Review: Star Trek Online

A Star Trek Federation Cruiser in a shipyard- a *space* shipyard!

Since Star Trek Online went free to play last week, I thought I’d give it a go and see what it was like. I’ve been a fan of Star Trek for a long time. I watched The Next Generation when it was first broadcast, and I still rate Deep Space Nine as one of my favourite TV shows of all time. As such, this was a game that I really wanted to like.

Unfortunately, things started to go sour from as early on as character creation. Many of the classic Star Trek races were available: humans, Vulcans, Andorians, Bajorans, Trill, and so on. I chose to play as a female Ferengi science officer called Queeg (virtual cookies to anyone who gets the reference). In many respects, character creation was pretty standard. I got to choose how tall my character was, and what design of uniform she wore, for instance. Some of the other character creation decisions were truly baffling, though.

I didn’t have any options for changing my basic facial features, for instance. All female Ferengi apparently have exactly the same eyes, nose, mouth and ears, excepting only lipstick or tattoos across the nose. This lack is made all the more conspicuous by some of the things that I could customise. For instance, I was free to change the size of my breasts, which could vary from “fairly small” to “disproportionately huge for the slim frame carrying them and guaranteed to cause back problems”. Quite how a franchise that brought us an inter-racial kiss in 1968 and a lesbian kiss in 1995 has descended to the point where breast size is considered a more important customisation than facial features, I do not know.

Queeg, a Ferengi. While humanoid, she is clearly not human, with notable features such as very large ears, ridges on her nose, and extremely prominent brow ridges. Her bald head is noticeably shaped to house a brain with four prominent lobes.

Queeg, a Ferengi. While humanoid, she is clearly not human, with notable features such as very large ears, ridges on her nose, and extremely prominent brow ridges. Her bald head is noticeably shaped to house a brain with four prominent lobes.

After character creation, I was flung straight into the thick of things, with a confrontation with the Borg. They had captured another Starfleet ship, and we weren’t able to contact any of the crew. And so, I was ordered to beam over to the ship and see what I could do.

Now, I was a five foot tall Ferengi science officer with a specialisation in astrophysics and warp theory. I had no combat expertise, no history with the Borg, and as an ensign, there were many other officers on the ship with more experience than I. And yet, I was still sent off to single-handedly fight the Borg. (For anyone who isn’t a Star Trek fan, the Borg are probably the single most dangerous and implacable enemy in the whole Star Trek universe.)

Similarly straining credulity was the fact that immediately upon returning from this mission, I was given a field-promotion from ensign to acting captain. This was later followed by a full promotion to the rank of lieutenant, yet I was allowed to keep my own command anyway.

These are not necessarily bad things, but they do indicate from the off exactly how the game is going to go. Immersion and story continuity were taking a back-seat to action and excitement. Science, diplomacy, and exploration were taking a back-seat to combat.

I’m OK with this decision. While it isn’t really in keeping with the spirit of Star Trek, it’s a lot easier and a lot safer to make a game that’s based on killing things and shooting things than it is to make a game based on science and diplomacy. Personally, I’d love to see a big-budget mainstream MMO that wasn’t based around combat, of one sort or another, but I can see why game studios might be reluctant to take that risk, especially with a major franchise like Star Trek. And besides, I do enjoy combat-based games.

So the question then becomes, “is the combat any good?” The answer to this question, unfortunately, is “no”. For my first mission against the Borg, combat was successfully completed by pointing my mouse cursor in the general direction of the enemy, and then holding down the mouse button to shoot. Of course, this was just a tutorial mission, so I kept on waiting for things to get better on this front, but they never did. I did learn a few more abilities, like using a medical tricorder, but I never needed them. Through all the time I played, simply pointing and shooting was enough.

I will freely admit that since I only played for about 5 or 10 hours, it’s possible that things may improve later on. However, I’m firmly of the opinion that nobody should ever have to slog through hours of tedium in order to get to the good parts of a game. If you disagree with me on that one and are looking for information about the late game, this isn’t the review for you.

