Going Picard in Star Trek Online

Captain Winky of the USS Close Shave

Trekkies are eagerly awaiting the release of Cryptic’s Star Trek Online next month, the new MMORPG that hopes to be the Star Fleet version of World of Warcraft. The open beta starts tomorrow, whilst the closed beta has been going for the last month. I’ve had a brief chance to dip my toes in the beta, and see what hope Star Trek Online has in the crowded MMO scene.

Developer’s Cryptic Studios have a history of reasonable online games. Their flagship title City of Heroes was solid, but like almost every other MMO it was overshadowed by World of Warcraft. Their more recent Champions Online has had a mixed reception – originally intended to be Marvel Universe Online, it was reshaped and turned into a seemingly rather average superhero MMO.

The Star Trek license is a bit of a mixed blessing for an MMORPG. Originally, Perpetual Entertainment were developing Star Trek Online, until going bankrupt in 2008 and handing over the license and art assets (but not the code) to Cryptic. Then there’s the whole issue of everyone wanting to be Kirk, Spock or Riker (probably not Picard or Janeway though).

So, now that it’s all finished (or as finished as a constantly-in-development MMO can be), does it do the name proud?

Well, erm. The game is split in two, between ship-based space sections and on-foot ground sections, making it a game of two halfs. Unfortunately, the on-foot sections could be accurately described as a load of pish, playing much like any other MMO (with phasers replacing fireballs), but with terrible animation, clunky movement, and a general sense of despair. On the bright side, you do get to create your own character (choosing from 10 races or creating your own race) and give them a pointless backstory. The on-foot sections also serve to move the story forward, which would be nice if it wasn’t for the dull, static text presentation. For a license that’s all about story and intergalactic diplomatic relations, Star Trek Online only really manages to convey the boredom of reading through a convection oven manual, which in a sense is at least in keeping with Star Fleet protocol.

Star Trek OnlineIt’s not a total cock-up though. The ship sections are a completely different game. You get to steer your own U.S.S. Enterprise-alike through the vast emptiness of space, coming into contact with enemy ships such as the Borg and cheekily firing your phasers at them. It all plays quite nicely, although it could quite frankly be played as a single player game without losing much…

Now admittedly, I haven’t spent a great deal of time with Star Trek Online yet, so my opinions may change over the coming weeks if I can bare to stick with it, but aside from the clunkiness of the characters, the thing that struck me was the entire lack of “MMO”. At no point do you really feel part of a large online game, chatting with friends and discovering a vast unfolding online world. The space sections feel a bit disconnected, a lot of time is spent interacting with AI characters, and at times it feels like clicking through a series of events rather than truly being in control of your character and their progress.

It’s all a little bit disappointing. I can even admit to being a fan of both the MMO genre and Star Trek, having spent way too many years playing games such as World of Warcraft and having a bit of a thing for DS9. There’s so much potential in a license such as Star Trek, that to see if fall short is painful. Worse still, Star Trek Online has actually fallen quite far short, lacking even half the polish of a five year old game such as World of Warcraft.

Whether Cryptic will substantially improve Star Trek Online after release remains to be seen. They certainly have a willing audience of fans who’d happily support them if they put in the effort. With Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO just over the horizon though, and already looking very impressive, Star Trek Online may just be a brief sidenote in MMO history. Bit of a shame, that.

Adam Philbin

Adam is the human male who gave birth to the website you're looking at, with or without the help of glasses, contact lenses or laser surgery. Today he designs apps by day and entertains toddlers by night.

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  • You never know. The Star Trek fan base may carry this title and enable it to survive teething problems and other issues until polished.

  • While some good points have been made here, and I have yet to play the game myself, I think some of the conclusions drawn here are a little premature. From what I’ve seen, the ground combat does leave much to be desired but comparing it to a game like WoW, that has had 5 years of updates and a customer base of 11.5+ million people paying their $15 a month is not really a fair comparison. WoW sucked too when it first was released.

