Star Trek Online Exclusive Impressions: Ship Battles, Exploration, and Away Teams

We get an exclusive look at the upcoming massively multiplayer Star Trek game from the creator of City of Heroes.

Massively multiplayer games: the final frontier, where your make-believe characters go on adventures in a persistent online world, beating rats over the head with a rusty dagger in the hopes of one day gaining an experience level, which will one day make them strong enough to fight larger rats. Or, maybe not anymore. Developer Cryptic Studios is working on a new online game that will go in a completely different direction, a game based on the Star Trek universe where you'll not only touch down onto different planets on foot to explore strange new worlds and seek out new life and new civilizations, but will also be captain of your own starship and explore the reaches of space, engaging in starship dogfights with hostile aliens and space pirates. And since we have the exclusive first look at the game, you could say we've boldly gone where no one has gone before. (Sorry, we couldn't resist.)

In Star Trek Online, you will explore the far reaches of space. And you won't have to be a Federation officer to do it.

Star Trek Online is currently in development at California-based Cryptic Studios, a team of developers who are working in tandem with CBS, the current license holder of the Star Trek franchise. The game will apparently be set in the year 2409, some 30 years after the events in the motion picture Star Trek Nemesis--which means that most characters with normal human life spans probably won't be sticking around. However, you can expect to see plenty of authentic Star Trek content in the game, since the development studio is working closely with the license holder. Yes, the United Federation of Planets (better known simply as "the Federation") will be in the game. Yes, the Klingons will be in the game. Yes, you will visit planets by beaming down to them and will carry a phaser on your belt. And yes, you will travel the galaxy at warp speed and fire photon torpedoes at enemy ships.

The stage in Star Trek Online is set for intergalactic war since the Khitomer Accords--an uneasy peace agreement between the Federation and the Klingons--have been broken. As a result, you can play as either a Federation character or a cadet in the Klingon Defense Force, working your way up through the military ranks of either side. Playing as the Klingons will definitely be a different experience than playing as the Federation, though the exact details of the Klingon experience have not yet been revealed. And according to the game's overarching story, even though the war between the two factions has begun in earnest, a "dark, ancient threat" has returned to the Alpha Quadrant (the home sector of the Federation), and players from both factions will find themselves at odds with this mysterious new adversary. (Who could it possibly be, we wonder?)

Apparently, there will be a bit more to creating a new character than just choosing starting clothes and how big your character's eyebrows will be. All-new characters will be able to choose from an array of low-ranking starter ships to command and will choose a bridge officer and crew. Your bridge officer will be a computer-controlled character--not unlike a "pet" in other massively multiplayer games--and will, like your character, gain experience levels and new items over the course of your career.

When you decide to beam down, it will always be in an away team of five characters--yourself and any combination of up to four computer-controlled crew members and/or up to four other player characters. Depending on the mission, you may wish to vary your away-team composition to include officers with different specialties, such as field medicine, tactical operations, or engineering (though there's no word yet on whether computer-controlled crew members will all wear red shirts).

And for your own character, and your crew, the game will offer what executive producer Craig Zinkievich refers to as "total customization" for each character, including each one's appearance and away-team equipment. This isn't surprising coming from a studio that made a name for itself with the powerful character customization tools of City of Heroes. Among other options, you'll be able to create characters from such races as humans, Vulcans (the race of Mr. Spock's father), Bajorans (the race to which Major Kira Nerys from the Deep Space Nine TV show belonged), Klingons, and Gorn (a race of tall, lizardlike humanoids--William Shatner's Captain Kirk character grappled with one in the original Star Trek episode "Arena"). To make allowances for the fact that the universe is indeed enormous and that other, undiscovered life-forms exist somewhere out there, the game will also feature an "alien race creator" tool that will let you create your own alien species to which your character can belong.

Expect to see plenty of alien races in Star Trek Online. Don't see the one you want? Make your own.

Zinkievich suggests that at present, the game is planned to offer an "even split" between away-team exploration and interstellar starship exploration--the latter includes the game's tactical, real-time starship combat system. We actually had a chance to witness an early version of the starship combat in motion, which the executive producer likened to battle between tall ships during the Age of Sail. Just like how sea captains of that era chose different types of cannon shot to damage an enemy vessel's hull or sails, you can use different weapon types in Star Trek Online, such as a continuous and withering stream of phaser fire to eat away at energy shields, or a salvo of photon torpedoes to tear up your foe's exposed hull.

