|My ship, the USS Zeal, in orbit above Earth.|
Now, when Cryptic Studios finally announced Star Trek Online was nearing completion of its development, I was ecstatic. One may consider me a "Trekkie". So, to me, this game already passed the "Willingness to give it a try" test. I was going to give this game a shot no matter what, and other Star Trek fans would too. Star Trek Online was fortunate for its brand name in this regard. As long as they stayed true to this Star Trek fanbase, the game had a chance at success. After some deliberation, I decided to use a 100-point rating system for my game reviews, although the relevant categories will be dependent on game genre. MMORPGs are split into four categories: Gameplay (worth 40 points) which goes into the features and mechanics of the game, Community (worth 40 points) which goes into how well the game manages the social aspect in which MMOs rely on to succeed, Environment (worth 10 points) which judges how true the game stays to its central theme, and Graphics (worth 10 points) which goes into the game's visual attractiveness. Also, keep in mind my grading scale is harsh. 50 literally means Average. Here is a break down of my ratings system:
21-40: Bad1-20: Awful
As I mentioned earlier in the introduction, MMO developers struggle with making their games both unique while retaining successful aspects of the genre. In a lot of ways, however, Star Trek Online had it easy in this regard due to its setting. Star Trek Online puts its players in the position of a Starfleet Captain, commanding their own Starship. While there are other Space MMOs (EVE online, for example), it is a relatively unique setting so it should be easy to distinguish the gameplay away from games like World of Warcraft.
|Customize your characters in any way imaginable|
The game unfortunately suffers from a rather unique problem in that it feels like two separate games entirely. There is two forms of combat in this game, Space and Ground. In some missions, you will have to blast your enemies away in space. In others, you will need to beam down, with your modifiable Away team, to planets, starbases, and other ships to fight enemies in Ground combat. While these two "modes" of gameplay are cool in design and theoretically should compliment eachother well due to the change of pace, this is far from being the case. The game really does feel like two completely different games. I will begin with Space combat.
For the most part, the space combat in this game is very well-developed, deep, and fun. Players start with a standard one-size-fits-all Frigate. As you level (or "rank") up, however, you can use more powerful items and gain access to newer and more powerful ships, split into three categories: the speedy and powerful Escort like Deep Space Nine's USS Defiant, the bulky Cruiser like The Next Generation's USS Enterprise, and Science Vessels with a large array of support abilities like Voyager's USS Voyager. All three of these class types are balanced, completely viable in both cooperative and player-vs-player gameplay, and compatible with any "player class" you choose. Mix and matching is completely viable... while it may make sense to make your Tactical officer an Escort captain, for example, a Tactical captain in a Cruiser can create a bulky yet powerhouse tank. In addition, you will gain Bridge Officers as the game goes on to increase your space and ground capabilities - and they are also split into Tactical, Engineering, and Science. Like your character, but to a slightly less extent, ships are highly customizable in appearance so you can really make your ship your own.
You may fit your ships with a vast array of different kinds of equipment to increase its power and abilities. There are several types of equipment - Weapons like Phasers, Disruptors, Torpedoes, etc that vary in power, damage type, and firing arc; Deflectors which give bonuses to certain Science abilities; Shields which vary in capacity, regeneration, bleed-through and resistances; Engines which can raise impulse speed and turn-rate; Tactical Consoles which give you bonuses to weapons, Engineering Consoles which gives you a bonus to ship systems, and Science Consoles which give you a bonus to Science abilities. The type and amount of weapon and console slots you receive are decedent on ship type, and ship type also depends on what Bridge Officer assignment slots your ship has. You will get some abilities due to your player "class", but the ability customization is determined by your Bridge Officers. You will be able to use abilities that your assigned Bridge Officers know. Further, you can teach and replace abilities your Bridge Officer knows at the Power Store located at Earth Spacedock.
