MMO Cartographer: Boldly going into Star Trek Online

    
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Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of your Massively OP cartographer into Star Trek Online, to explore a 10-year-old game developed by Cryptic and currently published by Perfect World Entertainment, to seek out new game experiences and new friends, to boldly play a game that friends and family have been talking up for years.

I like Star Trek well enough to have watched a fair amount of The Original Series and more than my fair share of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. You’d think I’d have come around to Star Trek Online a lot sooner, especially with the encouragement of the aforementioned friends and family. It’s even free-to-play. Chalk it up to “too many games, not enough time.”

Idyllic Romulan newbie village before the Tal Shiar show up

Something that you’ll discover when you fire up STO is that there’s a variety of factions, which translate into a variety of starting scenarios. This will come as a breath of fresh air for anyone who has had to run multiple alts through exactly the same starting regions and quests in other games. It might be worth noting here that three of the factions are different iterations of Starfleet, with The Original Series and Discovery having been added as franchise tie-ins.

Each faction has its own races (or species) you may know from Star Trek, but for most, you also have the option of creating your own alien, a feature that I played with for quite a while. You want neck frills? They’ve got neck frills! You want a classic bumpy forehead? They’ve got you covered.

From Build-An-Alien Workshop

The Dominion faction is the exception to the previous two paragraphs. While it does run you through a starting scenario replete with cutscenes, it does not include any tutorial instruction and the Jem’Hadar is the only racial choice. As the pop-up warns you when you create a character, this faction is intended for advanced players. Accordingly, you start at level 60, with all the appropriate starter stuff for that level.

My Jem’Hadar squad

First, I joined Starfleet, arriving at Starfleet Academy just in time to graduate. Captain Taggart picked me for his First Officer! I was moving up in the world! After a lesson in how to shoot a gun, something you’d think I’d have picked up as an elective before graduation day, we headed off into the great dark yonder.

I don’t want this to be spoiler-laden, but about 30 seconds later, Taggart was gone and I was the captain now. Sound cheesy? Yes. Yes, it is. That’s a block of extra sharp cheddar right there. Don’t get me wrong, I love cheese. It’s just that it is so very cheesy.

I decided to skip over to check out the Klingons. There was some… I don’t know, what is the most Klingon of cheeses? Gorgonzola, maybe? Anyway, you get promoted to captain in the most Klingon way possible.

The Romulans had a beginning that was the least cheesy of the factions I tried out. It was Cheese Lite, in that it was a very typical RPG origin story. At least it was a story that made me care a little bit about my character’s backstory.

All of the tutorials (and even the Dominion scenario) involve some ground combat. Everything you’ve heard is true. Ground combat is, as multiple sources have told me, “a hot mess.” I don’t think clunky is an adequate descriptor. You’d have to try it. Nonetheless, I didn’t hate it as much as I’d feared based on what I’d heard.

After you’re finished getting command of a ship, one way or another, you get taught the basics of flight and ship combat. I’ve been told that it is better than ground combat, once you get used to it; friends have assured me that I will eventually get the hang of it.

But this is where I have to make a personal confession: I stink at navigating in three dimensions. I stunk at it in Descent (way back in the ’90s), I stunk at it in EVE Online, I stink at it in Elite Dangerous, and I continue to stink at it in Star Trek Online. That’s one of the big things that keeps me from dipping into more space games. I am only half-decent at it in No Man’s Sky because planets are too big to miss and you just need to get into the beam for it to bring you into the space station and get you landed.

Needless to say, I struggled a bit with the controls and getting pointed the right way. I did figure out STO flight and space combat eventually. Kind of. I finished the missions, anyway. I do see what people like about the game, especially if they have better spatial awareness than I do.

I think Cryptic did an excellent job of capturing the feel of Star Trek in its various eras and incarnations, from the look of Starfleet academy to the Original Series minidresses. There are so many delightful little details for fans of the IP.

At the same time, I don’t think you’d have to be a Star Trek fan to get into the game; even considering my criticism of ground combat and my personal difficulties with space flight, I find it a solid free-to-play offering for anyone who wants to play a game that isn’t set in the realm of swords and sorcery, with a population base still large enough to make it worth jumping into. A basic idea of the lore might come in handy (so that you are familiar with the factions, for instance), but it is definitely not necessary.

