These are my brief impressions on the newbie experience of Star Trek Online, which is free to play.
I’ve never played an MMO before. By and large, I don’t find the descriptions of their systems to be very compelling for the amount of time they demand. They seem to be designed around systems of repetitive “grinding” to prolong the gameplay and maintain return customers. Most damning of all, I have no real life friends that play these, which all but removes the point of playing them. So, warning: I come into this with some bias.
My short evaluation of Star Trek is pretty favorable overall. It’s a well-designed game, it stays true to its own interpretation of the Trek universe, and is pretty accessible to new players. You don’t have to know the first thing about Trek to play it. There’s room to play it “straight” as a Trek nerd, or just run around shooting things, ignoring the meticulously designed world. As DeadEndThrills will attest, it is also a very pretty game at times.
But overall, the gameplay is pretty boring and unsatisfying. It boils down to three gameplay modes as I see them:
- Ground combat, with some minor squad tactics (maybe major if you play with others), and in the third person.
- Space combat, usually piloting a large recognizable ship from the shows/movies. Piloting is done with the mouse and keyboard, and also in the third person: you do not command from the bridge.
- Playing around in third person: walking around ships, planets, and stations, in character or out of character, interacting with other players, and doing whatever you want.
Ground combat is just not very good, unfortunately. It’s not horrible, but it’s just not very compelling. It’s clunky and unsatisfying.
Space combat is about sort of maneuvering your ship toward something, clicking on a target, and shooting at it while balancing your shields.
Both of the above are driven by a hunger you’ll develop for continual upgrades, which you pay for with in-game currency that you earn by completing missions. Ultimately, you’re looking to “build” yourself into a customized captain, and similarly build and customize your ship with exotic Trek tech. As with other MMO’s this is a sort of “optimization puzzle” that appeals to a certain kind of player.
Personally, this doesn’t move me, and this kind of building feels very arbitrary. Unlike with Minecraft, I’m not really building something, I am just accessorizing, and this feels like a bit of a waste of time.
The “non-game” has the most potential for the right kind of folk: you can really Trek it up, act out dumb sexual fantasies, or just walk around and use the game as a big chat program and meet people from around the world. If you work at it, you can also troll the heck out of other people (just search for “Starfleet Dental”).
In all, for a free MMO, it’s very good. It’s extremely easy to get into, players who pay money don’t really have a big advantage over those who play for free, and it’s a very comfortable rendition of an alternative future Trek universe. There is room for the game to be what you want it to be, to a point.
Ultimately, though, it’s just not fun enough to play as a game, unless you have a good circle of friends to play it with, or just like MMOs a whole bunch.
For more details and commentary, see the screenshot gallery below: