AUTHOR’S NOTE: I started this review in 2012, but never finished it. I kind of abandoned the game after achieving a level 50 captain and losing interest. However, that account is lost, and someone mentioned the game a few days ago on Facebook, and I thought – didn’t I review that? I’m back in the Captain’s Chair, and my thoughts aren’t much different. So I’m going to finish the review…
I have been a fan of Star Trek since I was old enough to change the channel. Nothing was ever more fun than watching James Tiberius Kirk lead the adventures of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. I could recite the names of the bridge crew and enumerate their functions from the moment I could pronounce “phase inversion on the port nacelle containment coil.” I can still name many of the Original Series villains, and I know more about “The Trouble With Tribbles” than anyone ever thought necessary. So imagine my delight when I finally saw the “Star Trek Online” game being promoted as “Free To Play!” A cheap Trekkie’s delight!
I have not played all available character classes and races – only a human male in Starfleet – so this review will necessarily be a little Federationcentric. You can play as a Klingon or Romulan as well.
“Welcome Aboard, Cadet!”
It’s graduation day at Starfleet Academy, and you and your class are about to embark on your first training cruise. First order of business : learning to move your character and talk to fellow cadets. We know we’re in San Francisco because there’s the Bay Bridge in all its glory. I think it is Starfleet canon somewhere that when you’re in San Francisco, you can see the Bay Bridge.
After a rather boring set of interactions with various fellow cadets, you report to your first commanding officer, who tells you you skipped an important training session, and he won’t discuss your crew assignment until you make up this deficit. It’s back to the quad, then over to the holodecks to take the test. You would think that a facility as large as Starfleet Academy would have some people movers. If only there were a device that allowed you to instantaneously move from location to location without all the running….
“Make it so, Number One!”
Eventually you make it to your ship – the goal of every cadet seems to be command – and you find that for the training cruise, you have been made First Officer! Well, given that you joined Starfleet to be a captain, this seems a bit of a letdown, but don’t worry. Captain Taggert isn’t long for this world. About 10 minutes into your “simple training cruise” the ship is attacked by Klingons. Of course, being the Heroic Figure you are, you save the ship! The Klingons, however, have gotten away, and taken your poor captain with them. Taggert, being the selfless Starfleet father figure he is, orders you to lock weapons on his com badge from the bridge of the cloaked Klingon Command Ship, immediately earning him a one way ticket to Sto’Vo’Kor at the hands of the Klingon Commander.
Events follow quickly, with several very easy ship to ship battles and impossible to fail landing party missions, and all teaching you the mechanics of interacting with the world of Star Trek Online. To reduce the problem of stress in the galaxy, I’ll mention now that dying at any point in the tutorial results in a respawn to complete health, although you may have an emotional reaction to the event.
“Aye, aye, Captain!”
A field promotion and commendation later, you are commanding the ship legitimately, and ready to continue the adventure as Captain! Congratulations! There’s a whole galaxy out there waiting for you to explore, and thousands of other players to get to know, most of whom had similar “first day” experiences.
The game is a mix between “starship simulator” and “away team missions,” and while it excels at neither, it does each adequately well in the Starfleet Universe.
“A Tall Ship and a Star to steer her by….”
This is NOT “Starfleet Command” Online – which is a little disappointing for a fan of that old franchise. You don’t have to worry about specific weapons points being damaged, or being boarded by enemy marines – nor can you capture enemy ships by boarding them. Space combat is a matter of kill or be killed, with little opportunity to escape a particular ship once you’ve engaged it. Your initial ship steers like the proverbial cow, but it’s a tough little boat with excellent firing arcs for all weaponry.
Your bridge crew adds certain enhancements to your ship’s capabilities based on their specializations. Overloaded torpedoes, high-energy turns, emergency shield re-enforcement, and a variety of other capabilities are available based on your crew. You acquire training points as you level up, and you can use these points to enhance your crew capabilities. Of course, it’s a balancing act, because you always want more points than you get.
“Assemble an Away Team…”
Away teams are pretty much AI puppies, following your lead on just about anything, and often doing “obvious” things during a battle to help you win. Your crew members have abilities based on their roles (Tactical, Engineering, Medical, Science) and again, you can use training points to enhance them. Some of the abilities are necessary, others can seem pretty useless unless the mission requires them. Of course, in a pinch, one of your puppies can treat you, restoring you to full health and getting you back into a firefight. You are expected to return such favors when you can.
“A (not so) Perfect World”
Star Trek Online is “free to play,” and as anyone who follows this blog knows, I’m all about the free part. Of course, the hope of the company running the show is that you’ll be tempted by the shiny lure of bigger ships, more powerful weapons, and cuter outfits to spend real money. I haven’t seen anything in the world yet that has motivated me to spend a dime. The graphics, while adequate, have not been really enhanced since I first looked at the game 2 years ago. The “toons” (in game characters) look about the same, even with an enhanced graphics card on my system. Some of the environments have been radically re-designed (Starfleet command is bigger, and more open), but nothing has really been “added” that I could tell from a few hours of play.
It’s fun, don’t get me wrong. And worth the price I’ve paid so far. I’m just not convinced is as “perfect” as the producers seem to think.