Why I Play: Is Star Trek Online worth playing in 2020?

    
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Star Trek Online is a hard game to get into. When I first tried it early in my MMO career, I hated it and barely lasted a few hours. A few years later, I gave it another shot with a more open mind, and that plus positive changes to the game left with me a better impression, but I still wandered away before too long.

Now, the hype for the upcoming Picard series has me craving a Trek fix, and it’s convinced me to give STO one more shot. By now it’s a fairly venerable game, so it naturally raises a key question: Is Star Trek Online worth playing in 2020?

The MMO has not changed radically since I last played, at least from the perspective of someone who only casually dipped into it. It still has that characteristic Cryptic jank I talked about in my Magic: Legends piece earlier this week. Everything in this game is rough.

In STO, the worst thing is how incredibly over-complicated its game systems are. It’s not so much the game systems themselves that are the problem — taken on their own, most of them are functional systems — but there’s just so many of them, and it feels as if each was designed in a vacuum, with no knowledge of the rest of the game.

How bad is it? Star Trek Online has no less than three completely unrelated AFK mission systems.

Why?

That’s just scratching the surface. STO has about two or three different systems for just about everything. Want your ship to move faster? You can divert power to engines or use a movement speed buff like Evasive Maneuvers or go to full impulse.

Gah.

And then there’s the bugs. Oh, boy, the bugs. There’s so many to choose from. They range from the pedestrian, like rubber-banding, to more exotic flavors. My favorite is how the game keeps going back and forth between the default keybindings and the custom ones I’ve set up. I swear it’s even changed between the two mid-mission once. Every log-in is a new adventure. What will my keybinds be today? Who knows!

There are other inconsistencies, too, like an extreme degree of imbalance in faction content. The Romulans get a huge amount of coherent story-content that will take you to level cap, at which point the game opens up more. Meanwhile the Federation and Klingons have much less story that’s unique to them, and they bombard you with the breadcrumb missions for every story arc in the game as soon as you leave the tutorial. Even with an in-game guide that quite helpfully informs you of the proper order of things, it’s a bit overwhelming.

Mind you, I’m a Romulan man through and through, so I’m not going to complain too hard that their faction is so heavily favored, but this isn’t exactly a stellar example of game design.

Some of this is the inevitable level of messiness that’s eventually going to afflict any long-running MMO, but some of it is just mismanagement. I know pruning games gets a bad rap, and it absolutely can go too far, but Star Trek Online is a very strong argument for why it is sometimes necessary. This game needs some streamlining.

And yet…

I’ve been playing STO for a few weeks now, and I have to say I have mostly enjoyed the experience. For all of its many faults, this game does have one thing going for it: It was clearly made by people who genuinely love Star Trek. In almost every way, Star Trek Online embodies the look and feel of Trek.

The ground combat manages to feel both too shallow and too complex at the same time, but the space combat looks and feels exactly like how piloting the massive ships of the Trek universe should. It’s a stately dance like that of ships at sea, and if you turned off your UI during one of the big battles, you’d think you were watching one of the TV shows.

The story-telling is sometimes a bit hit and miss, but then again the same could be said for the source material, so it’s hard to say that’s not also part of the authentic Trek experience. Put it this way: If STO was a TV series, I would rank it near the middle or perhaps even a little above average as a Star Trek show goes. It’s definitely not as good as, say, The Next Generation, but it’s definitely better than Voyager and at least as good as Discovery.

The best thing about it is how effectively STO is able to weave together elements of every single incarnation of Star Trek into a (mostly) coherent narrative. As someone who loves Enterprise in general and the episode “Silent Enemy” in particular, I especially loved how much the Romulan story draws from Enterprise and fleshes out the Elachi as a culture. I’m not quite prepared to say that I want all of STO‘s story made canon (yet…), but I would definitely be happy to see the Elachi lore canonized.

I would like to see STO make more of an effort toward the kind of morality play story-telling that Star Trek has always tried to achieve, but it’s not entirely absent even as is.

I think the high watermark of the game for me so far was an arc dealing with some Reman separatists. Depending on your perspective, they could be convincingly argued to be either heroic freedom fighters or brutal terrorists, and it felt so much like what Star Trek should be at its best.

So is Star Trek Online worth playing in 2020? That depends on who you are. If you’re a serious Trekkie who wants to geek out over going to familiar places and meeting familiar characters as part of a narrative that draws from all aspects of Star Trek lore? Yes, I’d say it is.

If you don’t have that investment in the source material, probably not. STO has some things going for it as a video game, and it’s certainly unique in the MMO space, but it has too many basis quality issues for it to be a game I’d recommend to someone who’s never watched an episode of Star Trek.

