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Star Trek Online is, as the name already implies, a science fiction Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game set in the Star Trek universe. It has been developed by Cryptic Studios1, was published in 2010, and is recommended for players from the age of 12 years upwards. Since January 2012 the game has been free-to-play, which means players don't have to pay for game time. There are, however, payments for special items and content if the player wishes to have them.
The Star Trek universe of the game is set in the 25th Century, in an alternative reality to the Star Trek of the films, TV series and books. Events taking place in the game do not also take place in the the 'real' Star Trek universe. The Klingons are again enemies of the Federation and players can choose to play either on the Klingon or Federation side. There are also many other well-known Star Trek races that appear in the game. The bad guys this time are: the Romulans (whose homeworld Romulus has been destroyed by a supernova), the Breen, and the Cardassians. The Dominion also make trouble again and then there are of course the Borg and also Species 8472 of the TV series (who are known as the Undine in the game).
Additionally quite a few characters and places of the Star Trek series make an appearance or are at least mentioned in the game, but the story is not very well developed. It mainly takes things which are already known from the different series and in some parts the game even seems quite unfinished.
Visuals and Feel
The design of the game is very impressive and the player can be sure of always seeing new playfields2 and many different planets and imaginative alien surroundings. The design as such is not realistic but actually rather comic-like. This slightly unreal atmosphere is not at all bad for the game. It is obvious that a lot of thought has been put into the visual design of the game. The animations, for instance the way a character runs and walks, are also very good.
All things the player has to do take place around planets, or in other clearly defined areas of space. To get there, the players move their ships on a three- – or maybe rather two-and-a-half- – dimensional star map, which means it pretends to be 3d, but all stars are almost at the same horizontal level. The playfields are all instanced3 zones that are created for either one team or a defined number of players.
Everything is accompanied by typical Star Trek music, which unfortunately doesn't change with different areas – that means there is no unique music in Romulan space for instance. Players keep hearing the same music over and over again unless they turn it off.
At the beginning of character creation, a faction has to be chosen. As mentioned above, this is either Klingon or Federation. Both factions have a few different playable races on their side, which means that if you choose the Klingon faction your character does not have to be a Klingon but can for instance be an Orion. All characters are highly customisable in appearance. It is even possible to create a new alien race and so be sure to be the only one in the game with this special look. The stereotypical looks on Federation side are: Commander Ryker, lady with antlers, girl with short dress and big chest.
On their travels Federation players can visit Starfleet Academy, Earth Space Dock, Deep Space 9 and many more places, while Klingons of course start playing on Qo'noS - the Klingon homeworld. As Star Trek Online has been published unfinished, the Klingon side in particular is still lacking a lot of content at the time of writing this Entry. To play a Klingon, a Federation character of a certain level is needed, because there is no Klingon tutorial available at this time. At first all Klingons were only PvP4 characters but slowly PvE5 content is being developed.
The chosen race determines the 'traits' of a character, which define basic attributes and special abilities. Aliens can choose their traits freely, which means they not only have the most customisable appearance but also completely customisable abilities. Finally, the player can give his character a customised uniform. Many of these customisations have to be bought with real money.
There are three different character classes to choose from: Science Officer, Engineering Officer and Tactical Officer. Each has its own specialisations and abilities:
- Science Officers can specialise on buffs (skills that give benefits to yourself or other players) and debuffs (skills that remove buffs from enemies so the benefits of the buff are lost) or healing (the ability to raise the health-level of others6), which makes them the healing class of the game.
- Engineering Officers can heal shields, buff or debuff, use turrets or explosives.
- Tactical Officers do most damage but can also choose to 'tank'7 or use stealth.
Levels and Ships
At the beginning of the game, the player has the rank of an Ensign and takes over a ship because no captain is available. After every ten levels a new rank is reached8, which means that at the end of the game all players are Admirals. It is not explained what Starfleet does with a fleet full of Admirals that all personally fly ships and go to missions. Klingons begin with the rank of a Warrior and finish as Lieutenant General. The maximum level is 51 and an experienced player can easily reach this level within a month and play all primary story content in that time.
With every new title, the player gets a new ship of a higher level. They can choose between different classes to match their character class and play style. Every class of ships has a few different varieties of ship types that can be customised in appearance to a certain degree. Federation always gets the typical human Federation ships – apart from one available Vulcan ship – while characters of the Klingon faction, of course, get Klingon ships and one Orion ship. There are no ships of other species available.
Also depending on the ship class, a number of different weapons (varieties of the well-known torpedos, beams and cannons) and helpful items can be equipped in the ship to adapt it to a person's playing style. Different ships also have different ways of moving, from 'steers like a cow' to very manoeuvrable. Generally Klingon ships have a better manoeuvrability. It can take a while for a newbie to get used to flying and to be able to cope with the camera.