  • Obviously some pre-hate goin on here, something deep seeded we’re not privy too…things like “a load of pish”, “general sense of dispair” and “cheekily firing”, etc. – dead giveaways. A biased review at best.

  • @Kennedy – WoW didn’t suck when it started. It took many of the best things from the previous MMOs and made a new one based on established lore. They did a great job and they have kept making it better and more accessible over time. I pre-oredered the game so I could get into the beta to try it, just hoping they aren’t just another company trying to get a piece of the MMO Pie that Blizzard currently owns. The Old Republic will be a good game. Bioware makes good games. This one… well, we can hope right?

  • No offense but isnt reviewing gameplay based on closed beta somewhat counterproductive ? Personally I didnt care for STO as I experienced it in closed beta. I did not judge it based on its bugginess or clunkiness because, from my experience, such are common in testing phases. That’s the point of a closed beta in the first place. My dislike came from pace, a sense of disconnect between character and ship (more like two separate games than one with multiple aspects), and the realization that group play is going ot necessitate fleet actions. This doesnt really doa good job of capturing the essence of the source material in my opinion.

    Would you please expand upon your comment about Champions Online being an average superhero MMO ? I have fairly serious issues with the game myself but find it enjoyable nonetheless. Since, as far as I know, there is only one other superhero MMO, one tht has a devoted following and has done very well for itself for years now, your comment would seem to imply that CO is on a par with its only comparable MMO. By definition if there is only one of something it is average for that category of things. If a second option is added and is refered to as being average then it is by definition being described as comparable or equal to the first.

    I am not certain that it is accurate to say that CO, from launch, is comparable to CoX (with which I have very limited experience) which has had years of development and growth.

  • Whether or not WoW sucked at launch, many people think that it sucks now. Commercial success does not necessarily equate to quality of product. If it did then McDonalds would be considered the best food in the world and the Backstreet Boys one of the greatest collections of musicians of all time.

  • Lance – where does it say that this article is a review? I think you’ll find that it’s just a write up of Adams first impressions.

  • I have been looking over the net to find different people impressions regarding this game. I do find that many people are posting their thoughts and are comparing parts, if not the whole game to Wow. While I played WoW for a combined total of one month, finding it was too “cartoonish” for my taste, I am welcoming a chance to play Star Trek Online.

    From the video’s that I have been able to see online, I think this is going to be a welcome and refreshing take-away from everything else out there.

    But as everyone knows, things in Beta, or at first launch rarely represent the final product that people should really be doing reviews on.

  • Nonshinygoose ,

    In this article the author reviews the game. He then concludes his review with a prediction (admittedly qualified with the word, “may.”). You don’t need the word review in the title of your article if the content fits that description.

  • Lance – it’s not a review. It’s just my opinion from playing the closed beta – that so far, the game just isn’t very good.

    Saying the ground combat is “a load of pish” isn’t “pre-hate”. It just describes my opinion of that section of the game. I have no “pre-hate” for Star Trek Online, in fact as both an MMO fan and a Star Trek fan, I had fairly high hopes for it – unfortunately it falls well short of the mark.

    As for comparing it to WoW being “unfair” due to WoW’s 5 years of polish – as I said in the article, at the moment STO doesn’t even come close to the state WoW was in at its launch. Not even remotely close. WoW at launch, server problems aside, was rather solid and polished. STO is a clunky, shoddy mess at the moment – though the ship sections are rather enjoyable, and much better than the other half of the game.

    A big gripe I had, is that it just doesn’t really convey the feeling of playing in a large online universe. All too often it just feels like playing a poor single player game. Which kind of defeats the point of an MMO.

    Anyway, at this stage it’s not a review or a definitive opinion. I’ll play the game more and give a more formed opinion once the retail version is released, next month.

  • By the way, I’m kind of disappointed no one commented to say “Trekkies?! Don’t you mean Trekkers? You bastard!”.

  • Is this a game of that movie what I saw last year with the people in space on ships and things? I like that. Will it play like god of wor?

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