previews\ Jan 7, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Star Trek: Online - PC - Preview 2

The preamble – yep, that one … “Space, the final frontier …” – is expected but not heard, though the theme music certainly is. It begins with the orchestration that keyed in the television show four decades back, and then changes to embrace so much more that belongs to the Star Trek legacy.

Usually, a game shows what it purports to have with the barest of tastes known as a tutorial, and Star Trek Online is no different. The flavors are there, but just in minimal quantities. It’s like the scent of rich chocolate that dances across the tongue, but is more of a tease than a true taste.

In part one of this rolling preview, GameZone took a look at character creation within the game. Now it is time to talk about the initial experience, which would be the tutorial. Concepts central to the game dominate this portion. STO is about ship combat and moving the controlled starship through space, finding firing arcs, presenting shields to the brunt of the enemy attack. The Borg are the first of the enemies encountered, but sandwiched into the combat are rescue missions where the player’s ship is powered within teleportation range of disabled ships and then survivors are beamed aboard. Those survivors are not carried for long, though, as they are dropped off on a medical ship. Circumstances dictate that the player, one of the officers onboard the ship named in the character creation phase, takes control of the player ship, and that leads to selection of officers that may or may not accompany the player on away missions. Each of the officers has specialties that work like buffs, and thus selection of the right officer is important to compliment skills already in place.

Oh, wait … Was the term “away missions” used? Does that mean …?

Yep, STO is not just about piloting a starship into sectors of space and clearing away the baddies. Sometimes the captain and officers have to beam to a location and engage in some phaser action with a little hand-to-hand thrown in for good measure.

Skills can be upgraded and even the ‘pets’ – officers that are chosen as staff and are controllable by the player – can have skills upgraded to form a better team fit.

In ship combat, there are torpedoes and the phaser array. To begin with, the items on the player character and the ship are standard, but as the journey begins through the game, there is the chance to find better gear through drops or through the exchange. Everything is stat rated, and it is relatively easy to compare stats to outfit both the character and ship for maximum performance. When it comes to the ground missions, players have weapons, can crouch to do bigger damage and have a knock-back attack capability. But whether ground or spaceship combat, there is a flow that is consistent. Ships have shields – fore, aft, port and starboard. Characters have personal shields. In combat the shields are whittled away first and then the actual damage begins. Ships explode or characters drop down dead. The player character, of course, never actually dies; he or she is incapacitated.

In honesty, though, dying in the tutorial is awfully hard to do.

The quest structure of the tutorial is rapidly paced. The idea – at least at this stage of the game’s development – is to get players through the fundamentals as quickly as possible and into the beginning phases of the game. Quest NPCs have icons floating above their heads and are easy to spot. Mobs don’t take forever to put away, and the rewards are useful.

The game looks amazing. The ground missions are solid with good animation (rolling and tumbling from enemy fire is fun), but the art direction really shines when it comes to the space elements.

Star Trek Online has a lot of character and it has – so far – a lot of depth of play to it. While the core is obviously the quest-oriented combat, this is definitely not a one-dimensional game.

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