Your Captain's effectiveness is also determined by how he distributes his Skill Points. There is no EXP in Star Trek Online like most MMOs, instead you level up when you reach a certain amount of Skill Points. Skill Points, as the name suggests, can be spent on skills. Skills are passive - putting points into Phaser weapons will make Phaser weapons stronger. Putting points into Tractor beams will make your tractor beams more potent (but of course, you will need a Science Bridge Officer with Tractor Beam if you want to get use out of it). It is a very effective system since it makes you really think about what you want to specialize your Captain in.
Finally, while in space, you can manipulate your Power Distribution level. You have 200 "points" to distribute in four areas - Weapons, Shields, Engines, and Auxiliary with a maximum of 100 that can be distributed to a single category, and a minimum of 25. A high Weapons power will increase the damage of your energy weapons. High shield power will increase Shield absorption, resistance, regeneration, power, and transfer. A high Engine setting will increase your speed and maneuverability, and a lastly a high Auxiliary setting will increase the power and effectiveness of certain ship abilities.
|Space combat can get dangerous and intense!|
Now, as fun and deep Space combat is, I have to admit the Ground combat of this game is sorely lacking. Its intent seems to be a change-of-pace to give you a break from Space combat. But honestly, it feels like a cheap and badly done knock-off of Mass Effect. Perhaps the developers put all of their energy into developing space combat, but for the most part the Ground combat is unimaginative, boring, and long. It won't be long until you begin to cringe whenever you see your Tactical officer recommend that you "beam down".
For most Ground combat missions, you get to assemble a 4-officer away team using the Bridge Officers you have acquired. Bridge Officers have Ground abilities, like their Space abilities, that can be trained at the Power Store. Things like making a shield generator and throwing grenades. Your own abilities are determined by your Kit, a type of equipment that gives your character abilities to use in combat. Different kits are available determined by your Player class. In addition to these abilities, you can equip yourself and your away team with different Weapons, Armor, and Personal Shields... all of which are pretty self-explanatory.
The actual basic ideas for Star Trek Online ground combat isn't bad, and contains some positive elements. You can do more damage to enemies by "flanking" them, or attacking from the rear, so positioning your away team to surround enemies is an effective strategy. There are certain types of attacks classified as "Expose" and "Exploit" attacks which complement eachother. Expose attacks make enemies vulnerable, while Exploit attacks do extra damage to vulnerable energy. For example, you can use a Stun grenade to stun an enemy (an Expose attack), then use a Sniper rifle to Snipe him for more damage (an Exploit attack). So there are a lot of positive elements in its core mechanics. The problem is feels like it was rushed and was not finished being completely developed.
|Do I have to really have to mash my fire hotkey until they are all dead? Boooring...|
It does not help that Ground combat has numerous bugs and other weaknesses that you will find extremely annoying. Bridge Officer AI is horrible. They'll sit in a fire and die. Enemies are controlled by the same flawed AI, so you will never see them do anything intelligent. Just sit there, shoot, and wait to be killed. Some generic enemies are bugged so you may find yourself dead in a single hit. Other Ground missions seem to be bugged to be almost unplayable.
Now to get into some general gameplay you will encounter. Like most MMOs, advancement is made by accepting missions. In Star Trek Online, this means accepting missions from various Admirals and other officers. Missions are the main way to obtain Skill Points, items and currency. There are several types of missions in Star Trek Online. The first are the normal Story non-repeatable missions. This is the beef of Player vs Enemy gameplay, and some are well done, others are not. For the most part, they were a pleasure to play through. There are also Exploration missions which require you to go to unexplored zones and complete 3 generic missions (things like defeating 5 enemies, scanning 5 plants, or aiding a planet). Patrol missions are kind of the same thing as Exploration missions, except you have to visit predetermined locations and can only complete them once. Defend the Sector missions require you to defeat 3 squadrons of enemy encounters. And lastly, there are PvP (player vs player) missions one can accept that further reward you for PvP activities.
