For those who are completely unfamiliar with the game at all, it takes place in the early 25th Century. The original timeline is still in continuity (at least for the sake of the in-game universe), and the United Federation of Planets is at war with the Klingon Empire . . . again. The game takes place mostly in the Alpha and Beta quadrants, transwarp is common enough that every starship (at least PC ships) can use it, and the Gorn are once again an aggressive race. (I guess they didn’t like being referred to as Lizard Man in The Big Bang Theory.) Relations with the Romulans are strained, yet not overtly hostile, and the Borg make random incursions into civilized space.
And you, as the captain of a lowly starship, are the arrowhead of Starfleet’s response.
You have the choice of several species as your player character, as well as being played into either Engineer, Tactical, or Science classes. I choose Engineer, because I wanted the extra bonus for fixing things that might pop up in trouble spots, although, it doesn’t seem to come up that often, and the three classes are identified by their yellow, red, and blue uniform designs. Tactical would have most likely come in handy a lot more, but I didn’t want to end up dead on my first mission out as a red shirt.
As you progress throughout the game, you get additional bridge officers from one of the aforementioned classes. Like your own character, you can skill them and personalize their carrying equipment, but they really don’t seem to do much except provide additional fire support on ground missions.
At Level 25 you get to start playing as a Klingon character, beginning at Level 20. Progression within the Klingon side seems to be faster (at least to me) than in the Federation side, and there are more skill points awarded to each mission. I’ve risen to Level 26 in just two days of playing after work, even skipping a whole level due to how many points I had. This time I went with a Tactical character—I mean, come on, it’s a Klingon—and haven’t had any problems with it, though there does seem to be a lot of fighting amongst the Houses of the Empire (like I said, it’s a Klingon). The one thing I do dislike about it is I play some of the same missions I did as a Federation character—same interactions, same setting, and so on; sure, I know my way around already and know what to expect, but it is a bit annoying.
Each rank—not level—comes with the ability to buy a new starship with just a single energy credit. There’s always the option to buy more ships from the store, but that requires Dilithium credits, and normally the only way to get that is to purchase them with real money. Even if you don’t want to spend real money on a better ship, the selection of ships to choose from is well-rounded and allows for the casual (and poor) players such as myself not to have to worry about being left out completely. Besides, who needs a fancy Sovereign-class cruiser when a fine and dandy Miranda-class light craft will do? Okay, I guess I do!
In all seriousness, though, I like the ability to command a variety of starships simply buy leveling up, though I do wish I could create my own starship design. (You can alter your current design slightly, but not create a completely original one.) I also like how you can have the first rename and registry number change for free, so if you want to keep the same “ship” throughout your career, you can just keep renaming it whenever you get a new ship to command.
Quests, or missions as they’re called in this game, are pretty common, and in fact Starfleet Command gives you several choices without even requesting them. Some missions take place solely via a starship, while others utilize primarily a ground component, but much of the interactions and selection processes are not unique; they share a lot in common with other RPGs in a way that makes it easy for a casual gamer to get interested in the game universe. Although, it’s also bad in that they’re not something that really speaks out about the missions other than the rewards shown.
If you’ve ever played the Starfleet Command games that came out years ago, then the space combat interaction will feel very similar, but with some limited options. You can basically only fight and run, without any extra things like High-Energy-Turns or beaming aboard marines while in combat. I don’t mind the lack of excessive combat abilities; to be honest they always got in my way a lot more than they were helpful when I played those games, but I really wish there were missiles instead of photon/quantum torpedoes.
All I can really say is that I’m thankful that when I die and respawn, I don’t have to start all over again, because some of those enemy ships are tough, especially when it’s just you against four or five of them.
It is relatively easy to take fights on the ground (and aboard ships/stations). All you really have to do is point and click your mouse at the target and let the weapons' fire fly. The hardest part is dying (It happens a bit too often for me.) and having to come back to the spot you were before to continue the fight; normally this isn’t a big issue, as the respawn point’s not that far away, but there was one mission in which not only did I have to restart back at the beginning of the map, but my support team kept glitching out on me, and it was just me against six very heavily armed baddies. So far it’s the only glitch I’ve seen in the game, but it still makes it very hard to finish that one mission.
For me this is the most difficult portion of the game; it’s not that they’re excessively hard to do, but the diplomatic missions are more like puzzles that you have to find the exact way of doing them in order to get it right. Thankfully, there’s a restart option on the ones I’ve played so far, or else I would have failed at being a diplomat a long time ago. The rewards for it are rather low, however, but they do help you to increase your diplomatic rank, which will, eventually, allow you to cross into Klingon space.
Stocking Up/Unloading Items
When an enemy dies at the end of a mission, or just by random luck, you’ll end up with a bunch of items in your inventory. For the most part these items can be sold off, making room for when you pick up even more items throughout your travels, but there is the rare exception such as a really high-powered kinetic energy weapon or a shield modification. A lot of the little items—consumables—can just easily been sold, and there’s not much point in keeping them or even using them in battle; when you die, you respawn, and only once have I respawned in a place that made it so inconvenient for me that I actually used some items to booster my abilities.
The main problem with items, however, is the random stuff you get that has no descramble value at all in any known market; they can’t be sold or traded, so they end up just being discarded for no profit at all. One thing in particular, the Ferangi Lock Boxes, is a particular pain, because you need a special key to unlock them, which requires you to spend actual money; it’s one of the few catches I’ve seen in the game to try and make you open up your wallet.
Thanks to the various missions that I was given throughout the game—most of which I didn’t go looking for—it was very easy to level up to Level 20 (the first Commander rank) within a three-day weekend, interrupted only by normal functions and random acts of an adorable kitten. Like any other RPG, leveling up takes longer the higher you get, and the skills cost more points the higher you go. There’s not much difference from what I’ve seen in other games, with the exception of ships.
The way they do ranks per level is interesting and reminds me of the various “ranks” a person can get on a bulletin-board forum based on how many posts they make. You start out as an Ensign and immediately get promoted to full Lieutenant (jumping over the junior grade) and stay in that for 10 levels before becoming a Lieutenant Commander, which then is given 10 more levels, all the way to Vice Admiral at level 50. I’m not sure what lies beyond the coveted rank of Vice Admiral and the high level of 50, but I’m more than willing to work myself up to find out.
I’m not the biggest fan of RPGs—in fact, I can only think of three RPG games that I actually enjoy (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel, and SepterraCore) and have played on a regular basis—but back in the olden days I was addicted to Ultima Online. I like to think of myself as a reasonably-sized Trekkie, and when I first heard about Star Trek Online, I really wanted to play it, but my bank account wouldn’t let me. Then, I found out it became free-to-play, and I signed up and started playing recently. And, I love it.
I haven’t actually interacted much with other players, but so far the few interactions I have experienced have been fairly pleasant—or at least not bad. I’m not much of a team-player in video games, so I enjoy the fact that the game can be played solo without it impacting the gameplay much. I plan to continue playing the game, though not all the time; life tends to get in the way when I try to do binge gaming. Darn it. But, I will certainly continue to go boldly where many Geeks have gone before.