17 Feb

Star Trek fans around the globe have long wondered why their beloved franchise had yet to take the MMO leap that would enable them to live within their favorite universe on a daily basis. Their hopes were dashed in 2008 when Perpetual Entertainment–who was developing a Star Trek MMO since 2004–went bankrupt. To their joy, Cryptic Studios had obtained the license from the now defunct Perpetual Entertainment with the intention to make their own Star Trek MMO. After nearly two years in development has Cryptic Studios made every Trekkers’ dream come true with Star Trek: Online? Has Cryptic Studios made a product that will entice even those who are not accustomed to the Star Trek universe? Let’s find out!

Like practically every MMO you start out by molding your hero. Most MMO’s allow you to choose a faction. Well, gamers won’t have to deliberate because there is only one option—the Federation. Other factions like the Klingon Empire are unavailable until gamers reach the rank of ‘Lieutenant Grade 5’ with a Federation character.

The level of character customization available is quite staggering. You should have few issues creating a human, Federation ally, or custom-made allied species that comes fairly close to your liking.  Once in the game, you’ll have the ability to fix your character in any way you’d like via the same character creation editor (i.e. you want darker skin? longer neck? a different color uniform?). Making these changes isn’t cheap though. If deciding how you want to look is too much trouble you can always go with a default human, Vulcan, or any of the other races available to choose from within the Federation.

The character customization is actually quite decent.

What about a class specialization? You get the option of choosing between being a tactical, engineering, or science officer. These three classes focus largely on combat, support, and defense respectively. Once you’ve finished the character creation process you’re ready to see how good the actual game is.

Star Trek: Online starts out by thrusting you–a brand spanking new Ensign (level 1)–into a scenario where you and everyone else aboard a ship (the U.S.S. Khitomer) are under attack by the dreaded Borg and the entire galaxy is erupting in war! Come to think of it, the entire beginning of the game feels like the developers watched Star Trek: First Contact and adapted what they saw into this introduction/tutorial for the game. As you make your way through the vessel you’ll experience your first of a multitude of “please do this, this many times” objectives to come. Overall, during this tutorial phase the game does a fine job explaining  the basic functions necessary to progress throughout Star Trek: Online. Everything is pretty straight forward, which is great for new players and MMO veterans alike.

Eventually you find yourself talking to an NPC (Non-Player Character) who gives you a choice of an officer to serve with you both on ground and in space. These officers come in three different types—the same as the options you had during your character creation: tactical, engineering, and science. Now, rather than solely focusing on yourself, you also have an NPC that you need to issue commands to, such as “attack,” if they should fire at your target, or you can leave them to assist you automatically. Over time, you will have an away team consisting of four other NPCs.

Ground combat is fairly simple and it represents half of the game for you from a fighting perspective. All of your moves have cooldowns which means you need to be slightly selective about which creeps to use your more powerful abilities on. Again, it’s pretty basic stuff here. In fact, the ground combat is so unsophisticated you’re going to find out that it’s quite boring after awhile, mostly due to a lack of variety in enemies.

Even worse than the boring ground combat is the lack of a death penalty. You just wiped? No biggy! Just respawn, run right back to where you died, and pick up where you left off. You heard correct. There is absolutely no death penalty in the game. Sure makes beating content satisfying!

At the start ground combat was tolerable, but I’ve already experienced this type of NPC command mechanics in games like Knights of the Old Republic among others… and seeing it in a shallower and all around less impressive form didn’t leave me “beaming” with joy.

The NPC officers joining you on your away team don’t make the game any more exciting on the ground either. They are completely lifeless and dull. You’re going to find that you don’t care about them whatsoever unless you’re really into playing dress up. Their benefit during ground missions is adding a unique class-specific ability. On top of that, they can equip gear just like your main character can which means you get the thrill of gearing out quite a bit of NPCs too.

As you progress, level up, and unlock abilities and improvements, you will be able to promote your crew members’ ranks which will open up new abilities for them. They have one bracket each for ground and space combat. You, on the other hand, get to place your skill points into a multitude of various brackets. For instance, you can fill out a module that increases your photon torpedo damage to benefit your ship in space combat.

When you’ve completed the exceptionally quick ground combat section of the introduction/tutorial, you finally get to captain your ship in space. You were in fact merely a visitor aboard U.S.S. Khitomer. Luckily for you though, it turns out the entire officer core aboard your original ship (except for you) has been killed by the Borg, leaving you as acting captain. That’s right! You were the bottom of the barrel but you’ll show them gosh darn it!

This is where the game shines like a star… near the end of its lifecycle. Your starter ship has three different slots to place different types of weapons! From photon torpedoes to phasers, you’re going to have fun blowing up other ships. Weapons have different angles of attack so you need to position your ship at an angle (for instance 90°) facing an enemy for the weapons you have attached to the front of your ship (two slots are in front and one is in the rear). A higher damage per second weapon tends to have a smaller angle thus making the enemies harder to hit. Torpedoes are used when you’ve destroyed your enemy’s shields with phaser beams, disruptor cannons, or various other types of weapons fire.

Even more interesting than the angular-based combat is the use of shields. Influenced by Age of Conan’s blocking system, you have a front, left, right, and rear shield that you can shift your overall shield energy toward. If you’re being hit hard on the right shield just shift shield energy there and your other three shields will lower to help increase the depleted right shield. This adds a fairly unique and constantly engaging aspect to space combat. You also have three unique abilities of your officers available to you, ranging from shield regeneration, a shield stealing beam, or twin launching torpedoes… however, you may only have one officer of each class for a total of three. Add this on top of your weapons slots and you have a pretty dynamic space combat system.

