Star Trek Online Exclusive Hands-On - Starflight and Away Team Gameplay

We get our hands on both the space and ground gameplay of this online game based on the classic TV and motion picture series. Here's our exclusive report.

Space: the final frontier. Seeking out new life and new civilizations. Boldly beaming down to the face of an alien planet while not being the one wearing a red shirt. These are the voyages you'll undertake in Star Trek Online, the Star Trek-themed massively multiplayer online game from Champions Online developer Cryptic Studios and publisher Atari. If you've been following the game, you'll know that it takes place decades after the events in the Star Trek: Nemesis motion picture, so sadly, most of your favorite characters probably won't be returning. On the bright side, the peace treaty between the Federation and the Klingons is breaking down, which means there will be intergalactic war and the chance to zap your enemies into oblivion--both in space and on foot in away team gameplay. We gave both these play modes a shot and have much to report. Note: Please be advised that this story may contain minor spoilers.

You can assemble an away team of the best and brightest human and alien officers in the galaxy.

Much of the demonstration we played through seemed similar to the content we recently saw at the GamesCom event in Cologne, though this time around, we were actually at the helm and able to play for ourselves. The space mission we played was the same one: an escort mission for a Vulcan ambassador to a Vulcan monastery homeworld. It actually takes place very early in the game right after the tutorial area, and as a result, we were equipped with the starting cruiser-class ship. The game will have three basic classes of ship (escort, cruiser, and science), and while each vessel class will have numerous interchangeable parts that can be swapped in or out to create a distinctive-looking ship, you'll generally be able to tell, at a glance, which class of ship you've got.

We joined a party with several members of the Cryptic team to head out on the mission. The space-faring interface, while perhaps not complete yet, has been tweaked since the last time we saw it, though it seems to have a lot of the same functionality we've previously covered. Both on-the-ground and space combat are "fully RPG-based," in the words of lead producer Craig Zinkievich. That is, while combat takes place in real time, it's not based on reflexes or arcade-style aiming, but rather, on traditional massively multiplayer role-playing-game-style mechanics of targeting enemies and triggering attack skills. These attacks will hit, miss, and deal damage based on your character's level and the level of your character's equipment (in this case, your hand-phasers and your starship).

Space exploration and combat will use controls similar to what you've seen in other massively multiplayer games. You can use the W, A, S, D keys to turn your ship from side to side or pitch its nose up or down; you use the Q and E keys to add to or reduce your throttle speed. (Be advised that the early version of the game we played and its interface are subject to change.) The throttle interface also has two additional buttons that can be clicked: a "reverse" button to throw your ship in reverse and a "full impulse" command that kicks your ship into its highest speed setting at the cost of reduced energy to your ship's other systems (namely your shields and weapons).

Your crew will be staunch companions both on foot and in space.

Shields are currently set on four points of your ship: fore, aft, port, and starboard (or front, back, right, and left, if you prefer). They are modeled as colored transparencies that hover on all sides of your ship, starting off light blue but eventually turning yellow, then red, and then disappearing entirely once they take enough damage (or, at least until you can reroute enough power to them). The current ship interface has a "paper-doll"-like model of your ship with its four shields at the bottom of the screen, and if you notice one or more of your ship's shields flagging, you can click on that shield to reroute your ship's power to replenish the shield.

You can actually choose to route your powers to engines, shields, or weapons with a series of sliders (that also have preset levels optimized for defense, attacking maneuvers, and so on), and the weapons mounted in the weapon bays of your ship are currently hotkeyed to the number keys. These are generally photon torpedo bays, which have a specific cooldown time associated with them. The larger your ship, the more slots you can have available to install torpedoes or extra banks of phasers--the signature laserlike energy weapons of Star Trek that can also currently be activated by pressing the space bar. Torpedos are powerful but best used against the bare hulls of enemy ships whose shields you've been able to chew away to nothing.