Ship based combat was better than ground combat. Here, the idea was to try to turn your ship so that you’re pointing as many of your weapons as possible at the enemy, while at the same time ensuring that you don’t let them target an area of your ship where you’re shields are weak. This seemed like a good system that was simple to understand but had the potential for hidden depths of strategy.

Unfortunately, this too suffered from poor balance and a lack of difficult. With only two exceptions, I completely outmatched every ship I faced. Even when fighting several ships at once, all I had to do was repeatedly mash on the “fire all weapons” button while occasionally turning my ship around slightly so that no single section’s shields took too much of a beating. The only times when my ship was in any sort of danger were when I was one of a fleet of ships facing a single, powerful enemy vessel (once with AI ships, and once with other people). On both occasions, my ship was destroyed, but I was able to quickly respawn and rejoin the fight with no penalty.

Overall, the game was just too slow-paced to be any fun. It felt a lot like the sort of old-school MMO design that was meant to keep me playing as long as possible to drain as much money from me in subscription fees as possible. Of course, now that it’s a free to play game, that no longer applies, but that origin was still very obvious, and came across as very dated compared to modern MMOs.

As an example, on one mission, I had beamed over to a transport freighter that had suffered an engine malfunction, and one of my objectives was to rescue injured survivors. To do this I had to interact with them once which (after a couple of seconds wait) would tell me what their medical condition was. Then I had to click on them again to treat this medical condition (again, with a couple of seconds delay). Finally, I had to talk to them to tell them to go to the transporter room so they could be beamed out. All of this served no useful purpose except to slow me down and frustrate me.

Travel times, too, were burdensome. Missions were short, and the following missions were often a long way away, necessitating a tedious journey through well-explored and friendly (read: nothing interesting happened) space.

The USS Lancaster, a sleek little off-black ship with pink highlights.

The USS Lancaster, a sleek little off-black ship with pink highlights.

I don’t want to imply that the game was all bad, though. There were some parts of it that I liked. My inner Trekkie was certainly pleased by the many references to parts of the universe that I knew from the TV shows. Early missions included a trip to the monastery of P’Jem (Enterprise) and an encounter with a member of species 8472 (Voyager), for instance.

I also liked the different starship design and customisation features. The ships were modular, so I could choose from a selection of saucers, a selection of nacelles, and so on. I also got to choose my own colours, so I ended up with a sleek little off-black ship with pink highlights. Fabulous.

Overall, though, the positive aspects were far outweighed by the plodding and uninspiring gameplay, which ensured I won’t be coming back for more. There may be an interesting game hidden underneath all of this, somewhere, but unless you’re willing to put in tens of hours to try to find it, I wouldn’t bother with this.

About rho

Scientist, woman, lesbian, transsexual, gamer, geek, feminist, liberal, rationalist, and various other labels. Gamer since the days of the ZX81. Feminist since the time I realised that the label was not synonymous with transphobe. I keep a sporadically-updated personal blog about whatever's on my mind at the time.
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15 Responses to Review: Star Trek Online

  1. TheLaquidara says:

    I actually thought the character creation was the most robust part of the game, however, they do limit the options depending on what race you picked. If you go alien you get the chance to really mess around with the sliders.

    My reaction to the game was a lot different from yours. I found the early space combat boring, but it does get better after a while. I really enjoyed the ability to recruit, name, and customize every little aspect of my crew members that you get to see address you and fight along side you during missions. There’s also an abstract representation of your 400+ crew in the form of a Duty Officers that you can send off and do missions for you. There are also “To Boldly Go” missions, these are basic exploration missions that have you looking for new life and helping them in some way. Usually they want food or medicine. It’s boring and falls flat, but I at least got a kick out of it.

