"Space... the heavily instanced frontier. These are the voyages of starship [pick something obscene or racist]. Its 80-or-so-hours mission to seek out quests and skill points; to boldly shoot what no one has shot before."
The famous Star Trek phrase would sound if there was a series based on "Star Trek Online". To get it out of the way fast, if you expected this to be a game that truly catches the „Star Trek spirit", you will be dearly disappointed as you won't find any of that here. The game is really almost entirely focused towards combat and leveling up while doing so, more so than a lot of other MMORPGs out there in fact, but it can still be some fun on its own terms.
The game is set in a world where Romulus was destroyed and the Federation seems to be at war with almost every major non-Federation species out there. Outright war against the Klingons, the Romulans/Remans aren't exactly friendly and constantly attack, The Cardassians have a faction called "The True Way" which constantly attack, there is still leftover Jem'Hadar to deal with, and of course the Borg and Species 8472 (Undine) can't be missing from a good party. There are also various smaller factions that want to get your neck like the Hirogen, Gorn, the Orion... and about any other "non-Federation race" baddies you can probably think of. It's almost like one of those episodes in the mirror universe, where the "Terran Empire" reigns supreme and is at war/dominates everything.
Leonard Nimoy (Spock) functions as a narrator for the game. You will get to hear his voice in a starting sequence when you make your Federation character and during the game every time you enter a new "Sector" of space.
Aside of him and the tutorial there doesn't seem to be any spoken dialogue whatsoever and most missions and speech is being presented in the same old boring text-boxes that literally invite to click them away (especially because it'll always end up in you killing 4 <enemy type> anyway) you learned to know and love from many other MMOs out there (can't wait for Star Wars: ToR, the first "fully voiced MMO" to be released)
The character creator is probably the best and most complex part of the game, it is here that you can choose between known pre-existing races of either the Starfleet (Human, Andorian, Trill, Vulcan, Bolian etc. or Unknown where you can create your own alien from a VERY wide variety of options and it will DEFINITELY have its unique looks, you can even recreate aliens from other series or model real life personalities somewhat, I've already seen people running around as Ming the Merciless or Oprah) or Klingon (Klingons, Orion, Gorn, Nausicaan or Unknown) faction. The Option to play for the Klingon Empire only opens up after you get a Starfleet character to Level 6 though.
It is also here where you get to choose your occupation, want to be a Tactical officer, an Engineer or Science officer?
A few impressions of the character creator
and a "freak show" to show off a few of the possibilities
In the Tutorial (after a short Intro-Cinematic narrated by Nimoy) you will find yourself in a fight against the Borg, you will also learn the first few basics of both Ground and Space combat and get to kick some Borg ass inside the U.S.S. Khitomer and outside while trying to save it.
The tutorial mission, probably the best "thought out" mission of the entire game and one of the 2 with voice-overs, still pretty bad though
The game is built around a "Ground" and "Space"-combat type of concept, so 90% of the time playing you will be engaged in exactly that, and it WILL get very repetitive very fast.
Some of the longer missions have you eliminate a whole fleet of ships, before you beam down to a planet and scan stuff, then kill a few baddies and beam back up to eliminate more ships and be able to beam to one of the ships and kill some more bad guys to beam back up and incapacitate some more ships and get a reward. (up to 2 hours of doing exactly that sometimes, best example is a mission called "Ghost Ship")
90% of the missions are along the lines of "clear system XXX from enemy ships", "scan 4 YYY while enemy ships are attacking you" or "beam ZZZ aboard while enemy ground troops are attacking you". Until Level21 there were maybe 2-3 quests that were a little different/more interesting and they're still the same package wrapped differently.
The only two supposedly "diplomatic" missions I've encountered consist of your character talking to 3-4 NPCs repeatedly and answering a "Pop Quiz" at the end, the result doesn't even matter either and "exploration" type missions are random "Scan 4 items", "deliver 10 [item-type] to planet" or also "free system from all enemies".
There were some nice Quest ideas every now and then involving Time travel, Undine (Species 8472) threats, having to deal with Section 8, Tribbles and Klingons etc., it is only too bad that the basic Quest DESIGN even in those stays the same.
The "Ground Combat" has you and an Away team of officers (either friends you are playing with or your bridge officers, that you can train and equip) beam down to a planet during a mission to let you eliminate Klingons, Romulans or Borg while having to absolve a certain objective (ranging from find the missing scientists, beam stolen weapons aboard, hack a terminal or just find and kill a character).
