First Contact with Star Trek Online

MMOs are hard to do properly: you need solid gameplay mechanics, interesting lore and, most importantly of all, a lively, respected and well looked-after community. Numerous RPGs have come and gone, but only one remains standing strong to this day, which is why Cryptic, the studio charged with creating an MMO out of the Star Trek IP, has a massive challenge on its hands.

Pictured: World of Warcraft vs. every other MMO

I bloody love Star Trek, I do. I used to detest it. I’d skip past channels that were broadcasting episodes of it, thinking about how pointless it was and blah blah blah, you’ve heard me say all this before.

Watching the series and films is great, but what do we Trekkers (not Trekkies – that’s a derogatory term, apparently) do after we’ve watched them all? How do we fill the void that has been left with the conclusion of these stories while waiting for the next installment in the franchise to come out next year? Yes, there have been numerous videogames of varying quality released over the years, but what we need is a modern title, one which will truly make us feel like Starfleet officers.

That’s where Star Trek Online comes in.

It’s a Gargantuan challenge for Cryptic; how the hell will they distil all the best bits of the IP and condense it into an open-ended adventure comprising countless worlds in an entire universe to explore, missions to complete and ground- and space-based combat to engage in, all in a massively-multiplayer environment? There’s only one way to find out: beam in and have a shot of it ourselves.

Beam in, geddit?

After quite a hefty download – don’t plan on doing much online while it does its thing, it takes a good full day just to get the main content on our computer – and a quick patch, the launcher requests you ‘engage’ (squee!) the game, after which you’re taken to the character selection screen. With the familiar ethereal chords transcending into suitably rousing orchestral territory in the background (squee!), you’re asked to choose which race of character you’d like to pick. There are several open from the off: the bog-standard human (meh), Vulcans (squee!), Bolians (squee!), Betazoids (squee!), Trill (squee!) and numerous others (numerous squees!). You can even make your own unique and customised species.

Like Torat here. Just don't look into those eyes for too long.

After choosing which species you’d like to go, you’re taken to a character customisation screen where you can choose from several presets or mould your character to your exact specifications. You can make the sexiest character in Starfleet, a tall, strapping gentleman with huge shoulders, sleek, shiny hair and blue eyes you could get lost in forever, or an obese, bug-eyed midget Klingon with tiny legs and massive hands that not even a Riker beard could salvage. Of course, if you’re making a female character, you can just slap on a short skirt and boob tube and crank their bust size to the max, like most players online seem to have done.

Anyway, you’re then brought to the uniform creator, where you could literally spend hours outfitting your character. There are tonnes of options to choose from, ranging from modern outfits akin to intricate leather jackets to the minimalist Original Series uniforms and everything in between. Will you dress smartly in a leather tunic bearing the colours of your area of speciality or will you roam the galaxy in a gaudy multi-coloured outfit unrelated to anything? Will you wear a Wrath of Khan-era Starfleet belt or a communicator bearing the symbol attaining to your profession? Do those Next Generation split-trousers go with your combat moonboots? You’ll spend a lot of time here trying to get everything about your character’s uniform absolutely perfect.

I want The Motion Picture uniform, dammit!

After which you’re thrown straight into the action. A disembodied Spock tells you about how everything’s basically gone to shit, with the Romulans at war with the Remans after the destruction of their home planet and the Klingon Empire at war with everyone as the Federation attempts to settle the conflict.  Amongst all this, the Borg have decided to make a reappearance in the Alpha Quadrant, making matters even worse. It’s amidst all this chaos that you’re thrust into your first mission for Starfleet: defending your fleet from the Borg invasion and rescuing survivors as you repel the Borg armada.

Your first interaction with the game proper is moving your character around the crew deck, in our case a douche Vulcan named Serran that looked far too self-important for his own good.

What a douche.

After sprinting around the lounge and jumping into people, we beamed to the U.S.S. Khitomer  in order to save our fleet mates. The away team we’d been assigned to stormed the ship, phasering all Borg and Borg devices onboard before securing engineering, after which we were transported back to our ship, only to find that all the senior officers had all been killed in combat, meaning that since we were the highest-ranked member on board, we had become the ship’s captain by default. Score!

All aboard the U.S.S. Freedom!

The first responsibility as captain involved destroying any remaining Borg probes and Cubes in the area, which introduced the simple and effective space combat: maneuvering your ship so you can fire your phasers to lower enemy shields before blowing them away with photon torpedoes is immensely satisfying and fun. Having a sturdy wee starship to call your own is a liberating feeling.

You’re then tasked with saving a colony from the fearsome assimilators, so you beam down with an away team and rescue the colonists and destroy Borg machinery, after which you beam back to your ship and are given numerous plaudits for being so brave and courageous and told to visit Earth Space Dock.

And then that’s it. After this action-packed tutorial, you’re left stranded, floating alone in space with an entire universe at your fingertips, alone and with no idea where to go next.

Uh, what now, guys?

You could go to Space Dock and get some missions from the Admiral there, explore the systems around you to see if anything pops up or just visit your favourite places from the TV shows. There’s so much to do, but not much guidance on where to go, let alone how to actually get there.

After a bit of fiddling about and hands-on experience in both space and ground missions, you begin to get to grips with how everything works, but things still feel a bit… lifeless. There’s so much to explore out there in the galaxy, but the urge to isn’t as abundant. It’s easy to get lost in the huge expanse of space and since it can literally take minutes to get from one system to another, the will to explore can dissipate over the course of your journey from star system to star system.

There’s a lot to do in Star Trek Online, but the first few missions you encounter can feel drab and uninspiring, meaning you may get bored of spacefaring more quickly than you should be. Yes, they’re mainly tutorials telling you how to play the game, but this is Star Trek, things should be exciting, preferably with a mystery behind them! Things will surely pick up as the equipment you procure improves, you requisition new starships and the episodes involving species such as the Breen and Devidians are announced and played out. The only way to find out is to boldly go where no gamer has gone before…

To infinity, and beyond!







One response to “First Contact with Star Trek Online”

  1. […] First published on Ready Up on 20th May 2011. […]

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