Star Trek Online Review
Pros: Fun space combat, exciting epic storyline, highly customizable appearance, Star Trek lore
Cons: Graphics weaker in places, ground combat very unresponsive, Foundry creator locked behind payment
This weekend checked out Star Trek Online from Perfect World Entertainment, the free to play MMORPG set in the Star Trek universe; we decided to have a bit more of an extensive look beyond our typical “First Look” and gave the game a few hours of our playtime.
On a brand new free account we checked out the initial character creation and we have to say that it has a pretty high level of customization when it comes to all the different shapes, colours and sliders for making your character look a little more unique. Each of the three factions (Federation, Romulan and Klingon) have their own core species that are central to that organization based on the games lore, with the Federation having by far the most diverse selection of some iconic and cannon species, as well as a generic “Alien” species that allows you to choose a lot more options to create some unique races or those that may have been seen in the show but have no official selection. As ever we went to town making the ugliest characters we could, and with some of the freakish aliens in Star Trek it wasn’t too hard; it did however put a dampener on all the poignant story elements having our really stupid looking character floating around in the background.
The story element is one of the most impressive parts of the game, a pleasant start with your character being on Earth at the Federation academy as they’re about to graduate (obviously this is only for the Federation faction). It set the scene of us being a new recruit about to embark on our first adventures into the final frontier, meeting a few key characters that will be part of our ship’s crew; it doesn’t jump straight into the action but instead focuses on setting the scene and driving the story home which is what Star Trek is all about. Aside from the dialogue and voiced NPCs, we were impressed with the environments and active NPC students running around, it brought the place to life and whilst the graphics aren’t the best in places (it is a seven year old game afterall) it’s made up for with the level of details thought that goes into each area.
Not too far in, and progressing the tutorial mode (which is actually pretty extensive and slips seamlessly into the main game) we found ourselves aboard our new ship as a the First Officer, already knowing in the game you captained your own ship it wasn’t too hard to guess how the story was going to unfold. An attack from the Klingons, who in this time are at war with the Federation after an aggressive expansion, results in an invading boarding party running amok on your ship, taking us into third person “ground combat” mode, which you typically experience within ships or when heading down to planets on excursions. The ground combat is very, very clunky and at times a little frustrating, whilst running around with a phaser rifle taking out Klingons on your ship was fun, and rallying alongside the NPC crew having firefights in the corridors and on the bridge definitely added to the immersion of the story, the controls felt awkward and just not action based enough.
We’ll not give too many spoilers away on how we got there but the tutorial ends with us taking the Captain’s chair and taking control of our own ship, at least we think that’s where it ended, it transitions straight into the next phase and continues the story with a new batch of missions. Here we found ourselves in space, controlling the ship itself as opposed to our character, and were able to fly around the area or switch between sectors through the sector map. On the hunt for our Klingon attackers we go to experience space/ship combat and happily it was a far better experience.
Using 360 movement with WASD, where WS controlled our vertical position (so not allowing us to flip the ship upside down) the movement felt fluid and the backgrounds in the space environments were again pretty well done. The lighting effects from solar flares, gas clouds, even the light trails from our warp engines all made moving around in space very cool, but combat itself really did shine. When engaged in combat we could tab between targets, but maneuvering in our low end ship was fairly slow and so positioning to be able to fire off our forward-firing photon torpedoes mattered, albeit we were armed with photon cannons as well that had a much wider range of fire (as well a secondary rear firing photon cannon). Juking around our multiple attackers and trying to reposition before they took us out was very fun, and surprisingly challenging; if it wasn’t early gameplay against weaker enemies we would definitely say we’d have been running for the escape pods, which is a promising sign for more challenging late game battles. What we think would be particularly exciting is PVP against lots of other players all fighting each other at once, with the range of movement, different ships, classes and weapons, tactical positioning… it would be absolute chaos and capture everything Star Trek is about perfectly.
Into the next mission stage and things really started to heat up with the story, Perfect World Entertainment have brought the epic from the very beginning, choosing one of the most iconic enemies the universe has ever known as the driving force behind the initial storyline; we couldn’t help but shout at the screen when they appeared and got a flutter of excitement (helps if you are a bit of a Star Trek nerd admittedly), and whilst we tried to contain ourselves and keep a level head not getting too excited.. well… resistance is futile.
A fun experience overall our biggest frustration came in the form of the Foundry, the private mission/map maker where players can make their own content and share it with the community. We were heavily into the Foundry in Perfect World’s Neverwinter MMORPG, putting in hundreds of hours making our own instances (though the Foundry in Neverwinter has seemingly been deactivated now), so to get a look at it in STO, even though we knew it was the 1.0 version and had fewer bells and whistles than the Neverwinter version. Sadly we couldn’t. Whilst playing Foundry content is possible players are required to pay for the feature in STO (which wasn’t the case in Neverwinter); we’re not sure on the reasoning why but it was a bit of a blow simply because of how hyped up we’d got ourselves to try it.
Seven years ago Star Trek Online would have been fantastic, no doubt, but the title does feel dated in a lot of places, falling behind the grade of what we’d expect from an MMORPG and the graphics are only the beginning. Whilst it shines with some of the environments, and space doesn’t look that bad, it’s just fading around the edges at times and the ground combat really does compound that feeling with it being so less polished than space combat you’d presume it was a tacked on element that was barely used (which isn’t the case). Story wise we can’t fault it and PWE have done a fantastic job with the writers to bring a compelling story-arc which is continually added to. If you like Sci-fi then there are other MMORPGs out there that offer a lot more, but if you like Star Trek then the game definitely provides that the online experience that you might be looking for.