Star Trek Online review

Star Trek Online (© Cryptic Studios)

I tried to play the Star Trek Online open beta, I really did.

I pre-ordered the Collector’s Edition from Gamestop, I Boot Camped my MacBook Pro with Windows 7, and I patiently waited through almost entire days of not being able to log into the open beta because of full servers.  In the end though, I just didn’t have fun playing it.  It wasn’t one glaring problem or anything, so much as it was just a lot of little-to-medium things that dragged down my enjoyment of the game until I was just playing it because I felt—as a Trekkie and a gamer—I was obligated to.

Let me open by explaining that once I was in the game, everything ran just fine for me.  I had no local or internet lag that I could notice, and I never experienced any “rubberbanding” or other problems that I heard others complaining about.  My experience was, as far as I could tell, uncolored by any technical problems.

First off, let me laud the game’s character creation mechanic.  Considering the inherent and expected limitations, it was pretty excellent.  You’re limited to creating humanoid characters, but the variety allowed thereafter—especially considering the game hasn’t even been released yet—was more than sufficiently varied to allow you to create as many bumpy-headed alien species you would like.  I don’t know whether the limitation to two characters is an open beta limitation, or will follow the game into release, but I thought that was a bit limiting.  I was also bummed I couldn’t name my alien species once I’d created them.  You can start with a stock Star Trek alien species such as Andorian, Bolian, Vulcan, or even Human, and when your character is inspected by another player in-game, you will be identified as such.  However, every custom-created species in the game will be identified as “unknown” and described as being either “male-like” or “femaleish” (not verbatim, but you get the idea).  I was bummed I couldn’t name my species “Thermian”, “Reaver”, or even just a “Human-Vulcan hybrid”.

The Miranda class as seen in STO (© Cryptic Studios)

Everything was still going well when I got into the tutorial/opening story.  I’m a lowly ensign on one of many starships (mine, a Miranda-class cruiser, I christened the USS Turtletaub) engaged in a battle with the Borg above Earth.  I was ordered to the bridge by the captain, who in turn instructs me to beam over to another ship to help.  (An aside, if I may: how did I beam to another starship while both our and its shields were up in the midst of a Borg attack?  I digress.)  Cool, okay.  I beam over, shoot a dozen or more Borg with my hand phaser, suck some Borg out a hull breach (by interacting with a panel!), and then phaser some more Borg in engineering.  On my way back to my the Turtletaub, I’m rewarded for completing the quest by getting to steal one of their officers to take back with me.  Upon my return to the Turtletaub, I find that the officer I picked has now installed themselves in my menu bar.  He has a name, but I never learned it and called him Ensign Ricky in my head.

In-ship combat tutorial.  Check.

In my absence, I’ve become the highest-ranking officer on the Turtletaub (probably shouldn’t have lowered those shields, huh), and am now in command.  We’re ordered to warp somewhere else, and I click the “warp somewhere else” button that pops up in the HUD, and we’re on our way!  Then, all of a sudden, I’m playing EVE Online.  I don’t know what happened; it looks like Star Trek, it sounds like Star Trek, but as a game it’s suddenly turned into EVE.  Ship combat doesn’t consist of giving orders, or interacting with the crew, or anything that isn’t flying the ship in a third-person perspective and mashing the “fire phasers & torpedoes” buttons.  You have various functions in the HUD now to allow you to move shield power fore, aft, port, and starboard (although not ventrally or dorsally for some strange reason), and that trophy officer you received from the other ship earlier has now become an installed item on your ship that effectively does something “engineeringy”, “sciency”, or “tacticsy”.

This is definitely not what I expected from my Star Trek game, but it’s not gawdawful.  It’s just ship combat, anyways.  We shoot some more Borg stuffs, and are eventually ordered to some planet’s surface to suppress the Borg uprising or somesuch.

Ship-to-ship combat.  Check.

This is the only part of the game where in encountered a glitch, and it was in trying to retrieve a phaser rifle from a supplies crate guarded by Lieutenant Whatsisname.  Quitting, restarting, and waiting another day to login solved the issue, though.  There’s not much to say about ground combat that was any different than in-ship combat except that now Ensign Ricky follows me around like a pet and shoots at stuff, too.  Shoot some more Borgs, click on a Borg doohicky, crisis averted.

Ground combat.  Check.

And that’s it.  After that and a bit more ship-to-ship combat (or not, maybe I’m getting stuff out of order) I’m sent to Starbase 1 and ordered to speak with Admiral Whoo Carez.  There’s no diplomacy in the tutorial, there’s no role-playing in the tutorial, and the tutorial sure as hell didn’t teach me how to seek out new lifeforms and new civilizations.

A bit about the starbase first.  It’s not.  It’s a slice of about two decks of what must be the narrowest part of the starbase.  I’d certainly preferred it to have been bigger than it was (it really felt cramped in there), but I’ll acquiesce that it probably has to do with technically managing so many players in a given area.  Considering how the game has been played so far, I swear I expected an exclamation point over Commander Sulu’s head to indicate he had a mission for me to attend to.  A last point about the starbase: why does everybody (a) beam into the starbase (not to mention from deck to deck!) instead of using the long-established umbilical connections, and (b) why do I materialize in the starbase with my phaser rifle drawn?  I holstered it immediately, thinking I had done it by accident, and surprised the game allowed it at all.  I was then gobsmacked by the hundreds of toons running around the starbase, in uniform, waving their weapons hither and yon like it’s the freaking Old West.  That was the last straw for the “role-playing” attempt of the game, and suddenly I wasn't in Star Trek anymore, but on a server with barely literate, mouth-breathing, real-life Human beings all trying to be AWESOME!!!!!!!1!!1!1eleventy-one