For the most part, space has been a hard setting to use for a MMO. You have futuristic MMOs like EVE, where your character is a ship. You don't really have an avatar. You have futuristic MMOs like Anarchy Online, where you are a character, but you are planet-bound. There seems to be very few happy mediums where both space side and planet side are wired seamlessly together, where you can be a character on both the planet, and the ship. There are many reasons why, the biggest being the engine coding problems. Star Trek Online promises such a medium, but only to a certain extent, you are only portrayed as a character on your ship when in a boarding party battle sequence.
I really never paid much attention to StarQuest. It has been listed on mmorpg.com for a long time, but there never seemed to be any activity or news about it. The graphics are sub-par when compared with game like WAR or EVE. SQO uses DX8 graphics engine. The sound isn't exactly the crispest in the world, but I understand that a couple very resent patches upgraded the sound quite a bit. The community of StarQuest is small, but highly active. Some areas of character animations, like running, seem a bit girlish. This game definitely wasn't built to be a eye popping piece of graphical candy. Neither does it cater very well to the casual gamer. It is made entirely for those who want the most from their roleplay experience. When I finally went and tried the game out. Here is what I found.
In StarQuest Online, you are a character from start to finish, no matter what. You can walk around, run, swim, fly in suborbital vehicles and explore planets to your heart’s desire. While you are doing so, there may be a ship in orbit above the planet you are on. If someone is sitting at one of the ship's science panels, they will be able to scan the planet, and watch you run around in real time. There is no lag or delay, they know exactly where you are on that planet at all times. A teleporter (or eventually a shuttle) is used to transfer characters between planet and ship maps (or between ship maps). If the ship is yours, or in your faction, you can use a hand comm and call for a automatic teleport, or one of your buddies can fire up the teleporter, manually scan the planet, lock on to your life-sign, and port you aboard.
The ships are no different than the planets. You can walk anywhere you want on the ship, you can even use the airlocks and walk OUTSIDE of the ship. On some ships, spacewalks are the only way to replace/upgrade the engines, as they are in pods outside the main hull. There are different sizes of ships, the biggest, a Ticonderoga Class Battleship, literally hundreds of players can be on the ship at once. It has 16 decks, with endless rows of rooms, all of which have a purpose. Some are crew bunk rooms, others storage, others are engineering rooms (think Jeffries tubes) where the ships critical systems are housed.
In battles where your enemy decides to board, it isn't a "switch to fight on bridge scene". The enemy must either disable your shields and port aboard, or force open an airlock. Boarding battles are as epic as ground based ones. Then you have the bridge, the nerve center of the ship. Since you are a character, not the ship, you can't use your keyboard to control the ship movement and functions. You have to sit at a panel, and use it. Simply moving a ship requires only one player be online and it doesn't have to be a helm person, anyone can use any station as long as they have the real life experience required to use the panel. If you plan on going into battle, you will need a full crew, with players at all the stations. The StarQuest engine manages to do what no other MMO engine can, it has maps moving within maps, that are moving within maps, all in real time, all seamlessly interacting with each other.
The universe of StarQuest Online is a scientifically accurate map of the Milky Way. The map was computer generated, using data from several telescopes and satellites. It contains over 17,000 unique star systems containing over 100,000 unique planets. Travel between star systems is based upon Larry Niven's theory of hyperspace. The boundary, or well, around each star is defined by its gravitational gradient. 3D maneuvering and hyper-skipping works the same way in SQO's universe as it does in Niven's. This makes it possible for ships to fight, not only in star systems at sub-light speed, but in hyperspace between star systems also.
Everything in the game is player owned. Starships and orbitals are built at shipyards, with resources mined from asteroids or planets. Colonies are founded and supplied by civilians. Even the 3 main game factions (the United Systems Alliance, the Klinshayan Empire, and the Therataan Protectorates) are run by players. The Admins created the starting point of the universe, with a richly outlined back story, but what happens from then on depends entirely on the players. The universe, and the timeline, are what you want it to be.
Combat between starships, and between characters, is very fast paced. Character fighting is twitch based, starship combat in SQO is a new breed of its own. In either one, you have to constantly make decisions. One wrong move such as standing up to take a risky shot, or taking your ship into combat head on instead of rolling to their flank, may mean the difference between life and death. Both depend heavily on the player's skill of using their character, not just the character's skill level. Combat itself, either PvP or PvE, is open ended.
Exploration in StarQuest Online is unlimited. There are star systems that not even the game developers themselves have seen. And if you get tired of exploring new worlds, and finding new races of aliens, there is always time-travel. Some players have managed to travel back to the earth Dinosaur Age, and a few beyond that. Wormholes can take you hundreds, maybe thousands of lightyears in seconds, or they will just tear your ship apart. Nothing is impossible.
The economy of StarQuest Online is entirely player driven. Supply and demand has been known to fluctuate the price a Atlas class cargo runner, as much as 211%, with its lowest selling price being 45 million credits, and its highest at 95 million. Smuggling plays a important part in the economy between the 3 major races. Ships are only restricted to race by the players. If a Terran manages to sneak on a Klinshayan ship and steal it, he is perfectly able to use it, provided the Klins don't eat him first.
The learning curve of this game is very steep. I have played it for over 2 years, and I am constantly learning something new. The administrators are constantly adding something new to the game. In the time since its release, there have been 75 patches to the game, some of which are only bug-fixes, but a lot of those are adding loads of new content. The administrators are in constant conversation with their community. If you post a question to them on their forums, they will have sent you a reply within 12 hours, guaranteed.
The community of StarQuest is top-notch. They are extremely helpful to anyone who needs it. They don't look down on new people, they are by your side, teaching and instructing. While you may find others equal to them, you wont find anyone better.
This game may be considered "last generation" because of its lower quality graphics and sound, but from what I have seen, this game has taken the biggest step into the next generation of MMOs of any current game. SQO was natively programmed as a multi-threaded app, one of the first in the MMO world. It is a totally open ended sandbox game, something even the biggest producers have shied away from. There are no quests, no level grinding. Your future is what you make it. If you choose, you can turn the game inside out. You can break the standards and make them into whatever you want. You the player are in total control. Unlike any other, in StarQuest Online, your imagination is tested to its fullest extent. Do you have what it takes to survive?
It is the dawn of the 23rd century.
This is your destiny.
Welcome to the world of StarQuest Online.
In summary, this game is unique. There is nothing like it, nothing can be compared to it. Because of that uniqueness, you will either love it, or you won't. It depends entirely on what you like in a MMO. They have a 30 day free trial. Try it for yourself and find out. I think this game will take you by surprise, as it did me.