Tackling a franchise as beloved and elaborate as Star Trek was a lofty goal for any video game design team. Not only does STO need to cater to the casual player who isn’t subscribing out of love for one (or all) of the hit television series, but perhaps even more challenging is the requirement of meeting the high standards the fans of the show will use to measure the MMO. Other titles have attempted this, such as Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online for example, with varied degrees of success. STO isn’t the best example of a video game adaptation of a pop culture phenomenon, but it does hold its own with some of the most popular examples of that branch within the MMO genre.
That being said, I think that most of the hardcore STO player base is filled with fans of the Star Trek franchise. Despite what was surely a valiant effort, Cryptic Studios didn’t quite hit the nail on the head in terms of catering to both the fans of the series, and random MMO enthusiasts willing to give this title a try in exchange for the purchase price—which is currently $14.99 USD for a digital download from Atari, plus a monthly subscription fee which ranges from $12.99-$14.99 USD per month, or a lifetime membership at $299.99 USD. While I’m not implying STO isn’t worth sampling unless you’re a die-hard fan of the Star Trek world, I certainly think those who love the setting are going to be more inclined to stick around past the 30-day trial. Additionally, if you’re the sort who loves to tinker, the Foundry player-created content editor will add some longevity.
If you’re looking for a highly social MMO with a very active community, STO might not be your cup of tea. In all the time I’ve spent in this game, I’ve seen very little in the way of social interaction; even the zone chat channel is quiet compared to every other MMO I’ve played in the last six months. This could be due in part to the limited need for networking with other players on the game. Compared to other MMO powerhouses, STO often feels less like an MMO and more like a RTS title with occasional co-op or competitive play. Players are captains of their vessels and thus gain a crew of NPCs bridge officers, which have thankfully gained quite a few upgrades since STO’s launch back in early 2010, and these characters can fill out your group as necessary when working with other players.
The auto-grouping feature pairs players up with random group mates for co-op missions, which takes all of the guess work out of finding team members but it also furthers the feeling of disconnect within the STO community. The STO PvP system really isn’t any better for enhancing the social feel, with the focus being the Federation characters versus the Klingon players, and the same prevalent repetition still in place. STO’s raids, called Fleet Actions, allow up to twenty players to work together for a common goal—but even these felt like shallow, pale Star Trek versions of raiding systems seen in other MMOs.
As mentioned a bit above, compared to many of the powerhouse MMOs currently available, STO doesn’t quite make the cut. The $15 subscription fee is competitive with most other titles, but it doesn’t really feel like great value for your money unless you’re a hardcore Trekkie. Although updates are frequent, from new episodes to double-XP weekends and the real-life money “C-Store” items, STO has a very repetitious feel in terms of the gameplay. As much as I wanted to love this one, especially with the strong graphics and audio to compliment the vivid world, I can’t be any more generous with STO when it comes to value. If you love the Star Trek franchise, give this one a go—but if not, I doubt you’ll find many reasons to spend your time and money on STO rather than on a more enjoyable P2P alternative.
Additionally one element of STO that is repeatedly lamented and ranted about from the player base is the lack of quality customer service. I was hopeful this wouldn’t be the case, until I realized Atari is now behind the customer service department, a company which I haven’t had pleasant experiences with in the past in terms of billing issues, account retrieval and security, or reasonable turn-around on bug fixes.
STO is a beautiful game, which transports players into a very vivid world. But the truth is, that world fails to overwhelm, and it really doesn’t live up to the standards set by the Star Trek franchise. A lot of improvements have been made since the beta and launch phases, but not enough to merit the $15 purchase price and a $15 recurring subscription fee in my book. STO does often feel like a RTS-MMO hybrid, which may appeal to players who aren’t looking for much social interaction, especially if you’re willing to process through the ground missions as quickly as possible so you can spend more time on the ship combat. STO is a fun quick-fix for Trekkies who want to immerse themselves in the Star Trek world, meeting up with friends and exploring the familiar races and ship models. But for those of us who just want a quality MMO that keeps us hooked with plenty of stuff to do and little repetition, we’re out of luck—for now—with this one.