The appearance of the ship resembles the ships in the Star Trek series and movies. A satisfying feature for players is the chance to visit the interiors of your own and other people's ships – or at least parts of them, including the bridge, the captain's ready room, the captain's quarters and Ten Forward. Additionally there are also shuttles available, but to date they are only needed for one mission in the whole game.
During the game, the player also gets a crew for their ship and for ground missions. These characters all have different skills that can be used during combat. All their skills can be exchanged so they are to the player's liking. Even their appearance is customisable within the limits of the given race. Just like players, officers have different character classes and can be promoted to certain ranks to get more skills. Depending on the ship class a certain number of different officers can be used in space fights at the same time. For example, a science ship would allow a player to choose more science officers to be active in space battles while a cruiser (an Engineer vessel) would allow more Engineering officers to take part in fights.
On ground missions, officers only join the players if there is no full team of five real players for a mission. They accompany the team just like normal team members but can also be ordered to use certain skills and go to certain places.
Officers also have different traits. Unfortunately traits that help in space are very rare – although most of the game is space combat and officers are always used in space combat while they do not always join ground missions.
Space and Ground Combat
Star Trek Online is divided into two different kinds of combat. Space combat is, as the name says, done while flying your own space ship. Most of the game consists of space combat. The game is not very well balanced in this respect, although it has to be said that newer missions are a lot better in this respect than older ones. Most of the missions are repeatable and players can choose between three levels of difficulty.
The variety of space missions is small. Unfortunately most have the themes of 'destroy x squadrons of y spaceships' or 'scan x satellites / asteroids / shipwreck parts / etc.' or a combination of those two, often phrased differently. The captain always has to push the shooting button himself because bridge officers are obviously not clever enough to do it. Although the backgrounds of planets and stars are attractive, space combat still always works the same way and does not really manage to tell a story and make the player get a feeling for the situation. Different species may have spaceships that look different but other than that, they all behave and are killed the same way. In Star Trek Online, space also has clear up and down directions and all enemies always fly 'horizontally'. It is not possible to really move freely in all directions.
Ground combat is more varied and played in outdoor as well as indoor areas. There are usually kill missions, along with some intriguing little riddles to solve. Ground combat also gives the player the opportunity for using different tactics and to actually plan how to do things instead of just running in and killing. For those who like it, the game also offers the option to play in shooter mode, which means that the usual rpg control is replaced by one resembling an ego shooter game. In ground combat, ranged weapons9 like phasers are usually used, although there are also some good melee weapons like knives and Bat'leths available.
In the end game, there are a few so called 'Special Task Forces'. These are missions that can only be played with five real players (as opposed to bridge officer NPCs10). The missions are all harder than the usual missions in Star Trek Online. Each mission consists of a ground and a space part that can be played separately. At the end of every mission, the players get tokens which have to be collected and can be turned in for high-level equipment. This basically is the end of the 'end game' content.
Fleet Actions are missions that are completed by up to 20 players in space or ground combat. At the end, players get an item and xp11 as reward.
The Fleet Actions do not take into account how many players have joined one action, so no matter if there are five or 20, there is always the same to do. With 20 players, everything can be done quickly and is fun while a small team of five usually despairs at the sight of 300 enemies and gives up with no reward after several hours of desperate struggle. But the scaling is also bad in other areas of the game.
Other games have guilds, Star Trek Online has 'fleets'. These are groups of players who come together in social organisations to play together and help each other in the game.
Fleets can start their own private Fleet Actions which gives them a better chance of succeeding than random teams of players have.
For a newbie and especially an inexperienced player, a Fleet in Star Trek Online can be very important because the game is not very well explained and some more obscure things can only be learned from other players. Even experienced players will certainly not find out everything from the start because there's just nothing that tells you anything.
Player vs Player (PvP) is mainly done in fights between the Klingons and Federation, but there are also PvP maps where only Federation players are fighting. There are various PvP playfields and arenas in space and on ground areas. It is possible to increase through all the levels of the game in PvP.
The Foundry is a unique feature of Star Trek Online. It allows players to create their own missions and share them with other players. Space maps can be created freely, while ground maps are restricted to templates and existing mission maps. Players can also write their own mission texts and dialogues. All missions are rated and the best community-created content is featured in so-called 'Spotlight Missions'.
Live Long and Prosper
Although it has been published for quite a while, Star Trek Online is still under development, and it has to be, because it still has major flaws and many bugs. At the moment it is certainly no game for hardcore gamers but rather for very casual players who perhaps play once per week and so can enjoy the game for a bit longer and don't get tired after doing the same kind of space mission for the 10th time in a day. Maybe it is also a good game for role-players who may like the uniforms and highly customisable characters.
Once the player has finished all missions and reached the maximum level, there are no further goals to achieve other than maybe redoing the missions or starting a new character – which of course also means redoing all the missions. The good visual design of the game just can't make up for all the repetitive gameplay.
Images © Cryptic Studios.