Set in the year 2409 (Stardate circa 86645.315), Star Trek Online kicks off 30 years after the events in Star Trek Nemesis, in the prime timeline rather than in the new timeline created by the events in the 2009 Star Trek film. Things aren't good in the 25th century: the Khitomer Accords have been broken, and the Federation and Klingon Empire are at war. To make matters worse, the Borg have returned to wreak havoc on the Alpha Quadrant.
Every person plays the role of a starship captain in Star Trek Online. You can take control of a Federation or Klingon Defense Force vessel, along with three bridge officers. "It's all about being a captain. That's the game we wanted to make," said executive producer Craig Zinkievich. Star Trek Online was granted an official licence from Star Trek owner CBS, and Zinkievich said the goal with the game was to "make it feel like the TV shows and movies," and from what we saw at GamesCom, it's on its way to achieving that goal.
The mission we saw involved ferrying a Vulcan ambassador to a monastery. En route our ship was hailed by several Klingon ships, who warned us that the ambassador was an evil shape-shifter and that we would need to beam him over to them, or die. Despite the immediate hostilities, the environment looked rather peaceful with our ship floating blissfully around the class-M planet and through a nearby asteroid field. In our intergalactic journey, we also saw some beautiful nebulae and planetary bodies in deep yellow and purple colours. At subwarp impulse speed, you can just coast along and take in all of the sights; however, when travelling at warp speed, you view the galaxy from an astrometric grid view. Despite being able to fly through space at warp speed, the Federation ships aren't particularly zippy with impulse power. Zinkievich explains that these are massive warships with more than 100 crew members, and space combat should reflect the size and scope of these awesome ships.
There are quite a few things to keep you occupied during the heat of battle. For a start, you can move energy from auxiliary systems to the weapons systems and shields. An icon around your ship is split into four quadrants, and these represent your front, rear, and side shields. The quadrants will visually display how weak or strong they are, and you can bolster a sector if you're taking a beating from any particular direction. At your disposal are forward-facing photon torpedoes and forward- and rear-facing phaser arrays. While the torpedo arc is only 90 degrees, the phaser arcs are much wider, and if you're able to broadside an enemy, you can use the front and rear arrays together for a more powerful attack.
In addition to shields and weapons, you'll be occupied with your ship's throttle and power levels and with commanding your bridge officers. You have access to multiple officers, but you can use only three at once. Each one has its own skills and abilities, so you need to take the right ones into battle. Zinkievich said one of his favourite tactics is to have his science officer use a tacyon beam to knock out an enemy's shields, and then use his tactical officer to destroy the craft with torpedoes. After taking care of the Klingon ships, we discovered that some of the Klingons had beamed down to the surface to attack the monastery, and we beamed down to follow them.
Away teams can carry two weapons. Our character had a phaser pistol and a rifle, so he could stun or kill. The phaser's visual effects look great, and we could see the air sizzle around the solid beam of hot energy. In addition to standard weapons, you can unlock other weapons depending on which faction and type of character you play as. One such weapon we saw was a stasis field, which was used to freeze one of the Klingons. You'll also unlock more-powerful weapons later in the game, and we're told these will be one of the bigger rewards.
Star Trek Online is shaping up to be a Trekkie's dream, with plenty of space and on-foot battles, plenty of diplomatic and research missions, and plenty of customisation of both the character and vehicles in the game. We look forward to spending more time in the Alpha Quadrant before the game is released, although that current stardate is unknown.