Star Trek Online – PC Game Review
Star Trek Online. PC Game Review. Publisher: Atari. Developer: Cryptic Studios. Digital Download $14.99 + Monthly Subscription Fee
Passed Inspection: Amazingly addictive space combat gameplay, fantastic visuals in space, and authentic Star Trek sounds throughout, scripted missions are good clean fun, loads of starship variety, intuitive interface, hardly any learning curve. Free Weekly Episode missions and Season content updates. Robust PVP and character creation options. Lots of canon material. It very well may be the best Star Trek PC game ever!
Failed Basic: Annoying bugs. Most ground combat/content is bland and uninspiring. The Klingon side is an afterthought and it shows. Lack of end-game PVE content. Not for hardcore MMO enthusiasts.
A Year Older
Star Trek Online (STO) had a rocky launch. I was one of those people who had paid $5 at Best Buy to Pre-Order Star Trek Online, just so I could get in my three weeks or so at playing the Beta before the official launch. Thankfully I was able to try it first, because when it came time to pony up $50 to buy it I had to pass for a number of reasons. Overall it was a mess when it debuted.
It’s been over a year now since the launch. I figured it might be a good time to revisit it, and that’s just what I’ve done over the past few months now.
If you’re a Star Trek enthusiast this is definitely a must-play game.
Let’s talk about just what STO is and how it works first.
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Star Trek Online is a Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) game that takes place in both space and on the ground and is set in the Star Trek universe. Players can take the role of either Federation or Klingon.
The game takes place both in space and on ground missions. In space you use your mouse and keyboard to control your ship. The interface is quite intuitive and clean. Actually the entire Heads Up Display (HUD) is totally customizable, which comes in handy.
Combat is more like epic naval battles than the dogfighting style combat of World War II.
To simulate the crew on board, each ship has a number of Bridge Officer slots which you can assign to NPC Bridge Officers (BOs). Players have access to different BOs as you make your way through the game, they can also be bought and traded as well. Each BO has different random combinations of unique abilities and attributes for both space and ground combat missions.
There are three different types of BOs Tactical (that’s right, the Red Shirts!), Engineering (Yellow) and Science (Blue). Every BO grants specific powers you can trigger in space, and on the ground through the toolbar.
For instance, a Tactical Bridge Officer can grant a player an ability called Torpedo High Yield I, which boosts the damage of the next Torpedo attack. While an Engineering Bridge Officer can grant an ability called Engineering team which removes debuffs and grants a small hull heal. Therefore Tactical BOs tend to offer offensive abilities, whereas Engineering is more about defensive abilities. Science BOs are more like the debuffing class of BOs, with their own unique bag of tricks to draw upon.
Each ship also has a number of specific slots for Consoles based on each type of officer too, so there are Tactical, Science, and Engineering Consoles, each of which grants bonuses to the ship’s capabilities.
A +11 Beam Weapons Console enhances any beam weapons, and is a Tactical Console. A +11 Phaser/Disruptor armor plate is an Engineering Console offering protection versus Phaser and Disruptor damage. Science Consoles offer bonuses to the various science-specific ship capabilities as well like the Deflector Dish or Sensors and so on. As you move up in rank, you’ll find that ships have more of each type of console slot as well, depending on their role.
Ships also have a number of front and rear weapon slots, a slot for an engine, deflector dish and a shield too. There are also a limited number of Device slots, which can be used to consume Weapon, Shield, Engine, and Auxiliary Batteries, and other ship devices, which sort of “buff” those specific systems on a ship, some even offer a unique ability.
The type of ship also dictates what kind of BO and Console slots a ship may have. An Escort is generally more of a Tactical ship, so you’ll find that they have more Tactical BO and Tactical Console slots, while a Cruiser is more of an Engineering ship and will offer more high-ranking Engineering BO and console slots. Science ships tend to have more high-ranking Science Bridge Officer slots, and more Science Console slots as well.
Like in the TV show and movies, you can micro-manage a little bit when it comes to “More power to the shields,” or “I need full power to the engines,” as this is handled through clicking Attack (routing more power to the weapon systems), Defense (routing more power to the shields and defensive systems), Speed (routing power to the engines) and Balanced option buttons through the HUD interface.
Some of the BO powers and abilities can also further alter these power levels. For instance there’s an Engineering BO ability called Emergency Power to Weapons, which temporarily boosts the power level that the weapon systems draw from. There’s an Emergency Power to Shields and Auxiliary ability as well. However that’s as deep as the systems micro-managing really goes, which helps to keep the learning curve to a minimum.
There are three different difficulty levels in STO, they’re Normal, Advanced, and Elite. However the only thing that changes with bumping the difficulty levels higher is that the chance to loot Rare and Very Rare items increases, and things get a lot harder.
