As you earn new ranks, you’re offered ever more slots for officers, until, as a full Captain, your ships typically allow three Lieutenants and a Lieutenant Commander – a full nine extra cards in your deck. Every time you upgrade like that, it changes your game completely. STO particularly comes alive at that first milestone: you finally have a ship that doesn’t look like the Enterprise’s little brother, you’re starting to specialise in the sort of fighting you want to be doing long term, and you’re off to farther reaches of the Alpha Quadrant.
Space combat is just brilliant. It’s impossible not to feel a complete nerd thrill. We’d spent many an hour cruising through the serene cosmos when Klingons suddenly uncloaked to port and starboard – several zippy Birds of Prey and a heaving Negh’Var warship. We ordered evasive maneuvers, shooting out of the ambush and bearing round just as the mobility buff ran out, and then killed the engines. Switching to our attack power profile, we diverted our shields to the front and harried the lumbering warship with our six heavy cannons.
Switching power profiles takes a second as the levels redistribute, but as soon as our auxiliary power hit 75%, we sent that power to the fore deflector dish and screwed up the Klingon’s shields with a tachyon beam. His front shield might as well have been a paper bag at this point.
Space combat aside, we’re not left with much to enthuse over. The actual missions you’re on are terrible: kill ten Klingons, scan five research bases for Klingons, scan five research bases and kill ten klingons... we’re waiting for ‘bring me ten Klingon pelts/wild Borg meat’. Star Trek’s universe? They’ve taken it into the basement and done horrible things to it. The Federation is at war on all fronts, and when you spot a vessel hovering by your objective and can open fire without even hailing it, it’s just not Starfleet.
Ground combat attempts to emulate the sublime celestial jousting, but is too chaotic to hold a candle to it. It’s the same situation: you spot some Gorn raiders rigging a bomb in the Starfleet embassy and you set yourself up, with a secondary team attacking from a different angle to ensure plenty of flanking damage bonus, with shield generators and mine fields, and finally you give the order to concentrate fire on the strongest foe. That’s when it gets lame. Enemies don’t use cover and they’re all far too handy in a scrap.
One of the most dangerous Klingon types you’ll run into is the Swordmaster. His whole thing is running at you with pistols blaring before tickling your intestines with a bat’leth. Most of the other types do that too; he’s just really good at it. Moments after your careful planning, you’re covered in oiled lizard men and spamming your ‘oh piss off!’ attack.
Instead, it’s all about space battles against AI, fleet actions, and space-based PvP. While the latter has been swallowed by launch hitches and queues, fleet actions are fun informal raids where you join with about 20 ships to take down invasion forces. This can be thrilling, especially when someone bothers to heal you.
Exploration missions, where great sectors of space and planets are randomly generated for you, almost deliver on the promise of that tired mission statement “to boldly go where no man has gone before”. And the loot’s pretty good – tokens for trading in high-end equipment. We have been to an asteroid belt full of Klingons before, however. Every other randomly generated mission is exactly that. Come on: where’s the endless variety of the cosmos?
There’s a sense of missed opportunity with Star Trek Online. While travelling through sector space, you can visit your bridge, but you can’t do actually do anything. By standing upright on the seat and typing ‘/emote Sitcaptain’, you can sit. You don’t get to say ‘engage’ without standing back up. Then you /facepalm. Or /KHAN!
More faults: crafting is almost absent, and the guild interface is a joke. For a game based on a show where entire episodes are just people talking, it’s doing a great job of denting social activities. Cryptic may well improve the game in the next six months. As it stands, STO is worth a tentative month’s subscription: the space combat is an iron-clad exercise in fun. But after that month: ditch it.
Mar 2, 2010