Star Trek Online – Preview
I am not a big fan of Star Trek franchise, but I must say I liked Next Generation back in day, it was a good show, but that’s all. The rest I didn’t like but I always wanted to play a game online when you will be able to fight in space and beam down on planets to finish the job there or explore, or teleport onto enemy vessels – in Star Trek Online these things are possible.
In Star Trek Online you start your carrier as a Ensign with The Federation in a time in which Borgs are back – this is the tutorial where you learn how to play. This part takes some time but these are your first steps in space combat missions and ground missions and within these episodes you are introduced to the game world and features.
Once you get past the tutorial you are free to complete missions of your choosing received from The Federation Admiral from the Sol system space station which acts like a hub for the entire sector and the HQ of the USS fleet. Here Captains meet to replenish their supplies and embark for new adventures. While on this space station you can explore it for new assignments, enlist officers in your crew, trade equipment, buy new ships and customize both them and your crew appearance or clothes. They are of course similar outposts throughout the galaxy.
Space combat acts and feels like in Star Fleet Command, but more streamlined. You control your ship directly and each part of ship has a shield attached to it for the front, back, left and right. In combat you can avoid receiving damage to the weak shield until it regenerates by turning your ship with the part that has the strongest shield towards the enemy. You can also reinforce the damaged shield by taking energy from other shields increasing the regeneration power of the damaged one. Your bridge officers can help you with their skills by increasing the damage output, the shields’ regenerate power and many other things. Also you can redirect the ship’s power to whole systems like Shields, Weapons and Engine. Within a standard combat you usually fire you lasers to disable the enemy shields and once you break a part of their shields, you fire torpedoes to inflict massive hull damage and eventually destroy their ship –this is the simplified version.
Ground combat it’s quite well designed: it’s full of action and there is no babysitting your team. You can control your team members independently through stances or by telling them directly where to go, but fortunately they do an excellent job without your interference. They shoot, duck, buff, heal as long as they have their default stances on active, so you can concentrate on eliminating the immediate danger, and counting on their help. In ground combat flanking really pays off since it increases damage.
A strange but a welcomed feature in ground combat is the ability to pause the game for a max of 45 seconds which helps you make tough tactical decision or take a small bio break and you won’t miss a thing.
The graphics and sounds are quite good, music keeps the pace of the action, and some of the environment graphics, ranging from asteroids belts to space backgrounds and debris, are superb. At the same time the game lacks voiceovers. For incoming transmission you have just an avatar and some text, asking for help; no background, no nothing, and without voiceover, it’s kind of hard to believe they so desperately really need the help.
Unfortunately the engine is not very well optimized, but Cryptic is working on it. During the open beta I saw at least 3 patches which improved the performance, but more work is needed still in order to obtain optimal performance.
All good so far, but during my playtime I found some problems regarding loading screens. Cryptic used a lot, and I mean A LOT of instancing with this game which can break immersion on some cases. Let me make it clear: on the space dock you go to the admiral office from the lobby, loading screen to another area, you undock, loading screen to another area, you warp to hyper space to an instanced map where you have to navigate to some points of interest to enter a specific system, loading screen to the system.
On the good side on some sectors you automatically join in a team for the mission you have there with the people that warped there at the same time with you, so it works like Warhammer, you share your mission with the people that are near you if they have the same mission.
Space travel is badly designed since when you warp out to venture to a new sector, you actually warp out to a virtual map of the sector you’re in and then you navigate within the map to a sector representation to enter it – it’s pointless and breaks the immersion. How about you select your destination, sector, warp out, get a graphical display of your ships into the warp bubble for a few seconds and then arrival at the desired sector, no hassle, it looks good, it make sense, similar to EVE Online – yes, I am a fan. Even more this space galaxy map where you navigate from sector to sector acts like a hub for all zone chats, but if you enter a sector, you will only able to talk with the people in there, or friends through private messages, now that’s a big problem, instancing and cutting even the global chats it’s very dumb thing to do since clearly it shows once again heavily instancing and breaking the connection to other players, transforming it more into a single player game then a mmorpg.
Regarding PVP, Open PvP is restricted to designated sectors of space (far-off reaches of unclaimed territory) and Consensual PvP and competitive PvE occurs between the realm borders (the Neutral Zone) where players can compete over territory and resources with the option to PvP. I didn’t experience it yet so I have no thoughts on this, but it should be decent, besides death penalties which probably are very very low and meaningless.
At level 6 with Federation you will be able to create a Klingon character. They also plan to add the Vulcan, Andorian, Orion, Gorn and several others as playable races.
Overall Star Trek Online it has some good points and has some bad points which can be fixed in time. It’s a decent game, it tries something we always wanted – space combat and ground combat in the same recipe – but in some parts it lacks of immersion due to high instancing, which break the feeling of mmorpg. My recommendation is to try it before buying it, or wait a few months before release, so you won’t have to beta test a release like most developers “ask us to” nowadays, for the first few months at least.
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