On the Federation side of things there are three different types of ship classes you can operate: Escort, Cruiser, and Science Vessel. Escorts are based on the Defiant role from Star Trek Deep Space Nine. As you might expect Escorts are small, agile ships with a lot of firepower. The Cruisers are the biggest and beefiest ships on the Federation side. They can carry loads of firepower, but they dish it out a little bit slower over time versus the Escort, and they can take substantially more damage and stay standing. Cruisers are the tanks.
Science Vessels are a little more difficult to explain. I personally look at them as tricky Cruisers, because they can make great tanks like a cruiser if set up properly. The science powers in general are what I like to call tricks, because they do a lot of neat stuff to damage an enemy, like dropping a Gravity Well to slow up a foe and cause damage, or using Tachyon Beams to help suck some shields away from a foe, exposing the enemy’s hull. They’re also like the Medic class, but they can hold their own quite well in combat; they just do it in a tricky, more unconventional way.
Initial Character creation also offers a lot of possibilities. Star Trek Online uses what appears to be the same character creation system used in Champions Online, which is quite robust. In addition to the classic TV and film uniforms, there is also a nice little variety of new uniforms never before seen on TV or in the films.
Every character has four unique trait skills; which race you choose determines how many of these you can select yourself. Most come with two preset traits, leaving you to choose the remaining two. Most importantly, choose carefully which officer path you want to travel (Tactical, Engineering, or Science) because once that has been chosen, you can’t go back later and respec your ground profession.
Thankfully, however, you can respec your skill tree at any time within the game, with respec tokens which you earn throughout your career path (one is given at every promotion). Once you run out respec tokens it will cost you Starfleet Merits, which are also earned through completing missions. You can at any time decide to fly a different type of ship, or to spec your character more for ground than space, or more for space than ground and so on.
As noted above, Star Trek Online offers missions both in space and on the ground. The classes in space are reflected on the ground. The Tactical class is the class that does the most damage, and has a variety melee and ranged weapon enhancing abilities. Engineers, as the name implies, rely on technology and support abilities through being able to drop Phaser Turrets, Medical Turrets, Shield Turrets, even little flying Drones to assist in ground combat missions. Science officers always have been the Medics and Scientific types in the TV shows and movies, and in STO they can be specced as a group healer or a tricky little debuffing machine on ground.
Players are given two character slots with each account to start with. Once you hit level 6 on a Federation character, you are given a third character slot and the option to also make a Klingon Defense Force (KDF) character (if you’re playing the Federation). If that’s not enough, the C-Store offers options to buy more character slots, ship slots, BO slots, uniforms, special ships and skins for ships, among other things.
The missions in Star Trek Online are a mixed bag. The intro mission is pretty cool, and I wish all of the missions in the game had that same feel to them, but they don’t. The weakest link is the randomly generated missions to be found as you make your way through the game. The scripted missions are truly the best. They are loads of fun and can be appreciated by casual gamers and Trekkers alike.
STO is really two games in one. I’d say about 70% of the game takes place in space, and 30% takes place on the ground. And that’s the biggest problem with STO: most ground missions aren’t much fun. However, the newest ones added with the introduction of Season content and Weekly Episodes are great and it looks like the Cryptic team has found its stride.
There’s also a horde of player-versus-player (PVP) missions you can engage in. These can be free-for-all-style matches, capture-the-base-type scenarios, even Federation versus Federation or Klingon Defense Force (KDF) versus Federation scenarios. I must admit that I’m not a big fan of PVP, but STO seems to have a really impressive range of PVP options and game types to dig into. My only complaint would be that it can sometimes take forever to join a PVP match via the in-game Cue system. Usually by the time it wants to bring me in, I’m already knee deep into doing something else. Players also have the ability to band together to form the equivalent of guilds, which are called Fleets. Fleets provide the opportunity to trade and find groups with friendly players.
Player-versus-Environment (PVE) missions can include diplomatic missions, daily missions (which are assigned once per day), and Special Task Force (STF) missions which have been recently added. The STF missions are the most enjoyable, but again require at least Rear Admiral rank to play. Aside from these STF missions there isn’t much endgame content in STO yet, but given the recent additions of high quality content, I’m optimistic more is on the way.
There’s an economy too, but you almost don’t need it in STO since you can loot what you really need to—resources to craft, nice gear—and earn other gear through alternative methods. There’s an in-game Exchange system, which is where you can post items to sell, and where you can also purchase items with the in-game Energy Credits (EC) currency.
…To Explore Strange New Worlds
The universe created for the game is pretty big. Each race has a part of space that is cordoned off into smaller section maps. This is called Sector Space. For instance, there’s a Romulan space sector, there’s the Klingon space sector, there’s the Cardassian sector, and so on. You can fly to most any of them at any time, but you don’t have access to the majority of the missions there until you reach the appropriate rank.
You can, however, fly over to various starbases such as Deep Space Nine, Earth Space Dock, or K7 . The only really restricted sector is the Borg/Undine sector, which can only be accessed at higher ranks—Rear Admiral at a miniumum.
