Star Trek Online Review
The space combat is short-lived fun, but everything else about this online role-playing game is bland and shallow.
- The biggest battles are enjoyable to play
- Flexible character creator makes it fun to create a character and tweak officers
- Soundtrack and sound effects deliver that Star Trek vibe.
- Ground combat is a clumsy disaster
- Most battles aren't tense or exciting because they're far too easy
- Shallow, disjointed exploration
- Missions are repetitive and poorly written.
Star Trek Online doesn't boldly go where no one's gone before. Instead, it mildly coasts along without much drama or excitement. Developer Cryptic Studios' latest online role-playing game is a "bare minimum" kind of experience, doing just enough to get by, but doing so without an ounce of flair and without the anything-can-happen-in-space buzz that makes the television shows and films such a delight. The game falls into a predictable rut quickly, relying almost solely on spaceship battles for entertainment and falling short almost everywhere else. Luckily, that combat can be fun, and in the best and biggest battles, your screen will light up with phasers and torpedoes, momentarily capturing the thrill of interstellar adventure. Unfortunately, those moments of epic wonder are mostly extinguished by underwhelming cookie-cutter missions, clumsy and unfulfilling ground combat, and shallow exploration that fails to capture the wonder and beauty of deep space. Star Trek Online is light, easy, and shallow, and those may not be qualities you're seeking from your next virtual universe.
The game may be disappointing, but character creation is a delight. As in Cryptic's previous games (Champions Online, City of Heroes), the toolset is highly flexible. It not only offers a healthy number of races from the Star Trek universe, but it also lets you create your own alien being from scratch. While you run about the game's space stations, you might see relatively normal-looking humans of the Captain Kirk variety, Vulcans sporting the pointiest ears you could hope for, or even odd monstrosities born of the player's creativity. When you first begin, you're stuck with the United Federation of Planets, though after you earn a few levels, you unlock the chance to join the Klingon Empire. If you were hoping to live and die with honor with the Klingons, however, you'll discover that the associated content is bare and unfinished. Missions drop off quickly, and you're stuck with player-versus-player content to fill in the enormous gaps.
And so you'll want to voyage with the Federation. As such, you and most of the players you see will follow more or less the same path to the end game. Not that you'll all coast about in the same ships. After you're done with the initial one-size-fits-all cruiser, you'll narrow your path by choosing a vessel with a more specific function. Cruisers are good for the usual tank role because they can take a heavy beating though they don't do the most damage; escorts are maneuverable and boast a lot of firepower but aren't all that sturdy; and science ships are good for healing, buffing, and other helpful support roles. You don't get nearly as much room to customize your ship's looks as you do with your on-foot avatar (and even less room if you're checking out the Klingon side of things), but the vessels look and feel like authentic Star Trek spacecraft, and you'll enjoy looking at your ship as you fly about on missions or even across the grids that represent deep space. You can even choose a look for your bridge and walk around on it. But it's too bad there's nothing to do there but hang about and wish you could relive all the great stories that Star Trek has served up over the years.
Unfortunately, you need to rely on your imagination to provide tension and interpersonal conflict. A number of different characters send you off on missions, but none of them are memorable, and the writing is as dry as the Yadozi Desert, as well as too often littered with distracting spelling errors. There are some interesting narrative tidbits and fun references to the lore scattered about, but nothing that will sweep you up, in spite of Leonard Nimoy's plaintive and all-too-infrequent voice-overs. (The other bits of voice acting are excruciatingly bad.) Most missions are online RPG standbys: Destroy some Gorn ships, beam someone aboard, and assist a friendly ship in combat. Some are even duller than that: Beam to a planet's surface, press some buttons, and beam back up. Perhaps the quiet moments would be a nice respite if the mission writing conveyed the tension of any given Star Trek away mission. As it is, like much of Star Trek Online, they're just dull.
In a typical play session, you'll navigate space by way of an overworld map on your way from one mission to the next. In Star Trek Online, space is a collection of sectors that are separated by loading screens, and they contain planetary systems that are also separated by loading screens. In addition, players do not all share the same virtual space (as we've seen in other space massively multiplayer online games like Earth & Beyond, EVE Online, and Jumpgate) but are separated by instances, which is a structure that should be familiar to you if you've played a Cryptic game in the past. It's a chopped-up vision of the galaxy that diminishes the mystery of space and the joy of exploration. You will be sent to explore unmapped systems, but all this entails is flying about and scanning anomalies until you reveal one to be a system; entering it initiates yet another poorly written, cookie-cutter caper. Easy to navigate is one thing, but Star Trek Online is divided into simple and digestible chunks. If you are a Trekkie new to online role playing, this spoon-fed design will help ease you into the game, but experienced explorers will miss the rush of discovery.
It's a good thing the space combat is fun in spurts, considering you spend so much of your time steering your ship around. Your shields are represented in the heads-up display by four arcs surrounding your ship; they take individual damage, which is a system not unlike that in other Star Trek games, such as 2002's excellent Bridge Commander. You'll want to protect your hull by keeping your shields up, all while whittling down your enemies' shields and then pounding them with torpedoes and other weapons. Attacks are supplemented by the various skills that you and the crew members earn as you level up, which may replenish shields, enhance damage, or allow for a quick getaway. Moments of true excitement are brief but can deliver an occasional rush. In large-scale fleet actions and player-versus-player shoot-a-thons, your screen will explode with color (and your speakers will explode with the pew-pews of disruptors). This is Star Trek Online at its best. The fun is plain and short lived, but it's rewarding to work with other players to bring down a resilient battle cruiser or a squadron of pesky PVPers.
Most of the action is of a much smaller scale, however. If you stick to missions meant for your level, Star Trek Online is a cakewalk. You can get through most battles by flying circles around enemies while hammering your space bar to fire weapons, and activating abilities from time to time. There are occasions where you'll need to take a bit more care, but even then, you'll need not fear defeat. There is no death penalty whatsoever--you just respawn and reenter the fray, no worse for the wear. The lack of a death penalty may sound appealing if you have dreaded memories of returning to your corpse in EverQuest, but here, it just makes an easy game even easier. Few fights offer the down-to-the-last-second kind of tension you'd hope for, and success is so inevitable that victory often rings hollow. You're just going through the motions without having to exercise the strategies you'd employ in the larger fleet actions.
- Player Reviews: 127
- Game Universe:
- Star Trek: New Worlds (PC, DC),
- Star Trek: Voyager Elite Force (PC, PS2, MAC),
- Star Trek: Shattered Universe (PS2, XBOX),
- Star Trek (C64, 5200, MSX),
- Star Trek: The Next Generation (GB, NES, PBL),
- Star Trek: Legacy (X360, PC),
- Star Trek: Conquest (PS2, WII),
- Star Trek: The Next Generation--A Final Unity (PC, MAC),
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Harbinger (PC, MAC),
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Fallen (PC, MAC)
- Online Modes:
- Number of Online Players: