Friday, February 12, 2010

This Non-Trekkie Is Enthralled by 'Star Trek Online' Game

So last week I went against my better judgment and grabbed a copy of the newly launched "Star Trek Online" (PC; rated Teen; $15 monthly subscription).

That was probably a bad idea. Apparently this "Star Trek" thing is some kind of long-running sci-fi franchise that has millions of fans the world over.

And those fans - every single one, I'm convinced - bombarded the lone "STO" server and made for a buggy, crash-tastic weekend.

But despite the birthing pains, I'm kind of enthralled by "STO." And that's coming from someone who is totally indifferent to the TV shows, movies and all other things Trek.

The main draw for me is "STO's" combat, which comes in both space and ground flavors.

In space you take direct control of a Federation ship, manually steering and using weapons, as well as special abilities tied to upgradeable bridge officers. The action-heavy gameplay is wildly fun and simple to pick up, but you also have to consider things like firing position (to keep enemies within your weapons' arcs) and managing shield damage.

Ground missions mostly play out like a third-person shooter, with your character leading a computer-controlled squad into battles on planet surfaces. This portion isn't quite as engaging as the space combat, but provides some welcome variety when it comes to killing things.

In "STO" everyone is the captain of their own ship, and that leads me to the game's biggest strength: customization. You can tweak everything from your captain's race (exotic aliens welcome) to the name and design of your ship, as well as uniform styles, crew member names, and 100 other things I'm forgetting.

Another unique point of "STO" is the use of Sector Space. Essentially, this functions as a kind of open world map where players fly into individual systems (contained in private instances) to complete space and ground missions.

The prevalent instancing is somewhat of a detriment to the game's sense of community, but at the same time, "STO" makes it very easy to play with others. The Sector map is populated with encounters designed for groups and some automatically team you with other players.

The whole experience is very accessible with a pick-up-and-play feel, though you could argue "STO" is fairly shallow. A playable Klingon faction exists, but is largely limited to PvP (Player versus Player) content.

The game's version of a crafting system is also very rudimentary, the skill choices can be inscrutable, and non-combat missions with exploration and diplomacy objectives are underwhelming.

With all that said I can't deny how much fun "STO" has been, and how much of a departure it is from just about everything else in the online role-playing genre.

Laggy server and glitches aside, I'm interested to see where this one goes.