In practice, Star Trek Online's combat engine currently does seem to keep that kind of naval pace, with elements of the traditional 2D movement of a massively multiplayer game (using the W, A, S, and D keys to move) and even traces of the Super Melee mode of the classic Star Control II. Cryptic is apparently attempting to build in a strategic preparation aspect to ship combat. That is, the best way to come out ahead in battle is to prepare beforehand, ideally with some advance recon on your enemies, including what kinds of weapons they have access to. Your preparation will include choosing the proper crew, equipping the appropriate weapons, and installing the proper shields.

The battle we watched took place at the tail end of an exploration mission for a Federation convoy (or, to be more precise, three Cryptic employees adventuring as a group, each controlling his own ship) exploring the reaches of space, which is full of star systems, asteroid belts, beautifully colorful nebulas, and, in this case, angry alien pirates--namely Orion smugglers who were grumpy enough at being discovered that they warmed up their photon torpedo bays for us. Though space combat will clearly be a big part of what you do in Star Trek Online's outer-space zones, the game will, according to Zinkievich, also include plenty of other things to do in space that will reward exploration and following the game's overarching story. The reaches of space will offer both procedurally generated spaces as well as hand-built, story-specific areas that are built around quests.

Will you seek out new life and new civilizations? Or will you work to wipe the Federation off the face of the galaxy?

In combat, your ships can pitch to port or starboard while you hit the throttle to move in different directions, though once you sight the enemy, it will also be important to carefully manage your ship's power supply. You can route power to your ships' engines, weapons, or shields, the latter of which are currently represented as transparent, colored arcs surrounding your ship's bow, stern, and two sides. In the current version of the game, shields appear green when at full power and undamaged, and when you begin to take fire to your shields, they'll change color to yellow, then red, and then will finally give way to nothing and your ship will begin taking direct damage to its hull. Space combat so far, at least with the ship classes we've seen in action, seems to be a matter of jousting with enemy ships, making daring strafing runs in range of your foes while tossing out salvos of torpedos and phaser blasts, carefully keeping an eye on your own shields to ensure your own ship doesn't get incinerated, and rerouting power to specific shields if you happen to be taking heavy fire from a certain quarter, though if you aren't currently taking fire, your ship will automatically recover from hull damage at a rate that depends on your character's and crew's race, experience levels, and engineering levels.

The early version of the game we watched had a rudimentary interface that showed the ship's current hull and ship strength and throttle levels, as well as a bank of hotkeys to trigger special abilities. These will include things like a crew repair skill to address severe damage, maneuvering boosts that temporarily increase your ship's speed or enhance your turning radius, and even tractor beams to drag in your enemies for the kill. Presumably, your captain will be able to acquire various technical goodies, as well as character- and crew-based skills that can be set to hotkeyed abilities in space. Oh, and one other thing about space combat: When you destroy an enemy in space, think twice about that triumphant flyby, since the final explosion will bake your ship with additional splash damage if you get too close.

While we weren't able to see on-foot gameplay in action, we did get some additional details on Star Trek Online's world and how the game experience will change as players become more accomplished officers. Like City of Heroes, Star Trek Online will offer many ways for you to find and get into the action. As a Federation officer, you may receive standard quests from the Federation, or you can call into Federation radio space for additional missions if your plate is clear, and you'll also be able to find new missions while exploring space, such as responding to distress signals. You may also decide to spend some time harvesting resources, and for the true explorers, Cryptic apparently even has plans to include some sort of achievement badge system to reward those who truly set out on a mission of discovery.

However, there will be a much more important sign of your characters' progress: the size of their fleets. And as you gain more experience and more prestige as a military officer, you'll be able to amass a hangar of different ships of varying sizes and classes to perform different roles, such as heavier combat escort ships that can quickly deal heavy damage, or science ships for exploration and analysis. We're told you'll also see appearances from canonical spacecraft, including Miranda-class ships like the USS Reliant from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and we assume the game will also have Constitution-class ships like the most famous Star Trek ship of all, the Enterprise.

And fortunately, though the universe will be divided into individual sectors, you'll be able to travel the vast reaches of space through some form of quick travel by using a star map. Because it will be such a big place, it will have various types of currency that may include replicator credits, transporter credits, and the prized currency of the greedy Ferengi race, gold-pressed latinum. At later stages, it will also offer high-end "raid" content for advanced players--Zinkievich suggests that you may be tasked with thwarting a large-scale Borg invasion, for instance. (Yes, the Borg will be in the game, as will the Romulans.) More-competitive players will also eventually get to butt heads, and phasers, in high-end player-versus-player faction battles that will let high-ranking Federation and Klingon players vie for control of contested star systems, for sector-specific bonuses. In the meantime, Cryptic expects to implement the sort of social options you'd expect from a massively multiplayer game, such as "fleets," which are long-standing associations of players that act the way player guilds do in other games. The developer also plans to implement some form of "sidekicking," the game mechanic it developed for City of Heroes, which lets players of different experience levels play with one another by temporarily evening out the level difference.

