Star Trek Online Preview

by on 1st Feb 2010

Star Trek Online is an MMO that certainly lives up to the “massively” part of that abbreviation and, whilst we’d love to spill all the beans in the preview, we’re restricted not only by a review embargo until the 2nd of February but also by the fact that the game is so incredibly vast. To put that into perspective, in two weeks we’d barely scratched the surface in terms of the missions that progress the overall storyline of the game and we’d only increased in rank from Ensign to Lieutenant Commander (the game allows you to progress up to Rear Admiral).

Please bear in mind that, unlike some other previews you may have read, we did actually wait until the end of Beta to do our write-up after various patches and improvements had been applied to the game, so we’re basically giving you our impressions of the final version of the game that anyone will see until the game is released to the paying public. Trust me – that’s a heck of a difference as interfaces were overhauled, graphics were tuned, missions were tweaked and Leonard Nimoy was added.

So, here to give you a brief overview are both myself – Pete, aka “Captain” Jayne Cobb of the USS Jaynestown – and Neil, aka “Captain” Jack O’Neill of the USS Valkyrie. Not sci-fi nerds in the slightest. Honest. I’m a novice to MMOs preferring strategy and FPS titles but a huge Trek fan, and Neil is an MMO veteran and, it’s fair to say, general sci-fi/fantasy all-rounder having put in countless hours playing games such as Eve Online, Lord of the Rings Online and many others.

With that lot out of the way, let’s begin.

As a little bit of a backstory, the game takes place a few decades after the destruction of Romulus but in the primary timeline – not the alternate timeline created during the course of events in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. So Spock is gone, the Romulan homeworld is no more and in the intervening years this has led to a massive shift in power throughout the Alpha and Beta quadrants. The Klingons have broken off all ties with the Federation, conquered several races and become incredibly paranoid, Sela (Tasha Yar’s daughter following the events of Next Generation episode Yesterday’s Enterprise) is now Emperor of a new Romulan Star Empire which is another cause for concern to the Federation and, as if all that wasn’t bad enough, the Borg are knocking on the back door. Well it’s more like they’ve broken in and are running muddy footprints up and down the hallway to be honest – they are such scamps!

First up in the game following the neat Federation introduction movie (as voiced by Leonard Nimoy – nice touch!) is character creation. You choose your career path from a choice of Tactical, Engineering and Science with each offering you their own unique advantages in both space and ground arenas. Tactical Officers are the brawn of the outfit, Engineering fix your ship up nicely after you engage in countless battles and Science Officers tend to be healing you rather more often than you’d care to admit to.

The character creator lets you choose gender, species, facial features, dimensions (and yes, those dimensions too if you’re into creating a crew of Lara Crofts), skin colour/tone and so on. You can pick from a modest-yet-varied list of Federation races to begin with or try your luck with something more alien until you’re finally happy with a character with which you’ll spend a lot of time following in third person.

As the uniform regulations have been relaxed by this point in the future, you can also choose from a variety of snazzy outfits that, frankly, I’ll bet the cast of Star Trek wished were available to them during the various series’. In general the outfits seem to mostly consist of leather, and this time out you can choose your colours too so you can be as garish as you like or just stick with a Next Generation outfit if you like. We would point out though that, sadly, as soon as you put armour on yourself and your crew your uniform choice is rendered somewhat moot as you won’t see it again until the armour comes off – and why would you ever want to do that in such a hostile universe?

It’s also worth noting that you can customise the appearance of your other bridge officers and also your ship to an extent later on in the game until you have your dream team of officers.

So now I’d like to introduce you to “Captain” Jayne Cobb. His back-story is that he didn’t much like the look of the last captain and threw him out the nearest airlock.

All joking firmly aside and moving swiftly on, the game begins with your character at a rank of Ensign by placing you into the lounge on the USS Khitomer – there’s not a synthehol in sight though as the Khitomer is in a pitched battle against the Borg at present and you’re to report for duty immediately.

