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Game Info:

Star Trek Online
Developed By: Cryptic Studios
Published By: Perfect World Entertainment
Released: February 2, 2010
Available On: Windows, Xbox One, Playstation 4
Genre: Fantasy MMORPG
ESRB Rating: Teen: Blood, Violence
Number of Players: Online Multiplayer
Price: Free to play; optional subscriptions start at $14.99
(Amazon Affiliate Link)

Space: the final frontier. The Romulan people are scattered and staggered after a supernova claimed their home planet. The Klingons, pressured by external forces and internal strife, seek to renew their war with the United Federation of Planets. Reports from Deep Space Nine indicate increased Cardassian aggression, Mirror Universe incursions, and even Dominion attacks. Most recently, the Borg have been sighted within the Beta Quadrant. These, in the midst of it all, are the voyages of the Starfleet Academy graduating class of 2409.

Star Trek Online is an action MMORPG with two separate gameplay styles: space and ground. On the ground, you take control of your player-created captain; together with either other players or your computer-controlled “bridge officer” allies, you traverse various planets and space stations while engaging in third person shooter-style combat against groups of enemies. In space, you command your spaceship, utilizing weapons and abilities of your choosing to eliminate hostile ships. While there are some non-combat elements, usually in the form of light puzzles or dialogue events, the vast majority of the game is focused on the combat.

At first launch, you are greeted with the character creation system, with is highly varied and versatile. The first choice is for your faction: Starfleet (along with an Original Series homage 23rd century variant), the Klingon Empire, and the Romulan Republic, each with their own playable races, campaigns, and interface visuals. Next, you choose your race: nearly every major Star Trek race is available for selection, from humans to Vulcans to Trill to Ferengi, though some are locked to a specific faction. There’s even an “alien” race with a huge supply of body parts to mix and match if the official races don’t thrill you. After making your character unique through an array of facial and body sliders, along with an extensive uniform selection, you choose between three classes, represented as career paths through your chosen faction’s command: tactical, engineering, and science. These form a loose but non-binding DPS-tank-healer trinity, and determine what abilities you gain from leveling. From there, you’re ready to explore strange new worlds – and, more often than not, shoot at whoever lives there.

Luckily enough, the combat is varied and engaging, even many hours into the game, thanks in no small part to the sheer variety of options available. The ground combat offers two main styles of play: an “RPG” mode that’s more akin to other MMO combat systems; and a “TPS” mode that acts like other games of that genre, albeit watered down a touch. In either case, the player has full control over their character’s movement, even while firing. You are able to equip and switch between two weapons, of which there is a wide variety – sniper rifles, dual pistols, miniguns, and even bat’leths, for instance – and all offer different primary and secondary firing modes. Additional abilities are equipped through “kit” items, in which “modules” representing various class-specific skills can be slotted. 

Through most ground missions, you are accompanied by up to four “bridge officers” – fully-customizable NPCs that you can outfit to your liking, both in equipment and ability loadout. You have only marginal control over them, limited mostly to determining their aggressiveness and position, and thus are mostly useful as support for the player character. They also have a tendency to get stuck on random objects, leaving you shorthanded in bigger firefights. This lack of fine control over your crew, along with having comparatively less options available to you than in space, make the ground segments the weaker of the two combat systems, though by no means uninteresting.

Star Trek Online
Highlights:

Strong Points: Space combat is unique and satisfying; customization options are outstanding; plenty of repeatable content; visuals and audio capture the Star Trek feel perfectly
Weak Points: Some gameplay systems are very complicated; endgame is a huge grindfest; semi-frequent and occasionally serious bugs
Moral Warnings: Extreme, though bloodless, body count; mild language; skimpy outfits; other players can be vulgar at times

The space segments offer a single though intuitive control scheme: WASD turn the ship, E and Q respectively increase and decrease the throttle. Starships come in three flavors, mirroring the classes: escorts, in the style of Sisko’s Defiant, are quick, heavy hitters; cruisers, like Picard’s Enterprise-D, are tanks; and science vessels, such as Janeway’s Voyager, are crowd controllers. Each ship has essentially two health bars: the shields, split in four between each facing of the ship, and the hull, which represents the ship’s actual health. Shields absorb damage until they are depleted, at which point the hull becomes vulnerable; in this way, proper control of your vessel to keep your fire concentrated on one of your enemy’s facings at a time is essential. Your ship also has four power levels that determine weapon power, shield strength, speed and maneuverability, and effectiveness of your captain’s and crew’s special abilities; these can be adjusted at any time, and some abilities will positively or negatively affect either your own or your opponent’s ship power. 