We've waited a long time to see Star Trek Online with our own eyes, and what we've seen so far looks promising indeed. However, there's still a lot more that we have yet to see and experience ourselves, such as on-foot content and higher-end player-versus-player stuff, but since the game is already in an internal beta state at Cryptic's offices, hopefully this won't be too far away. In the meantime, anyone with any interest in Star Trek or just looking for a fresh new take on massively multiplayer games should keep an eye out for more updates on the game as they appear on GameSpot.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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168 comments
jakotatio
jakotatio

I wish that this game would be designed for both Mac and PC, that is what made WOW so successful.

Thirdrail1
Thirdrail1

You had me at "Gorn". Where do I sign?

golgo28
golgo28

to the people saying that they wish the game had single player...shut up!how about leaving your mom's basement and getting a life.

Vasot
Vasot

Looks promising but unfortunately i hate MMO. I want also single player for my games...

ReaversRevenge
ReaversRevenge

unless i missed it...is the online free? or is there a monthly fee?

AnarchyRising
AnarchyRising

@The_Star_Treker You keep ranting on about "realism". Well in reality, space has no sound. So imagine trekking around in your little ship, soundless for hours on end. Thats right sports fan... No explosions, no hissing of proton torpedo backwash as they fly by, and no noise coming from your little blasters. I like realism too, but stretching it is almost never a bad thing; or Star Wars/Trek would have had an awful lot of silent scenes in the movies. So quit whining.

karateguy1
karateguy1

Looks like it might have been a good game if it had a single player campaign.

The_Star_Treker
The_Star_Treker

Back in the day I loved playing Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Mega Man, TMNT IV: Turtles in Time, Street Fighter II, or whatever. Nowadays I love to play first and third person shooters (like Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force, Star Trek Elite Force II, Halo 1, 2, & 3, or whatever) and action adventures games (like Spider-man: Web of Shadows, X-Men Origins: Wolverine or whatever) and role playing games (like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: Sith Lords, Mass Effect, Fable, or Fallout 3). Sometimes I like playing real-time strategy games (like Star Trek Armada II, Halo Wars, or Age of Empires). I'm a gamer that must have really awesome, fun, and realistic graphics and gameplay so it I feel like I'm the character in the game. I want it to feel like a simulation. Which is exactly what I want for Star Trek Online to be. I always wanted a Star Trek game like that but Cryptic Studios isn't giving me what I want. That is why I preferred Perpetual Entertainment to make it if they never got sued or bankrupt or better yet had Bioware make it since they are making a MMO that will dominate all MMOs because it will be the most realistic and fun game ever (which is gonna be Star Wars The Old Republic which I can't wait to get it and play)! Even Sony is making one too that will be really realistic and fun also (which is DC Universe Online which I can't wait to get it and play either)! I just think the people at Cryptic Studios just don't know how to make Star Trek Online really badass (awesome), realistic, and fun like Bioware and Sony's upcoming MMOs are gonna be. Star Trek Online will be fun just for a month then it will be really boring after that which is gonna be a really disappointment for me because I love Star Trek. It is also another reason I'm a lot more an Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 gamer than a PC and Wii gamer. I hate to update my graphics card and etc on my PC to get games to run that is why I prefer playing games on my Xbox 360 or my Playstation 3 so I don't have to worry about doing any that crap. I don't think some of you see what I see and want for MMOs or RPGs in general or even for STO period.

Hayabashi
Hayabashi

To people complaining about the graphics do realize that they are aiming for a large amount of gamers for a game like this. The more realistic the graphics the less gamers will be able to play. I remember being stoked about AoC but when I finally got it, the graphics steep was so bad that I had to quit when my PC fried and I couldn't load up AoC on my laptop. Graphics don't make a game, gameplay does. That is why the true classics of the times still stand up to this day. WoW is easily accessible with low graphics need. Mario Bros is still a very good game to this day. Heck if graphics are what makes games amazing tell me why Wii outsells all other consoles. Sure you can polish a game to have both but the time needed just to make a game nice looking is not worth it. Give me a game with sub par graphics but is fun to play any day.