This part of the game is the tutorial phase though, so there’s little worry of the Borg posing much of a threat. The general gist is that they’re behaving oddly and whisking away all the higher ranking officers mysteriously, which is a nice plot point that enables you to be in command of a starship whilst at such very low rank.

It introduces you (aided by the voice of Zachary Quinto as the ship’s Emergency Medical Hologram) to the ground-based element of the game, where you’ll generally find yourself shooting enemies, interacting with civilians (nothing seedy, shame) and scanning all manner of weird and wonderful things. Then it moves on to the space combat by pitting you against some fairly weak Borg probes whilst you work out how to move your ship in three dimensions, what your keys do and ends with you usually binding the all-powerful Fire All Weapons command to a single key so that you don’t just end up mashing your keyboard by firing weapons one at a time. Maybe that’s just me though.

The tutorial can be tedious and it does seem almost too long if you know your way around the sort of complex interfaces found in other MMOs and strategy games, however it does serve another purpose in that it also begins to immerse you into the storyline and atmosphere of the journey you’re about to embark on.

Once through the tutorial, things calm down for a little while as you return to the Sol system and the main starbase back at Earth where Admiral Quinn gives you a slap on the back, some new missions to embark on and the keys to a new starship (well there is a war on you know and the highest ranking officer on a ship is technically the captain, even if they are only a Lieutenant).

It also give you your first taste of the skills system, whereby you get various points for embarking on certain missions which boost your character’s overall experience. There are ten levels at each rank (so level 3 Lieutenant for example) and when you have enough mission-based experience you go up a rank, get a promotion, a better ship and more character/class-specific skills to choose from. Your crew can also be promoted from Ensigns to Lieutenants when you reach Lieutenant Commander level, depending on their own experience. With each rank you gain, you can train your crew up to the rank below, and this unlocks new special skills for them and yourself.

This is where the game leaves the linearity of the earlier tutorial and lets you choose your missions from several high ranking officials. Each offers you different types of mission from fleet actions, deep space exploration missions, escort missions and so on which I’ll expand on a little later.

Your method of actually getting from place to place in the game is handled by way of an Astrometrics view where you’re not viewing your ship in real space, but rather as a playing piece on a vast game board. There are many systems in each sector and many more sectors in each of the playable quadrants in the game – currently Alpha and Beta. In this view you can plot a course to any system or object in your sector of space or even view your position on the galaxy map, which generally has the effect of showing you how tiny and insignificant you are in the grand scheme of things whilst also giving you a better perspective from which to find some of the more remote places you might be asked to go to.

Once at a location, you’ll generally enter the solar system and receive a set of instructions – usually defeat the enemy and approach the planet or just approach the planet and beam down, though there are occasionally more peaceful invitations. If it’s a space battle you’re faced with, you’ll usually be up against a few small groups of ships where your weapons training will come to the fore as you broadside the enemy and drain a particular section of shields before hitting them hard with a final barrage of torpedoes and sustained phaser fire. Your crew also give you a bit of a boost here as different crew members can be specialised in specific areas, so you can fire off a particularly high-yield salvo of torpedoes or fool the enemy’s sensors for a short period.

You often find rings or asteroids surrounding planets, the latter of which are quite useful to hide behind in combat. As you approach, you get a sense of just how big each planet is compared to your ship. They might look small when you arrive in the system but they’re quite and detailed and vast close up – something that you wouldn’t have been able to do several years ago.

Once planet-side the game consists of either exploration (running around scanning things with your tricorder) or, more often, getting into fights with Klingons, Gorn, Orions (or worse) before rescuing scientists or collecting data. There is some variety in the types of missions, but not a great deal at present. You will come across a wide variety of scenery once planetside though, as we were happily unable to encounter the same environment, foliage or landscape twice across all the missions we played.

