GAME PREVIEW – Star Trek Online (Open Beta, PC)

By Duncan Voice

USS Morning Glory

Perhaps it’s somewhat sacrilegious to mention in the opening paragraph of a Star Trek Online article, but I’m a huge Star Wars nerd. I’ve got the Force FX lightsabers, a hundred and one action figures from the 1980’s, a good number of t-shirts (totally cool in a retro way of course), and I want to karate chop Jar Jar Binks right on the tongue.

I know about the various ‘cult’ aspects of Star Trek, like ‘phasers set to stun’, Leonard Nimoy, and Mr. Scott beaming people up and all that but I’d never actually sat down and watched anything to do with it until I picked up the awesome J.J Abrams film on DVD a few weeks ago. I’m still a Star Wars chap through and through, but I have felt some nerdy urges towards Star Trek recently.

After spending a couple of months in Champions Online, Cryptic’s previous MMO, and serial snooze-a-thon I wasn’t initially interested in STO, but with the splendiferous film still occupying my DVD tray and a beta key dropping into my inbox I thought I’d see what the fuss was all about.

After an initial period of slamming my head into a wall trying to get it to load up, then fiddling with a few settings to get the game to accept my account details, I finally came across the character creator. Three classes are available, Engineering, Science and Tactical officers, which very, very loosely fit round the archetypal Tank, Healer and DPS.

Combat

Your choice decides what type of ships you can pilot, for instance Engineers pilot the big, chunky cruisers. Whilst not as comprehensive as Champions Online (after all I don’t recall Chris Pine running around with a pair of wings strapped to his uniform) it is deep enough to allow a great deal of individualism in your creations.

A big range of races start things off, with a choice of a Human, Andorian, Bajoran, Benzite, Betazoid, Bokian, Saurian, Trill and Valun to choose from, as well as being able to create your own race. Naturally each race has different traits, but I can’t imagine any of them making a big change to the way you play. I chose a Betazoid as the default character had the coolest hair, and the name sounded like a pun.

You then get to choose from the typical range of haircuts, beards, tattoos, scars, make up etc. before moving onto face and body size. A brief moment as Stella McCartney gets you designing your outfit and picking your Starfleet badge before naming your captain and ship, and giving him a bit of a back story. Step forward Cpt. Shagsmith of the USS Morning Glory. All of his staff are comprised of women, wink wink.

The tutorial is brief and well designed. Cryptic seem keen to avoid the painfully generic tutorial of Champions Online and limit it to one quest of about three to four stages, defending the USS Khitomer against an attack from angry Swedish tennis players. Oh no wait, sorry, these are different types of Borgs. It teaches you the basics of movement, interaction, and combat quickly and effectively. The sequence upon second glance isn’t instanced, but I only came across one other player during it all the same.

Ship explode with UI

Taking the reins of the USS Morning Glory after choosing my first crew member, the tutorial continued with teaching the basics of space combat. Throttle is mapped to E and Q, with WASD controlling your movement (or you can use the mouse keys to bank your ship). Combat was fairly slow to begin with, which is understandable, but coming across a couple of enemy ships forces you to take a tactical approach to combat, something of which I’m not particularly used to in MMOs.

Your shields may be weak on port side, so you will want to position your ship so that starboard is taking , but as this can mean your torpedoes are facing away from the enemy there is a fair amount of tactical thinking. For my sins, I’m not too familiar with EVE Online so am unable to make any comparisons; if there are any readers who play it then I’d appreciate any comments.

Beaming down doesn’t give you a chance to romance any ladies unfortunately, but introduces you to a first decent taste of combat, along with a crew member who will accompany and assist you during fights. Utilizing the same system as Champions, beaming down sends you to an instanced area rather than down to a heavily player-populated one, so instead of playing with thousands of other players, around 100 people will be the max.

Combat no UI 2

Feeling a bit like the long since deceased Tabula Rasa when it comes to gunplay (except with cooldowns) and with the ability to crouch to improve accuracy, it feels entirely different to other MMOs. I was honestly expecting another typical MMO combat system, but even hand combat is refreshing, choosing to swing with either hand to create combos, if only for your own pleasure.

It looks pretty lovely, and ran perfectly on my fairly mediocre system. It’s difficult to form a solid opinion on an MMO, particularly as it’s going through it’s final beta phases. Only time will tell if STO will succumb to the same lack of content suffered by Champions Online initially, but saying that STO certainly feels like a much more comprehensive game than that did at the same stage.

With such a fantastic license, you can only hope that they are successful as say Turbine were with Lord of the Rings Online. First impressions look good, but I thought the same about Champions before I cancelled my account due to there being nothing to do and only three zones to visit.

With a release date of 5th February, there is still plenty of time to change things about, and as such it may very well be a different entity come then, but with Star Wars: The Old Republic due in 2011, Cryptic will be keen to hit the blocks running in order to gain as much ground as possible before BioWare’s release.

I got through that without any Star Trek puns.

Set phasers to fun.

Sorry.

USS Morning Glory 2

More info is available at http://www.startrekonline.com/

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