Hayabashi
Hayabashi

Major_9000 City of Heroes has had and still has a VERY good showing in the MMO market. It's not crashing like games such as Tabula Rasa, Age of Conan, and other MMOs have that were released after CoH. Sure it is in WoW but nothing is these days thanks to WoW being that one MMO everyone plays just because it's easily accesable to everyone. CoH however had a VERY good showing when it first came out. I quit FF11 for CoH and quit WoW for CoV before I quit MMOs altogether.

basic369
basic369

Nice, more updates soon I hope:P

jfolds1
jfolds1

More startrek online updates please !!! The updates for this title has been really lax... more more more please

Scorehound
Scorehound

I only hope they keep most of the Star Trek feel that makes the franchise so addicting. Setting it over 30 years from Nemesis might alienate a lot of the familiarity we have with the franchise. But I am psyched for it. My only challenge is convincing my wife I need to spend the monthly subscription fee to play it.

Zironn
Zironn

This game needs to actually be finished before release AND be responsive to the player base. Finishing on time, honestly, I could care less about. I just want a game that is actually done and that I can stay in for a while.

Major_9000
Major_9000

I will be trying this out but if its anything like City of Heroes it won't last long...so I hope these guys have stepped up their game.

hartsickdiscipl
hartsickdiscipl

This may be the game that finally gets me addicted to an MMO and takes the rest of my time away.

invictuslemming
invictuslemming

While i like realistic looking graphics and environments as much as anyone. People have to understand this is an MMO. As such the game will need to be playable on systems for both the hardcore and common gamers, and as such the graphics will not be state of the art. Personally going cartoon style on graphics is a good idea, you can make a game look neat and clean without needing a super computer to run it. As much as I hate to say it WoW did the graphics correctly, while I cant stand to play the game, I still think its the best looking MMO out there, even with games like Conan and the like out now. Cartoon style graphics hold up over the years. Attempting realistic graphics then failing (LotRO and FFXI come to mind) is a heck of a lot worse.

ISuperSaiyan
ISuperSaiyan

eve online lol. with few plants to beam to. lol.

evan_902
evan_902

To "The_Star_Treker", its not always about realism, I agree Mass Effect was actually the best space based game i've ever played, and a mmo came out like that it would be awesome, but dude get off your high horse, to each his own what you may not like others do, no need to vent your dissapointments in Cryptic, if you don't like it, play something else.

The_Star_Treker
The_Star_Treker

jsrjonah, apparently you never played games like Spider-Man 3, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, Halo 1, 2, & 3, Fable 1 & 2, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 1 & 2, Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, or Fallout 3 that have really realistic environments and gameplay. Star Trek Online won't have any of that at all. It will be like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, EVE, or City of Heroes mix with Star Trek: Bridge Commander and Star Trek Legacy gameplay. I'm not just a Star Trek fan I'm also a huge gamer that wants really realistic graphics, environments, and gameplay in his games. I'm really sick and tired of the same o same old type of MMOs like WoW or CoX. I didn't want Star Trek Online be like that or similar. I really wanted it be totally different but not like the same o same old type of MMOs like WoW or CoX. DC Universe Online and Star Wars The Old Republic are going do something that is totally new, better, and different and going to a new totally direction than the same o same old type of MMOs never done before. I wish Star Trek Online was going to be great as those 2 games are going to be but not if Cryptic Studios has the control of it though it won't. WoW and CoX are overrated and really boring.

jsrjonah
jsrjonah

The_Star_Treker... you put star trek and realistic in the same sentence and then proceeded to bash it....we could probably say that the realistic approach would be to appreciate that you get to be a part of the star trek universe and not compare it to dc comics or star wars. I love star wars and star trek, however NEITHER are close to realistic

AGMing
AGMing

space combat sounds similar to SFC3 and i loved that game. really looking forward to this.

gbrading
gbrading moderator

It sounds very much that the ship to ship based combat is based upon Star Trek: Bridge Commander, which is a senisble option to take, considering that's the game which has done it best. Merging the best aspects of Bridge Commander and Elite Force II would be great.

Sephiroth36
Sephiroth36

I'm looking forward for the game, but also is nice to see we can control totally the ship and not pulling a Star Trek Legacy, as the controls were clunky even so they intended to do it in another way.

JeanNYGUARD
JeanNYGUARD

Cannot wait for Star Trek Online! Been waiting since 04... 04! Thankfully STO is now in the hands of Cryptic and not Perpetual. Im counting down the months till STO (Late 09 / Early 10) Q'PLA

cru3
cru3

They haven't even released it yet. Save your venom for when you can actually formulate an opinion, instead of spitting bile and uninformed insults about a game that nobody has even played yet.

