The IUSB Vision Weblog

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Star Trek Online: Doomed just as it begins?

Posted by iusbvision on February 15, 2010

Computer games and college students go together like bacon and eggs, death and taxes, politics and corruption, and marxism and academia. 

What marks the difference between a great game and merely a game that has some nice action and eye candy, but is played a few times and left on a shelf forever? The answer to that question is a compelling storyline, with characters that are deep, well-defined and epic in scale. 

Games with brilliant and long-term character development are Bioware’s magnificent and award-winning Knights of the Old Republic and Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft

The main characters in these games have a deep history, life experiences that include success and failure; even the villains are three-dimensional characters who can generate sympathy and feelings. Blizzard Entertainment, the company behind World of Warcraft actually hires real historians to generate the story arcs that go on for years in the game before those arcs complete. 

Several of the villians in the story such as Prince Arthas, Lady Vashj, Kil’Jeaden, Illidan and others started with Warcraft in 1994. Many of the heroes such as Jaina Proudmore, Malfurion Stormrage, and unlikely heroes such as the Dark Ranger Sylvanas Windrunner have been with the game since that time or shortly after. Imagine a gaming experience that starts in 1994 and just recently does the Prince Arthas storyline come to a close. When Blizzard Entertainment sets out to provide a truly epic and brilliant story line, they are dead serious. The story lines are magnificent literary stories in their own right. 

It takes more than eye candy and action to keep intelligent and engaged people interested over the long-term and no entertainment franchise demonstrates that more than Star Trek. Star Trek always delivers the eye candy and action, but it also often presents storylines that would make the most discriminating ancient Athenian audience applaud with satisfaction. Like those discriminating Athenian audiences, most Star Trek aficionados are intelligent people. 

This is why my basic introduction to Star Trek Online (STO) is such a shocking disappointment. 

Most of STO is about one thing, fighting. While every game requires conflict, the encounters are too linear and there are not enough side stories to give the game a culture and depth. You start out as a captain of a small ship and as you gain experience you can “unlock” a couple of bridge officers and get bigger ships. 

Sylvanas Windrunner

The story arc is one that gave me a great deal of concern. The game takes place after the events of Deep Space Nine and the Klingons have allied with the Orions and the Norsicans against the Federation.  This presents a major problem. 

The Klingons have just fought a valiant war allied with the Federation to defeat a common enemy called the Dominion. The Klingons are in no shape to wage a war against anyone. The new Chancellor of the Klingon Empire is Martok, who has deep respect for humans and the Federation, the Chancellor’s best friend is Worf, the famed Klingon who served in Starfleet till he took a position as Klingon Ambassador. 

Arthas’ Destiny from World of Warcraft  

Klingon’s fight for a purpose and have a strict code as to how and when and why they fight and consider Norsicans and Orions to be petty, honorless thugs and crooks beneath contempt and would never, ever ally with them. 

STO has failed to be true to the basics of the story line that made star Trek what it is. You cannot just take a deep character development that took years to develop and toss it out the window for the purpose of providing easy conflict. It’s cheap and unimaginative. Real Trek fans will not accept this over the long run. 

I was eager to see if I was the only one who got this bad impression from STO and I was relieved to see that I am not. 

The UK Guardian, a British newspaper, gave this review: 

The trouble is, whether you choose space or planetary missions, combat lies at the heart of them all. On land, this involves stabbing the number keys or left mouse button, whereas from the Bridge the Spacebar fires phasers and CTRL launches torpedoes. As for interaction, hitting the F key takes care of almost every object and although there are plenty of NPCs hanging around, disappointingly few of them could be communicated with. Ultimately, STO’s concentration on combat seems to overlook half the appeal of Star Trek. Where is the exploration, the moral dilemmas, the sense of the unexpected? 


The first problem is that you start out as a Captain. That is just plain dumb. STO could start to provide the background story arcs with players as they start at Starfleet Academy. They could play mostly a “quest line” with some diversions until such a time when they could become a captain, or the head of a hazard team, or a high-ranking science officer etc. Instead you jump in a ship and soon start shooting Klingons. To give the game genuine literary depth would have taken some time and imagination; it seems clear someone didn’t want to make the investment. 

As one plays the game after a short while one begins to get the feeling that the developers just don’t get it. I am tired of bad video games that have the Trek name put on it for a quick cash in. If the STO developers don’t realize this very quickly, just another bad, unimaginative Star Trek  game is exactly what STO will be doomed to.

As far as the game engine, the targeting in ground combat is buggy, but I expect that to be fixed. Another problem is in ship combat where you cannot pitch all the way up and all the way down, much less do a loop. I find that very frustrating. In 2010 there is no excuse for limits like that in a game engine.


6 Responses to “Star Trek Online: Doomed just as it begins?”

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  6. imongrel said

    My friend, you’ve hit the proverbial nail right on it’s Klingon-bashing head. I was talking with friends last night about how combat is all STO has to offer and the conversation ended with “It’s not Star TREK, it’s Star WARS, and if I’d wanted to play Star WARS I’d have played Star Wars.”

    Sucks really, I like so many others was hoping for so much more. The journey to Captain is what I was looking forward to the most, through the Academy, through near-earth space and then beyond.

    Such a damn shame Atari have allowed Cryptic to drag their good name through the dirt with this title. Honestly, Pong was more entertaining than STO.

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