The currency in Star Trek Online is well, for the lack of a better word, bad. It is almost like they wanted to make the game seem deep, but all they did was make it complicated and confusing to new players. There is almost 20 different kinds of currency in this game. And I'm not exaggerating. Eventually, you learn that the main currency is Energy Credits. Most of the common vendors you will find accept Credits, and the game's "Auction House", known as the Exchange, uses Credits. Eventually one learns that you can get the game's best items for the cheapest price at the Exchange, and sell your excess items you don't need on the Exchange for more than the vendors will usually pay for them. However, the other currency in the game is not only unnecessary but horribly confusing and unclear how to spend them. There is Starfleet Merits, which you use at the Power Store. There are Badges of Exploration, split into 5 different ranks, which you obtain for Exploration missions and can exchange for some of the better items available in your Tier (although by the time you get enough Badges to get anything useful, you are almost at the next Tier anyway). PvP Medals are like Badges also split into 5 different ranks, and are obtained through PvP missions. There are Marks of Exploration, Valor, and Honor... which can be obtained at the Rear Admiral rank for completing Rear Admiral exploration, STFs (STO's version of raids), and PvP missions and give access to high-end Very Rare items. And once you get to the Vice Admiral rank, you will begin to get Emblems for Daily Vice Admiral missions which can get you some of the game's most elite equipment. And oh yeah! I almost forgot, there is also Gold-Pressed Latinum, which can be obtained and used almost exclusively at Deep Space 9 for Photonic Ship equipment that is completely useless! Confused yet?
|Equipping a Klingon's ground gear.|
Star Trek Online does have a "crafting" system (known as research) that allows you to upgrade your gear basically from a lower rarity to a higher one, but it really isn't a fully developed feature and honestly, is not worth it. For Federation players, there exists a Data minigame. Sometimes during your travels you will encounter data anomalies, which you can scan. Depending on how well you preform on the "Match the Waveform" minigame, you will receive more or less Data. This Data can be used at Memory Alpha to upgrade your items. However, until there are better items available only by Crafting, it will likely remain a fairly pointless feature.
At the game's launch, Star Trek Online was often criticized for being too easy and lacking a death penalty, making the game even easier. Their response to this spawned one of the more unique features in Star Trek Online, a feature I like a lot known as the difficulty slider. There are three modes of gameplay - Normal, Advanced, and Elite. Normal difficulty is how the game was at launch. Enemies are fairly easy, and there is no death penalty. If you die, you simply re-spawn and try again. However, Advanced and Elite difficulty not only make the enemies harder, but upon defeat your ship, yourself, or even your Bridge Officers have a chance to form an "injury", or a debuff. Minor injuries are mainly minor inconveniences that you won't really notice a huge difference in play. But if you already have a minor injury, you have the chance to develop major or even critical injuries that severely debuff your character. You can cure injuries with items known as Regenerators (for yourself and BOs) and Ship Components (your ship) which can be quite expensive for major and critical injuries. Makes the game much more intense. But what is your reward for increasing the difficulty voluntarily? Higher drop rates for rarer items! I really like this system in concept because it allows Players to adjust the game to their own risk vs. reward ideals. However, the system is not without flaws. While I absolutely love Elite Space combat and I find that it makes the game much more challenging, intense, and fun... even Advanced ground combat becomes even more boring, drawn out, and annoying and becomes so impossibly hard it approaches impossibility... At Vice Admiral, I have the benefit of choosing to avoid Ground missions entirely. But plaything through the game, you may be better off staying with Normal difficulty. Of course, this really isn't a problem with the difficulty system. When and if they ever improve Ground combat, this should change. Or maybe in the future they will give us the ability to have two separate difficulty sliders, one for Space and one for Ground.
Diplomacy is another new feature that I have found quite enjoyable. At launch, the game was criticized for being too combat-oriented and Diplomacy missions provide an interesting alternative way to play the game. Diplomacy missions are non-Combat missions you receive from Ambassador Jiro on Earth Spacedock that usually involve aiding a planet, doing research on a planet, gathering data, solving a dispute between two parties, or solving a puzzle. At later Diplomacy ranks, you also gain the access to undertake First Contact missions. Diplomacy missions give Diplomacy EXP, which allow you to rank up in your Diplomacy level. While you can complete the game without doing Diplomacy missions at all, you will find that some of the perks of Diplomacy ranks are quite useful and worth the time investment... like being able to Transwarp to locations other than Earth Spacedock, or give diplomatic immunity to others so they will not be attacked by random encounters. Not to mention, I think the missions are pretty fun anyway.