I was not sure where to put STO on the “pay-to-win” scale since that this stage of my personal play, I haven’t seen much of that. But I am well aware of the tug-of-war in the community over everything from desirable but pricey high-end ships to the welcome ability to pick up a lot of the neat things from the cash shop through playing the game. It is also possible to exchange Refinied Dilithium, an endgame in-game currency, for Zen, the cash-shop currency. Lockboxes, too, are a longstanding issue for the community, but that’s not a can of worms I am prepared to crack open. Some people spend money. Some people don’t and still do fine. As always on these more subjective points, your mileage may vary.

I like STO better than I thought I would. It is fun enough to keep me occupied for a little while. Unfortunately for me, the crew that talked me into giving it a try has recently moved on to Planetside 2. I guess I’d better learn to shoot.

Every other weekend, Massively OP’s Mia DeSanzo opens up her satchel of maps and decides where to go next in MMO Cartographer, Massively OP’s journey through MMO worlds, be they old or new, ordinary or unusual, or well-loved or long-forgotten. Expect the eclectic!

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Ririrawr
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Ririrawr

never ever listen to anyone who says STO’s ground combat is terribable but space combat is an awesim

why? because the ground combat plays almost exactly like space combat and i love it for that; you jus has fewer abilities and weepuns

the only reason to bash the ground combat is either:
– ppl can’t space-bar-bind everything to button mash in ground like they can in space (not practical)
OR
– they trying to play it like a generic action mmo / fps shooter

i personally no enjoys the fps mode, but then i no likes fps games much anyways :P

and mewmew practically covered everything i was gonna ramble about, in a far more eloquent manner sooooo *fistbump*

anyway, glad you had fuuun~

also for you and well, anyone else on here that isn’t used to space games or is generally not having an easy time, i can hook you all up with grumpy… he always making ridiculously strong and cheap/free builds with newbies in mind :3 and for those that don’t want that, the stobuilds reddit and the sto wiki are great places to pick up advice and info~

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Loopy

I disagree about space and ground combat playing the same.

Space combat is a delicate dance. A slow and strategic battle where you methodically adjust your approach and abilities depending on type of enemy you’re fighting, responding to changing circumstances of the encounter.

Ground combat is a clusterfuck. Enemies either teleporting out of nowhere or absolutely zerging your character at the tiniest visual contact, resulting in absolute pummeling and everyone running around like chickens without heads. Then you have super clunky response times to attacks where my abilities are often queued with lots of latency (not a networking issue, my ping is ultra low), and often times trying to initiate an ability in the thick of things results in either no response or a false positive (ability on cooldown but no actual effect). Animations are choppy, threat management is non-existent, and knockbacks are too strong and frequent.

Ground combat is simply not an enjoyable experience, especially compared to space combat. Kudos to you if you enjoy it – i’ll never knock on people who like something i don’t – but it’s objectively a poorly designed system.

Ririrawr
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Ririrawr

see, that sounds like completely different versions of the game we are playing o.o

may want to check and compare your space and ground HUD and control options, etc. (they are different for both, jus in case)

coz srsly, ground combat has always been waaaaaay easier than space for me and mine (and i’m the kind who can now tank space hive elite with ease), the last 8+ years i been on STO… coz we have never experienced or heard those experiences being a constant thing outside the hurq enemies (those knocks and repels are hell for my melee chars, but there are work arounds)

sry you are having so many issues with it tho

also, i highly recommend checking traits and specs, coz trek STILL randomly removes them when playing certain episodes, grrrrrr

annnnnnnd if you still having a hard time, we can try to figure out exactly what is causing it to be such a mess for you o.o if you interested

p.s.: i berry good with sci and eng charas, and kaka with tacs so that might be another thing, coz tacs in general are sucky in ground (no real heal/shield) unless they have some solid backup in their boffs etc. and since maaaaaaaany / nearly aaaaall play tacs (coz, space dps league kings) i can kinda see why they’d hate ground too (might not be one of your reasons, but speculating on the subject)

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Darthbawl

I have never liked the ground combat in this game. Even the two play modes don’t really do anything for me.

Much much rather enjoy the space combat.

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Crowe

Yup, ground combat has always sucked. Even in beta, I would dread the missions that were ground-based due to the possibility of ground combat. And after launch, when my large guild got to level cap, I witnessed mass departures because the endgame then was a Borg mission where you alternated between ground and space and no one liked both.

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NeoWolf

I at least liked its original pacing, it was slower and abilities mattered more, then they tried to make FPS paced and now it’s just a spam everything as fast as possible and it’s done in seconds.

