Star Trek Online (PC)

By Jesse Wan

Published on Sunday, April 4, 2010

Graphics: 7.00
Sound: 10.00
Gameplay: 8.00
Replays: 9.00

Live long and prosper, Cosmos Gaming fans! This point in space and time, I’m reviewing Star Trek Online.

STO has a lot of promise. As it stands, it’s a pretty fun game, and content patches are coming out every month, with more to come. With that said, it released too early. It’s got some definite mechanics problems and balance issues, and a heck of a learning curve. Hopefully, this will get polished with future patches.

The class system is divided into Tactical, Engineering, and Science Officers. Ships are similarly divided into Escorts, Cruisers, and Science Vessels. If it helps, you could think of the combination of Captain type and Ship as a dual-class system, with the option to change your ship (Secondary Class/Profession,) especially when you consider that the majority of your abilities, both in Space and Ground combat, comes from your Bridge Officers. As a given Captain type, you have a Tactical, Engineering, or Science Officer skill tree that only you can put points into. As you level up, you gain class-specific abilities at certain Ranks and Grades. In addition, you can train similar-type Bridge Officers in certain skills with enough skill points in certain Captain Skills. For example, if you’re a Tactical Captain, you can train Firearms, and at Rank 9 (an investment of 2700 skill points,) you are able to train Tactical Bridge Officers the skill Suppressing Fire 3. There are also general skills, such as Starship Beam Weapons, that offer trainable skills regardless of what Captain type you are.

Ship types are not locked to what kind of Captain you are; you can be a Tactical Captain and fly a Cruiser. For the purposes of reviewing the game, I stuck with Tactical/Escort and Engineering/Cruiser. Ship types differ in number of Bridge Officer type availability, as well as type of Console Slots. Consoles vary widely, but usually you’ll want whatever Tactical Consoles complement what kind of weapons you have, Engineering Consoles are either “More POWER, Scotty!” or “Turn FASTER, you FAT COW!”, and Science Consoles complement what kind of Deflector Dish and associated Abilities your Officers have. Ship Classes, such as the Miranda, Centaur, Shi’Kahr, Constitution, Nebula, etc, are an aesthetic choice only, and you can mix-and-match. For example, on your Tier 5 Star Cruiser, you can have the Avenger saucer and hull with Emissary pylons and nacelles, square windows, and several options of paint jobs per part, and your choice of a dozen bridge arrangements.

For veterans of Champions Online, Star Trek Online brings the full force of their character customization options. If you want to make that ONE alien race from that ONE episode, you can. If it amuses you to make a Ferengi Tactical Captain, or a Klingon Science Captain, you can do that, too. You can dress them in uniforms from almost any show, including The Original Series miniskirts and go-go boots, and female captains WILL preserve their modesty in the Captain’s Chair by crossing their legs.

Star Trek Online is ability-based and gear-based. What you equip on your ship and Officers determines, in large part, how well they do with their Abilities. In Space and Ground, you have up to four Abilities per Bridge Officer, and you get to Assign one of each Type of Bridge Officer per ship. Different types of Captains get different types of Personal Kits that give your Captain up to four more Abilities in addition to your Captain Abilities. These Personal Kits ARE exclusive; A Tactical Captain cannot ever equip an Engineering Kit, and your Bridge Officers can’t equip Kits at all, no matter how high you Promote them.

Promoting your Bridge Officers is much like how your Captain gets promoted: With enough skill points SPENT. No hoarding up skill points to use at a later Rank, like in WoW or Diablo 2 or some other MMO. You only get so many, and you can spend points gained during a higher Rank on lower-Rank skills. As of right now, there are only three respec options: One per promotion, LOTS of in-game Merits, or Cryptic Points/Cash. Therefore, it is HIGHLY recommended you plan your build ahead of time. As of this writing, there is no split templates for PVE/PVP skills, despite there being a whole faction of the game devoted to PVP.

Yep, Star Trek Online has Klingons. They cloak, and absolutely dominate in PVP against Federation. Against other Klingons, Orion, Gorn, Lethean, Nausicaan, Liberated Borg, or Create-Your-Own, victory goes to the bold and “Do you have Vent?” I dunno what the East uses to talk with, but in the US and UK, Vent is the voice-chat program of choice. ESPECIALLY in Ground Combat, where mechanics such as Flanking and Expose/Exploit come into play. Not so much in Space, where you are either DPS, Tanking, or Support. But let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

Being a mediocre driver of cars with a manual transmission, flying a Tactical Captain/Escort was a frantic button-spam. Makes me wish I had another pair of arms, or a wider hand. Going for a pair of fore Dual Cannons (45-degree) on my Escort plus a Missile Launcher and alternately a Beam Array or a Turret in my aft weapon slots made for some slightly frustrating battles, as often, I simply could not tell how I needed to steer to put an enemy inside my Cannon arcs, without changing camera views, by which time they’ve moved off my screen. When I DID win a close battle, often I’d get caught in the enemy’s ship Warp Core Breach explosion, which usually killed me off. When getting attacked by 2-3 Birds of Prey, sometimes you HAD to take the hit so you could chase after your next target. Battles usually went like this: Pound on shields until one side fell, then vomiting High Yield Torpedoes into the opening. Run away. If not dead, turn around. Repeat. The term ‘Burst DPS Glass Cannon’ comes to mind.

Being Asian, I found the slow Engineer/Cruiser much more manageable and fun. Equipping all Beam Arrays, I lazily circled around, broadsiding, and occasionally Tokyo-Drifted around my chosen enemy, occasionally rerouting my shields and using Shield Abilities, not caring whether my beams hit shield or hull, until they blew up and I had to pick on someone else. If you’re just starting a new character, making an Engineer/Cruiser is a great way to learn the game. Sustained DPS Tank, except there’s no real way to grab/drop aggro, but there’s plenty of other kinds of debuffs, like interrupts, stuns, holds, DOTs, and the like.

