Friday, October 3, 2014

Game Review: Star Trek Online


By Bixyl Shuftan

Even if you know next to nothing about science-fiction, chances are you've heard about "Star Trek." Taking place in a future time, humans of a long since united Earth along with alien comrades "explore strange new worlds and new civilizations." Since the original show aired in the 1960s, there have been numerous additional telivision series and movies, in addition to books and comics, as it's popularity has grown. And of course there have been games. And more recently, a Multiplayer Online Game based on Star Trek has appeared: Star Trek Online.

Development of Star Trek Online started with the company Perpetual Entertainment in about 2004. But in 2008 they went bankrupt and sold the rights to Cryptic Studios, the makers of the MMO "City of Heroes," which then took over working on the game. Some friends of mine heard about the game sometime around this period of development, saying an alpha version was supposedly playtested at a sci-fi convention. But the game had a lot of problems, notably players had to team up for missions, and when someone had to leave, that left his/her friends unable to finish what they were doing. Even the Trekkers didn't like the game, I was told.

What to do about this problem? Cryptic's designers soon had a solution: make all the players ship captains. Beginning players do a series of missions on foot, eventually ending up in charge of a small ship. Once in charge of a vessel, the player controls its movement, weaponry, and other actions in the game's starship setting. This dual game play of both playing as a character and to "play as a starship" distinguishes Star Trek Online from other MMOs. As players progress in levels, and rank, they work their way up to larger ships.

The setting of the game is that about three decades have passed since the time in which the last of the "Next Generation" movies ("Nemesis") took place. Relations between the Federation and Klingon Empire have deteriorated and the two are once again at war. Meanwhile, a supernova has destroyed Romulus, the homeworld of the Romulans and the capital of their empire. The result are the Romulans spliting into two factions, the Romulan Empire under the old Imperial government, and the Romulan Republic, which favors peace with the Federation and Klingons and doing away with their culture of secrecy from other interstellar societies.

It used to be all players had to start with Federation characters, Klingons available only after players had progressed a number of levels. Now from the start you can play as either, a Romulan, or have a character from each. Players can play up to three characters without paying extra. Federation characters can be human, Vulcan, Andorian, or a number of well-known and not so well known races from within its borders, as well as Ferengi whom presumably some have left their home to become Federation citizens. Klingon characters can play Klingons of course, and a few races under the Empire's dominion, including the reptilian Gorn and the Orions. Romulan background characters are limited to just Romulans. For a real currency purchase, Federation players can have a Caitian (feline), Trill (joined), or Klingon character. Klingon players have the option of a Ferasan (a feline race that possibly might be the Kzinti from the Animated Series under another name) or Trill, and Romulans a Reman (a subject race of the Romulan Empire). All factions are open to having a liberated Borg character (think Seven of Nine) with a real currency purchase as well. You can have either a tactical (fighting and strategy skills), engineering, or science background. Each has it's own perks in the game.

Begining Federation players start out as graduates from the Academy at the top of their class, assigned to be on the fast track to command and made second in command on a ship of cadets under an experienced captain for a training cruise. But disaster strikes, and the Captain is taken by hostiles. Should the player pull through, his character ends up promoted and given official command.

Klingon players start out as a promising warrior who's risen up to the third in command on a Bird of Prey transporting a captured Federation spy. But the ship is attacked on the way, and events result in the player taking command and resuming the mission to take the spy to the Klingon homeworld for questioning. But this isn't the last you hear about the spy, and trying to track him down results in a long quest chain that leads to the character meeting two of the characters from "The Next Generation."

Romulan players start out as residents of a colony world made up of refugees from the chaos that followed the destruction of their homeworld twenty years earlier. Since then, they've gotten along without help from the Imperial government, and are content with doing without them. But just as they're throwing a party to celebrate, they come under attack by some strange aliens aided by the Imperial government's secret force, the Tal-shiar. The player has to fight them, and with the help of an old Romular Warbird parked in orbit gets some of the poplace to escape. The player and his crew end up meeting with D'Tan, the leader of the Romulan Republic whom enlists them to join his cause. Subequent missions involve the player helping to find a world for the Republic to establish itself and getting recognition and aid from the Federation and Klingons, whom at first think they might be some kind of trick by the Imperials. Success however comes at a price. Then Romulan players need to make a choice, will they have the Federation or the Klingons as an ally? Choosing one means access to their ships and some missions.

