Review: Star Trek Online (PC)
As I mentioned in the Star Trek Online History post, i’ve been playing around in Star Trek Online since Closed Beta. I wanted to point out, this is very much a review of the live game experience. You may see a number of reviews out there that are based on the reviewers beta experiences, but that’s extremely unfair on the work Cryptic put into STO before launch. The difference between the live game and the awful ‘car crash’ of a beta test in terms of stability and playability are light years apart… Not that there aren’t still issues…
These are the voyages of the Starship, Geektown…
At least they would be if you could log into the server…We’re a few weeks past live release and as far as I can work out, Cryptic seem to running STO on some old networked Spectrum ZX81s powered by hamsters in running wheels. I’m sure they’ll upgrade them soon… maybe get in some Commodore 64s powered by badgers on treadmills. However, this minor annoyance (which is slowly turning into mild irritation after the 3rd server crash today), does give me a break from playing to write this review.
You can pick to play as a Tactical (damage/tank), Engineer (support/survivability), or Science (healing/support) Officer. You’re limited to Federation (Fed) until level 6, where you unlock the Klingon Empire, in a similar way to how Lord of the Ring Online runs it’s ‘Monster Play’. Like ‘Monster Play’, the Klingon side is very much a PvP focused, cut down version of the main game. Choices for Fed races include Human (obviously), Andorian, Bajoran, Betazoid, Bolian, Saurian, Trill, Vulcan, and ‘Alien’. The character customisation is tempered depending on your race, however if you do want to go nuts, you can always pick the alien option, which basically unlocks all the sliders and lets you create your own wacky species. Your race determines your basic look and some of your starting abilities. Betazoids for example are empathic (reducing threat generation), where as Bajorans are creative (increasing skills with ‘kits’ – items that give you extra abilities). You then can pick your costume, which come in a variety of Starfleety type options.
Being a traditionalist, I picked a human tactical officer as my first character. After a intro voiced by Leonard Nimoy, I pop up in the mess hall on the U.S.S. GeekTown (a Miranda Class Light Cruiser) with red alerts blaring all around. It seems the Borg are trying to assimilate a nearby ship, so I’m instructed to beam over to their medical bay to see if I can give some help to the emergency medical hologram (who sounds suspiciously like Syler from Heroes…) Once a few crewmen are patched up, I’m sent to engineering to blow some Borg out of an airlock, and then fight my way to a transporter, where I get to pick a my first bridge crew.
Bridge Crew serve 2 main purposes. Firstly, they man stations on your ship. As you up level up and get bigger and better ships, you gain more crew, and more advanced station configurations. For example, the Enterprise like Cruiser Class has 2 engineering stations, 1 science, and 1 tactical, where as the Defiant style Escort class has 2 tactical, 1 science and 1 engineering station. Each bridge crew member has their own set of space skills, such as my new vulcan science officer, has a tachyon beam skill that lowers the shields on an enemy ship.
Your Bridge Crew’s second purpose is to serve as party members for the ground missions when your not grouped with friends – side note: when you are grouped with friends, it means the Captains from each ship all form the away team… which I’m sure must breach some Starfleet rule on officer safety… – Again each crew member has a variety of skills, such as the science officer’s medical tricorder, or the engineers turrets and mines.
Space… The Final Frontier…
Moving on a bit through the starter mission, I find myself battling a Borg Cube. Thankfully, I’m not on my own. This fight takes the form of a fleet mission, where as you enter the zone, your automatically grouped with other players to take on larger objectives (if you’ve familiar with Champions Online or Warhammer, you’ll be aware of this form of open mission).
I’ve see a number of reviews where people describe STO space combat as fairly slow, but it’s really more depends on the class of ship. Cryptic do need to try and keep the ‘Trekness’ in the game, and to see the Enterprise suddenly pull a ‘handbrake turn’, spin 180, and launch a barrage of cannon fire straight at a Klingon really wouldn’t seem very ‘Trek’. However, if you do want more maneuverability, once you reach level 11 you can choose to take an Escort class ship (e.g. DS9’s Defiant), which gives you a much nimbler ride, with a whole array of forward facing turrets, but does sacrifice survivability.
