeless look worn by Picard, Data and Riker.
  • “Deep Space Nine” Uniform: Uniform Options from the “Deep Space Nine” Series. Grey shoulders, on a black uniform, just like Sisko, Worf and Dax.
  • The Uniforms are a neat touch, but the important thing here is the Red Matter Capacitor. You’d be amazed how many times this thing comes in useful during space combat. Pre-orders from GameStop also received the C-Class, traditional Enterprise ship, from The Original Series. Classic.

    Saying that, I bought my copy from Play.com, and was very pleasantly surprised when I found the regular box set contains some postcard and a T-Shirt.

    SOUND: STO has an unbelievably amazing score. This is one of the few games that makes me keep the music volume up loud. Even the user interface sound effects are good in this game, everything just sounds as it should, in the ST universe.

    There’s also the occasional voice-over the Lenard Nimoy. His narrative takes you through the main story-arc of the game. Another nice touch for the ST fans.

    LONGEVITY: When playing a new MMORPG, there’s often the feeling that the publishers have rushed the developers to release the title before it’s actually ready. The first few months usually have the vibe of an overwhelmed dev team. This is not the case with Star Trek Online. Maybe it’s because Cryptic are so accustomed to releasing MMO titles by now, I can’t say. What I can tell you is how impressed I am with the release schedule of updates. Cryptic are releasing regular patches with bug fixes and improvements (not that there are many bugs, which again is surprising for a new MMO). As you can see from the STO Release Calendar, there was a fairly big content update last week, and there’s one planned for next week too.

    I think the most promising sign is that these content updates are for endgame material. They’re focusing on keeping the capped players entertained – something they’ve possibly learned from the mistakes of others in the industry (I’m reminded of Age of Conan launch troubles, among others).

    With such a huge fanbase, solid game, and regular content updates, I can see STO being around for a good while.

    VERDICT: A sexy graphics engine, awesome sound effects and musical score, Star Trek based lore, constant updates, planned expansions. All good signs of a great MMORPG in the making.

    At the beginning, this game was looking like a 7/10. But like any MMO, you have to be a little forgiving of the first few levels to really give the game a chance. It’s hard to portray the expanse of content within just a few levels. After capping a Federation character and being well on the way to capping a character in the Klingon Empire faction, I feel I’m now capable of giving this game a proper review score that will give it justice.

    Of course only time can tell how popular this game will become. The life of an MMO is unpredictable to say the least. But at launch, this game gets a very sturdy 8/10.

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