Those two words hold a lot of expectation. A hell of a lot of expectation, with a feeling of ownership and a dash of protectiveness for the spirit of the legacy it has forged.
Five series, eleven films, two Spocks, enough captains to form a fleet the Star Trek Franchise is big by any standards and now it has a new strand to be added to the continuity. Star Trek: Online. A hybrid of groundside squad combat mixed with tactical space based battles that tries it's best to evoke the feel and look of the world of Star Trek.
Set thirty years after the tenth film Nemesis, STO expands on the main timeline whilst weaving some of the background of the reboot into the narrative. The Federation is at war with the Klingons, the Romulans are brooding, waiting and dreaming of past glories that they can regain - by any means they can. Gaps in the fabric of the universe are letting enemies seep into our reality even as the remnants of the Dominion and the Cardassians try to forge a new path. Into this the Borg return sowing more dread into the mix of a volatile corner of space, deadlier than ever before as they vie with Species 8472 the 'Undine' for the ultimate fate of the galaxy.
All the while something stirs in the shadows.
Starfleet is at breaking point, with the war against the Klingons draining resources and the sudden emergence of the Borg attacking a colony a time for the best of the best to emerge is here and you are one of those who have the mettle to be a starship captain.
Character creation is detailed enough to allow for individuals but simple enough that you do not get bogged down in details. Choose to play a federation character, or after attaining your sixth level, create a Klingon Faction character. Pick a profession, choose your race, pick from a skill set, determine your appearance and away you go. There are opportunities later to visit tailors to change your look and to add an off duty uniform if you like., plus chances to respec skills if needed later in your career.
Once done it is time to take that step and reach for your destiny as you find yourself pitched into the battle at Vega against the Borg, guided by a holographic doctor - the latest generation EMH - of the ship you are aiding you move through the use of tricorders to scan, phaser and melee attacks and all the basics you need to survive being attacked by cybernetic beings (and anyone else) who wish to add you to their collective. Along with a Bridge Officer you return back to find that you are the only Officer left of the command crew. Congratulations you are no Captain and have all the responsibilities of that title. From here you learn how to take part in space combat, refine groundside skills until you return to Earth Space Dock and a hero's welcome and a bundle of new orders that propel you along.
STO has a number of strands that are woven through it, you start off dealing with the Klingon threat, move through to the machinations of the Romulans, then the Terran Empire and True Way Cardassians until you finally square off against Borg and Undine. Whilst each area is a separate phase of evolution, mirroring your own development and the abilities you and your ship has, there are threads that filter through with a guiding story throughout. A story that at times is obvious and at other times subtle, with each story mission structured like an episode, with multiple acts to each mission, mixing the space and the ground based activities much as you would expect, leading away missions to complete objectives that allow you to return to finalise space based ones.
There is a lot to appeal to the out and out fan, you can visit classic locations, bump into characters from the series or find yourself facing off against enemies that you may not have expected. A lot of effort has gone into this whilst making it accessible to those who have not analysed every episode of every series and who wish to just to play. If you get them great if you don't then it doesn't matter they can stand alone and often somewhere, a loading screen or mission text, there will be an explanation. There are also the usual Cryptic Studios fun things that have barest relevance to the actual game. Such as Uridium being an element found at one point and so on, a few puns and a few other sly references. The different types of Tribble that can be bred all have names that seem to come from the production team being possibly the most in-joke of the lot.
Visually even on lowest settings STO looks good, backgrounds are often rich and colourful, whilst textures are solid and look as they should. At high levels it looks even better with all the expected touches you would expect. That is not to say there are no glitches; shadows can seem to stutter and on ground based missions the camera suddenly jerks upwards at points when still for too long. Animation is smooth, with ships gracefully moving through space, characters jumping, rolling and implanting Bat'leths to the face with ease. The character look is slightly exaggerated, not truly cartoony but also not quite realistic which works. The camera has a number of modes and usually does what it is supposed to, a few times as mentioned above it can wander a little then snap back. In space it will by default either lock on the target or move to a follow view. Manual control is easy however, a boon when facing multiple opponents in space.
There is little voice at work. The tutorial mission has Zachary Quinto providing the tones for the EMH but in game most of the speech is by the computer, informing you of downed shields, flanking attacks and similar snippets of information. The only other main contributor is Leonard Nimoy, who does the narration for most of the major milestones and hearing him saying 'Congratulations Captain' is a bit of a treat. Otherwise there is not really much of a need for extended reams of voice explaining what is on screen, when most of the time you will click to continue and get into the thick of it. Sounds are spot on, phasers sound like phasers, photon torpedoes sound like they do in the films and so on as you would hope and indeed expect.