If you’re into MMOs and other strategy games where you choose skill paths based on experience, the levelling up of your skills is something you’ll enjoy, so the repetition does have its rewards.

What really saves the game for me is the evolving story. If you skip all the on-screen dialogue then you’ll miss out, as with each story-based mission (usually provided by Admiral Quinn in the early game) you get more of an insight into why the Klingons are so on edge, the lengths they’ll go to to get what they want (think major Star Trek plot devices here – time travel being one of them) and so on. It’s also greatly helped by familiar characters including Commander Naomi Wildman (who you’ll remember as a little girl in Star Trek Voyager), Captain Mackenzie Calhoun of the Star Trek New Frontier book series, Lieutenant Miral Paris - who has her own interesting story arc - and there will doubtless be more friendly faces to follow in later missions and other sectors of space.

This preview has focused quite a bit on the Federation and Klingons and they are the only two playable factions in the game thus far (Klingons are unlocked as playable at Lieutenant level 4), but there are other missions in other sectors of space where you’ll be dealing with Romulans, Cardassians, Borg and other races.

We’re also expecting that the Klingon campaigns, currently in their early stages, will be fleshed out over the coming months and new playable factions to appear in future updates (we’re betting on Romulans next) but for now there’s more than enough to chew on for the average, casual player – less so for the hard-core players who’ve taken a week off work to get to Admiral as quick as possible but frankly that’s their problem.

With some good storylines beginning, time travel in the mix already along with rumblings from the Dominion and the potential appearance of Section 31, we’re looking forward to future updates and we’ll dig deeper into all this for you in a future review or two. For now though, this should give you a small taste of what to expect when the game hits the shelves.

 

Add Comment Comments

Thorondor\
18 Feb 2010 - 7:19pm
Thorondor
GameSpy rains down on the STO parade by labeling it 'shallow' on their review... :D

::

Graded as 'Fair'.
Pete\
10 Feb 2010 - 10:18pm
Pete
(Beats the pants off the second one too :D).
Space Voyager\
10 Feb 2010 - 7:59am
Space Voyager

Pete, on 9th February 2010, 10:59pm, said:

Reading about half of the comments after that review, it does seem like STO is the new Marmite. Love it or hate it, there doesn't seem to be much of a middle ground.

I like it, but then I enjoyed X-COM Enforcer and the first AvP movie, so go figure :D
Ehm, I enjoyed AvP simply for a fact that it was a movie about Aliens. And Predators. I was never having any problems realizing that it actually SUCKS BIGTIME. Still wanted to see it and wasn't sorry I did.
Pete\
9 Feb 2010 - 9:59pm
Pete
Reading about half of the comments after that review, it does seem like STO is the new Marmite. Love it or hate it, there doesn't seem to be much of a middle ground.

I like it, but then I enjoyed X-COM Enforcer and the first AvP movie, so go figure :D
Space Voyager\
9 Feb 2010 - 2:32pm
Space Voyager
Nicer impressions at Gamespot.

Especially like that there is not an end score yet as the reviewer has more to play.
Pete\
7 Feb 2010 - 10:15am
Pete
Well I haven't got a Sovereign in the game yet - they won't let us lowly Lieutenant Commander's fly around in flagships :D

At higher ranks you get access to better ships and by then your crew are more experienced so you get better turning rates in the game, which makes sense.

If all theships could trurn likie Star Fury's off Babylon 5 from the outset, it would be very quick and very dull. Must say I prefer the "submarine warfare" type of play that it's based off.
Matri\
6 Feb 2010 - 11:40pm
Matri

Pete, on 6th February 2010, 5:49pm, said:

By contrast it makes space combat slower, but that's all good as starships have never turned on a dime.
Have you watched the movies? The Sovereign-class turns on dimes all the time, and the Scimitar can even give you change. :D
Pete\
6 Feb 2010 - 9:49am
Pete
Not really, but that's what you get when you review an MMO straight after release. It won't have been balanced or tuned enough yet to solve the sort of issues you get when you go from a few thousand beta testers to hundreds of thousands of real players something which few other games have to deal with. Hence why I'll leave off reviewing til it's been out a little longer.