You can equip different weapons (from Phasers to Disruptors or even Melee weapons like Bath'lets) and use the weapons attack modes or your own special abilities to accomplish those goals.
Unfortunately in my opinion this part of the game wasn't very fun until the later levels. Most maps looked the same or very similar/simple like they were created in a very simple random level generator and were very limited as to the ways you could go or the tactics you could employ to get there. You basically engage some enemies and spam fire and Special abilities till they're dead, not even having to aim or aim for certain parts while doing so is nothing compared to say "Voyager: Elite Force".
In the later levels the ground combat can be a little more fun with a wider variety of settings and skills to use but as of right now it was mostly too easy. My character could basically be shot at by 7 enemies constantly and still not die.
There are also a few tactical choices that can be made by "Pausing" the game (every player has 45 seconds of Pause per mission I believe) and sending your officers out to flank the enemies (which makes more damage), but I haven't ever really HAD to use that and even if it happens that you die, there doesn't seem to be any penalty whatsoever so you respawn and just try again.
There's not that much use for dodging or special maneuvers
if you can hold out while several dozen NPCs are shooting you.
In some of the later Ground Combat missions where you are being presented with 200+ Romulans to kill between you and a target I usually started sprinting through the entire level (because those soldiers didn't do much damage and I didn't feel like slowly working my way through them, could probably survive 7-10 of em shooting my char without dieing for quite a while) and just Cloaking with the Tactical Stealth Module to activate certain objective(s) like consoles and get to the boss, so I can get out of there faster.
They also added a few "Social" maps very recently, which just offer a short typical landscape of some of the more renowned planets in the Star Trek universe, you can walk around in and talk to people, these feature Vulcan, Risa and Andoria.
A Vulcan temple, the frozen wastelands of one of the Andorian moons, Risa and Earths Starbase are some of the most prominent "social hotspots" in the game.
The "Space Combat", which may seem moderately complicated at first, is the most fun part of the game.
You start off with a very old "Miranda" class ship and while progressing through the ranks every 10 levels (11 - Lt. Commander; 21 - Commander; 31 - Captain; 41 - Rear Admiral...I kid you not, that's the last achievable rank in the game) you get to choose new ship types and ships based on 3 predefined classes:
"Escorts" - the DPS type, usually equipped with Heavy Cannons that can only shoot in front at 45° and maneuverability like DS9s Defiant;
"Cruisers" - The Tank type with a lot of Phaser banks that can shoot at 250° and shields which are able to withstand quite a barrage, those ships usually can't really turn without flying through a whole planetary system first though. They are mostly like TNGs "Enterprise D/E" and
"Science" vessels - The Support/Healer class that can use a lot of abilities, most similar to the Voyager or several other ships that have appeared in the show like the Pasteur during the last two episodes of TNG.
But there is more to it than that, you also get to choose what weapons you equip from Heavy Disruptor Cannons, Dual Phaser Banks, Plasma Cannons, Photon/Quantum Torpedoes, Tetryon, Polaron or Tri-Cobalt devices that will make your life easier or harder depending on the way you play and equip your ship.
You can pick or promote bridge officers from a pool of three different types (Tactical, Engineering and Science)
Tactical Officers usually have the Combat skills like Salvos of several torpedoes spread out over an area. Engineering usually has skills regarding to the ship power, shields and all that. "Scotty I need Warp back in an hour! No problem sir, I'll do it in 5 minutes." and Science officers, which have abilities that for example drain shields on opponents, Mask the ships energy signature (Stealth) or Tractor-beam them so they can't move (or can move a lot slower) while you and your friends unload your weapons unto them etc.
Aside of that you also have to maneuver your ship (with both mouse buttons pressed or preferably WASD) into position for the different weapons to take their effect because they have a certain degree in which they can fire while facing a target... you could equip Heavy Cannons on a Cruiser but seeing that it lacks a general maneuverability that should be given with using that type of weapons it might not be the best idea, manage your shields (if you go head-on against an enemy you'll see your front shields failing after a while, either turn or hit rebalance shields/divert power to that shield section constantly) and you have to manage your energy levels...