The_Star_Treker
The_Star_Treker

I love Star Trek and I'm sorry but DC Universe Online and Star Wars The Old Republic are gonna totally destroy Champions Online and Star Trek Online. Star Wars The Old Republic is a sequel to one of the greatest RPG series ever, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and it is gonna be 1000 times better than Star Wars Galaxies without a doubt. Star Trek Online will just be fun like a month but after that it will get really boring like City of Heroes gotten for me. I'm already p.o. at Cryptic Studios. They screwed up Star Trek Online. Perpetual Entertainment's vision of Star Trek Online was way better, phenomenal, and really realistic but now Cryptic Studios totally changed the game and ruined it. BioWare should have pick up Star Trek Online, the company that really knows how to make really good, fun, and realistic games ever but now Star Trek Online is just gonna be another failure like Star Trek Legacy and like most of Star Trek games are. A really disappointment and 5 years I was looking forward to this game until Perpetual Entertainment got sued and bankrupt like a year ago and now Cryptic Studios took over and just have to ruin it. The only thing this year that was successful for Star Trek is the new movie and it was phenomenal and I can't wait for the sequel. Sorry Cryptic Studios you really disappoint me. You should let a real game company make STO like BioWare (the creators of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect).

yenkuang_c
yenkuang_c

Is that possible that the galaxy map will extend to Alpha or Delta quadrant?

SlayerX13
SlayerX13

Pay no attention to Klingon812. Champions is great. It's graphics are awesome, PvP is fun and fast paced, Nemisis system is a really neat feature, The only thing that Champions has in common with CoX is that they are both comic book MMOs and both made by Kryptic. Klingon812 is just another jaded gamer that expect to much from everything. CO is a good game. Will be great on the 360.

NearlyPrescient
NearlyPrescient

@ trollkind I think the reporter said that players will amass a private fleet of ships, as in a large collection. I don't think players would actually ever be in command of more than one ship at once, if I'm reading and inferring correctly. but, I do admit that that part was worded a little iffy, so it could take another preview to tell for sure

dg3215
dg3215

I would like this game to be good but I smell Epic Failure

Klingon812
Klingon812

greekmanx, yes i have played Champions online i am in the beta

starduke
starduke

Live long and prosper, Star Trek online.

trollkind
trollkind

Uhm, sounds like a solid single player experience, not really what I was looking for. 1 Guild = 1 Crew = 1 Ship or Fleet would have been more to my liking. If everybody has his/her own fleet, what will battles with dozens of players against each other look like, if they are even possible.

Targzissian
Targzissian

There will be no intergalactic war. The Star Trek universe is all about races coexisting in our own galaxy, besides which, they established in episode such-and-such that the galaxy is surrounded by an energy barrier. Interstellar war, yes. Intergalactic war, no.

ScionofEntropy
ScionofEntropy

I'd like to see this succeed, but Star Trek hasn't traditionally had much mainstream success. It's had a pretty niche, albeit devoted, audience throughout the years. Consider me cautiously optimistic.

cru3
cru3

Except that by commenting on an article about it, you've just shown everyone that you do know it exists. Ah, logic.

andy_lyall
andy_lyall

I'm a considerably larger fan of Star Wars than I am of Star Trek and I'm looking forward to this more than Old Republic. Old Republic has a lot to prove I think and while Star Trek games have very rarely lived up to the potential of the licence I think this one has legs.

K_M82
K_M82

i hope the released date is not close to star wars old republic.

vidgames34
vidgames34

This game has promise, for the simple fact that you seem to manually control your ship. That's the only thing I hated about EvE, everything was done automatically. If you also manually aim your weapons, then this game will definitely be for me.

whitemute
whitemute

the last star trek game I played was for MS-Dos called Star Trek: The Next Generation: A Final Unity. Amazing to see the leaps and bounds made from that game to this one concerning graphics. I enjoyed CoH (to a point) and hope their creativity rolls over into this game. Here's hoping!

InuHanyou1701
InuHanyou1701

Looks really epic! I would be really excited... if it wasn't an MMO. =P I'm sorry but I can't afford the monthly fee atm so while I'm drooling for this game, it would be better as a single player experience with multiplayer option IMHO. It would be absolutely epic to have an open world Star Trek game like this without the annoyances of the MMO system. Sorry Cryptic. I love Star Trek but not enough to delve into the depths of MMOs.

InuHanyou1701
InuHanyou1701

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Gameboy2k
Gameboy2k

Well, since the movie offered a "DIFFERENT" approach to Star Trek... I wonder if that will be reflected. Would be cool.

jhjsaat
jhjsaat

So do you have too feed your number one and keep trace of his "Happy" meter so he does more dps?

uradead1
uradead1

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]