These days, it seems that Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) are a dime a dozen. You have juggernauts like Final Fantasy XIV, World of Warcraft and the Elder Scrolls Online, but this barely scratches the surface of what all is available for a gamer to choose from. Lately most have gone free-to-play, making it too easy to slip into one, but the question remains about whether it’s worth your time. I recently stumbled into playing a bit of Star Trek Online and have raised a character up to level 10 on the Federation side. Star Trek itself has been about exploring the human condition and a future where humanity works to better itself. Star Trek Online, however, doesn’t always reflect the mentality of the franchise.
Long story short, Star Trek Online is a solid Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game at odds with itself. Short story long however, when you create a new character (out of a surprising number of established races and an option to create one yourself) you find yourself a Cadet about to graduate from Starfleet Academy in San Francisco roughly thirty years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis. You pass a test and find yourself enlisted as the First Officer on a shake-down cruise on a Miranda-class vessel. Klingons strike your vessel, kill your captain and leave you as Acting Captain. Then somehow you manage to fight off a Borg invasion. It seems a tad far-fetched, but your actions grant you the rank of Lieutenant and the official command of your vessel.
The next missions have you fighting the Klingons as they have started war with the Federation. You have some slightly different scenarios while you strike at the Klingons, but personally I felt there was very little challenge. Even then, the challenge truly comes from ship-to-ship combat. It feels right, perfectly balanced, and feels as engrossing as even the best of Star Trek’s battles. However, on the ground things change. You have to take out groups of enemies and conduct bonus objectives when they arise, like venting plasma to eliminate a group, or heal wounded along the way, but it’s unclear to me if you are killing the enemies or simply stunning them as is historically what the Federation prefers doing.
Now I don’t know if it’s the mission, or if it is indicative of a larger issue, but so far there hasn’t been much in the way of negotiating, or conducting explorative activities as is what the Federation usually does. Most interestingly, aside from your bridge, it appears that you can’t explore the rest of your ship. It strikes me as a big surprise only because it seems like a feature that would be on the list of most Trekkies. But, aside from these issues about the activities you do in the game, it is a very well made title.
As you traverse the quadrants, it’s easy to stop and stare and the magnificent ships flying past, or at the surrounding galactic phenomena peppering the environments. Truth be told, the only graphical hiccup I’ve seen on my Xbox One is that when a communication window pops up, sometimes the character model lags behind the dialog box. Other than that, everything appears to run smoothly.
Further, it’s impressive how much of the game has been added since it’s debut in 2010. While on the Federation side you start out cooling off the Klingons, eventually you start fighting the Breen, Borg, and dealing with temporal anomalies bringing less then friendly foes to your doorstep. And all of it is free. Currently, the only thing to spend real-money on is customization items, things that enable your bridge to look like the classic Enterprise’s or to get the uniforms as seen in a movie or TV series.
Notably, once you hit level 10, further customization becomes possible, where you gain control over what ship you are the captain of, and what she looks like. For example, when I hit level 10, I gained a Constitution-class refit vessel. Think of it as being similar to the Enterprise-A and you’re on the right track. Along with the ship, you can customize your bridge crew to be in the shape you want it to be.
All-in-all, I believe Star Trek Online is a good MMORPG, featuring solid gameplay, but lacking in a sense of immersion that feels at place in the Star Trek universe. Still, if you enjoy the franchise, it’s difficult to say no as a fan. See, the game manages to do something that so far hasn’t been accomplished in a visual form: it continues the lore. Since Star Trek: Nemesis, there hasn’t been a movie taking place further in time. And the upcoming TV Show, Star Trek: Discovery reportedly won’t either, so for those that want to know what happens to the galaxy after the Romulan sun goes nova will find a treasure trove of scenarios and information to dive into.
So who is best served by Star Trek Online? Trekkies looking for an expansion of the lore and for a good Trek game, of course, though I hesitate to suggest that it is any better than other MMORPGs out there.