Unfortunately though, like the ground combat, the space combat gets monotonous. Space combat was fun for me longer than ground combat, but in the end I still found myself becoming exceedingly jaded. I felt limited in what I was able to do. Even in a better ship, or with a few new abilities, it all felt the same. Everyone in the game has the same ship until they reach Lieutenant Commander, at which time you can select a ship based on three classes: Escort, Cruiser, and Science. These represent combat, defense, and support… sound familiar? The lack of variation and overall ingenuity in this game is unfortunate, and will be particularly ubiquitous for MMO veterans. Wouldn’t you think it would be reasonable to branch out into more than just three basic classes?

Space battles start out sexy, but quickly get boring and dull.

The introduction/tutorial ends with a fight against giant Borg cubes and spheres, again making me reflect on Star Trek: First Contact. At this point you’re probably pumped about the game because of all you’ve experienced in such a short amount of time. Unfortunately for you, you’re about to learn that action packed introduction and tutorial was the game. I’ve tied the feel of this game into describing the opening tutorial because I honestly believe this encompasses the entire experience for you, which in of itself is rather pathetic.

PvP (Player vs Player) is fairly dull when compared to other games and consists of throwing a bunch of ships in a giant square arena of space with some rocks in it and saying “go at it!” The Klingon Empire is practically only PvP-based. Cryptic Studios had the nerve to say they will add more PvE content (Player vs Environment)–of which there is currently hardly any–to the Klingon Empire if the response by the player base warrants it. That comes off inconceivably lazy to me. If you’re not going all out to create a complete and quality product get out of the business.

PvE is where Star TREK (keyword TREK) should have exploded with success. Away missions and exploration defined the series! Instead you find yourself fighting non-freaking-stop. There’s no true exploration in this game outside of visiting randomly generated worlds and regions of space where you do the same repetitive missions over and over. Collect this many of that… go kill this many squads of those… is this Star TREK? Wait… maybe this is Star Wa… no, Star Battle maybe?

The PvP is serviceable... but there are better games out there for this sort of thing.

If Gene Roddenberry were alive, he’d be appalled at this game from a Star Trek standpoint. It completely fails to recognize what Star Trek represents. When I said the developers watched Star Trek: First Combat… er Contact, when making this game… maybe they stopped watching after the first twenty or so minutes of the movie.

Where are the missions onto planets that have thought provoking plots, mysteries, and actually interesting dialog? They could have created the epic single player RPG experience within an MMO; and with the ability to invite some friends to tag along and experience it with you. How do you let opportunity that slip by you? Seriously?

Cryptic Studios spent two years making this game… a mere two years for an MMO containing a blockbuster license. Most AAA MMO’s take a four year development cycle. This alone should signal most gamers that this game was merely pumped out as quickly as possible to get some quick money at the expense of a large ready-to-spend fan base. There are so many incomplete aspects to the game. There is no real endgame. Everything is instanced, including the player socializing zones, which limits the people you meet in “person.” Currently, players can’t even explore their own ships. They’re completely limited to the bridge. Wait, Star Trek didn’t have anything else going outside the bridge did it?

Want to level fast? Go kill Klingon warships over and over again for hours on end. There’s no incentive… nothing that makes you excited about leveling up and progressing in this game unless the actual act of having a higher rank or a new ship excites you.

This game needed at least one more year in development… but that would have put it up against The Old Republic or potentially WoW: Cataclysm and Guild Wars 2. Oh dear, extending development would cost more money! So, might as well spew garbage and patch it up along the way! Right? Who cares if we violate memories or hopes for a real Star Trek MMO experience for fans of the series!

“Can anyone remember when we used to be explorers?” – Jean-Luc Picard

This game represents everything that’s wrong with the milking of storied franchises. There’s little to no improvement amidst a cut and paste MMO design. I’m still in complete awe of Cryptic Studios’ nearly unequaled failure (trying hard to think of a worse one)… or perhaps negligence in comprehending the vision and opportunities available to them with the license they’re using. The amount of story driven potential this game could have had is endless… a team of writers should be pumping out awesome stories for people to spend hours on when visiting various planets. Instead, we’ve been presented a generic space shooter MMO with an epic license injected into it. Yes, there are a few minor ingenuities with the space combat, but it simply doesn’t carry Star Trek: Online for those who have experienced the better multiplayer combat that’s available in a multitude of other games. Outside of what you see in the game from a visual perspective, this simply isn’t Star Trek… and even then it still seems to miss the boat.

If you’re interested into trying out an MMO for the first time or are a veteran of the genre, I highly recommend avoiding this game at all costs and waiting for The Old Republic or Guild Wars 2. If, on the other hand, you’re a Star Trek fanatic and you don’t care about a game that spits in the face of everything Star Trek represents because you simply want to walk in a circle around Deep Space Nine, then go for it – but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The camera is now panning out ala Powers of 10 to reveal our entire solar system.

Space… the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the starship <insert name>. Its new mission: to kill or collect things on or above many randomly generated and or uninspired worlds, to seek out constant new fights within repetitive gameplay, to “boldly” go where many lackluster MMO’s have gone before.