As you can tell from the headline, I’m not a big fan of MMORPGs. Maybe it’s just cause I’m a loner, but I never got into the whole online gaming thing. However, I am a big Star Trek fan, so when I saw that Star Trek Online (STO) had gone to a Free-To-Play format in January of this year, I decided to give it a try. And STO has won me over, at least to their game.
STO is set 30 years after the events of Nemesis, and once again the Federation is at war. Romulus, the capitol world of the Romulan Empire, has exploded, leaving the Romulan and Reman peoples scattered and in disarray. The Klingons decide to break the Khitomer Accords (again) and once again become an enemy of the Federation while trying to annex large chunks of formerly Romulan space. The Borg reappear, but don’t act the same as they did previously, and the Dominion is showing signs of aggressiveness again as well. In short, the galaxy is pretty much set up for lots of combat.
Your character steps into this war-torn galaxy as an Ensign in your chosen field (Tactical, Engineering, or Science, with red, gold, and blue uniforms respectively) on your first ship facing an attack by the Borg. The tutorial is good, taking you by the hand and guiding you through several fairly easy steps to learn the game interface, and by the end of the tutorial, you can handle your character fairly well both in “ground” and “space” modes. However, don’t think there’s nothing left to learn, there are other tutorial missions scattered throughout your early experiences as a Lieutenant (you get promoted automatically after the tutorial), and combat tends to teach you new techniques, sometimes the hard way.
Even as a Lieutenant, you’re given command of the ship you used in the tutorial, and addressed as “Captain,” following naval tradition: basically, if you command a ship, you’re a Captain, even if you don’t have the rank of Captain. You can choose your missions, and lead your subordinates — you get your first Tactical recruit during the tutorial — in completing the missions. You can take single missions, or take a mission that’s part of an “episode,” which is a series of missions tied together, when you complete one you’ll be offered the next one. Episodes are the best way to level up quickly, because they generally give the best rewards.
Speaking of rewards, like any good RPG, there are upgraded gadgets available, both at stores and within missions — frequently after combat, essentially looting the bodies, but sometimes also just sitting in crates, lockers, or similar containers in a ground mission location. Using these upgraded gadgets makes the missions quite a bit easier, not to mention more survivable. If you don’t upgrade, you’re probably going to get the “Respawn?” prompt a lot. There’s also a crafting system, using components gathered from “anomalous readings” both in space and on the ground, so be sure to scan all of those you see, and scan for more of them before leaving a map. You can also purchase certain options, like special ships, through the Cryptic Store (C-Store) using real money from your credit card, which is how the server providers (Cryptic and Perfect World) make their money.
In short, the creators of STO have created a very good RPG, it’s just online rather than on your computer alone. And since it’s constantly upgraded and updated, there’s frequently new challenges to try.
I may or may not try other MMORPGs, but I’m definitely a fan of Star Trek Online. Excuse me now, it’s time to kick some Klingon butt.