In all fairness, STO was advertised as a “Casual MMO” when it launched, and I’d have to agree that after having spent two months now with it that I can see that STO really is more of a casual MMO than a hardcore one that you can continue playing for months or years, like Star Wars Galaxies, World Of Warcraft or EverQuest.
An experienced MMO player will probably require a little over a week to grind a single Federation character to the maximum rank of Vice Admiral. By then, most players will really have seen it all, too.
For players grasping for new content, The Foundry sounds promising. The Foundry is a pretty slick-looking set of tools that allows players create their own missions and content. There’s already a couple of these missions included in the game at present, and I have to admit the missions I played were fun. However, I have seen other MMOs provide player-created content, and while it’s a great addition, the most enjoyable MMOs that I’ve played have had a rich core of professionally created content. It’s likely the Klingon mission will benefit most since they were originally created as a PVP race and PVE missions aren’t as plentiful as Federation ones.
Speaking of the Klingons
As I noted, the Klingons were once going to be a PVP-only race, but at the last minute Cryptic decided to let players have a go at them for PVE as well. To start with, you’re literally dropped into the Klingon home-base of Qo’Nos and left to figure it out for yourself with no guidance whatsoever. While players must be level six before they can create a Klingon character, it’s still not easy to play.
At the lowest levels you’ll find that your contacts begin to give you PVP missions to gain SP (Skill Points). The PVE options for Klingons are also of the randomly generated variety, so they’re generally not very enjoyable and can be very repetitive. Klingons now can play the PVE weekly episode content missions, but it takes almost twice as long to grind a Klingon character to the max level of Lt General in STO as it does a Federation character, and overall my assessment of the Klingons is that they still have some work to do before it’s as enjoyable to play as the Federation. Bugs persist in many Klingon missions, too, which further affect the gameplay experience.
The good news is that the Klingon ships really are a lot of fun. They have their classes broken up into Raptor (which is very much like the Federation’s Escorts), Cruiser (pretty much a better handling version of Federation Cruisers) and Bird Of Prey (BoP). The BoP is really unique in that it’s a lot more fragile than a Raptor/Escort ship, but it can carry nearly the same firepower and is by far the most agile ship in the game. Oh, did I mention at the higher levels you can even command some insanely large Carrier type ships that can launch AI fighters and AI controller Bird of Prey? Yeah, the KDF is really impressive in ship variety and goes a long way toward making up for the lack of PVE content.
The Bird of Prey also have the advantage of Universal Bridge Officer slots. In most other ships the ship design dictates how many Eng, Tac and Sci BO slots a ship has, and what rank they are. Ensign rank slots grant 1 power, Lieutenant ranks grant 2 powers and so on. In a BoP it’s anything goes. If you want to outfit your BoP with all Tactical BOs you can. If you wanted to make it a Science vessel, then you can.
In terms of character creation the KDF side isn’t just all about the Klingons. Character creation options include Nausican, Klingon, Orion, and Gorn species, or pure Alien, which allows you to create your own race. That’s what’s so frustrating about the Klingon side, because there’s a lot of cool stuff to create and use, but not enough stuff to do with it all in the way of PVE content … yet.
Star Trek Online is the one MMO which after a few weeks of playing I began to love hating. No MMO is ever complete, and they’re all a work in progress. Star Trek Online still has some polishing to do before it will be competing for hardcore MMO gamers. For fans of the Star Trek franchise, there’s a lot to love in this casual game. Thematically the game is great. The ships are fun to fly, and since space-based missions make up the majority of the game, there’s a lot going for it. The space missions are where the game really shines.
If you’re a Trekker there really are a lot of cool little surprises to be found in Star Trek Online. That’s one thing the designers nailed—the game caters to the diehard Trekker crowd. Setting aside the annoying bugs and the lack of being able to man the ships with other players, there’s still a lot of canon material to be found within the game.
All in all, Star Trek Online is the kind of game you really have to try before you buy it. There is a demo you can download and try, and I’d recommend it. I think STO has amazing potential, and if you’re looking for some good clean fun, in a market place filled with blood splattering shooters and military tactical games, STO really is a nice break from it all.
I’d also say that if you’re a Star Trek enthusiast this is definitely a must-play game. The hardcore MMO crowd may find more issues with it than most, due to the lack of more endgame content for PVE and bugs, but as it stands STO has come a long way. It still has a way to go before it will equal the polish of other, older MMOs out there, but then again, they’ve had a long time to mature. Star Trek Online will get there. In the mean time, if you’re a fan of Star Trek or are looking for a casual MMO, you’ll definitely want to check it out.
Armchair General Rating: 84%
About the Author
Rod White is a veteran writer with almost two decades’ experience covering games, hardware, military aviation and combat simulations for the PC, as well as diecast collectibles and various tabletop miniatures war games. Formerly co-founder and owner of PC Multimedia & Entertainment Magazine, one of the Internet’s first true online gaming publications to cover PC games, simulations and hardware, he also hosted the ground-breaking RealVideo/RealAudio show called CombatReporterLive! for the AllGamesNetwork/Pseudo, Inc.