Energy to The Weapons/Shields etc. The more energy there is in a Subsystem, the better is the effect of said subsystem in combat. You'll barely scratch anything with your Weapons energy set to 25, but you'll shoot through shields and hulls with ease in seconds if you ramp it up to 100-110. It depends on the role you want to play, while Weapons Energy might be a good idea for a Heavy hitter, "tanks" usually concentrate more on Shields power and Support ships on Auxiliary that gives more punch to special skills. Thirdly you also have certain ship and character abilities like "Cloak" or "Attack Pattern Alpha/Omega", which give certain boni/buffs to you and your teammates or do certain things like Cloak your ship that you will have to manage.
Once you figured all that out space combat can become quite fun.
To travel between the different types of missions there's the "sector space", also an instanced part of the galaxy, through which you can travel to get to and from missions and talk to people or search for a team in Zone chat.
Galaxy map (Federation (0-11), Klingon (11-21), Romulan (21-31) and Cardassian Sectors (31-41)
were accessible in the Open Beta, the Borg Sector wasn't yet) and the "Sector space".
Player Versus Player and Fleet Actions
If you want to do PvP you are probably best off as a Klingon, as it is right now (and I don't suspect it being very different in the first few weeks after launch) Federation characters have to join a long Queue before initiating a PvP match and wait quite a while to be matched up against Klingons, while the Klingon faction almost always gets games going near to instantly with that many Federation chars queued "FvK". (they can even fight amongst themselves "KvK")
You can either Queue up by using the InGame Menu or by visiting the "Eta Eridani" Sector block and flying into one of the many dedicated "PvP systems".
The game modes range from a simple Ground Combat Team Deathmatch 5v5, where the first side to make it to 40 kills wins (this is highly dependent on the skills you use as a character and your equipment, especially weapons and shield), Space Combat Team Deathmatch 5v5 and 2 more Modes called Area Control (Capture Point based where your fleet has to control most of the points to keep your "tickets" up while the other team with less capture points loses tickets... similar to the Battlefield series), Assault (where you have to kill a certain number of enemy ships quickly and can use friendly NPC positions to your advantage) and there were also Ground Resource Battles and Space War zones that didn't seem quite ready yet and might take a while to get right but in principle you fight against a team of the other faction to get certain objectives done first, like scanning Borg Nodes or killing a certain number of NPC enemies before the other faction manages to do that while trying to keep the other team from doing the same.
A huge battle against a Borg Sphere and a "Defiant" against a Tactical Cube
By doing PvP you also get Skill points (XP) to spend on your character and advance in Level, energy (money), Starfleet merits to spend on your officers AND Medals of Honor/Distinction/Whatever, which you can spend at vendors in special PvP Outposts (Like Deepspace K7 in Eta Eridani) for better gear.
Another fun part of the game are Fleet Action battles, where you band together with up to 20 other people and join some big battles, basically having to destroy a certain number of small ships (like Bird of Preys) first, then bigger ships like Cruisers, and finally Battleships (like Neg Vars) to make a way to a boss-enemy and his escorts (really really strong Dreadnaught Flagships that can't be beaten without at least 5-10 or so people focusing on them at once) to get a final score (placement based on the damage you did and the number of kills). The people that placed in the Top5 even get additional items rewarded into their inventory depending on place.
Fleet Actions also come in the Ground and Space variation and let you complete tasks with up to 20 other players
There wasn't much "Endgame Content" in the game as far as Beta goes and as far as I can tell other than the PvP battles/War Zones, seeing as it takes an average of 80-100 hours of playing to get to the Level cap (45, I wasn't quite there yet but not THAT far away), that might also be a problem right there, seeing as Dragon Age as a Single Player game had about that much content and this is an MMO you are supposed to pay a monthly subscription for.
Summed up, it was a nice experience/game while it lasted, but honestly considering it is very heavily instanced (even in the HUB areas there can be only 50 people at once in an instance), making space, stations and planets etc. seem kind of "small", about every mission is soloable and most quests allow a maximum number of 5 people, with 20 in "Fleet Actions" it didn't seem as MUCH like a classic MMORPG, more like an extended form of the Battle.Net or Guild Wars.
And as fun as it was in certain parts there are dozens of glaring holes and faults (besides of being damned REPETITIVE and not "Star Trek", can't be said often enough) within the game. I can't see myself paying monthly for it and won't. I might pick it up again along the way if they add a lot more content to the game or if it becomes Free2Play with an Item Store kind of Deal like Dungeons & Dragons Online did.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask.
(All Images are Thumbnails, clicking on them will enlarge)
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