Being one of the lucky many to get into the Star Trek Online open beta, here are a set of first and second impressions. Note – this was first posted as a comment on Kotaku. Seeing as I have played more since, it’s been updated with extra content and screenshots for Press X or Die. You may consider this the Collector’s Edition of my Star Trek Online Beta experience, dear reader. I’ve also corrected a few horribly obvious misspellings since I have nothing better to do. It’s the collector’s prestige divine special limited edition, so read this shit.
The character creator is very robust. You can scale/modify pretty much anything about your character, including the uniform – although the uniform customization is limited to uniform type and colour scheme. There are various “new” Starfleet uniforms, and by default the one used in the later Star Trek: The Next Generation films. Depending which Collector’s or Digital Deluxe version you purchase (if any), you can get additional uniforms such as Deep Space Nine or TOS (the original series). I can’t really commend on these as they aren’t available in the beta, but I really don’t see how they could mess them up.
Likewise, ship appearance customization allows you to choose different saucers, struts and nacelles from the other ships of your current ship’s class to make your ship look different than the stock models. I managed to make my Miranda-class look rather like an original-series Romulan Bird-Of-Prey by changing the nacelle struts to outward-curving wing-like things. Pretty rad.
You can kit out your ship with consoles, various weapons, bridge consoles and other items of the sort. You can also obtain bridge officers, either as mission rewards or recruiting them yourself at a Starbase’s personnel department.
Bridge officers are customizable and have a pool of skillpoints you can use to augment their abilities, which you can use in addition to your own when in space. If they’re received as rewards you’re stuck with their species and gender, but you can modify how they look, their uniform and their voice. If you get them at personnel, you can choose an office of the species/gender/profession combination you want and then customize them. If the species is listed as “unknown”, you have free reign over every single feature.
Now, the gameplay:
The ground gameplay, which everyone shits on, is not as bad as you’ve heard. It’s basically a Star Trek-iffied version of City of Heroes combat. It’s not terribly exciting, but it’s not bad. These sections are also relatively short. You’ll either have bridge officers, who are useful, or redshirts – that is to say (in)security officers – who can serve to draw fire and not much else. Equipment “kits”, based on your class, can add various abilities to spice up ground missions – phaser turrets, grenades and so on.
The space gameplay is where the title shines. Imagine a mix between Starfleet Command and Pirates of the Burning Sea and you’ll have an idea of what’s going on. You can distribute power to systems as you see fit, use your own abilities and officer abilities and so on. This seems like a very brief description, but if you’ve ever played Starfleet Command you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about and why it’s awesome. Each weapon has a firing arc and most importantly, a function. You can’t get by on photon torpedoes, and getting by uniquely with phasers would be daunting – especially against larger ships. Arc, facing, power distribution, active bridge officers, equipped weaponry and consoles all play a major role in how you fight as will the way you time your shits and abilities. For instance, an ability that allows you to fire two photon torpedoes per launcher is wasted when the enemy’s shields are still up, and you want to orient your strongest shield to block the bulk of incoming fire. Space combat is dynamic, exciting and in some cases pleasantly difficult. Not Demon’s Souls difficult, but not World of Warcraft easy either.
Warping out of a system takes you to the sector map where you fly on a giant map – you don’t just select a star system and instateleport – you can pretty much explore to your heart’s content, join ongoing battles and the like. You’re essentially in “warp” when you’re on the sector map. You can also select a destination on the 2d map and doubleclick it to have your ship automatically path there if you feel lazy or, for the incorrigibly lethargic, you can also bring up a list of star systems in your quadrant and doubleclick one to again have your ship automatically path.
When entering a mission area, if your social options are set to you will either join a group on the same stage of the mission (if available) or others will join you. Alternatively, you can set it so random joins are not accepted when you’re feeling antisocial.
There are also “exploration” sectors where nothing is really fixed. You have a bunch of floating points of interest, you fly to them and either discover an anomaly (which give you various tokens you can turn in for special items) or an uncharted star system which will put you through a randomly generated episode. The system is extremely limited in beta so I won’t go into specifics too much.
So yeah, it’s a pretty good game. I usually get bored with MMOs near the beginning and push myself to keep playing (this happened with CoH), but with STO I kept playing into the wee hours causing me to fall asleep on the subway every morning this week, making me late for work.
It should be noted, when I first logged on it was laggy as all hell and pretty buggy as well. The server was taken down for an update that fixed pretty much all the issues I initially noticed.
Those are my impressions so far.