PC star-trek-online-preview

Published on January 28th, 2010 | by prime

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Star Trek Online – Preview

It’s the very first screen at the very first stage of your very first character creation that will determine whether or not Cryptic Studios has taken the Star Trek license in an online direction you’re likely to enjoy or not. The first thing you do is decide whether your boldly going starship captain is from the Tactical, Science or Engineering classes, all of which is defined by the type of combat skills you’ll specialize in. Tactical officers have good overall damage points, engineers are expert at crowd control and shields, while scientists excel at damage over time.

Pretty much everything in the game is geared around maxing your stats for combat, which means that what Cryptic Studios have done is not create the virtual Trek-based universe we’ve all imagined, but create a space-themed combat simulator that happens to be wearing Star Trek jumpsuits. Whether this is a good thing or not comes down to your own personal point of view, but for many of us, we can’t help but feel you’re going to view it as a missed opportunity.

Anyway, STO is split across three main sections: flying around planetary bodies shooting enemy ships, running around on foot shooting enemy aliens, and navigating through ‘Sector Space’ the game’s galactic map area that seems to have been plucked out of thin air to replace the on-lore notion of, you know, warping from place to place in the universe.

A lot of people are saying that it’s the diehard Trek fans that will get the most out of Star Trek Online

Progression comes through five ranks (Lieutenant, Lt. Commander, Commander, Captain and Super Captain…sorry, Admiral) with 10 ‘grades’ in each. Each new rank opens up a raft of new ship options and new skills to train you and your bridge crew in.

This advancement is earned mainly; it seems from the Beta, by the shooting of bad guys; lots and lots of shooting bad guys. At the lower ranks, everything seems to follow the Champions Online route of forcing everyone along the same path of progression. Mission after mission of flying to a location shooting enemy ships in orbit, beaming down to shoot some more bad guys, then beaming back for a final battle in space. Repeat until fade. There are some Patrol missions to work through, which vary things by linking multiple sectors together and sometimes removing one or the other aspect of combat, but mainly the fly, shoot, beam, shoot, fly again template holds up.

A touch of diplomacy

So what of the much-vaunted exploration and diplomacy side of things? What it mostly seems to boil down to is searching established systems for ‘crafting nodes’ (essentially) which you then craft into boosts for your weapons and armor, or generated ‘first contact’ missions that seem to be little more than ways to add aliens with different stat boosts and skills to your bridge crew ‘pets’.

There’s not much pretence here that STO is anything other than a combat game in space, so what of that combat? Cryptic has spoken a lot about tactics and strategy, so how does that translate into actual game mechanics? Ship combat is all about turning circles, essentially making sure you don’t let one side of your ship’s shields drop too low that you become overly vulnerable, while attempting to do precisely that to the enemy. It’s very colorful and fast-paced, and although it does make you think a little about diverting power and your turret arcs and the like, the fast pace of it all actually seems to stop things from ever becoming overly tactical and keeps things rooted in the more traditional MMO attritional fights we’ve all become used to. Certainly there’s none of the classic Kirk vs. Khan Mutara Nebula tension going on where every shot counts. There may still be time for Cryptic to tweak things like pace prior to launch, but everything on display so far seems to suggest it’s more or less happy with how things are. Again whether you will be happy with that is going to be down to personal choice.

Taking liberties

That’s the overall feeling you get from most of STO… that Cryptic has taken a lot of liberties with the license in order to fit in a lot of the usual MMO tropes, regardless of whether they fit the setting or not. In its current state, STO is certainly not about to blow away any of the existing MMO conventions, or win awards for originality – or, indeed, polish. Current favorite bug is how, when exiting the utterly pointless ‘bridge view’ to actually fly your ship, (your captain ‘beams out’).

Whether or not you can accept the direction Cryptic is going to come down to how much of a Trek fanboy you are. A lot of people are saying that it’s the diehard Trek fans that will get the most out of STO. In actual fact, with all the ways Cryptic is avoiding capturing the essence of what Star Trek really is, it’s the opposite that will most likely be true. Diehard fans will almost certainly hate what they’re doing to their beloved franchise. The question that remains is whether there’s enough of a game here to therefore attract those that aren’t coming here solely because it says Star Trek on the box. That’s where Cryptic may find that its real challenge will lie.

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