This is one area of the game where there has been a marked shift, which was initially somewhat jarring to early adopters of the game and particularly those who bought multiple copies. The price of the game initially went through a number of promotional (temporary) reductions and has at last arrived at the low price of $19.99.
The first month of play, at least, is absolutely a bargain at the (just under) $20 price tag and well worth several months of subscription for the uber-casual gamer. The biggest issues with the game, long-term, come from concerns over the amount of novel or repeatable content available, which developers are promising to address.
In addition to a fair amount of content added since launch, the PvP queueing system is currently undergoing a massive overhaul to a more user friendly and intuitive interface designed to make matchmaking easier. The Squad System (known as "sidekicking" to players of Cryptic's past games) gives you the opportunity to jump straight into more advanced content with players of differing levels.
Cryptic is now releasing weekly "featured episodes" in three week series, with one to two weeks downtime between series. The weekly episodes are available to both factions and scale to players of all levels (ten and up at least). These episodes will remain available for the life of the game, eventually constituting an alternative leveling path, but players who complete them while the story arc is in its original run will be given an as-of-yet mysterious unique reward for completing a series before the next series starts.
It's clear that the developers have learned a few tricks about content generation and the beauty, playability, and challenge of these missions so far seems widely regarded as a solid addition to the game's content. The regular nature of these events does make the monthly fee seem more like a magazine subscription than a server maintenance fee and the whole process is an interesting experiment.
Space combat, as noted elsewhere, is quite good, emphasizing arcade style play and largely ditching the standard RPG trinity system. Captains of the game's three classes will find they can be useful in any type of ship, although the skill tree heavily promotes specializing in one at a time. The use of directional shields is an inspired lift from the Starfleet Command games, emphasizing positioning and nautical-style broadsides battle.
Be aware that this is not a dog fighting simulator; you won't be doing loops and barrel rolls. Rather the gameplay in space is very much a simulation of old school Trek's "models on strings" approach to space battles, with fixed orientation. Players who were hoping for a change in the ame's space combat design will be disappointed. However, for what it aspires to be, the execution in space is excellent, from combat to the newly added anomaly scanning mini-game where you synch up two waveforms for crafting supplies (at least, Federation side).
The fun of the ground game, aside from "expose and exploit" lies largely in commanding your custom tailored NPC crew of bridge officers, which fill out any vacant slots in your party. The AI on these units has improved significantly since launch, when they would frequently get caught on embarrassingly simple terrain obstacles.
Prior concerns about the lack of challenge have been largely addressed with the addition of an optional difficulty slider, which brings with it a flavorful set of death penalties.
Unfortunately, the game's raiding system is generally regarded as a failure. The Special Task Forces, a five man raiding system, consisted of endless waves of trash mobs and gimmick boss fights that players had no preparation for in the game's other content. Development of these is on hiatus pending a more casual or possibly solo-friendly retooling of the encounters.
On a more positive note the new Diplomacy system affords players both one-time and repeatable content to grind in a series of Choose Your Own Adventure-style dialogue oriented missions that capture the softer side of Trek quite nicely. Diplomacy rewards Federation players who reach the rank of ambassador with a Gorn, Nausicaan, or Orion bridge officer of their choice, as well as expanding the game's transwarp mechanic to allow you to visit your port of choice once every half hour after you've sufficiently advanced through the ranks of the Federation Diplomatic Corps.
The new "Dabo" gambling mini-game is a simple but addictive combination of roulette and a slot machine, providing a way to kill some time and part with your energy credits and awards the player with gold pressed latinum, which can be spent on cosmetic rewards. This has helped cement a few of the game's social hubs.
Now, to be perfectly frank, this is a one faction game. The developers have stated that they never expected the numbers out of the Klingon faction and that it is far too inactive to warrant a full progression path of its own. They have added some light content, including a mission featuring Star Trek: The Next Generation's Worf and a trip to Gre'thor, the Klingon religion's answer to hell. However, there are no plans for much in the way of Klingon content for this game and Klingons have been told to expect that the majority of their content will come from faction neutral missions, shared with the Federation and other factions that will be added down the road.
Klingons are a bit more involved than monster play (from Lord of the Rings), allowing for leveling, progression, and gear. But it is not and will never be a faction in the minds of many MMO players and if life outside the Federation is what captivated you about a Star Trek MMO, steer clear of this game.
This is a Federation centric game which is doing an increasingly admirable job of reflecting the shows but looking for life outside the Federation as anything but a novelty will never satisfy you. The developers have conceded that it would be impossible to create equal content for all factions and are largely banking on faction-neutral content and the upcoming user generated content system to occupy Klingons and other factions down the road.
If you absolutely feel compelled to play a Klingon, understand that the factions are not split along an even dichotomy like Alliance and Horde and that non-Federation factions are simply content-light novelties with few gameplay distinctions. Having a Klingon at max level is a gimmick-y bragging piece earned through content grinding, like riding a rare mount in a fantasy MMO.
The gameplay itself doesn't offer anything that demands factions and one might be left to wonder why anyone would have considered having multiple factions in this game to begin with, rather than simply going with a large, united friendly faction that the small development team could properly maintain and optional war games on the side for PvP.
By and large, the Klingon faction seems driven by a focused group of malcontent separatists who want their own game and are clinging on to promises broken a year or more ago when the vision presented was for a radically different game than the (actually promising, albeit effectively single faction) game we have now.
The sense of community in-game is so completely optional that you could forget that you're playing an MMO. The heavy use of instancing, coupled with auto-grouping, and content which mostly scales to the number of people attempting it means that there is very little forced interaction with other players outside of social hubs and even those are instanced so heavily that you will only randomly encounter a few players at a time. You are seldom encouraged to group until you hit a very specific segment of endgame, by which point most players are thoroughly unprepared for how to function in a group.
On the whole, the community atmosphere is generally quite positive and constructive - but I'd advise you save yourself the grief and avoid the Klingon faction altogether if you want to maintain that impression.
Issues with rubber-banding and lag have mostly disappeared as the game's launch population has settled down to its current core of players. However, there remain bugs which cause missions to fail to launch or complete properly or which prevent players from receiving the appropriate level of crafting items, which have been at least partly addressed. The big pitfall of Season Two was the PvP matchmaking system breaking, prompting a new and better replacement interface.
There are remaining minor bugs but a major focus right now is quashing them and they seem connected to unusual system specs and corrupted account data; it's entirely likely you won't encounter too many issues with them at this point.
There seems to be a marked shift in Customer Service since Daniel Stahl assumed control of the game and additional resources have been pumped into improving support; tickets which once took weeks now seem processed in minutes or hours.
There have also been several instances where a business decision (the referral program, per-character paid services) was re-thought and Stahl is resolute that C-Store offerings will be earnable in-game.
The new team seems enthusiastic about player feedback, with Stahl himself frequenting the forums at odd hours and soliciting content suggestions. The art team routinely takes corrections and player-created diagrams and illustrations for reference. One player even developed art assets for mini-games, which Cryptic purchased the rights to.
Overall, Star Trek Online was a mediocre release that is shaping up to be promising entry in the MMO market, if not waylaid by the initial development team's schizophrenic focus on confusing and underdeveloped mechanics and a second faction which has no compelling reason to exist from a design standpoint.
| Good Value
Improved Customer Service
Solid Sound Effects & Voice Overs
| A One Faction Game
Annoying Mission Bugs
Raiding System is Poor