In addition, the game offers a wide variety of weapon and ship types, all of which significantly change how you play. For instance, a small, fast escort-type ship with dual cannons offers a hit-and-run style with intermittent bouts of heavy damage, while a giant cruiser outfitted with beam arrays can dish out steady damage while drawing and neutralizing enemy fire. Further abilities are determined by your bridge officers, and each ship fits a different number of officers: a cruiser can seat more engineering officers, giving you more defensive abilities at the cost of fewer tactical and science stations. The best part about this system is that there are very few restrictions; as long as one has the ship type and gear for it, one could switch from a torpedo-heavy loadout to a pure beam build and suffer no ill effects.

However, this system also exposes one of the game’s biggest stumbling blocks: its complexity. Even disregarding the other equipment slots, ship weapons alone have a bamboozling array of options. Each of the main weapon types – beams, cannons, torpedoes, and mines – have numerous sub-types: cannons, for instance, come in such flavors as turrets, dual cannons, and dual heavy cannons, all of which differ in attack speed, base power, and firing arc. Beyond that, there are six main energy types, each with their own specific effect – plasma weapons, for instance, set targets on fire, while disruptors lower the opponent’s defenses. Consider that each energy type has subtypes of its own, and it’s easy to see how one could get lost, especially with the rather meager tutorials offered by the game. And that’s just for ship weapons; add to that ground weapons, shields, bridge officer abilities, consumable device slots, and a host of other equipment slots, and it’s enough to make your head spin. 

The player skill system is also rather complicated: split into space and ground sections, your character gets separate space and ground points as they level, offering passive damage bonuses, increased stats, and the like. However, each choice is immediately locked in, and resetting the skills requires a microtransaction after the first time. If you pick the wrong skill early on, or simply decide to change up your playstyle later on, you’ll be hamstrung until you pay up.

If you can get a handle on it all, though, it opens up what might be Star Trek Online’s strongest point: its customization. Along with your own character as mentioned above, you have full control of your bridge officers’ appearances, with the only static elements being race and gender, and you can change them at any time and as often as you wish. The three class choices have no bearing on what ship you can fly or how effective you will be – a tactical captain in a science vessel can be just as useful as an engineer in an escort. Ships themselves come in a huge variety of looks, including official series ships such as the Galaxy class of Enterprise-D fame, and can be customized further, down to the style of the windows. In fact, nearly every ship ever depicted in the Star Trek series, from the Original Series all the way through to the newest reboot movies, is flyable and/or fightable, along with a host of original developer creations. When combined with the equipment system, you have the freedom to create a ship and crew as close to – or as far from – the shows and movies as you desire.

Content-wise, Star Trek Online doesn’t disappoint. Each faction has its own separate storyline – though they do all converge about halfway through, mitigating differences to flavor text only. The story is broken up into separate segments, dealing with one or two adversaries at a time; for Starfleet, finishing the Romulan-centric story arc opens up the next, Cardassian-focused one. The story arcs are mostly kept separate from each other, but with certain shared elements that become central to the overall plot as the game progresses. Almost every mission is freely repeatable, with only a 30-minute cooldown as a barrier. While most missions follow the same basic pattern – shoot enemies in space, shoot enemies on the ground, shoot enemies in space, win – the sheer amount of enemy variety keeps combat interesting, and every enemy faction fights differently both in space and on the ground. 

Mission quality wildly varies, with newer content being considerably more streamlined than launch quests; a few missions are downright painful to play, but the majority are near or above average. Even beyond the many official missions, the game allows for players to create their own; these “foundry” missions offer theoretically infinite new content, though again the quality of any given mission is a mystery at first glance. As you level, two side systems – Duty Officers and Admiralty – open up; these pseudo-collectable card games are mostly self-contained and generally only good for filling time between missions, but offer benefits in the form of currency and items. Both systems can become very lucrative if invested in, but have limited entertainment value and can be safely ignored.