I’m told that the Science Captain/Science Vessel is a tricky sneaky Hobbitses, I mean, Support/Healer, but as a Tactical/Escort is too fragile or far away to benefit and a Engineer/Cruiser doesn’t need them, I wouldn’t know. I’ve also heard arguments that they tank better than a Cruiser, but I’ve yet to see one in action. I would’ve played one, but The Boss was getting impatient. 😉

All this dying on my Escort made me GLAD there wasn’t a significant death penalty, or I would have been getting MUCH more frustrated. I’ve quit one MMO and avoided several others for having too harsh of a Death Penalty. As for my ship’s equipment, I wish there was a better indication of what kind of shields a particular kind of player should use, as well as an Info option when looking at quest rewards. A personal wish would be an extensible (extendable?), permanent, Weapon Arc tooltip, both vertically and horizontally, so I can tell how I need to steer when I’m chasing down an enemy. (Maybe if my ship were shaped like a sniper scope…? Just kidding!) Nevertheless, STO’s space combat missions were at the top on my list of favorite things about the game.

Ground combat, obviously, is the most polished, as it seems very similar to Cryptic’s other big MMO, City of Heroes/Villains. Other than the expected Artificial Stupidity of my Away Team, auto-targeting, Pause Combat, and Resuscitation made Ground Missions easy to understand and master. If you’ve played ANY FPS or MMO in the past 10 years, Ground Combat should be easy-cheesy. Nothing further needs to be said on that aspect of the game… Until you start seeing Borg. Then things like Expose/Exploit weapons, Knockback, Stuns, Engineer and Science players in your Away Team, and Vent capability suddenly become MUCH more important.

As of this writing, the Crafting system is an utter joke. During a Mission, you come across Anomalies and Data Samples which, when given to the correct NPC at Memory Alpha, upgrades certain equipment. The problem is, there’s only a VERY short list of what can be upgraded. Crafted items are not inherently better than drops or what can be gained from doing Exploratory Missions, which is my main way of getting better gear. They SAY that they’re going to revamp this in April, but we’ll see.

Fleets are Star Trek Online’s version of guilds. Your own Chat Channel, Fleet Vault (Guild Bank), and Fleet Uniforms. There are ALSO plans to implement Fleet Starbases, Shipyards, and Fleet Raids, but that’s way down the line.

You can breed your own Tribbles. Petting them gives you certain buffs in Ground Combat, depending on species of Tribble. If you were around on the Test Server during a particular weekend, you got an Assimilated Tribble. When petted, its purrs sound like an old-school modem. There’s a storyline mission where you have to stop Klingons from killing Tribbles, before the furballs’ new home is ready. If you’re not falling out of your chair laughing at this point, why are you still reading this review?

Graphics and Sound are pretty low priorities when I look at a game, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much Cryptic devoted to those aspects of the game, yet not neglected the story or class balance. Old Spock and Young Spock are both in the game, and are a delight to listen to.

My least favorite thing about the Beta was also the most easily fixed a month after launch: Server availability and stability. Finally getting past the character selection screen only to get disconnected again before I could see space, or disconnecting while zoning from one place to another was most likely a consequence of vastly underestimating how many players were going to show up for the Beta, which was fixed when their rush order of brand new servers came in.

Lifetime Subscribers gain access to several perks, which you can see for yourself on the main website. There are several streaming radio fansites broadcasting, with parody commercials and begging for more volunteer DJs, to be heard. Two of my favorites are the UK-based Sub-Space Radio (Rated Mature) and the US-based Dimensional Radio (Mostly family-friendly, but you might get the occasional naughty one. All the DJs are insane, too.)

GRAPHICS 7/10: Space is not as empty as we feared, nor is the blackness of space or the white-hot of stars the only thing you see. Ships and characters are almost lovingly rendered, even on my mid-range PC. Could do with some bug-squishing and optimization, though…

STORY 8/10: The MMO follows the events of the most recent movie, and it’s ramifications. As you progress through the storyline, you find out who really was responsible for Spock’s failure to prevent the death of Romulus, fight against the Undine, the Borg, Mirror Universe enemies, the Crystalline Entity, and your usual assortment of Klingon, Gorn, Orion, and Nausicaans, and match wits against Q.

LEARNING CURVE 2/10: The brief Tutorial tells you what to do, but not why. You’d be better off going through a wiki or asking your Fleet for advice in how to play, as well as making an Engineer/Cruiser.

REPLAY VALUE 9/10: My first character was my Tactical/Escort. I hated it. I had no clue what I was doing, and I died too quickly to learn. My SECOND character, I loved the game, and nothing short of three Borg Cubes could defeat me, I was so optimized. I’d also found the Fleet I was going to go the long haul with, and they helped me out a lot. I had plenty of Data Samples and Commodities, so Crafting and leveling were a breeze, though there are benefits to taking it slow. I learned what Mission Rewards I should take (Efficient Impulse Engines Mk IV and the correct Type of Personal Kits), and when Auto-Fire is a Bad Idea.

SOUND 10/10: Star Trek Online’s music is a perfect blend of the Intellectual Property’s music and new compositions created for the game. Old Spock and Young Spock provide voice-overs, combat sound effects are awesome, and Earth Spacedock sounds ALIVE.

FINAL WORD 8/10: If you’re a Trekkie, get this game. If you enjoy MMOs, this game isn’t a bad alternative to EVE Online.

Overall Rating: 8.00

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