Where to begin? Let’s start with the obvious. A World of Warcraft killer it is not. Star Trek Online by Cryptic Studios is great fun in some ways, less fun in others, and no fun at all in too many. However, it is the total lack of immersion that means it could not possibly endanger the life of any true MMORPG. You can really get into a space battle, you can sort of get into crafting, and you can’t really get into ground combat or mission story lines at all. In World of Warcraft, you can lose yourself in the world (of Warcraft) in every sense; in Star Trek Online it’s hard to get mildly misdirected.
There is first and foremost the “Star Trek” portion of the game. There is an attempt to stick to Star Trek lore that sort of works, but voiceovers by Leonard Nimoy and some text titles as you change maps are about as deep as it gets.
Still, there is some serious satisfaction from a Trekkie standpoint when you can fly a ship that looks exactly like those of the original cast movies and blast the hated Klingon War Bird with a spread of Photon Torpedoes. The ships are gorgeous, customizable, and the graphics are just beautiful. Weapons effects and explosions rock the screen, and if Star Trek Online was a standalone space warfare game, it would be fantastic. But it’s not.
Once you get past that rush, you realize the weaknesses of Star Trek Online as a game. There is little, if any, storyline. Missions are repetitive and there is a tendency towards the extreme. In one “patrol” mission, which is basically a collection of missions strung together as one objective, a player might find that an entire fleet must be dealt with by his single vessel. In the next, he might only need to talk to several characters and the mission is finished, with no difference in the reward levels between the two insanely varying levels of difficulty.
And ground combat? Don’t ask. It’s awful. The enemy AI is erratic, the friendly AI is clueless, and the ground environments are extremely linear and feel like the player is in a fishbowl. As with the space missions, it’s either too easy or too hard, and boring either way.
Crafting is underdeveloped and confusing. Don’t do it unless you’re a glutton for punishment. Exploration is generic and repetitive, following the same pattern of ground combat missions and occasional space battles as the regular missions.
One might also be tempted to ask Cryptic Studios whether or not they use spell check or any sort of editing when they write mission text. Missing words, poor spelling and mission instructions that don’t actually tell you what the mission is or where to find it are annoyingly common.
One can even choose to play a Klingon. The problem is, like much of the rest of Star Trek Online, the Klingon side of the game is rough, undeveloped and unsatisfying. After a very brief mission set, the Klingon player is left with player vs. player as the only activity to pursue. Very bad form, developers!
Since it’s an online game, server issues must also be taken into account. Connectivity is sporadic. There are often stuttering issues, which occasionally lead to death. Perhaps these will improve with age, but it remains to be seen how many players will stay on long enough to see it considering the game’s long list of issues.
Character generation is stellar, with almost infinite ways to customize your character. I spent nearly half an hour generating a character on my first attempt just because it was so much fun to play with the options. It’s just not enough to salvage the rest of the game.
It’s possible that Star Trek Online can overcome its problems, but the foundation is very weak at this point. To make the comparison, World of Warcraft has a huge base but occasionally annoying bugs when patched or expanded. Star Trek Online is sitting on a very unstable base, with many bugs and it will take major renovations to put it on solid footing. Whether Cryptic Studios can manage it remains to be seen.
If you like space combat, this might be the game for you. If you like Star Trek, this might be the game for you. If you like MMORPGs and think this might be World of Warcraft crossed with Star Trek, Star Trek Online is not for you.