Star Trek Online
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 83%
Gameplay - 16/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 2.5/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 77%
Violence - 5/10
Language - 7/10
Sexual Content - 6.5/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

The endgame consists of more difficult five-player instances, “adventure zones” where dozens of players work together on a single map to perform a series of objectives, and semi-frequent special events that range from players taking down a giant crystalline entity to hoverboard surfing races. Alongside these is a rather stifling grind to obtain the gear necessary to perform well in those missions – one such activity, the reputation system, requires funneling resources into a twenty-hour “project” for forty days before even obtaining the option to purchase high-end equipment, with no gameplay other than obtaining the resources required. 

As is typical of free-to-play MMOs, a cash shop is available to circumvent some of this waiting, and while ships and equipment bought this way are significantly more powerful than most free options, none are required to complete any of the game’s content, nor is any content locked behind a paywall. As much of the best equipment is obtained through gameplay and/or grind, and as the free ships given by leveling are more than powerful enough to compete even in the endgame, Star Trek Online is not so much "pay to win" as it is "pay to trivialize". That said, the majority of playable starships in the game are tucked away in this cash shop, with the most powerful ones currently starting at $30.00. While top-tier ships are given away roughly three times a year – heavy gameplay grind included, of course – in general, if you are looking to upgrade, be prepared to open your wallet. It should also be mentioned that cash shop currency can be obtained in-game as well, though at a very slow pace.

Also typical of MMOs, bugs can creep into the experience. Some have been significant over the years, sometimes breaking whole gameplay systems, and occasionally Cryptic can be slow to respond. While the PC version’s major problems are currently limited to a wonky animation system, the newly-launched console versions are having their fair share of potentially game-breaking issues, along with having less total content than their counterpart. It’s worth noting that the game enjoyed a brief period of time on Apple computers as well, before support dwindled and eventually dropped around two years in – while console support is currently running full tilt, it’s something to keep in the back of your mind if you go the console route. The three versions are completely separate from each other, though, so if you mainly play on PC, your characters will not be affected by the state of the Xbox and Playstation iterations. In addition, you can expect some disconnects from time to time, but the game is usually good about keeping your position in a mission if you drop during one.

Outside of the gameplay, Star Trek Online’s presentation is as close to the TV shows as possible. The graphics are not only fitting to the series, they are often rather beautiful on a higher-end computer. The relevant ships and uniforms perfectly match the originals, though there is plenty of developer-made gear that occasionally clashes with the aesthetic. The sound effects are stellar, with everything from phaser fire to the ambient noise on a ship’s bridge practically ripped from the source. A decent chunk of the original actors, such as Tim Russ (Tuvok), Michael Dorn (Worf), and most recently Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov) reprise their roles from the shows – indeed, the late Leonard Nimoy narrates the opening cutscene and a few other sections of the game. Star Trek fans will find a lot to love here, as long as they don’t mind the severe tonal shift from the shows to the actual gameplay, which is also where the bulk of the moral issues come in.

To be sure, this isn’t Jean-Luc Picard’s Starfleet anymore; you don’t seek out new life and new civilizations so much as seek out new death and new victimizations. What little diplomacy and exploration were in the game at launch have since been stripped out in favor of constant warfare. Even as a Starfleet officer, you will be fighting scores of humanoid aliens, and in this game there’s no such thing as a stun setting. Almost every defeated enemy dies; almost every defeated ship explodes with all hands implied to be lost. The violence is bloodless, save for a few pre-placed blood textures, but your character will be killing a lot of people. Playing as part of the Klingon Empire will glorify this violence more than with Starfleet or the Romulans, but none seem to shy away from it. 

Other than the violence, mild swear words pop up very rarely, some of them voiced. There are a handful of clothing options that amount to little more than a bikini, and many more that show a lot of skin, and you will likely see at least one person’s character wearing one in any of the larger social hubs in the game. Other players can occasionally be quite rude, even vulgar at times, and the zone-wide chat in the most populous areas can quickly turn ugly. Thankfully, the options to filter coarse language, silence individual players, and even close whole chat channels entirely are all there.

In the end, Star Trek Online has a lot to offer. While the game certainly caters to Star Trek fans, even those ambivalent about the series should find something to like. While complicated at first, the game’s slick presentation, engaging combat, and decently friendly free-to-play model is worth sticking around to see. With the recently released console versions, support for the game should last for some time, even after almost seven years of life – though if possible, stick with the PC version for now, as the consoles have some issues that need hammering out. If you have the patience and the tolerance for violence, boldly go and give it a try.

-Cadogan

 

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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