Star Trek Online Review

The U.S.S. Tartarus flys over Perth, Western Australia

  • Developer: Cryptic Studios
  • Publisher: Perfect World Entertainment
  • Release Date: 2 February 2010
  • Time played: 50 hours (INCOMPLETE)

A friend of mine was surprised to find me playing Star Trek Online as of late considering he was probably trying to convince me for a few years to play! Why on Earth did I decide to play the game now? Well, obviously the game being Free-to-Play was a factor although it's been Free-to-Play for quite a while, so why didn't I jump into it sooner? Well firstly, I'm trying to veer away from MMORPGs since they're huge time sinks and secondly Free-to-Play, to me, usually meant the game was losing its subscriber base so in order to retain enough traffic on the servers (to make the game appear busy to the actual paying customers) you give limited functionality to the public for free. "Limited functionality" is another thing that scares me away from Free-to-Play games since then you're worried if the game is actually a "Pay-to-Win" game, a game where by paying real money you're able to get ahead of other players.

These opinions have more-or-less stayed the same but one day I just had the urge to try it out since I was in the mood for some Star Trek. The game was Free-to-Play anyway so if I didn't end up liking it I could always drop it right? Well, 50 hours later and I'm still playing the game - so is it actually any good?

Plot (5/5)
Star Trek Online's lore is evolving all the time and it's apparently up to its 9th or maybe even 10th season (Season 9.5 was released in July but a new expansion pack called Delta Rising was just released recently). However, before all the seasons were added this is how the story goes: after the events that occur in the 2009 Star Trek film by J.J. Abrams, where the planet Romulus is destroyed, the Romulan Empire is all but disbanded and the Klingons decide to declare war on the Federation. If you play as either a Federation or Klingon officer, your respective campaigns will uncover the real reasons why the Federation and Klingon Empire are at war. If you play the Romulan campaign you'll discover that there is some in-fighting going on between a new Romulan Republic and remnants of the Romulan Empire's intelligence agency, known as the Tal Shiar.

The biggest drawcard for me and the reason I gave Star Trek Online a go was because it's based on tons and tons of lore. The Star Trek universe is one filled with many stories, alien species, planets, star systems, interesting characters and crazy technology. To be able to play a game where you encounter the same organisations and locations from the TV shows is appealing. There are even cameos by characters from the TV shows and some even have voice acting by the original cast (e.g. Leonard Nimoy, Michael Dorn, Chase Masterson and Denise Crosby, to name a few).

The campaign is even broken into "episodes" just like the TV shows. While some of the missions or episodes are only good as filler there are enough quality episodes to keep your interest (I especially love the time travel ones).

Gameplay (3/5)
Star Trek Online has all the hallmarks of a traditional MMORPG. There's the combat, there's the crafting, there's the levelling, there's the epic loot of differing rarity, there's the trading with other players and there are of course awesome dance parties! How the game differs somewhat, at least from my experience, is the addition of starship combat and the Duty Officer system. Before we talk about starship combat though let's talk about the ground combat.

Ground combat is similar to your typical MMORPGs but unlike most MMORPGs, Star Trek Online's ground combat sucks. Combat usually involves getting in range of an enemy mob and then spamming the attack abilities. Provided you ensure your Away Team has the best gear available, ground combat is usually a breeze - unless your Away Team gets stuck because the pathfinding AI is particularly bad or you come across a particularly nasty boss. Consequently the ground combat isn't nearly as good as the starship combat which is probably one of the highlights of the game.

Starship combat presents more of a challenge and requires more strategy since different beam weapons have different firing arcs. Usually the more powerful a beam weapon is the narrower the firing arc, to the point where the most powerful only have a 90 degree forward-facing firing arc as opposed to some that have 270 degrees. Which weapons you decide to use will determine what strategies you use for your ship. If you mainly have weapons at the front, you're more likely to perform strafing runs on a target with full power to the front shields while doing so. However, if you have 2x 270 degree beam weapons, you can employ a "broadside" tactic to maximise the amount of damage (i.e. you attack the enemy by having your port or bow side facing him instead of performing a strafing run). Since there's more strategy involved with spaceship combat this makes it more challenging but also more rewarding. And I was only talking about beam weapons too!