Overall I find the space combat mechanics good fun, even if the missions themselves can be rather repetitive – Go here, kill 5 Klingon ships… then kill 5 more Klingon ships… then 5 more etc… There are some variations, but that usually just involves flying to something and hitting the ‘F’ key to scan/repair/interact with it in some way.
Ahead, Warp Factor 5
Travelling through space is a different matter. One of the most disappointing things for me was mechanism to warp from planetary system to planetary system. Whilst inside a system, you get to see your ship in these stunningly beautiful spacescapes, scattered with asteroids, nebulas and planets. However, during warp travel, your ship model is thrown onto stylised tactical map interface, which totally pulls you out of any immersion. What would have been great during the warp travel would have been the ability to wander around my ship, or some interaction on the bridge (you can visit your bridge in STO, but it’s basically an instanced room, so you can’t travel in warp and be on the bridge at the same time). The system map interface just instantly made the STO universe seem small and ‘game like’, rather than the vast openness of space it really should be.
I beam down to a planet, my newly acquired science officer with me for backup, to show some Borg the business end of a phaser rifle. I have an issue with the ground combat in STO as I’ve had with other Cryptic’s games. I’m sure Cryptic’s proprietary MMO engine makes it easier and quicker for them to develop, but it has this horrible ‘elasticy’ feel to it. Their always seems to be a delay between action and consequence. Throw a grenade, it lands and explodes. Count 1… 2… 3… and then people fall down from the blast. I’m positive it’s not a lag issue, as there was a similar issue with Champions Online, and even City of Heroes. The engine just has this ‘floaty’ feel to it which makes the ground combat feel less solid than most of its counterpart MMOs.
Another issue is the away team AI, which seems to stands for Artificial Idiocy. It is vastly improved from beta, but you do still find yourself occasionally tracking back across a map because you’ve just noticed your tactical officer is stuck trying to walk through a wall somewhere. They also have a tendency to think running through the fire created by the plasma grenade they’ve just thrown is a genius idea. All in all, not Starfleet’s best and brightest.
Whilst STOs main player interface is perfectly adequate overall, there are a few basic things that really bug me. Why is it Cryptic still can’t make an auction interface that actually has a decent number of search filters on it? Same goes for any of their NPC shopping interfaces. I can only imagine the conversation went something like “Shall we put some filters on this?”… “Nah, just whack everything into one MASSIVE list, and jumble it all together so it takes them forever to find anything, it’ll be fine!”
Also, given your dealing with Star Trek, surely the obvious thing to do would would be to base it round a LCARS interface? Michael Okuda went to a massive amount of trouble designing LCARS for the Trek universe, and it’s just disappointing there isn’t even a vague nod to it in STO, rather than some generic MMO graphics.
But is it Star Trek?
The ship designs and uniforms are very Trek. The history/lore of the universe is tied in nicely to the Trek timeline. They even have Nimoy (and Quinto) doing voice work. But I can’t help thinking, what would Gene Roddenberry say if he saw it? I rather suspect he’d be extremely disappointed in the over reliance on space battles to entertain, rather than exploring and plot. Star Trek was never about combat. It was about exploring new world. Boldly going where no one had gone before. If any game needed an EVE-like vast openness of space, it was Star Trek Online. Instead you get a bunch of instances held together by a map.
Although there are a number of negatives in this review, I am enjoying my time in Star Trek Online. I’ve made lieutenant commander, and am heading toward my next level of ship. It’s just overall, i see it as a missed opportunity to do something great with such a rich and textured license. I would have loved STO to have been more of a Star Trek universe, rather than just a Cyptic game with a Star Trek license slapped over the top. It’s more an MMOG than MMORPG. The role playing bit has got lost somewhere along the way. As someone mentioned in ‘system chat’ last week – “We all know we’re just treading water till Star Wars: The Old Republic comes out”… And unfortunately for Cryptic, i think that’s probably true.
7/10 – Fun in places but a missed opportunity.
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