Perfect Ten: Why Star Trek Online is an underrated MMORPG
Among these titles is a long-running favorite of mine — and an MMO that I feel is somewhat underappreciated by the larger community. The game is, of course, Star Trek Online. I was there at launch with my Del Taco cup in hand (there was a silly promotion that involved shuttles you could get from buying a soda), I’ve popped in for most of the anniversaries, and I’ve generally had a great time going through all of the featured episodes again and again while nerding out in my starship.
While I won’t argue that it is a perfect MMO or that it’s free from cash shop shenanigans, Star Trek Online does have a lot going for it that can get overlooked when players are hunting around for a reliable and slightly different gaming experience. Here’s why.
1. The IP
Perhaps even more than other IP-based MMORPGs, Star Trek Online’s greatest strength is in its connection with this famous franchise. Granted, if Trek turns you cold, then there’s probably not much here for you, but for Trekkies who have always dreamed of captaining their own starship, this is a dream come true.
And now that there are both the new Star Trek movies and the debut of Star Trek: Discovery, STO is a perfect way to get some of that “transmedia synergy” going with promotions and by the sheer fact that it exists.
2. The writing
Here’s something that I think is criminally underappreciated, and that’s the writing for this series. Christine Thompson (and others) know their Trek lore and have done a marvelous job writing stories and weaving in familiar elements. I don’t particularly care for the animations and (lack of) lip synching, but I’ll always stick around for the story anyway because of the TV-quality writing on display.
3. The quests
Related to the above, Star Trek Online’s quests are a cut above your average MMO’s mission log. There are some pretty rote missions, to be sure, but there are often plenty that require puzzle solving, diplomacy, exploration, strategy, and nerves of steel. If I was to make a top five list of the MMOs with the best quests, STO would have a spot secured.
4. The variety
Another aspect of this MMO that I really enjoy is the variety of pace that I get. There’s a lot of different activities to do, but having the change-up between ground and space missions keeps both feeling fresh for me. I know ground combat gets a bad rap, but I actually like it because I get to lead a party of NPCs rather than just one character. And if I’m getting a little bored with that, sooner or later I’ll be back on the bridge for another round of space combat. It’s good to mix things up.
5. The fanservice
Oh, the fanservice. There is so much of it here that even the hardest-to-please Trekkie might find him or herself geeking out. There are plenty of callbacks to well-known Star Trek locations, characters, ships, and episodes, but it doesn’t stop there. Star Trek Online has recruited a ton of the actors from many of the shows to reprise their roles. I still smile every time I hear Leonard Nimoy congratulate me for leveling up.
6. The duty officer system
Again, this might just be me, but I really dig offline progression systems in MMOs as long as they aren’t unbalanced. Duty officers, or “doffs,” earn you some nice rewards if you play this strategy game right. Collecting new doffs and putting them to work reinforces the notion of being a captain over a huge crew instead of a small team.
7. The character creator
This is a Cryptic game, so yes, it’s going to have an incredible character creator. You can choose from so many different Star Trek species (or make your own!), then modify their faces, bodies, and — my favorite — their uniform. Star Trek Online has added tons of the different uniforms and outfits from the show over the years, and I always take way too long to mix-and-match the perfect getup.
8. The ship designs
Seeing as how one of the biggest cash cows for STO is in selling ships, Cryptic has put in a whole lot of work to introduce practically every starship seen in the movies and in the TV shows (not to mention ones that the devs have made up altogether). There are few thrills greater in this game than finally attaining the ship of your dreams and getting to deck it out just right.
9. The continuing legacy
Star Trek Online is often seen by many as the true successor to Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and The Next Generation, continuing the timeline and exploring “what’s next” for this series. By putting the game 30 years into the future, the devs are able to keep one foot in the established TV franchise and one in a universe of their own creation. It’s a good balance and still the only sequel that we have in this era of prequels and reboots.
10. The visuals
On the surface or (especially) in space, Star Trek Online can keep surprising you with how pretty it is. Sure, the artists are taking a lot of liberties with space here, but I agree that keeping it visually engaging is pretty important when we are floating about in a mostly empty vacuum. Plus, space combat looks pretty amazing when you get a dozen ships jockeying for position and firing all manner of weapons.