    It is a slow game, though I did find that I leveled up pretty quickly and the combat starting to ramp up in difficulty (There’s also the choice to heighten the difficulty, I’ve not messed with it.) I really dislike slow starts, even in MMOs, but I didn’t find it all that bad here. I will say, though, that the tutorial is WAY TOO DAMN LONG. Thankfully you can skip it after you go through it once. Didn’t mind the combat focus too much, Star Trek, especially TOS, had its fair share of it, not to mention its fair share of racist, sexist bullshit, but that’s not something I’ve encountered outside of my crew addressing me as “Sir.”

    Overall. I’m enjoying it. It’s at least worth a look.

    • rho says:

      Thanks for weighing in with your opinions. I know that different people will have different takes on things, and that’s only right and proper. My basic attitude to reviews is to say what I experienced and give my take on things, and let people judge from there. The things that I don’t like may be exactly the same things that other people do like. So it’s always good to have extra opinions, so readers have more to base their judgement on.

  2. Maverynthia says:

    If you get to change the breast size on the woman…err.. what do you get to change on the man?

  3. Deviija says:

    I started an alien character up a couple days ago, just to see how the game played. There are many aspects of it that I DO like, but many other mechnic and UI and systems stuff that overcomplicate everything to the point where my enjoyment is far and between. The chargen (especially the homebrew make-your-own-alien) is particularly awesome, as well as having your own away party/officers that you can customize, and going through the little episodic missions… Diplomatic missions in particular I like. But goodness, is it ever really SLOW to get anywhere and get anything accomplished, imo.

    The controls for Space combat and maneuvering and getting around in sector space/zones/planetary systems/warping is just so cumbersome and clunky to me. It should be a lot more simplified. There is no need for all these many extra steps for basic combat, nor should combat in space take an hour just to take down one or two ships in normal mode, and there’s no need for transportation to be so slow getting around from place to place like it is.

    Ground missions are a deal easier to handle mechanics, time, and challenge-wise, along with a variety of landscapes and interesting little details. My only complaint there is that there often is too much open (aka useless) space that has no utility.

    Also, their quest markers and quest directions and quest pathing (or lack thereof) should really be reworked entirely. I have spent way too much time just trying to figure out what is the next step I am supposed to do on a quest, and finding where that person is (if they’re on Earth spacedock, or another planetary system, or even an entirely different quadrant or sector of space that I need to slooowly get to before even hunting for them in that area etc.), and finding where exactly I am supposed to interact with what NPC or object or terminal… gah! It is messy.

    Needless actions and overcomplication is the basic summation of everything in STO, imo. Which is unfortunate since there could be some interesting theme/world/questing to pass the time.

  4. James says:

    Your description of the character creator is utterly wrong.

    There is one preset for Frengi. But if you’d clicked that button that says “advanced” in the lower right corner, you’d have seen that you can change pretty much everything about the character design. To a truly alarming degree, honestly. This is Cryptic’s thing, after all. Maximal customization.

    I’m torn, here. I don’t want to start a fight. I’m a regular reader, but rarely a commenter here and the perils of that aren’t lost on me. Further, I’ve been an STO player since launch; I don’t want to be the kind of fan who can’t take a poor review of a product he likes. (Although I have both good and bad things to say about STO).

    But this is a pretty big deal; not noticing the really very prominent “advanced” button is a huge over sight. Its not something that can be passed off with “corrected”; it calls into question how much you payed attention to the game at all. And that’s a problem, because I rely pretty heavily on tBH, and a few other sites, to give me a perspective on games that I might want to play that isn’t available in more mainstream gaming press, and that means I need to count on you (both individually and as a collective enterprise) to give me an accurate empirical description of the games in question, and I need to be able to rely upon the editorial judgements to reflect a real commitment to accessing games carefully. That first oversight colored your whole review…

    I’m chasing myself in circles here, and it is late and I am tired. And I am pretty sure that if I don’t shut up now, I’ll say something I regret even if I haven’t already. But I really hope you understand that this is a pretty big deal, and not something that should be passed over too lightly.

