Star Trek Online: Captain’s Log from the Final Frontier

So, it’s been a good few weeks since we ventured into Star Trek online and held the reins of our very own starship. We’ve ventured far from Earth Spacedock to every sector of the galaxy, travelling to a multitude of planets and systems both new and familiar, aiding friendly alien species, battling hostile ones and working our way up the Starfleet ranks as we did so. Having spent so much time in the StarTrek universe, we’ve now got a solid idea of our thoughts on it.

The first thing you’ll notice on your maiden voyage is just how huge the game world (well, galaxy) truly is. Each portion of the map is split up into ‘blocks’, each with their own number of ‘sectors’. These sectors host a multitude of planets, meaning there’s a huge number of worlds to visit and investigate over the course of your adventure. As a result, nearly every location from the series, movies and books you can think of, be it Deep Space 9, The Briar Patch or Memory Alpha, can be explored. The fact that you can also travel to a number of ‘clusters’, each with an infinite amount of randomly generated systems, means that the scale of Star Trek Online’s landscape is truly vast.

The coolest planet you'll ever see.

It’s possible to travel the galaxy on your lonesome and source your own missions, but the majority of them will come from your superiors in Starfleet Command, so your combadge will come in majorly useful when it comes to finding things to do. General gameplay is usually split into two sections: space combat and ground combat (detailed in our last STO feature). Each mission will have its own introductory blurb, but will mostly consist of destroying enemy vessels orbiting a planet, liberating a colony/space station/whatever being held by opposing forces, resolving a diplomatic squabble, investigating the disappearance of a group of people or a combination of everything.  Each can last quite a while and you get given loads of them no matter what rank you are, so you’re never be at a loose end with nothing to do.

So you’ll complete a mission, get a lovely new cannon to slap on your starship or weapon to beef your away team up with before accepting a new one. You’ll travel to the relevant system, engage the Klingon fleet in the planet’s atmosphere, beam down and save the team of scientists you’ve been tasked with finding before reporting to Starfleet for your next mission.

Then you’ll travel to the relevant system, engage the Hirogen fleet in the planet’s atmosphere, beam down and save the team of explorers you’ve been tasked with findin before reporting to Starfleet for your next mission.

Then again…

And again…

And again…

The biggest threat to your enjoyment of Star Trek Online is its sheer repetition. All MMOs have to deal with such a problem, but no matter how much you try to disguise it with colourful and varying mission statements, every mission boils down to the same thing: mashing keys to make what you want dead, dead. There’s little variation to this template – diplomacy missions attempt to vary gameplay, but mainly just involve running from person A to person B and back again – so it all depends on how long you can stomach mashing buttons to destroy identical enemy ships and vaporise identikit enemies.

Not the best condition she's ever been in.

The space travel begins to bore after a while as well. The game space may be massive, but that’s what the vast majority of it is: space.  The number of planets you can visit is vast, but most outwith the most well-known planets in the franchise (Vulcan, Andoria, Risa, etc.) are under-developed and near identical to each other, meaning that you won’t have as great an impetus to explore as you might have done when you first started playing.

The huge game world also means that it takes ages to get to where you want to go. Missions have the tendency to be on the opposite sides of the galaxy from one other, meaning a large portion of your time will consist of you simply travelling from one system to another, a process which can take minutes at a time to complete. It’s not quite as bad as the days it took as depicted in the TV series, but it’s still not exactly the most fun use of your time. Thank God the game’s on PC: alt+tabing and browsing the internet while you travel is a godsend.

All these negatives are rendered moot, however, if you can embrace the game’s greatest strength: its reverence, precision and obvious love for the Star Trek lore. Being based on a well-loved franchise that is now over forty years old, you can expect the usual references, such as ships named the U.S.S. Archer and U.S.S. Kirk, but it’s the smaller, subtler touches that will really make you smile, be it the classic battle music from the original series playing as you’re forced to enter into gladiatorial combat by a sadistic alien species…

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JJdyp7GPuc&feature=relmfu[/youtube]

..a spontaneous infestation of Tribbles on Earth Spacedock…

Yes, that's a tiny Andorian.

