For starters, I have a disclaimer to make – I have been a big fan of Star Trek since I was a little kid watching Captain Picard outsmart aliens, this was often a highlight of my Sunday afternoons.
So naturally when I heard I could combine two of my favorite things, Gaming and Star Trek, I instantly became interested in playing Star Trek Online (referred to as STO in the rest of the article). I have spent about 2 weeks in the open beta that you get into for pre-ordering the game.
The group responsible for developing STO is Cryptic Studios, which recently released Champions Online [Metacritic score: 72] which is being published by Atari. For starters, we have to that unlike Champions Online, which felt a bit incomplete, I have enjoyed most of my time playing STO. STO is broken into two distinct portions, Space Exploration/Combat and Ground Exploration/Combat.
Most of the game so far has taken place with missions in space. In the content department STO has surprised me. Given that several staffers at BSN* played the beta, the positive move was that we haven’t seen much of the recycling of areas. Of course there are only so many different combinations of planets, moons, asteroid belts and nebulae. In the multitude of solar systems and other space locales I have visited in the game have all felt distinctly unique. On the ground it is mostly the same story. Ground locales are distinct, the negative of the ground locales [including space stations] is that they feel barren almost sterile. The one positive I have enjoyed with ground combat is the ability to fill out your away team [party in normal MMO vernacular] with your bridge officers. So even if you can only find one friend to adventure with, you can still complete ground missions even if you are short-handed.
Space Combat: Finally done right
Space battles are proper way to "get you in the game"
In my opinion space combat is where this game really shines. You can pick between 3 different career paths for your avatar. Cruiser Captain?s allow you to fly large ships that can take a lot of punishment and have lots of crew to make repairs [similar to tanking classes in other MMO games], Escort Captain?s fly small nimble warships that can inflict heavy damage but cannot take much abuse [the rogues of the STO universe]. Lastly, Science ship Captain?s use technologically advanced ships to buff teammates and debuff enemies [similar to old school roleplaying Bards]. Space combat is a balance of making sure your strongest shields are facing your enemy, while firing your weapons and using your special abilities to destroy enemy ships.
An important part of any MMO is the acquiring of new and exciting items. STO does have a slight failing in this department. While there are plenty of weapons, some with very interesting effects, the other items seem a bit lacking. Other than shields and weapons, most other space equipable items are just modifiers of stats that aren?t well explained, or consumables that don?t do much than recharge systems. Ground equipment is mostly the same, there is a lot of variation in the small arms you can use, but most other items are very generic. The game?s library of items lacks the WOW! effect that trying to obtain a badass looking sword or cool armor can cause. As far as I have played you can make do with just using items you can buy from the vendors. This leaves me wishing weapons and other gear had less parity making it more important to go quest to get better items. As far as looting the actual gear, STO has an excellent system that doesn?t hinder trading acquired gear or saving gear for a second character.
If Space combat is "Hooray", Ground combat is…
My biggest complaint about STO is the ground combat. Space combat feels fluid and is a lot of fun; conversely ground combat feels like a grind. I mentioned earlier that you don?t have to have a full group to complete missions, as you can fill out the party with your own bridge officers who are dumb as bricks. Of course I don?t expect a lot from AI but it?s just the general model of the combat. You equip your crew with various types of small arms, from phaser pistols to handheld disruptor cannons, and various kinds of personal shields, these are all available from different vendors on starbases and travelling merchants found in space. Ground combat involves making sure that your crew has the best weapons available at your level and running up to groups and just having a firefight. The only strategy I have really encountered is the Alpha strike, target someone and tell everyone in my party to attack them at once. Since that?s all it takes to excel at ground combat I think Cryptic needs to figure out some added mechanics to add to ground game.
The downfall of Cryptic Studios: Generic looking base locations
If Star Trek Online were split into two different games and you could play just the space combat then I would tell you to buy it in a heartbeat. As far as space combat games go, STO is top notch when you are flying your ship around blowing other ships up. But I can?t really endorse the ground combat. It is very clunky and needs a lot of work. I have told my friends that I feel like STO is 90% fun and 10% suck, that 10 percent suck is enough to make me advise people to wait for some changes to the game, maybe a couple months of post release patches and development, before they buy STO. Hopefully Cryptic will address some of these problems before release, or soon after.
Overall, I have enjoyed my time with STO and I think most people will as well. As with most MMO?s that are just starting out, there are of course many bugs and glitches that will need ironing out. It does not have the polish of some other long running MMO?s like World of Warcraft. Please remember that STO still in open beta and won?t be released until the first week of February, so there will be fixes for a lot of problems that might still exist. If you are a star trek fan this is definitely worth a try, like I said, I have had a lot of fun with it. But, if you are a MMO player in general you should probably wait for them to flesh out some of the features and work out some of the mechanics problems.
I have had lots of MMO experience having spent substantial time with EVE: Online, Age of Conan, Guild Wars, Star Wars Galaxies, and (of course) World of Warcraft. After all this time with other MMO?s it is pretty easy to see what people like and what people don?t. I feel like this one isn?t ready for primetime quite yet. People who were around World of Warcraft when it was released will probably remember a similar state of affairs. But as MMO?s have time to mature and developers get more time they usually work these things out. So for right now I am giving STO a Star Trek Fans only, as I don?t think it?s ready for mainstream gamers. But hopefully soon it will be.