STAR TREK ONLINE / Perfect World / PC

I'm definitely not cut out for Starfleet. To me, the Star Trek vision of the future always seemed like a utopia devised by the lamest of the dads. Everyone is a workaholic who spends their scant off-time hours sitting around sipping tea and listening to classical or smooth jazz, and when they do have a drink it's always some super-colorful thing that looks like it's full of that awful syrupy liqueur. I bet getting a good Manhattan or Old-Fashioned is damn near impossible in Trektopia. If you put me in the Academy it's only a matter of time before I drop out.

Anyway, all of this is to indicate that your enjoyment of Star Trek Online is going to be absolutely and proportionally correlated to how into the series as a whole you are. The game is jam-packed with content, but asks you to continually wrestle with a clumsy and obtuse interface to get to it. Learning the ins and outs of the game is a trip back to the days of 1990s PC games, and is kinda like learning to navigate an actual starship.

Personally, I've never been much of a Trekster. The series has never grabbed me in that life-affirming way it does for some people. As a kid, the occasional episode of the original series had a cartoon-like appeal for me. In the early 2000s, I developed an appreciation for The Next Generation and watched quite a few of those (and I'll still catch one on the BBC once in a while these days). But I dabbled with the various other shows and all the movies over the years, and never really developed any interest in any of them.

So I'm not who this game is aimed at, because playing it was just a slog for me. Honestly, I hung in to level 10 just to get some Gamekit points, but for the final hour or so of that I was getting really irritated at it and impatient for it to just be over.

I can see where the hardcore Trek fan would be much more willing to sink time into adjusting to all the jank and clunk and monotony, however. The game is just packed with lore and references and general Stuff To Do in Trekworld, beginning with six campaigns you can choose from that take place in different time periods: three from different periods of the Federation, one with the Romulans, one with the Klingons and something called The Dominion. I'm no Trekster, but from what I've been hearing for years the biggest appeal of the game is the way it picks up loose links from all the various media and expands on them in a way that fans enjoy.

The problem is in navigating all of this. It starts with a cluttered, confusing UI reliant on lots of tiny buttons that don't have intuitive purposes, the memorization (or writing down) of lots of hot keys to make the whole thing playable, and mini-maps that have odd pointers that are often confusing to navigate to (compounded by sometimes mazelike planet surfaces and space stations).

Progressing missions also relies on context cues that allow you to perform whatever necessary action is up next, but the positioning to get these cues to appear is often very fiddly and nonsensical. Pair that with dialogue boxes that often pop out over each other or appear at the wrong time and the whole thing has a bit of a consistently janky feel.

Combat doesn't make things any better, on the ground or in space. On the ground it's sort of "Mass Effect meets World of Warcraft" style, but managing to get the wrong bits of each. Enemies have crummy AI and the game generates challenge just by throwing shit tons of tedious mobs at you. Space combat is slow and kludgy, and many of the story missions throw you into some ridiculous situation (like a solo battle against five or six enemies or against a behemoth ship that way outclasses you) and then seems to just rely on you spamming the ability to endlessly respawn nearby to just plow through it. In both cases, the controls never feel particularly responsive and having you hold right-click to drag the perspective around while clicking right is also the "fire" button was an awful design choice.

I didn't encounter any showstopping bugs (which apparently was at one time a big problem with the game), other than inexplicably losing a server connection in the middle of creating my character which forced me to start over. There are all sorts of graphical glitches, though. Even on a good modern computer, the draw distances for characters are pretty pathetic and they appear as creepy lumpy Silent Hill flesh-monsters or the enemies from Wonder Momo until you're within a few steps of them. And up close, pieces of character outfits often disappear, I often inadvertently saw all sorts of bare Romulan boobies just by rotating the camera around a little.

And I know it's a F2P MMO and you have to expect some level of formulaic money-making structure from these things, but given the Trek license I was hoping this one would find a way to incorporate a little more actual role-playing and alternatives to combat than usual. Not really, though; missions nearly always come down to blasting hell out of lots of things. Picard would facepalm.

To conclude on a more positive note, the game has been kicking for almost a full decade now and is still pretty well-populated. There's a content update quarterly, and pretty much all of that is accessible without having to pay anything - paid content is restricted almost entirely to stuff needed for (totally optional) PvP and super-fancy outfits from the shows for the most hardcore nerds.

Star Trek Online is easily one of the deepest free MMOs out there in terms of content and lore, and also one of the most faithful to its source material (it's arguably THE best in category in all of these counts). But since it's been around for a decade, clearly the gameplay and UI is what it is at this point and isn't gonna get better. Your love for all things Trek will determine whether you want to undergo the rigors of becoming a starship captain, I suppose.

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