Published on March 11th, 2010 | by prime0
Star Trek Online – Review
Summary: It’s Trek Jim, but not as we know it...
From our preview article we went deeply into what Star Trek Online is. How it works, what you do, where you go and how you look. Rather than rehash old ground, let’s just say that the full release has barely changed from the worryingly thin-looking Beta, and that Star Trek Online is splitting opinions among everyone who plays it. Not, we hasten to add, splitting that opinion along a love/hate line. Sadly, it’s more of a hate with a passion/tolerate until something better comes along line instead.
The full release of STO hasn’t fixed any of the deep-rooted problems that plagued Beta, from the horrible misuse of the setting – cramming tried, tested and now long-tired MMO grind staples into a universe that just doesn’t work that way, eschewing any of the core values of Trek (character, story, emotional engagement) for a simplistic and quickly repetitive combat engine – to a completely under-developed Klingon experience, a lack of variety in actual mission content, and having little-to-no endgame to speak of.
What does it do right? Certainly it looks pretty. The ship and character models and planet locations all look spectacular, despite the over-abundance of colorful laser beams and glowing power effects turning everything into a Jean-Michel Jarre concert from the late 90s. There’s a lot of fun to be had with character creation and this is extended from the Champions Online model here by letting you customize your ship and crewmates as well as your own get-up.
But for all the technical finery, the simple truth is that as it stands, as a game, Star Trek Online simply isn’t worth a monthly subscription of anyone’s money. The content isn’t there, the appeal for their Star Trek fans or simply gaming fans isn’t there, and the sense of any kind of appealing gameplay isn’t there. What’s worse is that all the individual design decisions that make up the greater fail are going to prevent STO from ever becoming worth a monthly fee. With the selected core mechanics now in place, all Cryptic can do is just add more of the same content (but with higher DPS output requirements) and different graphical components.
A flawed structure
The underlying structure of the game is going to remain as is, and it’s that structure that is flawed from the outset. No amount of extra high-level missions is going to change the fact that space combat is repetitive chore of Pavlovian button pushing with a fancy interface masking the lack of any genuine challenge, actual tactical necessity during combat or adherence to the actualities of Star Trek combat. Nor will it disguise the embarrassingly poor ground mission engine that for a game released in 2010 – even an MMO game – is shockingly insulting to both the rich legacy of the license is based upon and the expectations of the game that requires a regular visit to your bank account.
Cryptic knows it hasn’t had to try here, and that’s perhaps the most insulting thing of all. It’s hurriedly slapped a basic game engine onto a lucrative license in order to get it out on shelves while the coattails of the new movie are still rideable. It’s also known that all it has to do is include as many nods to Trek touchstones as it can – regardless of whether they make any sense from a gameplay point of view – to snare in the fanboys. Half the references in the game feel so forced, so contrived just so the game can say “Look, it’s suchandsuch! That’s cool, right? And there’s so-and-so from episode X series Y! How great is that, eh?” Well, it isn’t great and it’s not cool in the slightest. It’s fanboy service with no purpose or reason. It’s C-3PO being built by Anakin Skywalker, if I might jump universes for a moment. It’s the product of lazy designers with no faith in their own ability to tell a captivating story or create an engrossing gameworld.
Annoyingly, the draw of the license will be enough for many people, and that number will no doubt be significant enough to make this a commercial (if not critical) success. What galls more than that is because it will be deemed by the publisher and its accounts department to be a financially viable entity, the servers will stay up, the license will stay in place and those of us that really, really want a decent, worthwhile multiplayer Star Trek experience are going to go on wanting for many years to come, and all the while this travesty of a wasted opportunity will sit there, servers taunting us, grinding our dreams into dust. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of the no-win scenario. For gamers anyway.