Or countless throwaway references to the series.

This is why we love you, Cryptic.

Cryptic’s love for the Star Trek universe is obvious and they show it through the attention to detail they put into every mission, no matter how tedious it may turn out to be. Such strong continuity to the series means you’ll feel like an actual member of Starfleet, with your actions having actual consequence on the events happening around you.

While the missions’ reluctance to stray from an established path do have the tendency to bore, once in a while you’ll comes across one that will have you riveted and eager to see the outcome of its completion. Every so often, Cryptic release what they term ‘episodes’, missions that are written and designed to play like television episodes, usually taking the same amount of time to complete. Three have been released so far, featuring classic villains from the series such as the Breen, the Remans and the Doomsday Machine from the titular Original Series episode. Each one is captivating and comes with their own individual and special reward, meaning you’ll anticipate the release of the next one.

One of the  best missions, however, is just an ordinary one: The Klingons have gone back in time to disrupt the course of history and so you’re tasked with going back to ensure the correct timeline remains in effect. Here, you assist the original U.S.S. Enterprise in a skirmish with the Klingons…

Starship Enterprise
"Unknown ship, this is Spock of the U.S.S. Enterprise…"

… and visit a starbase where you need to assist a certain grouchy Chief Medical Officer with some wounded personnel and, in the words of one bar patron, one ‘drunken Scotsman’ in particular in a barfight reminiscent of ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’.

In this portion, you’ll see everybody decked out in garish uniforms, using rayguns and switches and levers instead of buttons against flat-headed Klingons. It’s an absolute delight to play and enough to make fans of The Original Series squee.

Other highlights include visiting the Guardian of Forever after a 150 year quarantine…

The Guardian of Forever
"I am my own beginning. My own ending."

… reconnoitering an abandoned Romulan laboratory researching Borg technology…

Scary stuff…

… and taking out a more murderous version of the Crytalline Entity, possibly one of the most bastard hard things to achieve in videogaming history.

Fucking die already!

These missions make you want to keep playing to see what tidbits about the lore you can stir up next and are an incentive to keeping you levelling through the ranks of Starfleet. As you rank up, you gain access to better equipment and more advanced starships, meaning that grinding through sometimes monotonous missions have huge payoffs. It’s a joy to float through the cosmos with an Intrepid class ship you’ve worked for so long to get, battling Cardassians and Borg as you do so.

Star Trek Online also looks beautiful: it’s undoubtedly one of the most visually stunning games of this generation. Some of the planetscapes and setpieces are simply awe-inspiring, regularly shocking you with just how good they look. You’ll be constantly mashing the ‘take screenshot’ key, capturing some of the nicest virtual landscapes you’ve ever seen.

Poor Romulus.

Scared planet is scared.
Andoria

Another major draw is STO’s exceptionally friendly community: since it’s been out for over 18 months now, gone are the casual players that bitch and moan about everything for the sake of it, meaning that only the most dedicated and helpful officers remain. As such, you’ll never be made to feel stupid for not knowing what to do and there will always be at least one person nearby to have a chat about your favourite episode/movie of Star Trek with.

Cryptic also keep a close eye on player feedback, constantly honing the gameplay mechanics to make as engaging an experience as possible. In fact, just this week they greatly enhanced the ground combat system, reducing cooldown time for weapons and adding a point-and-click mode, meaning that encounters are now faster, more furious and more engaging than ever. This level of dedication to the fanbase is something that’s all too rare from the large majority of developers these days.

Star Trek Online suffers from the same problems as any MMO: the grind involved with levelling up, the often repetitive missions and keeping you playing once you’ve reach the endgame. If you can overlook these problems, though, you’ll find a world rich with tales that expertly continue the legacy of one of the world’s finest fictional universes.  If you’re not a fan, then you’ll get bored quickly. If, like us, you love it, though, you’ll find one of the most cohesive online worlds ever created that’s an absolute pleasure to explore.

A fantastic credit to the fans, our experience with Star Trek Online can only be described as ‘stellar’.

If we see you online, remember: play long and prosper.


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