Star Trek Online: A Second Look

Since its launch, Star Trek Online has both pleased and angered Trek fans. After a year away, Ten Ton Hammer’s Jeffprime voyages back to where no man has gone before to give STO a second look.

star trek online

I’ve been a lifelong Star Trek fan, and I wear my Trekkie badge proudly. (I’m a Trekkie, not a Trekker--I roll old-school, baby!) I grew up watching the original series and have seen Spock’s brain stolen probably a thousand times. I’ve seen all the movies, watched the newer shows, and even trekked to see the Star Trek Experience last weekend at the Kennedy Space Center in the blistering thousand degree Florida heat. Therefore, I eagerly awaited the arrival of Star Trek Online, and when it was launched in February of 2010, I gladly bought my collector’s edition version of the game so I could wear an original series costume in-game.

To say that I was underwhelmed by STO would be an understatement. While there were aspects of the game that I liked (starship combat), the overall experience feel sparse, rushed, and incomplete to me. I didn’t feel that I was part of an MMOG, but rather I was playing a single-player game. I’ve been away from the game for a year now, but I’ve kept abreast of the additions to the game made by Cryptic and I thought it was time to take a second look at the game and see if it was worth coming back to.

Space Looks Like….Space!

My first impression was a positive one in that you can now finally turn off that ass-ugly astrometric grid for space travel. when I first played I always felt as though I wasn’t travelling through the majesty of space, but rather that I was just moving across a giant piece of graph paper. Now, with the ability to turn off the blue grid, the game feels more immersive to me as I travel from system to system. While this feature isn’t a huge gameplay mechanic, it directly impacts the visual appeal and immersion of the game especially since you spend most of your time in your starship.

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Space travel goes from butt-ugly...

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...to looking really good.


Starship Interiors

One thing that always grated on my nerves was your inability to walk around your own ship. You spend most of your time on board your ship, so you'd think that you would be able to enjoy the amenities found there. One of the key factors in any Star Trek series is the depiction of shipboard life. Crew members walking through the corridors on their way to important tasks, the medical dramas that enfold within sickbay, and, in the case of the original series, the engine room where any hostile forces will be sure to seize control of first. Your ship should be a living, breathing entity and this was not realized at STO’s launch. When I left the game originally, Cryptic had just added bridges so at least you could walk around your bridge and invite friends and guild mates.

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My ship finally feels alive to me.

Fortunately, Cryptic has added two levels for you to explore on your starship: the crew quarters and the engineering level. Now you can enter your ship’s lounge, check out the sickbay, go to the transporter room, and watch your warp core in the engineering room. Better yet is the constant stream of crew members walking around your ship doing various tasks. All of this really helps bring the starship to life. For an extra bonus, you can invite others to join you on your ship or you can walk around theirs and hobnob over Romulan ale.

More Places to Socialize

Talking about starship interiors reminds me that there was also a lack of places to socialize in STO when the game first came out. I always felt all alone in the cosmos as I warped from one sector to another. Now it seems that Cryptic has paid more attention to giving players areas to socialize as people, not starships. I particularly like the Starfleet Academy as a nice place to gather, as well as the starship interiors.

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Enjoying the gardens at Starfleet Academy.

Also helping out on the social front is the dabo mini-game, which gives players a reason to visit Deep Space Nine rather than just to gawk at the scenery. I would like to see more mini-games to come out in the future to encourage players to hook up and have some fun. Players want to feel that they're part of a larger universe filled with other players, and fostering social interaction helps to build a strong community.



Diplomatic Missions

Content is the most vital issue in any MMOG, and STO had a disturbing lack of content in the beginning. Cryptic has addressed this in a few ways, one of which is the diplomatic missions. The diplomatic missions are not my favorite cup of tea because there's no combat, but they do provide more missions for players. Even more importantly, they pull the player deeper into the lore of Star Trek, thus immersing them in the game world even more. Besides, any new content is welcome in my opinion even if my idea of diplomacy is a warm phaser!

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On Vulcan to do a diplomatic mission. This place is too hot for my Andorian blood!

Featured Episodes

Another welcome addition to game content is featured episodes. These episodes are story arcs comprised of several different missions, all revolving around a central theme. To date, there have been three arcs (the Breen, the Devidians, and Cloaked Intentions). Personally, I love a campaign where you play a number of missions that follow a specific storyline. You become personally involved and engaged with the ongoing story, and you gain a sense of accomplishment when you resolve the story arc. Of course, the special loot isn’t bad either!

I enjoyed the three story arcs that Cryptic has put out so far, and I hope that they do more in the future. The reason why most Trekkies became so is because of the stories told in Star Trek. Everyone has a number of favorite episodes that they can instantly reel off the details of at a moment’s notice. Strong storytelling is a mainstay of Star Trek and the featured episodes do well to follow that mold.

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Fighting the Breen in a featured episode. Eat some phaser, scumbags!

Foundry Missions

Keeping up the drumbeat of content, content, and more content, we now look at the Foundry system in STO. The Foundry allows players to create and publish their own adventures which other players review, and then everybody can play the user-created missions. This system really breathes new life into the game because most Trek fans are incredibly imaginative and can come up with some fascinating adventures. Plus, it adds tons of new content to the game, which makes everybody happy. Like the Mission Architect system in City of Heroes, the Foundry can exponentially explode the number of missions available to players. I’ve played through about a half dozen of Foundry missions and have pleasantly impressed by them. As I always say, more content equals gamer happiness.

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Which Foundry mission should I do next?

Conclusion

Overall, I was very pleased by my return to Star Trek Online. Cryptic has been very busy in the last year expanding the game. I don’t feel like I’m playing a single player game anymore, but feel instead that I’m finally playing an MMOG. The increased content, ship interiors, non-graph paper space, and other additions have really made STO a better game. This isn’t to say that there are not things that need to be done. On the contrary, there is still quite a bit to do. Klingon players need more official content, there must be more emphasis on socializing, and Cryptic definitely needs to add the Romulans as a faction. (The Romulans are the coolest alien race in Star Trek. Just watch Balance of Terror or The Enterprise Incident and see if I’m wrong!) Still, I plan on sticking around STO for the time being.

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