In addition to these abilities, you'll have other abilities unique to your character, which you can unlock either through your character's advancement as a military officer in one of three character classes (a combat-oriented tactical officer; a tech-and-gadgets-focused engineering officer; or a medical-and-research-oriented science officer) or by way of your team of bridge officers who can also be similarly specialized. Your character's abilities include such things as evasive maneuvers, which temporarily enhance your ship's turning speed, and "brace for impact," which is a last line of defense against bursts of heavy damage caused by explosions of spacecraft. Your crew, on the other hand, can provide such handy science officer abilities as a tractor beam to drag enemy ships into range or tachyon beams to drop enemy shields. There are also engineering abilities, such as spot repairs of your hull, emergency power to shields, or even the tactical officer's photon torpedo salvo, which lets you launch three rounds simultaneously rather than just the one--devastating to an enemy ship with no shields.

You are fighting for the peace and preservation of pastoral worlds like these. Unless you play as a Klingon.

Our mission escorting the Vulcan ambassador went more or less as described in our GamesCom coverage, but it escalated when Klingons intercepted our convoy and demanded the surrender of the ambassador by claiming he was an evil shape-shifter. Yeah, right. And miss the chance to take this cruiser-class ship into battle? Soon, we were engaged in ship-to-ship combat with the Klingons, following the lead of the Cryptic developers to focus in on either the enemy ships that were the most dangerous targets or the easiest prey. Cruiser-class ships aren't the fastest in the game, so we found that jousting didn't really work as well as simply keeping our noses pointed at a specific shield area on an enemy ship and unloading phaser fire until the enemy ship's shields dropped and we could launch a torpedo salvo. We had a few cases of near-disaster as we got too close to an enemy flagship just as it was exploding. But fortunately, we managed to stay clear of the major blasts and from the damaging, bright-blue "warp plasma" that will sometimes hover in the wake of an exploding ship.

We completed this particular mission and skipped ahead to a different one; a distress call in a different star system, which we jumped to by warping our ship out to the zoomed-out star map view that essentially acts as an "overworld" in the game. The star map view lets you quickly transit from one system to the next and will even have you encountering enemies that appear in certain sectors from time to time. If you care to, you can pursue them by flying into their vicinity, which will drop you back into a close-quarters ship battle. We avoided hostile encounters and headed toward the space station, which, unfortunately, was being attacked by enemy ships we dispatched. Once we eliminated the enemies, we then set about the task of repairing the floating components of the station's power grid by flying near the components and pressing the "F" key to interact (just like in Champions Online). But once we finished this task, we were hailed by the commanding officer of the station and asked to beam down to help.

Blasting enemy ships is one part of the job. You may also have to beam down to finish the job.

We beamed down with our group of four other Cryptic developers as an away team, which generally consists of five characters (your character, any other human teammates who may be joining you, and your computer-controlled bridge officers filling in any empty slots). Bridge officers, again, provide useful abilities when used to staff up your ship's bridge, but they really come into their own when you bring them planetside. Zinkievich suggests that bridge officers will be "like massively multiplayer pets, but to the next level" because these characters can be fully customized for their appearances, skills, and weapon loadouts, as well as gain experience levels over time.

The idea is that as you advance through the military ranks, you'll eventually amass an active roster of bridge officers that's too big to crew your current ship and will be able to scroll through dozens of different, interesting characters with varying abilities. You'll then be able to choose the handful or so that make the most sense for the mission you're currently on and eventually come to favor a regular shift of officers that best fits your playing style. Fortunately, despite the fact that your bridge officers can become incapacitated in ground missions, they can never be permanently killed.

As we've mentioned previously, each character on foot carries two weapon loadouts (though one of these loadouts can simply be barehanded melee, like our character). On foot, you can carry two-handed phaser rifles or the classic one-handed Star Trek hand phaser, which, yes, can be set for stun. All on-foot weapons have three primary attack modes: a standard attack mode, a secondary mode (such as a sniper shot on a phaser rifle), and a melee attack, which, depending on the skill and strength of your characters relative to their enemies, may send your foes sprawling. In addition, all members of an away team have personal energy shields that will absorb incoming damage first. All characters will actually have two different status meters: a shield meter and a health meter. Like in the Halo games, if your shields take damage and you can duck away from combat briefly, your shields will regenerate back to full power.

Away team reporting for duty, captain.

We hacked our way through the damaged space station to repair damaged gas vents and ambush (and get ambushed by) small Klingon war parties roving the halls. Fortunately, in addition to our weapon loadouts, we had other miscellaneous abilities that can be derived from a "kit." These kits include various sets of peripheral gadgets that each of the three character classes can choose to bring with them. Our kit had a set of proximity mines that would blow up any foes foolish enough to come charging at us, though other kits include an engineering officer's shield generator (which generates enhanced protection for any friendlies nearby but may be destroyed by enemies and explode, damaging everyone in the blast radius).

