Star Trek Online – Ten Ton Hammer’s Hands-On Beta Impressions

The closed beta for Star Trek Online came to a close this week, but rather than a time of sadness, it marks a new testing phase for the game.

The
closed beta for Star Trek Online came to a close this week, but
rather than a time of sadness, it marks a new testing phase for the
game. Open beta begins on January 12th and fans around the world can't
wait. Over the course of the last four decades, there have been
numerous Star Trek television series that have arguably been awesome.
There has also been a number of good, if not great, movies as well.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said when discussing video games based
on the iconic Star Trek IP. While there have been some that were far
better than their predecessors (Bridge Commander), none have managed to
truly capture that Star Trek feeling... until now.


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Before I explain why I think Star Trek Online might finally live up to
my Star Trek expectations, keep in mind that at the time of this
writing, it was still in closed beta.



The first thing any player, reviewer, or Star Trek fanatic has to admit
is that once again, Cryptic has proven why they are the undisputed href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/78659">character
creation masters. Starting with
City of Heroes, and then further expanded upon with 2009’s
Champions Online, the team has continued their relentless pursuit of
allowing players to create the character of their dreams with Star Trek
Online. The uniform choices may not be quite as extravagant as in the
previous titles I mentioned, but character heads, bodies, and faces get
the full Cryptic treatment we've come to love and expect.



The first time I had an hour to play the game I managed to make a
character and talk to the first NPC in the game's tutorial. As seems to
be a repeating pattern when creating a character in one of Cryptic's
games, I lost track of time as I tweaked and altered my character until
it was just right. The true beauty of the character creation system is
that you can make a character in under a minute or take over an hour.
The team has recognized how important a feature like this is for so
many gamers while not punishing those that couldn't care less about how
their character looks. Once again, Cryptic fails to disappoint in this
category.



After deciding which officer track to follow (Tactical, Engineering,
Science), choosing a race (such as Vulcan, Andorian, Ferengi, or
other), and fiddling with my uniform far longer than any
self-respecting male should, I was ready to hop into a nice relaxing
tutorial. That lasted for all of about two minutes as I wandered
through what looked like Ten Forward on the Enterprise-D before being
thrown into the heart of a crisis. You may be nothing but a newb
Ensign, the starting rank in the game, but you're going to test your
mettle against the Borg, so buck up soldier and get to it.


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Throughout the href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/78422">battle
with the Borg, you'll fight in
the hallways of the ship, transport wounded personnel to a science
vessel, take on Borg spheres, infiltrate a Borg ground camp, disable a
shield generator, and take on a Borg cube with the help of some other
Federation ships. Gone are the days of boring tutorials and I say good
riddance. I honestly can't remember the last time I not only paid
attention to what was going on in a tutorial, but also actually cared.
Fascinating.



During the tutorial and your beginning missions, you'll quickly realize
that the space and ground combat scenarios are almost completely
different games, even though they both take place in the same universe.
If my own experiences and the chatter of those in the beta test are any
indication, each player will have their own preference. I've been a
space combat junkie since I played Wing Commander back in the early
90's so naturally, the space portion of Star Trek Online has been my
favorite so far.



Fighting against one ship by yourself is pretty fun. Fighting against
multiple ships by yourself is even cooler. Taking on a small squadron
of enemy ships with another player or two is awesome. None of that
compares to the space battle you'll enjoy during an early mission where
you need to protect a Starbase though. Imagine fighting along side
approximately 15 other players and taking on what seems to be a full
Klingon fleet. You're tasked with destroying 50 enemy ships and 20
Battlecruisers. The fight that ensues is nothing short of pure epic
awesomeness! And by the way, this happened when I was level 4. That's
right, I said 4. Not 40, not 50, not at the end-game. This took place
after approximately three hours of game play. These are the things that
will set Star Trek Online apart from the slew of MMOGs currently on the
market.


The ground game can be just as intense.
At this point, I can't say whether the ground system needs some
tweaking, or if I just suck at it. If I were being honest, I'd have to
say the latter. You have no idea how many First Person Shooter games
I’ve played where I can barely get past the third mission
before being completely road blocked from any further progression.
Yeah, I'm that bad. Although you’re not actually aiming at
your targets as you would in an FPS, my lack of skills seems to have
carried over.


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Fortunately for me (and possibly for you), the AI of your ground team
is pretty damned good. The away team will function in similar ways to
the heroes you can opt to adventure with in Guild Wars, only taken to
the next level in nearly every regard. They keep themselves (and you)
healed up nicely. They take cover. They use their abilities to force
the enemies into bad positions so you all can take advantage of the
flanking bonus damage. All in all, your bridge officers and security
teams are rock solid. Be sure to keep them equipped with anything that
you can't use as an upgrade yourself. Not only will it help keep them
alive, but that in turn will help keep *you* alive.



While there are random battles you can get yourself into, the majority
of the game ( href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/78807">and
your progress in it) takes place
through missions, or episodes. Episodes are just what they sound like -
a string of missions put together that could make up a television show.
They generally have all the elements we know and love from the shows:
space combat, ground combat, diplomacy, and exploration. They do a
great job with keeping you interested and swapping between various
aspects of the game. All in all, they've been a lot of fun so far.
There are times when they feel too long, but the development team has
stated they'll continue to adjust this as necessary throughout the beta.



Once you know what you're doing in the game, it doesn't take long to
unlock the Klingon side of the game at all. I know some people are
upset about the announcement that href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/78574">Klingons
will be primarily PvP, but
players still owe it to themselves to check them out once unlocked. The
Klingons are a brutal and honorable people. Your "tutorial" for them is
the same way. I'll save myself further embarrassment and not tell you
exactly how many times I died during the tutorial. Yes, Spiffy, I said
tutorial. Don't judge me!


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The game certainly has its good points along with some others that
still need some work. I think the space combat is absolutely spot on
and can't wait to see more of it as time goes on, especially once I
begin to href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/79046">acquire
other ships.
The ground game (and my skills with it)
needs some
improvement though. Ground combat doesn’t feel as responsive
as that in space. Reactions feel delayed and I don’t just
mean mine. The enemy ground troops are not as viciously efficient as
their space counterparts. Rather than seeing this as a sign of mercy
from the gaming gods for those of us who suck, I actually think
it’s something the team is working on.



One of the most unique things I’ve discovered about the game
so far, but is *so* totally Star Trek is the Captain's Log. At any
time, you can open your journal and make an entry. It will populate it
with both our date and time, and the correct star date as well. You can
add, edit, or delete these as you see fit. Sure, some players won't
care, but by adding something that's so integral to the Star Trek
experience, it shows that Cryptic "gets it" and is trying to make a
game that all fans can enjoy. The role-players out there should go nuts
over this feature. And given Cryptic’s social networking
integration in Champions Online, there are a lot of potential ways that
the Captain’s Log could be utilized in a similar manner.
Imagine the tales that could be told by players while the details of
the adventure was fresh in their mind? The possibilities are not only
nearly endless, but also incredibly cool.



There's plenty of work to be done on the game and the development team
has certainly been busy. Patches have been frequent during beta and
things have been adjusted and altered on a regular basis based on
player feedback. Is the game perfect? No. Is the game fun? Absolutely.
The best thing I can say about Star Trek Online is that href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/78813">it
*feels* like Star Trek. I feel
genuine excitement when I'm on a mission and the combat is truly
intense. The game may not be perfect (yet?), but it is hands down the
best Star Trek title we've seen to date and that's something we can all
be thankful for.





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

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