When diving into the new experience of Star Trek Online, you will notice right away one of the strongest attributes of the game: customization. Creating a character delivers vast amounts of it. Players are able to chose skin color, eye color, hair style…not impressed? Beyond the usual customizable character attributes, further mutation may take place. Also customizable are traits like facial width, length, and skull depth, body height and build, hand size, bulk, and finger length, torso length and bulk, stomach size, physical stances such as “Brawler” and “Twitchy”, earrings and jewelry, uniforms, and it goes on. Now, if you’re new to MMO’s or gaming in general, this might be a daunting task. Fear not, there are many pre-programmed races to chose from as well.
When finally entering the Star Trek universe with your guaranteed one-of-a-kind character, you’ll notice the game’s first weaknesses. Namely, the ease (or perhaps lack thereof) of getting started, and character control. Trekking through the first tutorial-like section of the game is indeed easy, but upon completing this section it is, in retrospect, too easy. Meaning, the transition from the tutorials to “real” gameplay is a bit bumpy. The ships, officers, and kits chosen beforehand, might now be the less than optimum choices for what lies ahead, due to the ambiguous descriptions from the tutorials. Furthermore, the descriptions of these ships, officers, weapons, shields, kits, etc have now morphed into an almost overwhelming amount of abbreviated statistics (on which not much information was provided earlier). And, it seems having these affairs in order would be most helpful when encountering The Borg.
While absorbing the gameplay transition, you must also attempt to assimilate the somewhat sticky character control. In an attempt at realism, character movement is slightly delayed when starting, turning, and stopping. New or casual gamers most likely will not have a problem with this, but if you are the proud owner of an insatiable hunger for all things first-person-shooter, consider yourself warned.
However, if you continue to play STO, the customization aspect picks up again in full force. After gaining some experience and “talent points” you may allocate such earned points in the talent specialization interface which alters your character’s abilities in a multitude of ways. Depending on your choices, this allows you to pack a mighty wallop with photon torpedoes, decrease the efficacy of enemy shields, heal friendlies in battle, or some combination therein. The custom game play doesn’t stop there, though. Players are able to chose different ship models and paint schemes, new casual and tactical character uniforms for yourself and your four crew members.
How do all these ships and uniforms look on your screen? Well, it depends on your graphics card of course. If you are one of those unfortunate souls without the kingpin graphics card, the game still runs smoothly, thanks to STO’s automatic system specification detection. If your machine is decent, the graphics are proportionally decent. Some aspects, such as ships and characters, are amazingly crisp. Others though, such as planetary and terrain detail, let pixelation rear its ugly head.
Outfitted with a new ship, talents, and uniforms, you’re now ready for intense space battle, and not so intense ground battle. Space flight controls are fairly unique but not unusual. They’re smooth and easy to use most of the time. For newcomers, crowded battles might instill fumbly fingers as the default hot keys for weapon firing use the same hand required for your space craft’s pitch and yaw. You will see quickly enough however, that this doesn’t outweigh the excitement of an epic space war when your screen explodes with phasers and torpedoes from friends, fleet mates, foes, and strangers.
If you do find yourself without friends or fleet mates, grouping is automatic and highly effective. Upon entering a particular instance of a space battle, players are automatically grouped with others working to achieve similar objectives. This adds yet another strength to the space portion of this game, as it decreases wait and reset time dramatically. Thus, the flow of gameplay and fun, is virtually uninterrupted. That is, until a ground mission must be accomplished.
Ground missions are underdeveloped at best. Fighting abilities are limited, and terrain design and detail is increasingly sparse. Objectives are repetitive and exploring new life and civilization is reduced to merely “scanning for anomalies” and collecting mineral samples.
Patches are frequent. This is ultimately a plus, as it indicates the SOE and Atari teams are working diligently to build on their sturdy foundation. However, with subscription fees comparable to that of the much more highly developed and finely tuned MMORPG, World of Warcraft, they had better be working quickly as well as diligently.
Overall, STO has a solid base upon which to build an amazing game, and I personally would continue to play. It’ll be a 9 eventually, but it’s not now, so my score out of 10 for this game is 7.49