One of the most exciting parts of GamesCom was being able to see Star Trek Online gameplay for the first time. Read our impressions and find out why we think Trekkers will not be disappointed.
Back in 2004, when I first heard the rumors that Perpetual Entertainment was working on a Star Trek MMO, I wasn't all that excited on a personal level, but my MMO centric occupation kept me interested. You see, I wasn't a Star Trek fan back then. Sure I knew plenty about it. I'd even sat through an episode or two; however, I failed to grasp the appeal that brought so many die hard fans to the franchise. It wasn't until I saw The Wrath of Khan followed by First Contact that I understood the appeal. I was now a Star Trek fan eagerly anticipating the MMO. When Cryptic Studios acquired the license and art assets following the bankruptcy of Perpetual Entertainment in 2008, I thought that surely the MMO space was going to get its first taste of what I like to call, the "Duke Nukem Forever paradigm" (a game with massive amounts of hype, with no release in the foreseeable future). Fortunately for Trekkers everywhere -- that's not that case.
In the fall of 2008, I began learning about the direction that Cryptic was taking the game. Total Customization was the underlying theme and when Cryptic says customization, it's safe to believe that you'll have more options than you can shake a stick at. It wasn't until we saw the gameplay demonstration at GamesCom, in Cologne, Germany last week, that I realized how much customization Cryptic is giving the players with Star Trek Online. The game looks absolutely amazing and is exactly what Star Trek gamers have been waiting for. Keep reading for our gameplay impressions.
First of all, it's important to note that a lot has happened in the story and, as we've reported on previously, the game takes place 30 years in the future from the prime timeline as seen here. During our demonstration with Craig Zinkevich, Executive Producer of Star Trek Online, he had this to say. "A lot of stuff has happened in the universe over the last 20 years. Obviously the Romulan Empire has to deal with the fact that their home world was destroyed. The Borg have returned, they're more powerful and still bent on assimilation. Probably most importantly is that the ‘Khitomer Accord' between the Klingon Empire and the Federation has broken down and the two major factions in the game are pretty much in all out war." Fans should be excited about this as it creates a new dynamic never before seen in the Star Trek universe.
From what we've been told (and have now seen for ourselves), Star Trek Online is definitely a game about action, choices and customization. To that point, you can expect to make character altering choices right out of the box. "When you create a character in Star Trek Online you do choose which faction you're going to end up playing with, whether or not you're going to be a Warrior in the KDF (Klingon Defense Force), the Klingon military, or an Officer in Star Fleet for the Federation." said Zinkevich. "Everybody in Star Trek Online is a Captain of a Starship. We weren't that interested in making a game where you stand down in the transporter room and pressed buttons for 20 hours, level up, and then get to move to engineering where you use a wrench. Anyone who's seen the movie or the shows really wants to command a Starship and that's the experience that we wanted to bring to the game."
This brings us to combat, which players will experience in the depths of space and in away missions that will take place on enemy ships, on the surface of strange planets, etc. Essentially you can expect to play two entirely different games as you roam the galaxy with your photon torpedo salvos and phasers set to IMBA.
The best way I can sum up space combat is to have you imagine if Eve Online and Jumpgate Evolution had a love child. That's what STO space combat is, and more! "It's all about moving energy to your weaker shields, changing your power from your engines to your weapons. It's about getting behind your enemy, taking out his shields and then giving him a photon torpedo salvo. That's really what space combat is all about." Zinkevich told us.
Ground combat is, as I mentioned previously, completely different. It will be a much more familiar experience to anyone who's played an MMO like World of Warcraft or EverQuest. This is not to compare the two; I'm merely using these games to give you a frame of reference. "Whenever you beam down in an instanced mission, there are always four characters that go down with you. If you're teamed up with four other players, it will be five Captains that go down. If you're by yourself, you have to choose four of your bridge officers to accompany you to make up the difference." Zinkevich mentioned as he continued to explain combat.
This brings us to an interesting topic. Players get the majority of their power in combat differently than you might expect. Cryptic wanted to take the idea of Bridge Officers being an important part of a battle from the cinematic experience, and make them an extremely important part of Star Trek Online. "Your Bridge Officers are really MMO pets pushed to the next level. You name them, customize them, level them, choose which skills they have, invest skill point into them and give them the equipment that they have when they beam down to an away mission. So they really help define who you are by which Bridge Officers you have with you" said Zinkevich. He went on to explain how leveling your bridge officers up will continue to enhance gameplay. For this example he used a bridge officer named Sasha Meera who has a photon torpedo salvo skill that increases the number of torpedoes fired as she levels up. Additionally, as she continues to level, she'll gain new skills that you can invest in. Imagine if the MMO that you're playing now had an alternate advancement system for all your individual items; that's essentially what Cryptic has done here.
Another somewhat unique aspect of the game is how players will "level up" their characters. I use that phrase loosely in this preview because in Star Trek Online, you'll gain ranks in the military (read: Federation or KDF). For example, obtaining the equivalent of what you might call "level 7" will be "Lieutenant: Rank VI". Obtaining higher ranks will allow players access to more advance kits and other various awards. We'll have more on these awards in another article.
Of course it wouldn't be an MMO without guild raids and PvP. During our questioning, both were confirmed. Unfortunately Craig couldn't go into any detail but he did mention that the two player chosen factions will be at constant war with each other. Another thing Craig mentioned was that they're looking at the possibility of doing a lifetime subscription model that was offered to Champions Online players. Micro-transactions will also exist but they'll be "mostly cosmetic additions".
We're eager to see the game again in a playable form but for now we wait. One thing became abundantly clear during our Star Trek Online demonstration however – skeptical fans can drop their guard. It's real, it's playable and it's coming. In fact, we were told that Cryptic has a set 2010 launch date so it might be here sooner than you think. Until then -- live long and prosper.
Andrew "Tamat" Beegle