The pace of the battles seemed reminiscent of City of Heroes and Champions Online. Rather than just standing still and repeatedly firing weapons from a distance, both we and our enemies did a good deal of dodging and weaving, looking to sneak in the odd melee attack whenever we got into range. On foot, enemies can also be briefly made vulnerable by focused fire or certain abilities, which puts a glowing icon over their heads. In this state, they're particularly susceptible to the effects of your weapon's secondary firing mode.

We finally cleared this mission only to head out on a new mission to investigate a missing set of medical supplies for a Vulcan colony. We later found that the shipments had been hijacked by the Gorn, which are a hostile race of lizardlike humanoids (William Shatner's Captain Kirk character wrestled one in the classic episode, Arena). After tearing up their space patrol with the help of the Cryptic team's superior gameplay skills, we beamed down to the planet to be immediately attacked by Gorn warriors and their pets. These pets were doglike reptiles called "attack saurs" that tended to go right for our engineering officer's deployed shield generators. After hacking our way through the assembled forces of the Gorn (and their surprising allies...the Klingons), we made our way to the end of the mission to find a package of supplies secured by Vulcan scouts.

You may be able to explore the final frontier sooner than you think. Beta's coming.

It's been a long time coming, but Star Trek Online is truly starting to take shape as a game. After finally seeing and playing the on-foot component of the game for ourselves, we can say that the game looks and feels far more like a complete game experience; one in which you'll regularly switch between space exploration and combat and away team missions. We're also told that the game's beta will be opening soon. Hopefully, the game itself won't launch too much later.

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92 comments
jdskinny
jdskinny

Well EVE Online is $14.95 a month plus a $5.00 registration fee. In that game you can't beam down to planets. $15 a month is a little high for me considering the level of boredom that comes with playing one game for too long. I only gave Mass Effect a twice-over and WoW was never really my cup of tea. I did enjoy EVE, though... And the Star Trek name itself carries a lot of weight (meaning a big community.)

cloud_kai
cloud_kai

so which one will you guys play: Star Wars:The Old Republic or Star Trek Online??? - i will wait and see more about them before deciding

rjp15
rjp15

Ha, MMoaddict2009, how in the heck is this like Half Life?

MMOaddict2009
MMOaddict2009

Its Star Trek Armada meets Half-life (poorly copied). The bulk of the trek audience asked for a very different game and have been given the polar opposite. This game looks like it will be fun for a week. What a waste of a great chance to make the ultimate ST MMO.

gamercosti
gamercosti

almost 4 posts without somebody saying "wow"

JoeBobKill25
JoeBobKill25

I think I may have been whining a bit too much about a $15 monthly fee. After a little further research into MMOs, I realize that the monthly fee is actually beneficial for players really interested in the game. More content, maps, storylines are created as the months go by making the game much better to play. However, I hope MMOs get to the point where they add a year's worth of playing for $100 or something similar. That way I can pick it up whenever I want and take a break whenever I want.

oflow
oflow

I dont see the problem with the $15/month. If you dont play MMOs and you just buy games they cost $39.95-59.95 per game and then they also might have DLC that cost more money. If you buy multiple games per month your spending just as much if not more per year on individual games as you are on MMOs. MMOs update their games constantly and $15 is a pretty trivial price.

axhed
axhed

the problem i'm having with the $15/mo is that after sinking 3 yrs and $700 into wow, that 15gb installation is still sitting on my hd but i can't do anything with it unless i pay another $15. i won't be getting into any more mmo's unless they have a lifetime subscription option or suitable free-to-play/microtransaction setup.

DarthMK
DarthMK

To the people who complain about the 15$. If someone can't spent 15$ a month for video games then gameing is the wrong hobby. A single game - which often only lasts 8-12h costs 3-4 times as much.

Nuclear_Kernel
Nuclear_Kernel

It sounds boring. The other posters noticed that this game doesn' t respect the creed of the Federation.

khallus
khallus

Is anybody excited about this MMo at all?

