Is Star Trek Online Everything It Could Have Been?!

June 23, 2010

To say that Trekkies have been waiting a long time for a really, really good “triple A” game based on the Star Trek license would be an understatement. In recent years, the games that have come closest to taking advantage of the source material were the Elite Force series. They were first person shooters and competent games that were fun, but Star Trek has never been about the action. No, Star Trek is about exploring the unknown, discovering new life and new civilizations.

You don't have to be a genius to guess that the genre that best fits the Star Trek franchise mold is a role-playing game. The idea of a fully functioning, massively multiplayer online RPG to Trekkies has been the stuff of dreams and thanks to Cryptic, now a reality. Sounds great, right? Well…it should have been.

Star Trek Online is by no means a bad game. It's actually pretty fun and in many ways the developers have bent over backwards to include little winks, nods and Easter eggs for diehard fans of the various movies and TV shows. And yet, things are lacking... why?

Simple diplomacy just doesn't work.  And disappointedly diplomacy is one of the things that separates Trek from other more trigger happy forms of sci-fi.

While it's true Captain James T. Kirk was just as likely to shoot you as shag you, his contemporaries, from the unflappable Jean Luc Picard, all the way through Janeway, Cisco and Archer, generally erred on the side of diplomacy. So why is it then that the diplomatic missions in Star Trek Online suck so hard?

The first diplomatic mission you're likely to encounter has you running up to unhappy employees on a mining planet. After clicking through their dialogue to hear their complaints you return to the quest giver who asks you what the grievances were. It's the stuff sleeping pills are made of, and sadly, these missions don't get much better as the story progresses.

It's true that diplomatic gameplay might not be for everyone, but you have to wonder why the quest designers didn't think of better ways of implementing diplomatic sections into the multi-part story based quests. How about beaming down to a planet to stop a Klingon attack, fight for a bit, call a temporary truce and then broker a temporary alliance with the Klingon commander? Succeed and you have a temporary ally Fail and it's back to the combat.

It's made even worse when Trekkies look across the pond at the next big franchise MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and witness the care being taken by Bioware in offering players freedom and choice in decision-making and controlling dialogue.  This is the type of freedom that would make absolute sense in a Star Trek game.

While we're on the subject of Star Wars: The Old Republic, it's worth noting that this game will have player housing in the form of player owned ship interiors... at launch. Ask anyone who plays STO about it and they'll tell you that Cryptic's bizarre decision not to let you explore the inside of your ship was a massive faux pas. You've spent all this STO gold on a shiny new Science Vessel and you can't even admire the finish. It's like plonking down all your WoW gold on a new epic mount and then being restricted to viewing it only from the back side... in other words, lame!

Granted, Cryptic quickly realized the error of their ways and have promised that in the coming months we will see ship interiors make an appearance. But there's no getting around the fact that they should have been there at launch.

The final major mistake Cryptic has made is the distinct lack of fun public places. While Earth Station One is technically a public space, it's really thought of as more of a mission hub. The lone cantina is almost always completely empty, populated by only a few lonely looking NPC's or a weird Vulcan who's decided  dancing on top of tables is absolutely hilarious and totally within character. It’s not.

Outside of Earth Station One, there's Quark's Bar (which is an admittedly lively – and pretty awesome – hang out spot) and the thoroughly depressing Risa. Risa, the fabled pleasure planet from Trek lore, is thought to be one of the most incredible vacation spots in the entire galaxy. A true paradise. Sadly, its appearance in Star Trek Online is unlikely to be remembered at all. There's simply nothing to do there, and I mean that quite literally. You can sit in a beach chair or do Tae Bo on a cliff side, but that's it. You almost feel sorry for the automaton NPC's who seem to be trapped on this tropical island limbo.

The last thing I'd like to touch on is that exploration is simply not fun in Star Trek Online. You can explore the vastness of space, true, but coming across an “anomaly” generally means right clicking, scanning and then filing it away in your inventory to be taken to the out-of-the-way Memory Alpha. Exploring planet surfaces themselves is no more interesting. NPC dialogue is painfully bland and the environments start to look painfully uninspiring.  

The reason folks play MMO's is to have fun, it's that simple. They come for the fun but stay for the company. If STO really wants to build up a loyal subscriber base it needs to engender a sense of community.  Trekkies tend to do that naturally but the stale state of the game is not helping matters. Changes need to be made and while adding new content and missions are a step in the right direction, there needs to be more. It's the little things that Cryptic is failing to deliver on: community, atmosphere and immersion. The gameplay's fine, Cryptic, but all the STO gold in the world won't fix a crappy bar... it might get you a nice ship interior though…even if currently, you’re unable to see it!  Beam me to another game, Scottie.


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