Preview: Star Trek Online

Greg Tito | 21 Jan 2010 09:00
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Cryptic's Star Trek Online is the game that many Star Trek fans have always wanted to play. You get to captain your own Federation starship and team up with like-minded captains in seeking out new life and new civilizations. And if rescuing survivors and following the Prime Directive isn't your bag, you can unlock the Klingons (and the races allied with them) by completing a short quest chain. Then you can cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war against Federation and Klingon ships alike in your very own Bird of Prey.

Ditching the whole kill-ten-rats thing, the tutorial and introduction to Star Trek Online starts you out as an Ensign on a ship caught in a Borg attack in Federation space. Early on, you meet an emergency medical hologram, voiced by Zachary Quinto, who details the ins and outs of how to play the game while you take out the Borg who have begun assimilating the U.S.S. Khitomer. When you get back to your own ship, you are told that the Borg attack killed all the officers, and that you are now the highest ranking member of the crew. Through battlefield promotion, you are given control of the ship and eventually sent to blow up a square Borg monstrosity. Afterwards, you head to the Spacedock orbiting Earth and the Admiral congratulates you for your valor, promotes you to lieutenant and gives you your own ship to boldly go where, well, you know.

The starship battles of Star Trek Online are my favorite part of the game. It is undeniably cool to fire all your phasers and then let loose a salvo of photon torpedoes when the opposing ship's shields have failed. And you had better damn well pay attention to how your shields are doing or a torpedo may sneak in and take out your hull. The animation is fluid and feels very Star Trek-like, and space features like stars, moons or even clouds of gas look fantastic. Battles can be hectic, with lots of ships swirling around to gain better position, or you can sneak around and try to launch a surprise attack. The first Klingon ship you get has a cloaking device, and it's definitely fun to get close to an unsuspecting Federation ship before de-cloaking and firing all available torpedoes.

As a multiplayer game, Star Trek Online is a mix of old and new concepts. You gain levels by rising in rank; you begin play as a Lieutenant Grade 1 and you go up to Grade 10 until becoming a Lieutenant Commander, which unlocks bigger ships and better weapons. There are vendors where you can buy and sell the various ship components you loot from the weird orange shapes that are left behind by some enemies and ships (yes, you can loot in space). Each captain has a bank to hold various items and there is even an Exchange that serves as an auction house to facilitate trade between players. There is no crafting per se, but you can spend time tracking down various anomalous readings both in space and on ground mission which, when scanned, give you materials like "alien artifacts." You can bring those materials to Spacedock and trade them to the scientists there for better items.

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