It is a shame really as some of the ground missions or portion of missions are really good and done disservice by fast, bland combats.

And that isn’t even touching on the Bridge Officer AI when it comes to ground stuff, they are SO dumb and non-responsive lol

But yeah, I agree it was never good even at the start during beta it has always been the weakest aspect of the game.

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Paragon Lost

The hot mess that is ground combat is what stopped me in my tracks from playing this mmorpg after trying it out some years ago. It’s bad. :(

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PanagiotisLial1

If you exclude melee, ground combat isnt clunky but its slow for a 3D game combat and that makes it more boring for some. Also when they have to pick between spaceship and ground combat, its logical to love the spaceships.

There isnt pay to win exactly – there are things that get more charged, there are lockboxes and generally the predatory methods to make someone spend are used. Take into account the recent legendary pack – it was expensive(but not per ship) but made it time limited to force people buy it Now, and dont sell the ship separately to force people buy the full pack at full price even if they care for only one of the ships.

Then you got many freebies which is something good and should be commended but shows their policies are incosistent since if they didnt do predatory marketting actions it could be a lot more popular.

Like most cryptic games it suffers often from lag spikes – especially times population increases, thus stalling its ability to gain more players. Other negative is they almost completely abandoned making ship bridges with the excuse they dont sell but in reality they havent made new and good ones in years so existing players got no new bridges to buy and so they dont show in sales figures. They have prioritised blatantly one single faction at the expense of every other one. I mean its their game, their right, but if you dont plan on supporting the other factions, why release them in the first place?

Case in point: Tenth anniversary was the biggest milestone for the game so far and was hyped extremely at summer on STLV panels promising a celebration of star trek, the heroes, the villains and everything that makes the game great. They also hinted at releasing at least 10 popular ships at it. The final result is the legendary pack which was 10 federation ships, not even one for each of the other factions and that has cost them frustrated players who quit cause they think that was a huge indication things wont get better. If cryptic forgets them even on their biggest milestone means they can either play without any expectation of something for them or they move on or they abandon their main character and make a federation one.

Overall its a mixed bag but it has many great things and good storytelling with extensive use of voice acting by known actors of star trek universe

Mewmew
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Mewmew

There are still more different starting scenarios that it sounds like you haven’t been through. TOS Starfleet and DSC Starfleet are both different than Starfleet.

Both only have a single story arc before they go forward in time and merge with the normal Starfleet arc, but they do have their own unique beginning stories there that you may find less cheesy. They also retain their own unique effects for beaming and going to warp that are the effects of the TV universes they came from. So if you really are into TOS, you should do a TOS character. If you’re more into Discovery, you’re better off doing a Discovery character.

There are two main ways to do the ground combat because of the settings. Shooter Mode and RPG Mode. One may end up better to your likings than the other. I don’t have any issue with the RPG Mode combat, I don’t really find it clunky. There are so many great abilities you can get later on in the game, crazy amounts of different stuff. I also like having a whole team we beam down, though it’s probably more fun when doing the multiplayer stuff with others when you’re just the single character.

The game isn’t pay to win. In fact if you have very little money, the only thing I’d suggest you do with it is get inventory expansions. You can eventually get them even if you don’t have a penny to your name just by playing and trading dilithium for IAP currency. As far as those lock-box ships, most people say to just earn up money and buy them off the market rather than spend real money on them. Sure, there *are* people spending real money on the loot boxes and that’s the whole reason why there are so many ships of every kind for sale there in the market, but still the fact is so many people are into doing that that you don’t have to be one of them. You can buy whatever you want basically in time in the market.

They give away so many of the highest tier ships in events around the game all the time, you really never have to worry about spending real money on one unless you really want to support the game. There is no way I’d ever call this game pay to win. When it comes to the best weapons, both ground and ship, they are from quests and crafting. And again, check the player markets for anything else.

I haven’t been in STO in a while, because as you say, too many games too little time (I have hundreds of games on Steam I’ve never even got around to installing yet), but I keep STO installed and always plan on returning to go through whatever new episodes they’ve created.

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PanagiotisLial1

My only Federation toon is a TOS Human Engineer with saggitarius temporal cruiser t6 and TOS Gemini skin(had to buy the ship for the skin) to match well his TOS theme. He also has full TOS holographic personnel and I selected the TOS bridges even though it has bugs they havent fixed like personnel burried to floor in some spots and lack of bank account npc. My rest 6 toons are KDF alligned