Editor’s note: I thoroughly enjoyed Star Trek Online when I played it during the open beta. If I had any free time, and it wouldn’t prevent me from playing other games, I’d be playing it right now too. -Jay
The PC is good for four things that consoles are, historically, poor at: real-time strategies, flight sims, space combat sims, and massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Two of those genres (flight sims and space combat sims) have been in something of a decline since their heyday in the mid-to-late ’90s. Consequently, it was with great delight that I discovered that Star Trek Online heralded a return to the sort of epic space battles we used to see in LucasArts’ X-Wing series and Volition’s Freespace saga.
Many gamers may have not been paying attention to this game. Maybe they’re not Trekkies. Maybe they automatically ignore anything MMORPG-related. Maybe they’ve scratched their World of Warcraft itch sufficiently and think they have no need for another massively multiplayer “kill shit and take their stuff” game, whether it’s in space or otherwise.
Well, I’m here to tell you that if you think any of those things, you are 100% wrong. Star Trek Online is a great game on many levels, so pray allow me to attempt a diplomacy check in order to convince you — with a +2 modifier for using a Minotti-Patented Arbitrary Numbered List in the proceedings.
1. It’s from Cryptic.
The name “Cryptic” might not mean anything to you if you’re not into MMORPGs, but Cryptic’s games have always been solid experiences with fun at their heart. From their original title City of Heroes (still going strong today), through the cel-shaded charms of Champions Online, to this, their latest game, Cryptic’s philosophy always seems to be to try something that’s a little bit different from the norm.
City of Heroes gave us a modern-day setting with one of the best character creators of all time, along with a lifetime of completely free expansion packs that add significant amounts of new content to the game. Arguably, the most significant expansion added to the game was the “Architect” facility, allowing players to script and produce their own missions and story arcs for others to play and rate.
Champions Online took the City of Heroes idea and ran with it, giving us an attractive cel-shaded art style and a combat system a little different from the typical “hit hotkey, wait for cooldown” cycle Warcraft veterans are so used to. This gave combat a quicker, more “action-game” style rhythm that was a breath of fresh air.
Star Trek Online, now, gives us the Star Trek game that many people have always wanted.
2. It’s Star Trek.
Again, if you’re not a Trekkie, this statement might not mean much to you. The fact is, Star Trek has some of the richest history of any science fiction series out there. It helps, of course, that there have been myriad TV series and movies to allow this background to be fleshed out in great detail, but the net result is that the game feels like it has a magnificent sense of history which is constantly referenced by the in-game characters.
3. It’s a proper space combat sim.
That “shooter masquerading as combat sim” nonsense doesn’t happen here; this is a proper, full-on simulation of what space combat possibly could be like in reality should we gain the ability to switch off the laws of physics. You have to pay attention to tactical positioning and management of power levels to engines, weapons, shields, and auxiliary systems. Huge battles take place with hundreds of ships at the same time. Big explosions fill the screen. It also means maneuvering huge, lumbering capital ships with massive turning circles to put yourself into an advantageous position, knocking out enemy shields, and flinging a few photon torpedoes through the hole you just created.
4. It caters for those who enjoy the grind and those who enjoy a sense of narrative.
There are four main types of missions in Star Trek Online. Patrol and Defense missions often boil down to “go here, kill shit” and offer the best XP-to-time ratio in the game. Exploration missions give you a randomized element — sometimes you might be fending off Klingon invaders, other times you might be delivering supplies to a remote colony.
It’s the Episode missions that allow the game to shine, though. These missions let you take part in the advancing Star Trek plotline and become involved in galactic intrigue, diplomacy, and some really quite involved story arcs. These are generally much more interesting than “go here, kill shit,” and they involve everything from Federation Health and Safety inspections that go horribly awry to frantic chases through asteroid fields.
5. It has a Cryptic character editor.
Yes, Cryptic knows what they are good at, so Star Trek Online allows you to create your perfect starship captain from either a selection of iconic Star Trek races, or your own alien race you create from scratch. As in Champions Online and City of Heroes before it, the range of customization options here is staggering — allowing you to adjust every aspect of your head shape, body proportions, and alien appendages until you create something that looks just right. Not only that, but you can also edit members of your crew in the same way, allowing you to create your own dream team.
6. It caters to solo and group players.
Star Trek Online is a game you can quite happily play through solo, should you not feel like socializing. When grouping does become necessary, such as in some of the larger battles known as Fleet Actions, the game automatically teams you up with other players as appropriate. At no point (at least as far as I have played so far) does it feel like an unnecessary grind to play solo. In fact, should you find yourself soloing an Away Team (ground-based) mission, members of your crew will beam down with you and support you, much like the Henchman and Hero system in Guild Wars, only with a much greater degree of customization possible.
7. The private message noise will make Trekkies have a nerdgasm.
If you don’t want to shout “Come!” after someone sends you a private message, you’re dead inside.
It’s a solid game all round. Star Trek Online gives those of you who have been jonesing for a good space combat sim what you’ve been after for all these years and still provides enough fan service to keep the Trekkies happy. And, for those of you new to MMORPGs, it’s pretty newbie-friendly, with a (currently at least) friendly, helpful, and mature community that is keen to advise. It’s also worth noting that since launch there haven’t been a significant number of major disasters with the servers, though the inevitable unexpected downtime occasionally makes an appearance. A comprehensive (and oversubscribed) beta test allowed Cryptic to work out many of the kinks prior to release and get the game to store shelves in a much more stable state than many other MMORPGs have released in previously!
So what are you waiting for? Engage!