Obscenemuse
Obscenemuse

Blitz8529- Though I agree with you, I have to say only up to a certain point. I to am a MMO player and have sold many people on the idea of joining me with the promise of saving money for thier means of entertainment. I myself used to spend at least 100$ a week on beer and Pizza before I started playing, but when you take 15$ a month and times that by 3 years then add the cost of the games in my case 30/40/45$ for the game and the expansions you are already up to 745$. Then if you start to go a little overboard like so many people do and factor in Computer Upgrades of all out purchases you can get well into the thousands of dollars for as little as ONE video game. so if you calculate all my totaly MMO related costs then break it down over the entire time I played it it would come out to 500$ a year for 3.5 years for pretty much one game. Thats not even calculating Internet costs and its broken down to roughly 40$ a month. So though you CAN save money, you can also go deeply in debt if you are not careful.

sabin292
sabin292

Don't realy see anything new or interesting that this game brings to the MMO stage. It would probably draw the hardcore Star Trek fans,but not me, i'd rather w8 for TOR to come out.

Col-Neil
Col-Neil

With the amount of star trek fans world wide this game will easily make a ton of money in no time

Blitz8529
Blitz8529

If you can't afford the subscription fee of $15 a month you have other things to worry about and your computer probably won't run it anyways. Pretty much any other form of entertainment will cost you 2 to 10 times more for a couple hours. Get a few friends to play with you or your girl (If your lucky to find one that doesn't think games are stupid) and you will save hundreds of dollars a month.

mightyflapjack
mightyflapjack

One thing that killed Star Wars Galaxies was the missing 'space combat' that is so important for any Star Wars game to make it feel like Star Wars. The fact that it is missing from this (and has been missing from all the KoTRs as well, except in very small snippits) makes me sad.

JoeBobKill25
JoeBobKill25

Funny, so everyone should be able to afford a $15 or $30 monthly fee for an MMO as long as they have a job? Most might be able to afford to play ONE MMO at that price... even then, it would be hard to justify the expense with a salary of less than $30,000 a year. For some people, 15 or 30 dollars a month makes a person pause.. especially when that is factored into a tight budget. I love star trek and hope this game is good... but accusing someone of not having a job because he/she is disappointed in the monthly fee is really bad taste.

Targzissian
Targzissian

Seeing as the Federation and the Klingons both live in the same galaxy there is not much likelihood of "intergalactic war" between them. Interstellar war, sure. Perhaps it marks me as a nerd, but I'm annoyed when people use astronomical and scientific terms improperly. Hmmm... Also, in Star Trek, isn't the galaxy surrounded by some kind of energy barrier? That makes intergalactic war even less likely.

Crazyeye78
Crazyeye78

Lol Nevsek, yeah all the complaining about 15 dollars a month is getting old. I see it with every new MMO. Is it going to be free, God I hope not.

airsoftmanic
airsoftmanic

still waiting for a monthly fee pricing, if its under £10, im interested, if not, better luck next time greedy c**ts

ReaversRevenge
ReaversRevenge

would rather play for free, but it does look alright....i suppose

Nevsek
Nevsek

$50 internet connection? : So JoeBobKill25 is saying that if MMO's didn't exist he wouldn't have any high speed internet service at all... $15 per month? : Honestly if you can't afford $15 per month (or even $30,) I recommend a "job." they do wonders. That includes you high school students. If you play for anything more 2 hours, you've already beaten what you'd have spent seeing a movie + food. As for the game, I love Star Trek and am hopeful but I will reserve my judgments until the game actually comes out.

rf85
rf85

I'll stick to Dark Age of Camelot. Still the best one by far. Tis the mutts nutts :-)

aceoaces
aceoaces

Copy, it's an RPG rather than anything that actually involves skill. All interest is gone.

cyborg100000
cyborg100000

Well, it's either this or SW:OR. Whatever one receives the best reviews is the one I'll play.