There’s an MMO born every day, and every game is someone’s favorite. Why I Play is the column in which the Massively OP staff members kick back and reminisce about all their favorite MMOs. Whether it’s the new hotness or an old fan favorite loaded with nostalgia, each title we cover here tugs at our heartstrings and keeps us coming back for more.
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shazanti
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shazanti

I just started earnestly playing this a few days ago and I. Am. So. Lost. And. Confused.
I’m enjoying it, when I can understand what I’m doing. I’m not a super-Trekkie but I grew up on TOS and then TNG and then DS9, so I know it well enough. I really enjoyed making and playing my TOS character when I gave this a shot. My character’s in her teens and still don’t fully understand Bridge Officers and the DOff system… but I’m enjoying it, mostly.
I have found that there doesn’t seem to be really enough info out there explaining things. Everything I can find on my searches seem to be aimed at people who know abbreviations and basics and how everything is built up from there, and I barely understand the basics, if I understand them at all. All the guides skip that intermediate area. So I’m muddling through on my own.
Maybe I should make a Romulan. Maybe I can glean more understanding out of another tutorial.

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Roger Edwards

Here’s one good reason to play STO…

STO Dino.jpg
Polyanna
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Polyanna

If you are a fan of MMOs and Trek and you haven’t played this game yet by now, it is absolutely worth your time.

It’s also an incredible bargain because you can play through and thoroughly enjoy every bit of the very large amount of story line that it offers without spending a dime, and never feeling like you’re missing out on anything or particularly inconvenienced or deprived.

I put it in the same bin as playing SWTOR as either F2P or preferred through as much of the game as you can access without paying any more than a month of sub or a token $5 cash shop purchase. If you love MMOs and are at all a fan of Star Wars in general or the older KOTOR games, then SWTOR offers an incredible amount of lovely gaming for between dirt cheap and nothing.

The problem for both of these games is that by now the remaining population of people who are fans of MMOs and either franchise and who have somehow bizarrely managed to avoid playing these games is basically zero, or so close that it may as well be. They’re both incredibly good fun and great deals for anyone in that position. But there is almost nobody in that position in 2020.

If you’re someone who has played either of these games through many times over for years since they launched and already experienced everything they have to offer, are they still worth continuing to play today? That’s a whole other question, and sadly the answer to both is probably a resounding NO for most, even those who remain fans and would love to have some good reason to keep playing.

Unfortunately in both cases, once you’ve exhausted the totally free and wonderful base game content, both of these games devolve almost instantly into a frustrating, annoying, cash-grabby hot mess, unless you’re content being yet another victim of the massive whale hunts that they have evolved into.

Take STO for what it is and what it offers without ever spending a dime (or at least no more than a couple of cheap toss-a-coin convenience unlocks), and it’s an amazing deal and I’d say a must-play if you haven’t yet.

If you’ve already done that, you probably aren’t feeling either very appreciated as a customer or much like sticking around for long, unless you’re one of the dwindling number who have played since launch and will keep on playing no matter what and never play anything else until STO shuts down or STO: TNG comes along.

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Random MMO fan

It may be worth trying for some people, personally I never liked it due to many things even though I enjoy Star Trek universe – the space flying felt just like poor man’s EVE, ground missions felt worse than every RPG game I played, animations and graphics were bad.

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NeoWolf

Been in STO since before day dot literally (I was among the first non-friends and family testers). I love the I.P obviously the game I swing between love and hate with.

It does some things exceptionally well, the space game, for example is first-rate I would happily play that all day. The ground game…not so much (or indeed at all) and the turn it into a faster-paced shooter update they did for the Ground years back just made it exponentially worse for my own preferences.

Factions as you rightly note in terms of content are ALL OVER the place. They each have some unique story episodes and then a mass of shared episodes that are presented in out of order and therefore contextually nonsensical ways to you depending on whose faction you play.
Klingons were originally intended to be a “more” PVP focused faction (although NOT an entirely pvp faction) they told us during early testing, but they would have a full min to max storyline content… then they ran out of time and had to release, so Klingons went in with no story content except a tutorial and then suddenly their story changed and they were all NO Klingons were always meant to be a pvp faction alone… but those of us who were around early on know it was BS because we remember what they originally told us and WHY that changed.. but of course they denied it and went with their new narrative. Ironically though people weren’t buying that crap anyway and demanded story content for the klingons and eventually they had to relent and bow to customer pressure and make a klingon storyline. It was of course SUBSTANTIALLY shorter than the federation storyline, but they promised it would get extended over time (it didn’t).
Federation as noted had a complete story content but as the movies and shows came out and as STO tried to at least keep things relatively within those timelines and canon many stories and episodes which no longer made sense got removed with a view to trying to re-work and reintroduce them (Kuva’magh anyone?) down the line but were still waiting..
There were also a metric ton of PATROL missions early days which were basically fly to five points around a system and fight a group of enemies at each and then done. They got removed from the storyline and turned into optional separate dailies for dilithium (a good move).
Romulans got the full monty an excellent well-written storyline, new locations, new costumes, new ships, new bridges, new enemies, new allies, new everything, that was a glorious faction expansion bundle and what we all hoped would be the future benchmark for other factions added…sadly it wasn’t.
Cardassians got lumped in with the Dominion as a species unlock but got no storyline or faction treatment, the Dominion faction which actually constitutes MANY species like the federation ended up being just the the Jem’Hadar and they only got one new storyline broken into a few episodes and all began the game at endgame level and content… another total kopp out.

In terms of the many species in the Trek universe including those in the shows etc.. we got a few added but there are still some that have yet to show up in game as playable like Benzites (they are in as npc’s just not PCs), no explanation has been given and questions about them and others are always ignored.

