by Christopher Park
previewed on PC
A difficult trek
Star Trek Online’s development process has had a few bumps along the way. Initial development was started up Perpetual Entertainment and the development of a Star Trek MMO was acknowledged 5 years go. The development process was a mystery for nearly four of those years - with murmurs of Perpetual running into financial issues - until finally the company filed for bankruptcy and all art assets and license to develop were transferred to Cryptic Studios. Cryptic Studios are most known for City of Heroes and Champions Online. Now, finally, it looks like Star Trek Online is coming together, with a closed beta currently in progress and a firm release date announced for February 2nd, 2010. It has been a long time coming, but if you are a fan of pre-reboot Star Trek, you should watch out for this; it might be the definitive Star Trek experience.
Difficult times in the universe
Star Trek Online takes place in 2409, which is 30 years after the critical and commercial bust, Star Trek Nemesis. In those 30 years in the Star Trek timeline, the universe has been heavily embroiled in war, as Klingons attempt to retake planets and systems, Romulans fight back and multiple other species and races partake in general laser-blasting conflict. The Federation attempt to take diplomatic routes, which continually fail. What all of this ultimately results in is the Klingon Empire going against the Federation and that is the conflict you will be thrust into when you play Star Trek Online.
It is obvious Cryptic Studios spent a lot of time creating an exciting, well-realized backstory and that they really understand the source material. While the current 2409 conflict essentially boils down into a Humans vs Orcs situation, it is how the conflict got to that point that proves to be interesting. It will be interesting just how Cryptic will continuously update the conflict with future updates once the game is released, because they have laid out a solid foundation for what is will hopefully a long-term, frequently supported MMO.
Exploration and combat in MMO style
Star Trek Online will attempt to mix space and ground-based gameplay. The space gameplay will obviously consist of exploration and, perhaps more importantly, combat that takes place in the vastness of space. The most basic tactic in combat is to fire a concentration of energy weapons to one part of an enemy’s ship. With the shields down in that section of the ship, it is up to you fire away with photon cannons to exploit the weakness you have created. You will be doing this with three ship classes. The first is the cruiser, which is essentially a tank; it will take a metric ton of damage before exploding. Escorts are the game’s DPS dealers, as they move in quick and dish out massive amounts of damage at once. Lastly, the science class acts as support, as they buff and debuff and wreak havoc through more indirect methods, like fraying enemy sensors.
If you have played any MMO within the past decade, it is immediately obvious exactly how the game splits everything into familiar MMO archetypes. Tanks, DPS and support are identifiable terms within the MMO genre and that might be seen as almost disappointing by some. However, it seems like Cryptic’s working with what is familiar and adding new gameplay elements on top of that.
Beam me down, nondescript engineer!
All players in Star Trek Online will be able to command their own ships and, naturally, with the ships come their very own bridge officers. Besides the add-ons that you equip your ship with, the types of bridge officers you train and recruit will also determine the strengths and weaknesses of your ship. In short, engineer officers influence how maneuverable your ship will be and how much damage it can take before going down, while tactical officers influence general firepower and science officers determine just how effective you are at buffing or debuffing.
Outside the chaos of space conflicts, you will be able to beam down to planets and either explore or engage in run-and-gun gameplay. Think along the lines of the now defunct Tabula Rasa and you have some idea of how Star Trek Online’s ground-based gameplay will play like. With the developers claiming the game to have a “system of infinite exploration”, it sounds like there will be a lot to do both on ground and in the vastness of space.
Not a long wait anymore
Graphically, Star Trek Online is coming along well. There is a slight cartoonish art style that permeates throughout all the footage and screenshots that have been shown off to the public. It has provoked the ire of some, but for the most part the game is shaping up to be a visually appealing game. Not much can be said of the music, but the sound effects sound like they should. Lasers say “pew”. Explosions say “kaboom”. Photon cannons make that understated thud noise. Everything seems to be in line with what the various weapons systems in Star Trek sound like.
With the release so surprisingly close, Star Trek Online is another game that will be shipped within what will be arguably the busiest first quarter for video games since ever, really. It sounds like everything is coming along well and if Cryptic’s game manages to be a hit with their niche - the dedicated and devoted Star Trek fans - Star Trek Online has a bright future in the competitive MMO market.