Now I will go into one of the more touchy subjects of the game, and I will go upon it very briefly ... the Klingons. Overall, this game claims to have two factions, but make no mistake, it is a one faction game. While the Klingon faction exists, its content is laughable at best. They do have different races and ships available to them, but in the end you will feel completely neglected by the development staff if you choose to play a Klingon. Most Klingon content is heavily reliant on PvP. However, if you like Klingons and understand that the content for them is rather poor, go for it. Despite the lack of content, I still find my Klingon alt somewhat enjoyable.
Bottom Line: Great space combat is almost ruined by incredibly poor ground combat and numerous other issues. The game has gotten considerably better since launch, but still has nagging issues. I feel like the game is headed in the right direction, but still has awhile to go to really get "there". Score: 30/40.
In an online game, the community is very important. One of the key lures for players of an MMO is being able to interact with other players. In most of these games, this comes in the form of cooperative play, PvP play, or roleplaying. Unfortunately, Star Trek Online leaves a lot to be desired with most of these communal aspects.
For the most part, cooperative play is near-nonexistent. If you wanted to solo the entire game, you can do that and have little trouble. Sometimes for missions you will find yourself teamed with other players who are currently doing the mission, but it is not a necessity to do so. Nearly every mission is possible to do yourself. There are two attempts that Cryptic has made to encourage cooperative play. The first are Fleet actions. In these missions, there are a massive amount of enemies and you will need a team to accomplish the goals of the mission. When the mission is complete, players are rewarded with better items depending on how much they contributed. Read that again. The players in a Fleet Action are in competition, not cooperation. So there goes that. The other is STFs (STO's version of raids), which are ridiculously hard missions where you need 5 people to complete. And even with 5 people it is not easy. However, with STFs being optional and rewards for the STFs being mostly not worth the time or effort invested, they just become another dead feature. There is also the inherent problem with both Fleet Actions and STFs that you really do not need to change your strategy to play them. All they do is put you up against a larger amount of enemies, they do not make the enemies any more challenging or exciting or unique. They are both boring and pointless.
|Intense PvP action between Federation and Klingon players!|
One potential problem with the Skill Point cap is that you only have enough Skill Points to optimize Ground or Space for PvP. So if you are the perfectionist type want to be able to compete in both "games", you will be unable to do so. If you want to do Space PvP, every skill point in a Ground skill is wasted. Same thing with Space skills for Ground PvP. Mix and matching will put you at a huge disadvantage in PvP since Skill Points are so valuable and is the game's one limited resource.
I am also going to get into one of the things I hate most about this game. The Cryptic Store (or C-Store). Basically, it is a store that you can use real money to buy other features. First of all, I absolutely HATE the idea of having to pay additional money for extra features in a game that I am already paying monthly. Some of the things I can tolerate... like the extra character slots, Bridge Officer slots, rename and respec tokens, things like that. I mean, if Cryptic wants to charge us $5 for taking up a few extra bytes in their massive database... fine, whatever. It's a rip-off, but I can live with it. You can also buy additional costumes for your character and ship, something else I can live with even though I still don't like it. What really began to ruffle my feathers recently, however, is putting items in the C-Store that are supposed to be special or items that give players an in-game advantage. Recently, they released a retrofit (basically redesign. Old ship model, upgraded) ship in the C-Store, the Excelsior-class, priced at about the equivalent of $20, which was arguably better than the normal Tier 5 equivalent cruiser, the Sovereign-class. Under no circumstances should a game that is already charging $15 a month offer in-game advantages for additional money. It makes the company seem cheap and scummy, and I hate Cryptic for it. Also, they released two items in the C-Store recently that were previously promotional-only and therefore special, the Tribble of Borg (awesomely cool item, by the way) and Fluidic Space Tribble. This makes those who obtained them through the promotional events feel cheated in a way, and devalues the prestige of such items now that they can be found on the C-Store.
|The new and addicting Dabo minigame.|
Bottom line: Star Trek Online features strong PvP, but needs better support. Cooperative play needs a lot of work, and the C-Store is an insult to the game's subscribers. Luckily, STO's community is a good one. Score: 25/40.