The game of course began as a subscription game with a lifetime option which many of us went for. I mean it was Trek right??? noone could mess that up… lol Half done factions, terrible ground combat, no ship interiors or crew interactions, no actual exploration anywhere, species missing, popular ships missing, bugs galore, some serious combat imbalances (indeed their idea of challenging combat is just making it more unbalanced) it was a mess and slowly its customers started vanishing at one point STO was a veritable graveyard, then PWE stepped in and acquired Cryptic and it went F2P and suddenly it was busy again despite its faults. And slowly new features appeared like Duty Officer system, crafting revamp, more and more ships and costumes, later the admiralty system, Fleet starbases and Holdings (although that remains a much hated grind heavy system for any but the largest fleets) more TFO’s etc.. and it has slowly improved its image somewhat but it still has lots of issues and bugs, lots and lots of bugs.. many of which people have given up reporting as they go unanswered. Which brings us to today the focus of STO atm is zen store content and lockboxes, as well as various ties ins to the new shows mostly in the form of new ships and uniforms only, little bits of tie content and TFO’s but nothing grandiose or expansive. And it feels a lot like its treading water, it’s moving but nothing momentous is happening.

I will say its ship design and environmental designers are first rate, they have always done great work and some of the storyline when they have happened have been very enjoyable.

But of course, this is just my experience, and even then I still log in daily to do bits and bobs.. but as much as I like the space game its many failing and seeming lack of intention to deal with any of them any time soon always keep me from spending any real time with it these days. It falls into the SWTOR categroy for me of “Oh what it could have been… *sigh*…”.

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Oscar Morejon

I personally played the ever living crap out of the game. And loved it all.

That said… I dont play it anymore because the game is one pretty ok system piled on top of another, piled on top of another. The game is incredibly bloated and needs some real refinement. But its more profitable for the devs to keep adding crap instead of going back and fixing and refining. So i gave up :(

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NeoWolf

They DEFINITELY need to start spending some updates in a year doing content passes and bug fixes, but it has yet to happen in any serious or constructive way sadly.

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Mewmew

The systems are not overly complicated. I’m a casual player and easily was able to understand them very easily. No offense but it’s people like you that Marvel Heroes listened to, dumbing down the game for them when they imploded it.

If someone was to think the systems in STO are too complicated or there are too many, they’d be pretty far below the complication curve for MMORPG players and I don’t see how they’d be happy playing much of anything that has any depth to the systems.

STO is a simple game that I can return to after very long breaks and still pick right back up without being confused.

STO is great for anybody that likes bite-sized story missions to play through. You have this journal that shows right where you are in the story and what you have and have not done, you easily can skip to play a little story episode
and then log back off after. You don’t get lost from where you were or what you were doing because of the great way they do the episode system.

“If you’re a serious Trekkie who wants to geek out over going to familiar places and meeting familiar characters as part of a narrative that draws from all aspects of Star Trek lore? Yes, I’d say it is.

If you don’t have that investment in the source material, probably not. STO has some things going for it as a video game, and it’s certainly unique in the MMO space, but it has too many basis quality issues for it to be a game I’d recommend to someone who’s never watched an episode of Star Trek”

That’s such complete horse manure. I hadn’t watched Star Trek before I played the game. I actually liked the game so much that it made me go and watch some Star Trek to enhance the game story for myself. I love how you have a team of officers and not just one character. I love all the different ships and space combat. I love that it’s a PvE story-based world rather than a gank box. I really enjoy the game.

If this was made brand new today, sure, we would do the engine differently. We’d have real 3D space rather than the mostly horizontal way they did it. We’d want them to have more on each world and have the worlds be more open. But for what it is, for getting that bite-sized story content which they are so great at doing, it’s very fun to play.

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oldandgrumpy

The Lockbox game.

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Bullwraith

You can enjoyably play STO and never open a lockbox.

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Natalyia

STO’s mechanics can be Byzantine, and there’s way too many of them.

But you’re dead on that STO’s been made by people who love the franchise. Even when I dislike (or abhor) the source materiel they’re leveraging, it’s clear they care about doing right by the source materiel they’re leveraging.

The clearest possible example of that is the long list of voice talent that they’ve had from the various series reprise their TV roles in the game over the years. There’s no way Cryptic can be paying “top dollar” for those folks, and if they weren’t happy with how the characters they played and defined years ago were being protrayed, and how they themselves were being treated Cryptic would never have gotten so many of them to return to those roles in a video game.

None of those folks had to come back for a video game, much less (to pick an example) so very many of them for the Deep Space Nine expansion they did.

They’ve also been deft at looking at the various shows and seasons and finding plot holes, or dangling plot threads inevitably left behind in series television writing, and leveraging them to spin off their own stories.

Other than Lord of the Rings Online, I can’t think of a team that cares as much about their source materiel as STO’s does.

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memitim

While it’s still fine before the level cap power creep has ruined the space combat at end game, you just bind everything to one key and mash the bejesus out of it until you get one shot by an unavoidable torpedo barrage that deals 10x your HP in damage…