JoeBobKill25
JoeBobKill25

Lol, liked the comment from iloxoli. This is exactly why I do not like the idea of MMORPGS.. they are not practical for the casual gamer or even gamer enthusianst. Most cannot afford to pay for cable internet + $50 for game + a $15 dollar monthly fee to PLAY the game... and that is only for ONE MMORPG. Anyway, I could be wrong but MMORPGs seem to focus on multiplayer play and so the creators have to focus on creating GOOD servers that won't crash. Takes the focus away from a quality game don't you think? Champions online looks like the only promising MMORPG to date that I have seen.. but even then, I would probably rather get Marvel Ultimate alliance 2!!! :)

denis_jan
denis_jan

Ilike it I'am go and buy this game now :)

il0x0li
il0x0li

I wanted to play this but I can't pay for 2 MMORPGs so I'm going with The Old Republic. :)

WarLokk1980
WarLokk1980

I'm looking forward to this game but the graphics could have been a bit better. The backgrounds look good but the characters aren't detailed at all. Cryptic have let themselves down. Maybe the finished version will look much better.

protoroc
protoroc

Cryptic is completely missing what it means to be "Star Trek". Star Trek is about exploration, physical and social. This game just looks to be another level to max and brag about epeen grinder.

detroitfireman
detroitfireman

The fact that Cryptic is doing this game throws up red flags for me. I got Champions Online and was bored with the completely standard MMO-fare, nothing new at all. Just a bunch of fetch, escort and "kill-this-guy" missions. Not to mention the graphics. (I did ALL that customization for THAT???) The fact that gamespot mentions similarities between Star Trek Online and Champions Online turns me off a bit. But I'm always one to give an MMO a try. Been looking for one to take the place of FFXI. At least until FFXIV gets here.

DiscGuru101
DiscGuru101

Looks awesome. Sorry kimarous, but you must be aware of the encyclopedic length of Star Trek cannon. They have to start somewhere, and where they are starting is freaking awesome looking.

kimarous
kimarous

Personally, I don't think this game will do that well. Every time I look at it, it feels like a weird blend of other Star Trek titles in an online-only experience. It just doesn't feel "MMO" to me. Furthermore, it just doesn't feel satisfying as a Star Trek game. Federation and Klingons only? Why exclude the Romulans? Is it just so we can be limited to two sides? I swear, we're getting fewer and fewer factions as the series progresses. Remember all those empires from Starfleet Command 2? They had the Gorn, but we get shafted! It's been Federation, Klingons, Romulans, and Borg ever since Starfleet Command 3... and now, here, we're limited to just Feds and Klingons! What a rip!

trodeback
trodeback

Big Star Trek fan here, but after reading the review and seeing the screenshots it doesn't look like a promising game.

K_M82
K_M82

so basically what we get from this game is an MMO version of star trek bridge commander with one additional abilities: on foot exploration (in other words, MMO+bridge commander+Elite Force). bridge commander and elite force are great games in their own right, but their combination is not enough for a deep and satisfying MMO!! nice work cryptic!!! good luck competing against SW:TOR!

Zqube
Zqube

I hope this game is successful but I won't be playing it anytime soon. If it's successful then I can jump-in much later.

big-boss-91
big-boss-91

divert power to the deflector! lets blow up the balloon!

Hladilnik
Hladilnik

Hope it won't be as other after-movie games :)

soltar
soltar

I want to be a Borg

Armyboy5
Armyboy5

Why not make one epic game instead of two games?

JoeBobKill25
JoeBobKill25

i see the benefit of champions online being an MMO.... the superhero universe if perfect for that. As for star trek, I don't know. The only star trek game I truly enjoyed was "Star Trek Voyager: Elite force 1 and 2" It may be that I just really dislike the idea of another MMO where you have to pay a monthly fee for it. Whatever happened to great campaigns (if i see an escort mission one more time, i'll scream) and the ability to simply link with freinds for a simple co-op like in Never winter nights or other games?

Ronny411
Ronny411

What i miss most is Star trek mystery. Star trek was never about fighting, so making star trek games ther u basicly just shoot each other in space or on ground isent appealing at all(to me anyway). I would much rather have a Star trek adventure/puzzle game or w/e to call it. Where u can f.e run around in a star ship, where tons of weird stuff happends and u gota figure out how to solve problems. Like u do in the shows. And also go down to alien planets where nobody has been before and all sort of weird stuff happends. Thats pretty much star trek, in my eyes anyway. These space battles and ground battles just sound boring to me. Not sure what to think about this game yet tho.

BloodMist
BloodMist

Ehm...oldschool SWG allowed you to actually be a character in the Star Wars universe, run a shop, have a house, have multiple starfighters/starships, be a bounty hunter, ect. ect. ect....So....like i said.