In carrying out their missions, players will have to do them out both on foot as either alone or the leader of an away team (character or ground mode), or out in space using the ship from the bridge (space mode). For instance, a mission may require the player to destroy a force of attacking ships in ship mode by manuvering the ship and using it's beam and torpedos to destroy (or cripple) them, steering the ship to keep one's strongest shields between they and the enemy. Then the player has to go in character mode to beam over an away team to a nearby planet or space station to deal with attackers whom have beamed down, as well as fix any damage done by them. Enemies destroyed, both in space mode and character mode, leave behind pickups, such as weapons, batteries, and parts. Ships and players, as well as members of the players bridge crew, need to be outfitted with weapons and shields/armor in addition to other fixtures to be more effective in battle. Players and Bridge Crews/away team members also have skills that are useful in fights and can be raised with experience points. Promitions lead to the acquiring of more skills, and able to use better weapons and shields/armor. From certain missions, players earn Dilithium ore, which when refined can be used to purchase special gear and ships.

Besides the missions, players can also get in line for PvP battles, in addition to PvE Fleet Actions in which up to 20 players can take part for a common goal such as beating an invasion fleet. There's also one feature unavailable on most other MORPGs, missions designed by other players. From The Foundry, players can access and play out missions made by others, a unique feature to the game, and can rate them once finished.

As one advances in level, players also advance in rank. At Level 3, players rise to Lieutenant. At Level 10, Federation and Klingon characters rise to Lieutenant Commander, Romulans to Centurion. At Level 20, Federation and Klingons rise to Commander, Romulans to Subcommander. At Level 30, Federation and Klingons achieve the rank of Captain, with Romulans becoming Commander rank. At Level 40, Federation players are promoted to Rear Admiral, Klingons Brigadier Generals, and Romulans Subadmirals. Players get more promotions every five ranks up to Level 60 for Fleet Admirals for Federation and Romulan players, Dahar Master for Klingons. With the rise in ranks comes accessibility to higher tiers of starship, where one can get larger and more powerful vessels, up to Tier Five for the admiral ranks. There's a variety of ships available, such as Federation Lieutenants being offered a choice between an escort vessel with an emphasis on combat, a science vessel that does well with researching and versitile in supporting other vessels, or an all-purpose light cruiser designed to perform multiple roles fairly well. Your character and your bridge crew have skills than can help out in space combat.

There's a kind of crafting system which one can research and develop then build items, presumably one that gets a boost if you're in a science ship. There's also a Duty Officer Assignment screen in which officers of your crew other than the bridge crew can be used to perform various assignments that can take from half an hour to over a day. Completing them can earn experience points and other rewards. Catastrophic failures can lead to the officer developing negative personality traits, or even it's removal.

There are guilds players can join, each with guild banks. Like many other MMOs, there's an exchange where players can buy and sell goods to and from other players. There's also Tribble Breeding, which can be a fun little distraction.

Star Trek Online is Free to Play, but some options are open only if you want to spend a little money, such as wanting to play as a Caitain character. These microtransactions require the use of ZEN credits from the company behind the game, Cryptic Studios. Besides ships and gear, one can use them to buy outfits for one's character, redesign the bridge, get pets, and more.

While there are some things that some players may have a problem with, as some commented the ground and ship modes made it feel like two different games. Or players may feel that some races aren't shown right, such as the Caitians in the game having plantigrade rather than digigrade feet. But all and all, I can only consider this a great game and something Trek fans with PCs (sorry, no Apple OS version) should consider playing. So far I've gotten three characters, one from each faction, to over level 25, and have had plenty of fun doing so. Some "Delta Rising" missions involved characters from the "Voyager" crew, such as Lt. Commander (now Rear Admiral) Tuvac. Some missions involved a bit of time travel, interacting with characters from the Original Series.

Oh, under one faction's quest before you get to Level 25, you will witness one character from one of the TV series meeting his end (No, it's not Wesley Crusher).

So "Live Long and Prosper" and enjoy this (almost) free MMO.

Bixy Shuftan

1 comment:

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