Now
that Cryptic Studios has the first major MMOG launch of 2009 tucked
neatly under its belt with the release of href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/co" target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">Champions Online,
the developer has been ramping up the presence of href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/117"
target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">Star Trek Online
in a big way. Ever since Cryptic first revealed that it would be
picking up the development reigns on the online incarnation of the Trek
universe, it’s been one of the major MMOG’s looming
over the launch horizon that sci-fi fans have been itching to get some
hands-on time with. Needless to say, when I discovered that STO would
be playable at this year’s PAX I couldn’t help but
jump at the opportunity like a starship captain into a giant pile of
tribbles.



Oh yes, there were definitely tribbles to be found and it was only
natural that I led my away team right into the center of the bunch
where I proceeded to gleefully scamper around with a big old smile on
my rebellious Starfleet captain’s face each time
I’d see the little buggers multiply. A passing fan noticed my
discovery and heartily exclaimed, “Whoa, are those
tribbles?” Executive producer Craig Zinkievich was all too
happy to affirm that I had indeed hopped into a small (but rapidly
expanding) pile of the things, adding in “Don’t
pick one up!” But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself
here…



One of the very first things that stood out for me when playing STO is
that, if I didn’t know better, I might not have ever realized
that the game was being built using the same in-house tools as
Champions. It’s no secret that I’ve been spending a
good deal of time scampering, tunneling and swinging my way around
Millennium City and beyond over the past few months, so I’ve
gotten a pretty good feel for how fluid the movement and combat can be
on the engine. What’s interesting then, is seeing how tightly
controlled movement and combat feel in STO both in space as well as on
the ground with your away team. That’s not to say that the
pace of combat is slow by any means, but more so that the more tactical
approach to combat that’s synonymous with the IP is readily
present, which also speaks volumes about what Cryptic is capable of as
a developer;  in other words it certainly isn’t just
a one-trick, spandex-clad pony of a studio.



STO’s space combat was easily the most talked about gameplay
element over the two days I spent on the show floor at PAX. Nearly
everyone I spoke to had either played it and had something positive to
say about Cryptic’s approach to space combat, or were trying
to find time to sneak away from their own booth to get some hands-on
time with it. Considering the caliber of the developers and titles on
display at the show, the fact that STO’s ship combat was
generating such a high buzz factor really speaks volumes about the
potential of the game, at least if initial impressions based on a
single looped demo mission are any indication.



The playable demo of STO allowed players to experience both ship to
ship and ground combat, and while I obviously got a bit overzealous
leading my away team to the extreme edges of the playable areas of the
mission map, I did also get to take out a few Birds of Prey in my
Starfleet ship. I ultimately spent more time with the away team than I
did with ship to ship combat, but what I did get to experience of it
reminded me of equal parts standard MMOG controls, with tactical
elements from titles such as EVE and even some elements drawn from RTS
titles thrown into the mix, though at the same time the overall system
strikes me as being wholly unique to STO rather than simply being a
more polished version of something you’re already familiar
with.



With all of that going on you might be surprised to hear that space
combat isn’t too terribly complex of a system to get the hang
of fairly quickly. Or put another way, Cryptic cut out all of the
monotonous micro-management and kept the fun parts. These certainly
aren’t faced paced dogfights, although that’s not
to say there isn’t plenty of awesome Trek-style action going
on in space.




Rather than having a single, massive hotbar stuffed full of skills, the
available options in combat were neatly fit into a number of separate
UI elements that when taken as a whole, give players a more interesting
set of options on how they want to approach combat. For example, I
could manually manage how much energy went to my shields on a given
side by tapping the corresponding arrow key on my keyboard, while at
the same time wearing down my opponents shields with a series of quick
shots that would then allow me to unleash some more damaging torpedo
attacks. Meanwhile, each of my bridge officers also had certain
abilities that could contribute to combat in a specific way, such as
being able to fire off a volley of attacks or boosting the overall
maneuverability of my ship for short bursts which would allow me to get
into a more tactical position. Some standardized energy layouts were
also just a click away, so for example while approaching my targets I
could shift power over to my engines, but then once I closed into
firing range it was another quick click to divert power over to my
shields.



After blowing the pixilated snot out of a few groups of Klingon
vessels, the combat shifted scenes giving me my first taste of
‘away team’ combat. Some basic principles carry
over from ship to ship combat so that it’s not an entirely
jarring experience to transition between the two. For example there are
certain tactical elements such as finding adequate cover or even the
more simplified central hotbar that’s enhanced by a number of
other gameplay elements that you can tweak at any given time such as
the abilities brought along by the bridge officers brought along to
round out your away team of 5. In the live game those other team
positions can naturally be filled by other captains, or
you’ll also be able to have a few human teammates with a
couple of bridge officers along for the trip.



The specific bridge officers you bring with you can also have a direct
impact on how you’ll ultimately want to approach the mission
content you come across. For example a team that’s heavy on
science and medical officers will no doubt tackle situations much
differently than members of your crew with a stronger combat focus. As
we’d learned previously, each of these officers will truly
act as “living loot” – in other words
they can be trained up alongside of your character as you advance, and
will typically be found while out exploring alien worlds. At any point
they’ll also be tradable to other players, which Craig
Zinkievich went on to explain has the potential to turn into an
interesting business all on its own. For example, you could build a
reputation for training up some the best science officers around which
you could then sell to other players who may have a different approach
to training up their crew.  



While the graphics will no doubt be tweaked a fair amount in the coming
months, one of the things that immediately struck me as my away team
beamed down to the surface of a nearby planet, was that it felt like I
was stepping onto a soundstage or film set. Whether or not this was
intentional, it surely enhanced the notion that I was the star of my
very own mini-episode a Star Trek show.



I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how STO progresses
over the coming months, but overall I can say with certainty that the
wait so far has been well worth it.


To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Star Trek Online Game Page.

Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Sardu 1
Reuben "Sardu" Waters has been writing professionally about the MMOG industry for eight years, and is the current Editor-in-Chief and Director of Development for Ten Ton Hammer.

Comments