The music is drawn from all sources, the opening theme starts off Wrath of Khan like, morphs into Next gen, DS9 and Voyager whilst in game you can get up-tempo combat pieces side by side with more ethereal, almost mournful themes. Though whilst not out of place it can be obtrusive at times and can grate when you have the same piece three missions in a row.
There is a dichotomy within Star Trek Online. It is essentially two games that have been linked together. The space tactics game where you can run into dozens of ships all firing weapons, using abilities to best advantage to allow your side to gain an upper hand. Then you find you are on the ground, delivering anything from a precision strike to defeat the enemy, to rescuing prisoners and so on. Each appealing to two differing sections of gamer.
Both parts however are bound by the exploration element. Other than the story missions, and even sometimes within them, the basis for most things is explore, visit these nebulae, expanses, belts uncharted areas and so on and either have a fight, discover new worlds and new life or a combination of all of the above by examining anomalies that can be scanned for materials that allow you to craft better equipment that allows you to explore more effectively. Rinse. Repeat. The main exception to this is defence missions where you have to complete a number of space encounters to gain experience and so on. There is a Player vs Player system, again both elements are available and in the end game area there are co-op missions called Special Task Forces, specific content for the top end players. To group and combine from both current playable factions to take on threats that are just too big for the normal teams.
There is no good time to review any MMO. They constantly evolve, often at the outset there are issues that are not anticipated, later on changes are made to improve them and this is the case with STO. There was nothing super-flawed about it at the start. It was a finished game but maybe not complete and Cryptic have looked to have done a lot to improve those areas, the new high end content, that you can modify difficulty the introduction of what I consider a superfluous death penalty and other small things and quite a few larger things that have gone in since launch. For once they have listened.
In response to the initial lack of high end content there are currently four, with more on the way, STF missions. Team up with the enemy to take on the bigger threat as the Borg are trialling new ways to assimilate populations, planets at a time now instead of being by being. Or relive your first encounter and see what was really going on or take on the Terradome and discover just what the Undine are thinking and doing. These are designed as team missions where teamwork is required with the right mix to overcome the differing challenges. Still nothing specifically geared to the solo player as yet.
There are issues. The Romulan story arc seems to drag, never really engaging and there are points where you do need to grind to survive by taking defence missions or exploration missions. The ground based combat is a little less developed than the space element, yes you can give commands and yes your away team is actually intelligent and do use tactics and abilities without being told but they fail to recognise other friendly NPC's as automatic targets to aid, you need to tell them. There are still glitches where elements of a mission are in the scenery or your team falls through the floor. Similarly in space ships can be stuck and un-targetable, or the mission fails to initialise small things that are being looked at but can frustrate, certainly if they are a story mission that needs to be completed and if you back out the whole scenario resets to the start of the 'act'.
One area that has been addressed is that initially Klingons and their allies were mostly PvP based, content has been introduced to make them more flexible in the way they can level there is still a distinct difference to the Federation and with new missions an upgraded look and feel in the next few months it might soon be a good day to be a heavy metal rocker from the dead once more.
STO uses a hybrid model of payment, combining a standard subscription with micro-payments via the C-Store, mostly cosmetic such as costume packs, to new races and items that don't massively affect gameplay through to the recent introduction of the galaxy-X Dreadnaught, Admiral Riker's Enterprise refit from All Good Things.
There are many other bits and pieces that I could cover, enough for several reviews but overall Star Trek Online is a solid game, one that will keep all but the most rabid fans happy whilst offering a more casual game to those who want a game they can dip in and out of. It looks like Star Trek and above all it feels like Star Trek and has enough of the soul of the series and films to succeed. Expectation was high, possibly unfeasibly high for anyone to achieve what all the fans were wishing for but Cryptic Studios have done a good job at trying, for the most part succeeding. With new content emerging all the time, a new 'Season' is due this month providing new Federation Diplomatic missions, mini-games, beefed up non player versus player content for both Federation and Klingons, an increased level cap and even further on the horizon a new faction for players to get to grips with and maybe even playable Horta.
Whilst not appealing to everyone, Star Trek Online has enough to last and until a full on Elite Online emerges may offer the best mix of space to ground combat yet.