Star Trek Online: GameInformer Preview
This preview was published in the December 2009 issue of GameInformer magazine.
Star Trek Online
The cliche would be that Cryptic wants Star Trek Online to boldly go where no other MMO has gone before. Now that I've had some hands-on time with the game, though, maybe that's not exactly true. The first thing that most MMO players will realize about Star Trek Online is that despite its sci-fi origins, the game is rather familiar.
The game features 16 ship configurations, each with a mystifying name that hardcore Trekkies will surely recognize. Those with MMO experience, however, will quickly understand that the ships fit into a handful of classes we've all seen before. Escort ships deal damage, Cruisers are well-armored and perfect for tanking, and science class ships provide support by lending their energy to allies (healing, essentially). Likewise, player characters fall into three careers -- tactical (DPS), engineering (tanks), and science (support).
Within whatever career path you choose, you'll advance up five ranks -- lieutenant, lieutenant commander, commander, captain, and admiral -- each of which has 10 classes, essentially giving the MMO a 50 level cap. Your rank and class are determined by how many skills you've bought and upgraded. Between all three careers, there will be a total of over 100 skills to choose from, and every skill will have 10 ranks for upgrading. Cryptic's hope is that every 20 to 30 minutes, players will level, get a new skill, or rank up an old skill, providing a constant sense of accomplishment and growth.
Guilds are fleets. Crafting comes in the form of data-mining. For every MMO convention, Cryptic has placed a convincing Star Trek equivalent in their virtual world. Of course, it's the actual content that determines how successful MMOs are, not whether or not they break the mold. The content in Star Trek Online is split across four major story hubs (in order of level): Klingon, Romulan, Cardassian, and Borg. Each hub will contain at least 14 "episodes" centering around one of the universe's races.
The episode is Star Trek Online's version of a story mission. Players will be able to take on random exploration and patrol missions that don't have much narrative, but the real push through the content will come from these episodes, which will play out like an episode of one of the Star Trek TV shows. A hub's episodes will expand and resolve similar to a season of a TV show, complete with minor and major story arcs and one-off episodes. Most of this story content can be soloed, but if players push through to the Borg hub, Star Trek Online's current end-game, they'll discover what Cryptic is calling "raidisodes," episodes that require a full five-man team to clear.
I got to test one mission that Cryptic said represented the structure for many of the game's episodes. While flying through space, I received a distress call from a broken-down ship Azura. Upon approaching the ship, I had to fend off Orion raiders that were attacking.
The 3D space combat took some getting used to, but after a few minutes of figuring out how to control pitch and acceleration, it started clicking. As in the Star Trek films and TV shows, space battles are slower-paced and more tactical than in many sci-fi franchises. In Star Trek Online, the battles are all about your positioning compared to enemy ships. Certain lasers and weapons can only be fired from behind or in front of the enemies, so I was constantly moving and repositioning to get the most out of my weapons.
After clearing out the enemy ships, I beamed onto the broken vessel to rescue survivors and try the ground combat. My character was equipped with a phaser and an assault rifle that could be swapped on the fly. Both guns had a short burst attack and a more powerful attack that required time to charge. When enemies got in close, I was also able to use melee to knock them down. After blasting my way through the ship, I went back into space to fight another wave of Orion raiders, including a big battleship that served as a "boss" to the episode.
Although the latest look at Star Trek Online made it much clearer how the game will progress, I still have a lot of questions. Biggest of all, Cryptic wasn't yet ready to show off the Klingon faction, though they hinted that their side will have a lot less narrative, instead focusing on PvP to advance.
There may still be a lot of blanks to fill in, but Cryptic deserves some kudos for their smart use of standard MMO mechanics. Trying to cram regular class roles and a level grind into the Star Trek universe could have been clumsy, but they've managed to make it seem like a natural fit... for MMO players at least. Whether it will live up to the Trekkie standard remains to be seen.