I'll have to disagree with them on ground combat - you usually do know who's killing you rapidly as it's usually a Klingon swordmaster with a Bat'Leth and if you don't notice him slicing you up then you probably deserve to die :D There are some handy moves like being able to roll out of the way of melee attackers, but it does need more work and your options are limited.

The dev's are between a rock and a hard place in terms of speed with ground combat in my opinion. Imagine if it had the slower pace of Lord of the Rings Online where you can pick on one target at a time? Granted that's not all the time in LOTRO, but for one it wouldn't be terribly realistic in Trek (Klingons rarely do a garrison of one), for two it would be harsh with you having an away team of five guys against that one and for three to chew your way through all the enemis on your path to your final destination would be slow as hell. Ground combat has to be fast in STO because it's more realistic to the genre, to real life (to a degree - bullets move fast), and because otherwise a half hour mission would be twice as long.

By contrast it makes space combat slower, but that's all good as starships have never turned on a dime.

It does need more content and fine-tuning though, I'll agree with that, but with all MMOs that comes in time. I'd probably be pitching it at 7/10 myself at this early stage partially for the episodic story missions where you can really see the love and attention to detail from the dev's.
Space Voyager\
6 Feb 2010 - 7:07am
Space Voyager
6/10? Not really encouraging.
FullAuto\
6 Feb 2010 - 2:48am
FullAuto
Following our lead, it's the Eurogamer review.
Pete\
3 Feb 2010 - 1:38pm
Pete
Yes. There is no cannon in Star Trek as it's contradicted itself since the original series.

There's a good quote from JJ Abrams saying something along the lines of "if you're more interested in canon and getting worked up about my movie before even seeing it, then don't come and see it". Same applies to the game. Leonard Nimoy had another, better criticism of the canon argument but for the life of me I can't find it.

And you don't have to choose the constitution class either. You can mix and match parts to have an old
looking Constituion class or a new looking ship or chose from presets at each rank - it doesn't matter much what it looks like as everyone at a certain rank has the same weapons and equipment slots (in the early game at least).
Sunflash\
3 Feb 2010 - 1:27pm
Sunflash
Just random comment: Could they MAYBE be leaning more towards the 'fun' side of the 'fun vs lore-monkey' scale, instead of just being ignorent louts? >.>?
Matri\
3 Feb 2010 - 11:48am
Matri
The Reliant? PFFFTTTT!! I'm talking about the Constitution-class! The same one Kirk was pottering around in while Sisko's parents were still in diapers.

Heck, as a pre-order bonus you can even change this to this. It's a very lame attempt to pander to the young'uns and a rather pathetic attempt to cash in on the latest Star Trek movie.

If they were at all bothered to stay within the canon, they'd have gone with the more battle-worthy Excelsior-class ships instead.
Pete\
3 Feb 2010 - 7:57am
Pete
The one that looks a bit like the USS Reliant? Choose a different ship then - you can have a newer looking one from the start - I just went with the retro look :D Sisko has a variation of that class of ship in the very first episode of Deep Space Nine as well, so it's really only about 30 years old.

You can customise the look of your ship to a degree, but that gives you no advantage over choosing one of the presets available at the same level - it's just a skin like your character skin. When you go up in rank and get access to new ships you can tailor them more toward your character traits - I'll be going for cruisers as I'm playing tactical.

The space battles aren't like bridge commander, and if you go in expecting them go be them you would be disappointed I guess. That said, if the space battles were like that the game would take ten times longer just to get to a stage where you can even beam down to a planet.

