Sep 232014
 

Games, the final frontier
These are the voyages of one gamer, Geoff
His continuing mission:
To explore new virtual worlds
To seek out new games, and new online civilizations
To boldly go where he has not been before

This week I’ve been exploring Perfect World’s MMO Star Trek Online, based on the ever-popular Star Trek fictional universe created by Gene Roddenberry.

It is a newer game, first released as a monthly subscription game in 2010, re-released in the F2p/freemium model in 2012. According to Wikipedia (and I have no idea how they know this) the game has 3.2 million players.

So that is interesting and all, but … how does it play?

First, we should note that there are no halflings in Star Trek Online.

None.

There are Ferengi and Tellarites. Both about half as tall as the other races, but not in the gracefully dexterous manner of the halfling, more in a strangely lumbering manner that does not at all appeal to me. Playing a Ferengi could be kind of funny, especially if one is role-playing. But I will not be role-playing, I will be soloing this and treating it mainly as a single-player game.

So no halfling. Instead, in this universe Mawry is a Vulcan (Maw’Ri) but still as commando-like as she can be.

Maw'Ri, of the USS Commando
Maw’Ri, of the USS Commando

There is a lot to this game. A LOT. Crafting. Time sinks. Many many planets. Much more than I am going to attempt to talk about in this one quick article.

Character Creation

There are only three “classes”, an Engineer, a Scientist, or a Commander. There may be additional or differing classes if you are Romulan or Klingon but I did not try. It doesn’t matter a lot, the game is skill-based and the majority of the skills are available to any class.

Later in the game, I encountered situations where only a Scientist could perform an action. It was not a required action; it did not affect the success of the mission. I’ve only encountered one of these so far. Frankly, I did not find any real reason why one class might be better than another. Maybe experts could point out some min/maxing reason to choose one over the other but I cannot see it; Maw’Ri chose Scientist because she like the blue tunics.*

* Since we are now living in a post-GamerGate world, I should point out that the female characters have adjustable bust sizes (from large to really ultra large) while there is no equivalent codpiece adjustor for men.

But wait, there’s more

Unlike other games, in this game you have a ship too. Yes, you are granted a ship almost immediately upon starting. This ship is basically an additional character. So much so that they also come in three “classes”: cruiser, escort, or science vessel. It is tempting to explain the three different ship classes as being tank, DPS, and support, and that simple viewpoint actually seems to hold up pretty well.

Like any other character, each class is better at some things than others. And needs to be equipped. And in this case, manned. Your crew brings specific advantages to your ship, and picking and choosing the most useful advantages makes a big difference pretty quickly into the game.

During the introductory quests (I mean “missions”. Missions! They are not “quests”. Except yes, they are), it doesn’t really matter how your ship character is built. But that changes in a hurry.

You get new ships every so often as you are promoted, so you can try out a new class or continue to refine your mastery over your existing ship class.

My reading indicated that Science vessels get extra debuffs and lockdowns and have way more buttons to press. That sounded more commando-like than the other two, and that is how Maw’Ri ended up in charge of the USS Commando, a Horizon-class Science Vessel.

Space Combat

The biggest and most important aspect of the game, at least insofar as I have found to-date, is space combat.

And wow, they did an awesome job with it. It reminds me of a game called Nexus: The Jupiter Incident. Which is a good thing, Nexus was the most beautiful and most elegant tactical space combat simulator I’d ever encountered. Even ten years later, the screenshots from it are astounding.

STO space combat has every bit of that. Completely active, you combat other ships by piloting your craft to present your most advantageous angles to the enemy while trying to stay on their least advantageous angle. Batter down the opponent shields with beam weapons and then shatter its hull with torpedoes and mines.

Nothing is automated, every move is due to your keystroke, every weapon firing event too. It is not easy. Some buttoneering skill required!

Another feature that STO shares with Nexus is the progression. You get better. You run into something so badass you have no hope of defeating it. You obtain a new weapon/tactic/ability. You use said weapon/tactic/ability to defeat said badass.

Which I guess is another way of saying that your ship levels up too. It really does feel like your ship is another character. Maw’Ri and her USS Commando, taking on all comers, together.

Ground Combat

You will also be asked to form an away team and do some ground exploration. There are two modes, RPG and FPS. I like the RPG mode, it even comes with a pause so you can issue micromanaging orders to each member of your away team: shades of Baldur’s Gate!

Some missions are mainly ground, some are mainly space, but most are mixed. The ground fights do not have the same elegant feel as the space combat. There is a lot of walking around, trying to walk your character up to some glowing thing in such a way that it activates. Very linear, you do not feel like there is any room for creativity or innovation. Just walk. Shoot. Walk some more. Shoot again. Select something from a dialog. Walk some more.

The combats get tougher, and I quickly grew to appreciate the ability to pause and micromanage.

But still, after the amazing space combat, the ground combat and the walking/jumping/running animations felt clumsy and old-school.

Death

In both types of combats, death has no sting. You respawn, fully healed and with all of your accompanying officers raised and healed too. Meanwhile the enemy usually remains damaged to whatever extent you managed before dying.

This may be a factor of playing on Normal. There are two harder modes, and when attempting them you can receive injuries that require special treatments (and so can your ship). Death may be more …. deathy? I don’t know.