Keep in mind that most players who play Star Trek Online play because they are fans of Star Trek. This is the reason most players play, and therefore it is absolutely crucial for it to be true to the nature of Star Trek. Cryptic realizes this, one of their original design goals was to “stay true to the nature of Star Trek”. By their own admission, they know this is the only way the game will succeed. I'm willing to bet that the vast majority of those who play the game are Star Trek fans, and players who are not a fan of Star Trek are minimal. That being said, I strongly believe that Cryptic has a lot of work to do in this design goal. This game does not feel like Star Trek, it fails to capture the essence that is Star Trek, for a multitude of reasons.
First of all, since when does the Federation handle all conflicts through violence? Violence is actually a rarity on most Star Trek series, and only used as a last resort. Think about it... when has a Star Trek Captain on any of the shows used violence when there was a chance, no matter how small, of a diplomatic solution? I understand that this is a game, and combat is fun, but it makes the game feel wrong to me. It makes it not feel like Star Trek. If this were Star Wars Online, this would not be a problem. For the Republic, Rebel Alliance, or Imperial Empire, violence is a legitimate way to handle conflicts but the Star Trek Federation? This is Star Trek Online, not Star Wars Online. I remember one mission in particular (Warning, Spoilers) in which you are ordered to infiltrate a Romulan medical base from an Udine (what Star Trek Online calls Species 8472, a race of shapeshifters) that was disguised as an Admiral. Now throughout this whole mission, it was entirely obvious that something was fishy with the Admiral. Jean-Luc Picard, Kathryn Janeway, James Kirk, or even Benjamin Sisko would recognized this disguise instantly. I recognized it. I wanted to do something, I wanted to confront the Admiral like Jean-Luc Picard would. But I could not. I was railroaded into destroying the Romulan medical base, killing all of the Romulan doctors and the commander there. Finally, after I had finished massacring them all for no reason, the Admiral revealed herself to be a Udine and we had to defeat her, too. Would this have happened to Jean-Luc Picard? No. He would've saw right through the Udine's disguise early on and worked with the Romulan commander to stop the Udine infiltrator. This was a mission with so much potential to feel like Star Trek, but fell short. And the mission still could've had combat, a lot of it, too. Just because you are able to catch the Udine plot doesn't mean you wouldn't have had to stop the Udine, too. Instead, the mission felt shallow and saddening. Now, I will say that Diplomacy missions and EXP are a step in the right direction, and I love it. But the diplomacy aspect is still too infrequent. Combat is still too prevalent. Where is the exploration? Where is the wonder? Where is the moral dilemmas inherent to Star Trek? All I see is combat.
Now, while the space combat is exciting and polished, the “essence” of this game is lacking. The fluff, the background. There have been a lot of complaints about this game not feeling “complete”. And a large reason why this game does not feel “complete”, in my opinion, is because it lacks the “fluff” that other games have. So what is fluff? Fluff, as I define it, is a non-gameplay related aspect designed to increase the environmental enjoyment of the game. Technically, all of the mission background/text, ship interiors (a feature that allows you to walk around the corridors and bridge of your ship), and social zones are things that count as “fluff”. But it just too infrequent and too unpolished. And I believe if the “fluff” is improved, it would attract new players.
|Hanging around my ready-room, wishing there was something to actually do here.|
Bottom line: The environment in this game is sorely lacking and does not really stay true to the nature of Star Trek. If this kind of thing doesn't matter for you, good. If it does, you may want to consider another game. 2/10.
|The graphics in Star Trek Online are about flawless.|
Bottom line: Good graphics. 10/10.
I like this game. Needs some work in some areas, but overall a good game. I would recommend it to any Star Trek fan, or maybe even only casual Star Trek viewers. Try it out - the initial buy-in is not very expensive, and comes with one month free so if you don't like it... not a major financial investment.
Final Score: 67 / 100, Good rating.