The focus for me is the evolving storylines and going up in rank to get new skills, ships and crew - your first new ship does give space battles a different feel but I won't lie and say it's that much different to the ship you have at the start - it's still like slow submarines in space and involves a lot of clicking away firing weapons which doesn't really make you feel like you're doing much, but it's much more strategic if you've got a fleet of ships with your friends as the enemies are both more numerous and more resilient - you have to start working together then. It'll still always be a bit of a click-fest though because that's what MMOs are - you click on a type of attack/ability and click on your enemy until they go down.

I think if I wanted that in depth control I'd play Bridge Commander. If I wanted to orchestrate fleets of ships on battle I'd play Star Trek Armada. If I wanted more from the away missions I'd play 25th Anniversary/Judgement Rites. For now though I want to play an MMO and that's obviously not going to be for everyone.

This isn't a grumble at your very valid comments by the way, just more of an explanation of what it is and isn't and therefore why it won't suit everyone.
Matri\
2 Feb 2010 - 10:45pm
Matri
I dunno, friends in the beta say it's a snorefest. Plus, they're really pissed about the rather lame justification for using a 100-year-old obsolete ship and I have to agree with them.

I've also watched a live feed of a space battle, and it just doesn't compare to either SFC3 or Bridge Commander.
Pete\
1 Feb 2010 - 11:05pm
Pete
Just saw some interesting videos - there's the planet killer from TOS in this one: http://ve3d.ign.com/...Actions-Trailer . Also saw a Jem Hadar warship very briefly in another video.

I'm probably just not far enough through the game to have encountered them, but I think Cryptic are going to be drawing on every trek story and character you can think of over the next few years.
Pete\
1 Feb 2010 - 10:37pm
Pete
A wise move. It can be terribly addictive at times, though unlike other MMOs you can just quit mid-mission/battle and come back more or less where you left off with no penalty. Sure, you might have to re-play the last five minutes you did but that's all.

I'm a big fan of this pick-up-and-play approach that doesn't tie you in for hours if you don't want it to.
Sunflash\
1 Feb 2010 - 10:21pm
Sunflash
I'm trying to avoid this like the plauge, simply because I don't have enough of a life as it is! :D
Pete\
1 Feb 2010 - 9:26pm
Pete
Indeed - can't wait to get some missions in Romulan space and encounter the Remans as well, or go up against the Cardassians. I already took a trip to Deep Space Nine though not on a mission - it's bigger than it looks on TV in that the level designers had to make corridors and stairs about five times wider to accomodate lots of human players without too many collisions. As such, the transporter in the tutorial looks like it could transport half a football stadium's worth of people in one go.

Something I didn't mention in the preview as I was focussing more on the game was the fact that the servers have had occasional periods of unexpected downtime throughout the beta and more-so recently with the number of folks who've pre-ordered to play over the last few days. It seems to happen more on the weekends, on one occasion lasting several hours.

Although people who've pre-ordered to get a head-start are quite right to get ticked off by this, from what I understand many folks are saying it's the smoothest launch they've ever seen with an MMO, beating WOW and EVE Online for stability thus far (apparently other MMOs took many months to become stable!).

I guess that if you want to really immerse yourselves without any hiccups then it might be worth waiting a while before playing. Peak times for issues seem to tie in with when folks in the US get home from work - all other times seem fine so European gamers should have little trouble :)

To be honest though the amount of gameplay time I've lost to downtime is negligible - if it goes down then I go and do something else for half an hour. If it's down longer I watch a film or give it a rest completely for the day and go out. It tickles me when people start comparing it to their more-stable cars or saying things like "you wouldn't buy an unstable baby buggy" - let's try and keep some perspective please :D

(There was also a slight joke in the name of Dreyla's ship if anyone noticed :D).
FullAuto\
1 Feb 2010 - 9:21pm
FullAuto
This could be absolutely gigantic in scope.

Be interesting to see how big it grows, certainly.

 

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Star Trek Online Box
Developer: Cryptic
Publisher: Atari Interactive
Released:02/02/2010

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