Similar to my situation with Champions Online, I participated in the beta testing phase for Star Trek Online. From that perspective, this game has come a long way. However, as a finished product, and more importantly, as a Star Trek title, how does it hold up? Not as well as you would hope, but not as bad as you may fear.
First things first: this is not a very faithful Star Trek product. I am by no means a Star Trek fan boy, but even I can spot the flaws in this game. For one, the Federation should not be tasking an ensign to command a vessel, and said ensign should certainly not go around defeating countless Borg singlehandedly. That alone is a huge red mark for this game’s canonical accuracy. Another problem is that the personal customization that makes MMOs so popular is extended to your ensign-turned-captain’s uniform. These can be customized to fit almost whatever style you want, breaking Federation dress codes left and right. This lets you stand out from the crowd but, again, hurts the ultimate goal of immersing you in the Star Trek universe.
Speaking of the universe, it’s a rather boring place. Calling to mind Guild Wars more so then EVE Online, you take control of your ship and guide it to a planet, whereupon you get an instanced quest. Once done with your quest, you’re basically done with a planet. Thanks for coming, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out. This kills any sense of exploration when the different destinations are basically quest targets with little to nothing else to see or interact with. You also cruise to these planets by navigating a very basic map representing ‘sector space.’ Other ships may fly by, and you might cross a random trader or two, but otherwise this is a very sterile environment.
Combat is more interesting, if not totally engaging. You swing your nose towards a target and unleash your beam weapons to beat down a foe’s shields (all ships have four, one on each side – top and bottom be damned) before unleashing your photon torpedoes to finish the job. Land combat is more dicey, with you either leading an away team comprised of your AI bridge crew (complete with customized powers and gear) or joining a group of human players. I felt handicapped, actually, when grouped with other players because I lost my bridge officers abilities that I came to rely on while soloing.
Visually the game is ok, but it has more graphical hiccups (glitches, clipping, animation errors) then Cryptic’s other MMO, Champions Online. On the other hand, the sound is better, if only due to the iconic sounds of Star Trek. The game is moderately stable, for an MMO, but I’ve still been booted to the desktop a few too many times.
Ultimately, if you can accept STO as a space-themed MMO with Star Trek leanings, you can enjoy it. The gameplay isn’t bad, and it’s technically sound, but if all you really want is a space MMO, just go play EVE Online. Alphasim out.