Star Trek Online - First Impressions

Star Trek Online officially went live almost two weeks ago and it's time for our initial impressions of the game. Rather than jumping on the "publish review the day it's released" bandwagon like so many others, we feel very strongly that not only is that approach to MMOG reviews wrong, but detrimental to the game in question as well. If there was ever a game that proved things like performance could be drastically different between its head start program and official launch day, Star Trek Online is it. The constant down time that happened on a regular basis even just the day before was nowhere to be seen on February 2nd and players were grateful for it.

When you first start the game, you'll be able to create the character of your dreams or least the closest proximity to it. Cryptic Studios came out of the blue on April 27, 2004 and completely crushed all previous competition for the "Most Awesome Character Creator Ever!" award. Star Trek Online proves yet again that they have no intention of letting that title go, even for a moment. At this point, it's almost a given that the character creation process in any Cryptic game is going to be nothing short of astounding. STO is no different so rest assured that you'll have plenty of tweaks and modifications to fret about as you build your new Starfleet Ensign. Until you unlock your Klingon character slot, you will only be allowed to create a Federation character.

Upon entering the Star Trek Online tutorial, you'll be thrust into a battle of survival within minutes. Even though the action is high, be sure to pay attention to what the NPCs are telling you. The lessons learned here will serve you well later on. You can get by with ignoring most of them, but you'll pay for it in the long run. Survive your battle with the Borg here and you'll be given command of your own ship and set on a course of greatness.

Early on, you'll be introduced to the basic components of both ground and space combat. For an excellent overview of these game aspects, be sure to read our Space Combat Guide and Ground Combat Guide. Want to take your game even further? Check out the Advanced Combat Tactics article posted last week (be sure to add your own tips in the forums!) If you want to know what all the funny little buttons on your screen are for, you can also use our Space UI Guide and Ground UI Guide for reference material. For even more tips, be sure to read the Captain’s Blog each week.

By a large margin, I think the space game is still more engaging than that of the ground. At the end of closed beta, I posted an initial impressions piece and spoke about the lacking ground game. There have been definite improvements since then, and the ground-based missions are more involved and fun now, but there is still a lack of good enemy AI. Enemies have gotten better about using their special abilities, but inevitably, the big boss always seems to run at me, I root him or knock him down while my team chews his ass to pieces. I've kept things interesting by playing around with the placement of my away team, but there's still something lacking there.

The space game, however, is always just what the doctor ordered. I've been a space combat junkie for well over a decade now and there's no sign of me slowing down any time soon. I love the space game without reservation. During your first ten levels of the game, you'll only have access to your starter ship, but take that time to learn the basics of blowing things up in the sky. There are numerous tactics to get under your belt and the sooner you do so, the better off you (and your teammates) are going to be. You can get by without doing so, but you don't want to be one of those players later in the game. The type that gets shot down the moment they actually bother to engage an enemy. Train now, live later. Learn it, live it, love it!

Not everything with the missions (or the instances they take place in) is perfect though. While the majority of non-working issues with the auto-group feature have been resolved, it still doesn't improve your fellow party members any. You can still have someone bail after entering the system and screwing you since the game adjusts enemy strength based on the current players there. Even worse, there are a number of players that seem to think there's nothing wrong with flying around to do their own thing while you’re embroiled in the fight of your life with a Klingon squadron. On top of them not doing anything for you, they still get credit for completing the mission. Personally, I'd like to see something put in place so that if your ship doesn't do anything, you don't get anything. I doubt it will happen, but a man can dream, can't he?

The early missions of the game range from the "Rescue the crew of X Ship"-type to escorting an ambassador to Vulcan space. There's not a whole lot of variety to the quest objectives so, aside from the separation of ground and space combat, things can feel stagnant. As I mentioned last week though, don't let the simplicity of these early mission lure you into the trap of complacency. As you progress through levels, the game's objectives will begin to branch out, be comprised of more pieces, last longer, and become far more interesting.

Rather than flying into a system to just blast some Gorn out of space, you'll need to take out the Gorn battle groups, scan and repair satellites, beam to a planet's surface to rescue the research team, take out a ground combat boss, find yourself in the middle of a battle when you beam back to your ship, and chase a criminal across the sector after questioning patrons in a bar. This all took place somewhere around level six. These are the types of quests that get my blood going and keep me excited about a game. Add in the fact that I could easily picture each arc as a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode with ease and you've got something special, especially since you're playing the central character.

During the time it took to reach level ten, I became completely engrossed with the unfolding storyline. For the first time in years, my heart actually dropped to the floor when I discovered something horrible had been released and set free in the galaxy. Something that earlier in Star Trek's history had nearly wiped out an entire race. When's the last time you can remember caring that much about a quest storyline? I know I was completely caught off guard by the emotion and I can't wait to see if the team can pull that particular trick off a second time.

When you're not out saving the universe, it pays to do some exploration missions to fill the time. Not only will they help you level, but they'll also provide you with exploration badges. These badges can be turned in for some cool upgrades for both your equipment and that of your ship. Sometimes you'll discover a new planet, new species, or a combination of the two. Whether you're providing needed medical supplies, or saving a dying pre-warp capable race by repairing alien artifacts that have malfunctioned and are now poisoning the environment, there's always something to do.

If you tire of the PvE-focused content of the Federation side of things and you've unlocked your Klingon character slot, you can join the Empire in their quest for conquest. The path of the warrior is not an easy one, but if PvP action is what you're in the mood for, this is the place to get it.

Star Trek Online has all the components to make for a great MMOG and time will tell whether or not the consumers of the world continue to show the team their support. The graphics are solid, the sound is spot on, and the action is as "Star Treky" as anything else we've ever seen. Can STO finally be the game to end all the pain in suffering Star Trek fans have had to endure with virtually every other incarnation of this beloved IP? So far, I believe the answer to that question is a solid “yes”. The proof of this is the change of tune from some of the game’s most vocal early detractors. If that’s not a ringing endorsement for the game, what is?

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