I’ve never really put much time into Cryptic’s Star Trek Online. I dabbled here or there, but when the game launched it was Jon Wood who fell in love with the title, and I was busy writing other stuff on the site. Now, with the recent changes to ground combat, and the future move to F2P I decided that it might finally be a good time to take a look and see what all the fuss is about. Because if one thing’s certain about Star Trek Online you either love it for what it is, or hate it for what it isn’t. Which side did I wind up on? Well, keep reading my fellow cadets. Keep in mind I’m speaking on the game as it is these days and not how it was at launch. I’m also already treating it as though it were a F2P title, though we haven’t quite seen how that will change things just yet.
Not a Trekkie
I’ll admit something right off the bat, which might change the way some of you read this little impressions piece: I’m not a big Trek fan. I watched the Original Series here or there throughout my teenage years, I dug TNG, but I never really watched Voyager, Enterprise of Deep Space Nine. I’m also not afraid to admit that despite its overreliance on action, the Abrams Star Trek movie is easily my favorite of the films… with the possible exception of Wrath of Khan because come on; it’s Montalban at his finest. Plus, the obscure pick of Khan as the bad guy from a previous episode where Kirk did something pretty damned inhumane to the guy is genius.
Okay, so I’m a bit more of a fan than even I supposed. But let’s put it this way. I liked the show, I liked the movies, and I couldn’t tell you anything about Klingon history or prattle off details about different classes of starships.
The Barrier to Entry
That’s probably a misnomer to call STO’s ship combat a ‘dog-fight’. They’re really more in line with Pirates of the Burning Sea’s tactical ship combat, with a Z-axis thrown in for good measure. But they’re fun, and I love that STO has enough sense to auto-group you with players on the same missions. It seems like the game’s space missions are all like public quests in this manner and it’s a welcome thing to be out solo only to find you’re grouped with a nice chap or chapette by the game’s mission system. Not everyone will like this feature, but as someone who likes people in his MMOs, I enjoyed this little feature. Now if only I get those other people to actually talk to me, we’d be in good shape.
I’ve only played a few hours now, and most of my time has been spent doing a mixture of space combat, ground diplomacy missions, and the occasional land-based fight. The space battles were confusing as could be at first, and I’m wondering if STO’s rap comes in large part because there seems to be a strange learning curve with all of the game’s many systems when compared to your traditional ‘Fantasy MMO’. It’s not a game you can just pick up and go off playing without expecting to have to learn things along the way. Even the class and skill system is deep and somewhat convoluted to the untrained eye.
Think about it, you’re a fan of MMOs, but not a hardcore fan. You’ve dabbled in stuff like World of Warcraft or LotRO, and your geeky tastes lead you to believe Star Trek Online could be a cool change of pace. But when you try it out, there’s a plethora of new terms, new systems, and new controls that you have to learn, all with a UI that’s very un-user friendly from the word go. It doesn’t take long to learn how it all works. But most people, and I mean this as kindly as possible, simply won’t stick around learn what STO is all about.
Over the Hump, Having Fun
I still have a great deal more to learn about STO and I hope the game’s shift to F2P brings in as many new people as Champions’ own shift did. There may only be the one server, but space is packed most days, you can always find people to work with, and at least after my first few hours I’m really enjoying the Trek-vibe to STO. I know it’s more in line with an Abrams version of Trek, due to the fact that it’s mostly about a galaxy at war and less about diplomatic and discovery missions. But those are here too, and the game’s recent ground combat overhaul has really made the land-missions more enjoyable. In way, they play out a bit like Mass Effect though without as much obvious ‘oomph’ and visual flair.
I like learning about the mythos behind Roddenberry’s classic, reading up on the history of these many species, and even as a Casual Trekker, I can pick up on some of the references to various episodes. I love the way the UI is modeled after the actual computer systems in the shows, and I love the sheer amount of customization we’re given over our characters, ships, and crew. This is a pretty deep game, at least more so than many recent MMOs, even if it’s not exactly what Trek fans were hoping for. Now as it heads into the ‘Freemium’ part of the market, I reckon it’ll gather a few more loyal fans who can enjoy it for what it is. I may just be one of them.