Other Things

There is a lot to do, even when you are not on a mission. You have a small cloud of Bridge Officers to acquire and develop and post to positions on your ship and away team. You have a much larger pool of “Duty Officers” which can be sent on numerous small mini-missions in an attempt to earn you tiny amounts of currency (and even more Duty Officers). There is crafting. And crafting materials, which are found throughout the universe but have to be “scanned” and then “mined”.

There are giant places to run around and talk to everyone and everything. Earth Space Dock. Star Fleet Academy. Deep Space Nine. Etc.

There is an entire universe – hundreds of different systems – and it seems like entering any of them triggers a mission of some sort.

About the only MMO staple that I did not see represented in some fashion was housing. Maybe I missed it, but it doesn’t seem to have any. On the other hand, the one MMO staple that I generally do not care about is … Housing! So there’s that.

Downsides

  • Ground combat is something I endure rather than something I enjoy
  • There are so many options and so many things to do and no clear, concise manual or tutorial for many of them. For instance, after scouring the web and asking in the chat channel, I still don’t know how to get more Duty Officers. I did get some more, but I don’t know how or why, nor do I know how to do it again
  • Limited character creation choices, and no meaningful difference between the choices that do exist
  • It feels like a single-player game. I never needed nor wanted to play with anyone else

Upsides

  • A lot of people are playing this game. It feels alive and populated and full
  • Very faithful rendition of Star Trek. The most rabid Trekkie will be satisfied
  • Space combat is a thing of beauty

Overall

I like it. A lot. According to my Gamer Girl, I’ve been obsessed with it for the last several days. But it strikes me as very similar to the obsession I had with Star Wars The Old Republic: I had to play it until I capped a character. The single-player experience was amazing. But once I’d capped a character, that was pretty much it. I’d seen the story, I’d experienced the universe, I was done.

Too early to tell, but it surely does seem like SWTOR all over again.

  9 Responses to “Boldly Going Where No Halfling Has Gone Before: Star Trek Online”

Comments (9)
  1. Been wanting to try it for a long time. Just need to make room in my life for another game lol.

  2. There are only three classes for each faction. Engineer/tactical/science. As far as I can tell it’s like this:
    Tactical: shoot things. Main ships are the small escorts.
    Science: buff/debuff things & heal. Uses the science ships.
    Engineer: can make turrets(apparently) recharge party shields… Never really got into the class so that’s all I know. Uses the big galaxy class cruisers.

    By the way, I love the name of your ship. It’s funny 🙂

    • I still don’t think the class matters. My Scientist did just fine when her ship was a Cruiser. And also, her Duty Officers have learned how to make turrets. Would an Engineer have been better at those things? I dunno.

  3. Great game, but only took me a week to hit end-game [max level], then I got bored 😉

    I have a crew of Klingon “halflings” somewhere, and much like your Commandos they have a ginormous [carrier] ship =)

  4. If you “right-click” on the hotbars for ship weapons (they should ‘highlight’ green), they will “auto-fire” AFTER you press the smaller, “fire all weapons” button located above them. You do have to click “fire” on each, new tager, but after that, they should auto-fire as long as you’re in range (<10.0 km). So it's not like you have to remember to "fire phasers" every time they come off cool down. Of course, you CAN do that if you want to…

    You also have the option of creating a (generic) "Alien" race character – so you might be able to make a halfling that way. If I recall correctly, there are height adjustments, but I think the shortest human you can make is about 5'-6", but you can make a 4'-6" alien…

    There are subtle differences between the character classes. I'm an engineer because, well, I'm an engineer (I canna give ya' any power!). And while there are 'recommended' ship classes for the specific character class you create (like Mizz says), I've also heard of players taking 'off-class' ships and doing exceptionally well (I think I heard someone mention the best player he knew was a tactical officer using a science vessel – or was it the other way around?).

    My biggest 'issue' is the requirement to have a minimum of 5 players to start a fleet (guild). Of course, once you start the fleet, you can kick everyone else out and just be a fleet of one, so that mechanic seems really stupid to me (same mechanic is in NWO).

    You do have a captains quarters on your ship. Can't do anything in there, but it is there.
    😉

  5. Oh! You can buy duty officers from the Cat person on earth star fleet academy

    • You can also get more DOFFs (“Duty Officers”, as opposed to BOFFS – “Bridge Officers”) by completing, well, DOFF assignments. Some assignments give you DOFFS directly, but each category (Diplomatic, Engineering, Trade, Espionage, etc.) also has (4) different ‘levels’. Each time you complete enough assignments to ‘level’, you can get a free DOFF from a selection of DOFFs available from the “Cat person” at SFA (assuming you’re Federation – I have no idea about Klingons or Romulans…). Each of the DOFFs from Lt. Ferra (the “Cat person”) are “exclusive” (to use DDO parlance) – once you get a specific one, you cannot get him/her/it again (unless you get rid of the one you have). Even though you only get one “free” one at each level, you can buy (with dilithium) all the others in that same level, if you want (but I think you have to get your ‘free’ one, first, before you can buy any others).

      You can also buy them on the exchange.

      Some DOFF assignments can also give BOFFs. If you make it to the top level of the “diplomacy” category for DOFF assignments, Federation players can get an Orion BOFF. And really, who wouldn’t want an Orion female BOFF…

      (OOPS – using STO abbreviations makes that sound dirty…)
      😉

What do you think?

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