Another feature I quite liked is the Duty Officer system. Basically this is a system of farming dilithium without actually being in the game. But first, what's dilithium? Dilithium is one of the game's currencies that is a more powerful form of currency than energy credits. Dilithium can be traded in for ZEN coins - ZEN coins being the most powerful form of currency that's usually only available by using real money. So farming dilithium is basically the only way the Free-to-Play players are going to ever save up to buy a neat new starship or a new costume by trading in some of their dilithium for ZEN coins. The Duty Officer system involves assigning a roster of officers under your command to assignments that offer different rewards, usually experience and dilithium at the very least. Consequently you can skip quite a few levels using the Duty Officers and earn a bit of dilithium on the side too, while you're taking a break from the game! As you can probably see, it's also a cunning way of enticing players to login every so often to check in on the progress of assignments and to ensure their officers are always busy at work, pumping out more experience, dilithium and other items. That's why I sometimes mockingly call them "Daily Officers".

Also, while I did enjoy most of the missions because I could at least appreciate the story there were occasional instances of lazy mission design. These missions tended to be very predictable and followed the same formula: enter a star system, attack enemy space ships, land on planet, attack enemies on the ground, beam back to ship, attack alien ships, rinse, repeat. The part of me that rationalises this behaviour says "at least I'm getting XP and loot from this" although there is another part of me that's crying on the inside.

You'll see a whole bunch of familiar faces, such as this regular to Quark's Bar

Sound (3/5)
Sound effects are pretty authentic. Phasers sound like phasers and photon torpedoes sound like photon torpedoes (especially cool when you fire a salvo of them during space combat). Some characters even have voice acting and not only that, but by cast members from the TV shows! However, there are some inconsistencies and while some characters do talk at first, they never talk again afterwards. Then there are those characters that do talk but only one line and a line that's not related at all to the script. It's very messy and confusing - they would've been better off not having any voice acting except during cutscenes.

Music (4/5)
First I have to give credit to Kevin Manthei in doing his best to mimic the themes from the TV shows and even having them play at the appropriate times. It's impressive what he has done and the music is pretty good. However, it's a pity that Cryptic Studios were unable to license the music from the shows as it would've been even better to hear the work of Jerry Goldsmith and Dennis McCarthy again. Hearing the Deep Space Nine theme while approaching the station in-game would have been priceless.

Graphics (4/5)
While I think some of the graphics while visiting planets look a bit dated not to mention some of the animations, Star Trek Online has some of the best character customisation tools I've ever seen in an MMORPG (but then again that might not be saying much since I don't actually play MMORPGs that often). Character cusomisation tools are similar to the type of functionality you'd get in a game like The Sims or single player RPGs like Skyrim, which also means you're able to create some very unique looking aliens.

Replay (4/5)
MMORPGs usually take a long time to play so even though it looks like I've played for quite a bit of time (at over 50 hours) it's probably nothing special. However, I've only managed to get through perhaps one third of the way through the entire campaign for the Federation, meaning there's potentially about 150 hours of playtime for just one faction. Considering you can also play as the Klingons and Romulans, that's 450 hours of gameplay right there - and it's free!

It's true that some of the missions aren't the best and some quests feel like grind and are a real challenge to push through, but there are also some good "episodes" there too, just like the TV shows.

Polish (3/5)
Unfortunately the game isn't terribly polished. It feels like that with each subsequent update the game became more and more of a mess to the point where the UI is quite busy and it's not always intuitive where everything is. While the game has a tutorial it doesn't cover everything and while that's not usually a problem provided the game has good documentation, this game doesn't. You could try searching for things in the Star Trek Online wiki but some sections of the wiki are still incomplete and whenever new features are introduced it can take awhile before they're described properly - so you're pretty much reliant on asking randoms online or just figuring things out using trial and error - not the most ideal situation.

Another annoyance is that despite the game giving you the option to bind keys, it seems that the middle mouse button is hardwired meaning you can't disable it - even though middle mouse button is my push-to-talk key for TeamSpeak. Argh!

Score – 7/10

As far as Free-to-Play MMORPGs go, I think Star Trek Online is one of the better ones. You're offered hundreds of hours of free content and the game, as far as I can tell, isn't a "Pay-to-Win" game. Sure, if you invest some actual money you can get slightly better ships, but they're only marginally better and the ships you can get in the game for free are more than capable for the campaign (not to mention you can always grind the requisite in-game currency in order to buy the aforementioned ships). While the ground combat really sucks and the game can be confusing at times, the rich Star Trek universe and those epic space battles keep enticing me to come back for more.

Star Trek Online is available from these retailers:

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[ LINK: Official Star Trek Online website ]