Star Trek: Online has come out of warp and onto our PCs. Do you have what it takes, Captain? (PC)
It's amazing how quickly things can change in such a short space of time. Coming out of closed beta with our preview, there was a sense that, whilst Star Trek: Online was a decent enough game, there was something missing from it that would make it truly great - and that was even taking into account the fact that it was a Beta. But looking at open beta and now launch, it's clear to see that developers Cryptic Studios had a lot up their sleeves, and the state of the game now is a huge improvement over what is used to be. Be warned though, that it's still not perfect, and there is a fair bit left to do for the Cryptic team.
Star Trek: Online is very different from your traditional MMO experience, and yet it feels familiar at the same time. Unlike EVE Online, to which it's getting many comparisons to, STO follows a very linear process. The 'Galaxy' is divided up into areas that each come with a level range, and your job is to make your way through each one as you level up. There are other things to do along the way, but that principle is the core of the game. This very linear progression is what 90% of all MMO's follow, and yet you are still free to tackle missions in any order you choose, provided you have them available. (Again, like other MMO's, missions unlock as you advance through levels.)
You get a bit of a buzz controlling a familiar ship like the Enterprise.
The bigger your team, the tougher your enemies, but being in a team always seems to make things easier.
Speaking missions, say hello to 'episodes'. These quest-equivalent activities are what help you level and progress through the game, and they come in two general categories: Patrols, and 'Story' missions. The Story missions are usually long, multi-part quests that allude to the over-arching main plot that permeates the game, and usually have a mix of both ground and space combat. Patrol missions are blocks of several missions, which will see you go to several different planets in order to help 'defend' your faction. These usually only involve one part, and it can range from breaking a blockade, to simply checking out the local fauna. The whole idea is to make it feel like you're part of the TV show... You can even make your own 'supplemental' logs.
As mentioned above, combat is split between space and ground environments. In space, you're simply in your ship, flying around and doing damage using a combination of weapons and special 'powers' that you gain through appointing bridge officers. These same bridge officers then accompany you to the surface as part of the 'away team', and together you tackle whatever challenges face you. At the moment, the ratio is about 70/30 in favour of space based missions and engagements. This may frustrate those who enjoy the idea of being part of an away team, but we suspect that for the vast majority, getting to fly around in their own ship will be enough.
Whilst maybe not as 'lush' as EVE, some of STO's environments look amazing.
Playing as a Klingon Bird of Prey can be oddly satisfying.
The ships themselves are very slick, and most of the more iconic ship-classes from the TV series have been recreated, as well as new ones to fit the age. Whether you want to Kirk-it up in an Original series Constitution-class, or Go exploring Janeway-style in an Intrepid-class, they're all there. There are 5 tiers, including the starter vessel that everyone gets, and each tier lasts for 10 levels. There are also 3 classes of ships that match the three career choices you can make - Tactical, Engineering and Science vessels. Each class of ship has different strengths and weaknesses, although interestingly enough, you don't have to pick a ship class that matches your character class - it will be interesting to see how these class combos affect combat.
What really makes this game more enjoyable, for me, is their more casual approach to grouping and teams. Instead of going through the whole arduous process of 'LFG' and making sure your team is balanced, provided your settings are correct, you simply form a group with whoever happens to be doing the same mission as you. Once that mission is complete, you can part ways again. For someone as socially awkward as me, this is a bit of a godsend, as I don't need to worry about making friends. Alliances of convenience, all the way.
Ground combat is a bit clunky, but still a good alternative.
Not everything is about combat. There are some no-combat missions too.
At the moment, there are only two factions in Star Trek: Online - the Klingons and the Federation. In all honesty, the Federation is the most developed out of the two at the moment, with Klingon players leaning towards action-orientated missions and PvP - they don't even have the same amount of space to travel through. This is not necessarily a bad thing however, as a similar concept was implemented quite successfully in LOTRO. The Federation is more story driven, and is geared towards making you feel like you're acting out an episode of the TV show, which isn't the point of the Klingon faction. More factions, such as the Romuluns, are also in the works, so it will be interesting to see how those are developed as well.
Being a Cryptic game, STO bears many resemblances to the studio's last game, Champions Online. As such, similar thinking has gone into this title, and if you had issues with those ideas last time, you probably still will. Star Trek: Online may be far from perfect, but it's made a good opening move, and the content yet to come is set to make things even better. PvP could do with a little work, as it seems more like an afterthought at the moment, and there are one or two other things that are little more than token gestures right now. Regardless though, this is as fine a homage to one of Sci-fi's great franchises are you can get in an MMO format.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Getting your first Tier 2 ship does feel good, and it handles like a dream.