The Gilded MMO
Oh Star Trek. Who would've thought that a low budget sci fi show in the '60s would turn into the media juggernaut that it is today. Five shows, more movies than you have fingers and toes, and a handful of single player games later and finally, finally, the long promised and desperately awaited Star Trek massively multiplayer online role playing game comes to fruition. Will the game fly its way to victory under the soaring hopes of a million trekkies all crying out in joy, or will the game crash and burn with the whales under the weight of a million dissapointed customers all crying out in pain? Read on!
STO follows the basics of MMO design. You pick a class, grab equipment, do quests, shoot stuff, get go...I mean, energy credits, buy better stuff, do better missions, etc. Along the way, however, you get to pick out a ship and some bridge officers and run around shooting stuff both on the ground and up in the cold, vast, darkness of space. You upgrade your ship, get more bridge officers, get better and more lore breaking guns, and so on and so forth, until you hit the level cap with a pimped out ship and pimped out bridge officers and are ready to go do endgame content.
Cryptic, veteran MMO makers behind both City of Villians/Heroes and Champions Online, has everything going for it when it comes to making a Star Trek MMO. A huge book of often contradicting lore to pull from? Check! A number of races to slap into the game, allowing every trekkie to live out his/her (Who are we kidding. His.) dream of being a half Bajoran/half Human/half Betazoid Starfleet Engineer? Yup! Numerous different ship designs and specifications which allow the player to make whatever type of ship they want and still have it be effective? In spades. The problem with STO is that the moment you peel back the thick Star Trek skin and peer into the inner workings of the game, the nuts and bolts which are the true heart of any MMO, everything starts to break down.
Let's take classes and ship types as an example. The game covers the three basic classes that any Star Trek experience offers up: Tactical in "Please Shoot Me Instead Of Anyone Important" red, Science in beautiful Bashir blue, and Engineering in dashing "I'm McGuyver In Space" yellow. These three classes also cover the three bases of MMO class division. You have your healer/mage in your Science class, your tank/DPS in the Tactical class, and the pet/buffer archetype in the Engineer. Seems to be all well and proper until you peel back the basics and look into the depths. Sure, you say Tactical is meant to be a tank...but where are all the aggro gaining abilities? How about an agro drop ability for Science? How's Tactical supposed to do DPS if their main damage increasing ability, grenades, can merely be dodged? It's the same with ship types. Again, Cryptic covers both the Star Trek and MMO bases in threes. You've got your Generic Starfleet Ship/Tank in the Cruiser line, your "Oh Hey That Was That Ballship Floating By Earth"/Mage slash Healer in your Science Vessels, and the Defiant/DPS in your Escort class of ships. Once again, however, once you ask for any sort of specifics everything starts to not work. Okay, if the Cruiser is meant to tank, how come it has no ability to make enemies hit it? If the Science Vessel is meant to heal or be a mage, why does every special ability (heals included!) have a 30 second to 2 minute cooldown? And if the Escort is your close range squishy DPS, why is it that a properly outfitted Cruiser can pull off the same damage numbers?
This is not to say that every MMO has to have some form of aggro system, or that all abilities must have 6 second or less cooldowns, or that a game isn't great if you can't dodge a grenade. The problem with STO is that it provides the framework for all of these things (and more), and then subsequently fails to provide. It almost feels as if Cryptic took a giant book filled with MMO terms, read through it, nodded, and went "Well, that seems easy enough!" without ever understanding that there's more to tanking than just SAYING someone is a tank, more to DPS than giving a handful of weapon plus skills, and more to Healing than having a single ability that restores health.
If this was the extent of STO's problems the game might still be able to limp towards victory. I mean, sure, the class/ship system feels as if someone with only a passing knowledge of how MMOs work created it, but still, it's the only casual friendly space combat game and it's Star Trek. That's a winning combo, right? Sadly, the classes and ships aren't the only problems that Star Trek Online has.
In no particular order: The combat is repetitive (even for an MMO) in space, the combat is simplistic AND repetitive (even for an MMO) when on the ground, the game was clearly designed for two dimensions and then forced into three (There is no top/bottom shields, and you can't go straight up or straight down), everything is super instanced (Okay, everything IS an instance), the only way to get around the world is a Tron ripoff hub map (that, despite being a hub map, is ITSELF instanced off and takes quite a bit to fly around in), the game is repetitive (Have we mentioned that already?), and by level 20 you'll already be running out of new content to play in.
Of course, there are some things that STO has going for it. It *is* the only space MMO that doesn't feel like a second job (EVE Online, I'm lookin' at you), The space combat, while repetitive, does have a nugget of fun burried beneath the tree of "This mission again?", and the game does quite the job of scratching your Klingon itch if you can site the specs of a Romulan Warbird off of the top of your head. However, if you can't spell Bat'leth without looking up, if you can't stand an MMO that has almost no documentation and a broken class/ship system, if you can't imagine doing the same exact quest down to the dialogue for the fifth time in six hours, you can do significantly better than Star Trek Online.