    • James says:

      Its still late, and I’m even more tired. But I’ve been awake, bothered by my tone regarding your review as a whole. I don’t want to try and be coherent right now, but I think that I allowed my irritation with the initial error –which I still regard as serious — to lead me to over reach, and would ask that you permit me to withdraw my comment “color’s the whole review”; at least until I’ve had time make a coherent point.


      James

    • rho says:

      First off, thank you for the apology and withdrawal. I appreciate it. That said, I’m still going to attempt to defend myself as robustly as possible here. I have three main points.

      1. Reviews are inherently subjective. Furthermore, reviews can only cover material that the reviewer has actually seen. I quite explicitly stated on two occasions that I hadn’t seen all of the game, and was happy to admit the possibility that bits of the game I hadn’t seen could be amazing. While I was talking primarily about difficulty levels and late-game content, I’d like to think that the same logic should apply to the rest of the review. Especially with games of this size, there is simply no way a reviewer can see everything.

      There were even times when I considered going back to experiment with character creation some more to see how it differed if I chose a different sex or species, but in the end I decided it would be a better use of my time to try to press on further into the game to see whether the game’s difficulty balance improved.

      2. Unfortunately, I can’t actually go back now and re-check character creation, since STO limits non-paying players to only a single character, and I don’t wish to either pay or to delete my existing character. Absent the ability to go back and check, I’m reliant on my memory only.

      I did select the “advanced” customisations button, and I did change many of the options. I didn’t say that there weren’t any options available; I said that the choice of options was strange. There were options for nose tattoos, options for neck thickness, and options for breast size, but I do not remember seeing any options for the shape of my mouth, for instance.

      Now, I’m not going to dismiss the possibility that I did overlook this option. I am only human and I do make mistakes, which is why I’m a little sad that I can’t go back and check this directly for myself. However, I can categorically state that I did see the advanced customisation option and that I did use it. (I believe several of the customisation options I commented on were only available in the advanced customisation section, though I wouldn’t swear to it.) If someone can show me a screenshot of these customisation options for a female Ferengi, then I will readily hold my hand up, admit I made a mistake, and issue a retraction.

      (I’m also not dismissing the possibility that character creation for other species is much better and that I just picked the worst one by chance. If this is the case, then see point 1.)

      3. If I did get this wrong, then I don’t think that it’s as bad as you make out. As I stated, we are all human and well all make mistakes, and that includes, on occasion, journalistic mistakes and mis-statements. The only way we could be sure that we never said anything wrong would be to never say anything at all.

      While fact-checking a single point is a fairly simple matter, fact-checking everything is considerably more difficult. When you talk about the importance of getting statements of fact correct, you’re not merely stating that I should have taken more care over this one fact that you believe I got wrong; you’re also not stating that I should have taken more care over all statements of facts in this article. Instead, you’re stating that I should have taken more care over every statement that I make in every article that I write. This is not a simple matter. At best, this would greatly reduce the number of articles that I could write.

      This isn’t to say that factual accuracy isn’t important. It is. I always strive for it in everything that I do, and I cannot recall ever writing a deliberate falsehood in my life. But again, I am human and I do make mistakes. I’m not alone in that, of course. A tendency to make mistakes is a part of any website or magazine you can mention, whether gaming related or not. I’m only speaking for myself here and not for any of our other authors or editors, but I believe that one of the things you will get with The Border House is a willingness to admit when we make mistakes, and a willingness to engage with you, our readers, over why they happened.

      At this point, it would be great if you (or anyone else reading this) could go and double-check the Ferengi customisation options for me and, if possible, give me a screenshot. Before taking any further action, I’d like to know more precisely whether I truly have made a blunder here, and if so, to what degree. (And please know that I’m not trying to accuse you of lying here or anything. I just recognise that in a situation where your memory says one thing and my memory says something else, the only way forwards is to gather empirical evidence.) Once I have that information I’ll go back and try to determine what action I need to take now.

