Space, the final frontier, these are the voyages of the starship Picard, it’s forever continuing mission – to explore the sparsely looking worlds of Star Trek Online, to seek out and talk to badly designed characters with incredibly smooth faces, to boldly go where MMO’s have gone before.
So, given that Star Trek turns 50 this year, it’s befitting that finally Star Trek Online makes its way on to consoles after having been released back in 2010 for the PC. Was it worth the wait? Well, the swagger and human part of me is saying ”yes, go download it now!”, but the more logical Vulcan part is shouting ‘Sort-of’. I will say this straight away. If you played Star Trek Online back in 2010 and have fallen off the bandwagon so to speak, I can wholeheartedly recommend now being a great time to jump back in.
When you first boot up Star Trek Online, the first thing the game has you do is choose which faction you wish to play as – Federation, Klingon, or Romulan, with each having their own unique prologue setting up the story. Along with it you also have the option to choose which race you would like to originate from, with several of the fan favourites including Bajoran, Ferengi and the like. Having chosen the federation, I was a young intelligent cadet at Starfleet academy, thirty years after Star Trek Nemesis, getting ready for graduation when I was assigned acting first officer of the USS Picard thanks to my performance at the academy. The Klingon and the Federation have declared war on one another and before long you’re left to your own devices with command of your own ship.
Many of the missions involve the player talking to a guy reading walls of text, travelling to a destination and either scanning or shooting at something. It’s not incredibly inspired or original unfortunately and the lack of voice acting really slows things down. When there is voice acting in place, a lot of is pretty terrible as well.
I’m going to quickly get this out of the way right now, I actually got stuck. No, not because the mission was incredibly challenging, but because I encountered game breaking bugs on one particular mission that halted my progress. Without spoiling too much, I had to blow up an asteroid, but between me and the asteroid were a group of Klingon ships who were not very happy – which is fine, we had had a previous altercation that didn’t turn out too well for them. So, there we were about to do battle when none of my ship weapons would fire on their ships. At first I thought it was some form of ability the Klingons had, but it turns out that it’s a problem several people have had. What I had to do in the end is try to out run the Klingons to the asteroid and shoot at it little by little before they would inevitably catch up and blow me up. The mission took a good few hours to accomplish and as you can imagine, it was frustrating beyond belief. Fortunately it seemed to be an isolated incident and the rest of the missions I completed played without much issue.
Now because Star Trek Online has been out for six years on the PC, all the content previously released over the years is readily available from the get go. That means in terms of the story you have all 11 seasons to play through, ranging from visiting DS9 to battling the borg with Voyager. Along the way you’ll also interact with a number of famous characters from the TV show. To kick off your adventure you’ll hear Spock (voiced by the late and great Leonard Nimoy), basically explaining what’s been going on in this particular Trek universe and how it correlates to you. But it doesn’t end there. Developer Cryptic Studios have gone one step further to make the whole experience as authentic as possible with well known characters appearing throughout the missions. Tuvok, Harry Kim, and Worf just to name a few. It’s a nice touch, with all the actors reprising their roles, even if a few seem a little phoned in.
Developer Cryptic Studios promise with this particular port was that in their eyes, it needed to feel like it belonged, both gameplay wise and graphically on the latest machines. Well, fitting a whole range of keyboard commands onto an Xbox One controller is no easy task, even my small brain can work that out. So when it was announced that Star Trek Online was being ported over, I like many others were sceptical of just how this was going to be pulled off and whether it would be fun to play. I’m pleased to report that it controls incredibly well considering the amount of hot bars and commands you have available to you.
For ground and away team missions, controlling your captain is quite simple with the bulk of the gameplay boiling down to running to an objective or shooting your weapon. Shooting is as simple as pulling the left trigger to aim and right trigger to shoot, unfortunately it all feels extremely janky. Because you can’t really do anything in regards to cover or strategy, ground shoot-outs boil down to you and your computer controlled away team standing around 10 meters away from the enemy, whatever it may be, and tapping the right trigger, until either they or you fall down. Not only that, but the aiming can be extremely hazardous with the lock-on more often than not attaching itself to members of your away team rather than the enemy. It’s annoying and very easy to do. The game being an MMO means of course that your aim doesn’t matter a whole lot due to damage and other effects being determined through dice rolls. But it can get quite frustrating when you see your shots hitting, but the enemy not really reacting to it.
You do have other hot-bared abilities to help you, and on the PC these would be used by pressing a whole number of keys and waiting for the cool down effect to wear off before re-using them again. The way this is handled on console is you have your primary abilities (swapping weapons or the secondary fire ability) mapped to the face buttons on the Xbox One controller. To change abilities it’s as simple as holding the corresponding face button down for a few seconds until an ‘abilities’ wheel pops up, from there you can either quick use the ability or item for healing and what not, or set the new ability as your new primary. It’s fast, for the most part intuitive, and works as intended. Obviously in the heat of combat you can’t just pull out the ability wheel because it covers a large section of screen, so another option here is that you can set up your weapons and abilities to auto-use when certain criteria is met, such as health below 50%. It’s incredibly useful to be able to throw plasma grenades without having to worry about pressing a number of buttons to do so.
What happens then though is the game becomes a little too easy on its base difficulty and as long as you keep on top of things, you should coast through the first few seasons of the story. That is all true for the space combat also, and having all of your phasers or photon torpedoes firing on all cylinders automatically can be satisfying. Space combat is where Star Trek Online really hits its stride because, to a degree, you actually have to be strategic. You will need to worry about your shields and hull too as when you get into dog fights with other ships, you have to be wary of how your shields are doing. If one side has depleted, the idea is to turn your ship so that the vulnerable side is guarded.
Your starship also has both forward and aft weapon slots and the more you rank up, the bigger the ships you have available to you, and the more weapon slots they will have. Position is everything in space combat, even for your ship’s abilities which come about as a result of what type of bridge officer you have under your command and what rank they are.
When it was first released, Star Trek Online was highly anticipated with its promise of well blended ground and space combat. For the first time, you were able to take charge and control your very own starship, while also leading your away team. That was fine until you reached max level and had finished the story, as there wasn’t any real ‘end-game’ to speak of. Thankfully over the years developer Cryptic Studios have bulked this up considerably with the introduction of the ‘reputation’ system, which unlocks once you hit level 50. You can take part in larger scale operations, either in space or on the ground covering the borg to the gorn. Completing these large operations reward you in several ways, most notably with that factions particular currency – a currency which you can then use to buy top tier equipment. It does keep you playing and coming back with that lure of seeing what rare items you might get. Usually I’m one to critique a game with so many different currencies and factions to keep track of, but here it works well and precise.
As many of you may know, Star Trek Online is free to play, meaning that it doesn’t cost anything to download and start playing. But with most free to play games you’ll maybe have access to the first few missions all the while getting fed micro-transactions through an in-game store. Yes, there is an in-game store filled with juicy micro-transactions from cosmetic to experience increases, but here it doesn’t feel intrusive and in your face.
At the end of the day Star Trek Online is a great game. Okay, the ground combat is definitely rough around the edges as well as occasionally annoying with its targeting system. And yes, I did encounter a few bugs that were extremely frustrating, and the visuals will never blow you away. However, it still doesn’t detract from the quality of the experience being offered here. Space combat can be great fun, as well as seeing and hearing about all of the iconic places, characters and sounds from years of Star Trek, and for free, there’s no reason to not jump in.
What are you waiting for captains? Engage!