      • TheLaquidara says:

        You can actually mess around with the creator if you either go to a tailor (there’s one at Earth Space Dock) or pick up a Bridge Officer who can be of any of the playable variants. You can even totally change their look at the tailor as well.

  5. Laurentius says:

    I played a beta of STO I remember that character creator was quite robust at least for Humans and Vulcans. I am not super ST fan but I like TNG and DS9 a lot so I find space fight very pleasing. Yes, it slow paced but that’s how it was shown in the series: firing torpedoes, phasers and caring for your shields and energy, doing some tricky maneuver from time to time to gain advantage. On the other hand “ground” combat left me totally cold. Still I think I give it a go since it went F2P, especially I think my time with ToR is coming to an end…

  6. Amanda Lange says:

    Times have changed. Back when I used to watch Trek, Ferengi women couldn’t even wear clothes… Much less pilot custom ships. Maybe I’m showing my age there. Or is that a ‘we definitely have to ignore this for the sake of the game’ thing? I promise this isn’t a troll question; I’m genuinely surprised to see female Ferengi at all.

    • TheLaquidara says:

      A lot of that changed in DS9; see Memory Alpha’s “The Role of Women”: http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Ferengi

      Should also be noted that CBS does look over what Cryptic is doing with their property, as such CBS views STO as cannon.

    • rho says:

      This was actually my main motivation for choosing to play a Ferengi woman. As TheLaquidara says, there was a lot of development on that front in DS9, and I wanted to continue that story arc. In my own personal head-cannon, my character was a woman who had been greatly influenced by the social changes on Ferenginar. I presumed that although there had been great steps forward on that front, they still wouldn’t have achieved total equality, so it made sense for a woman who had been exposed to the possibility of equality might want to leave her homeworld and join Starfleet, which was much closer to being truly equal.

  7. Lima Zulu says:

    The combat you described reminds me of Pirates of the Burning Sea. I enjoyed the economy of that game. And speeding around in my sloop. Aaaaand running the hell away from ganksters.

  8. Max Battcher says:

    I’ve played off and on since launch as well. I am a little disappointed to see such a negative seeming review here, but I see it as a challenge to maybe dispense some “old timer” wisdom. Most of the comments I read here seem to have answers and like any MMO there is a bit of “tribal knowledge” that can go a long way to helping the experience. Maybe a TBH gathering or two in the game might be interesting/useful to show of more of the social aspects of the game and pass around some tips and tricks…

    A couple of immediate things I noticed in the comments:

    Slow travel in “sector space”: ironically, this was one of the things Cryptic was worried about and changed leading up to the F2P launch, but I think it was placed in such a way in the UX that it is hard to notice the feature they put in to combat this. I also don’t think the updated tutorial points it out very well, if at all. But there are now “transwarp” buttons next to missions (they look like spirals in a box) that will jump you to the next system you need to go. Admittedly there are cool downs involved and you can’t abuse those buttons too much, but they presumably should take some of the early travel tedium away. (There’s an argument amongst us old timers about the fiction break that these transwarp buttons are as a giveaway to F2P needs… Those slow travel times which get faster with better ships, can feel like an important differentiating characteristic to other franchises. In Star Trek, travel is never intended to be instantaneous. Some of the best TNG episodes occur “on the way” to various places. Admittedly STO lacks some of these storytelling moments in its fiction, but space travel has been full of great “fleet chats” in my time in the game.)

    Ground combat can be nearly as tactical as space, but the new default “FPS” view I think papers too much over that. (I’m one of the few old timers that dislikes the “shooter mode” stuff they added to ground combat.) If you switch to “RPG mode” (typically with your B key) you have more obvious access to managing the actions of your away team as a group. Admittedly with the sped up ground combat in the early levels you don’t “need” to use much in the way of tactics, but it may be something to try if you (like me) find “shooter mode” boring.

    Anyway, I’m sure that are more topics I could give my two cents on, but I’ll stop for now. If anyone wants to try meeting in game, I’d be happy to lend my (opinionated) voice to helping people explore STO’s take on the final frontier…

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