After launching Star Trek Online our first task is to create a character, at launch this is limited for most players to a Federation Officer and we are given the choice of Tactical, Engineering or Science as our career path. Each has its own benefits, for example Tactical Officer rates well in combat, stealth and squad tactics. Next we choose our species and gender and once again the choice has a bearing on our gameplay experience. Trill for example have improved health regeneration as well as radiation and toxic resistance. The skills for each species are not set in stone though and the game allows us to choose additional traits (from a list of at least 10 for each species) which we feel will be beneficial. Should we wish to improve our engineering stat we would choose Techie at this stage.
With our skills chosen it is time to go through the process of creating our character appearance, name and biography. This is a process which can be as detailed or as easy as the player wishes thanks to a plethora of options and a randomize button at each stage.
With our character in place we are then treated to a short introduction, voiced by Leonard Nimoy, which sets the scene for this particular version of the Star Trek universe. To summarise, Romulus has been destroyed and Klingons have declared war on the Federation as they expand their reach into Romulan space. In addition to this the Borg has recently attacked a Federation colony and there are reports that the Dominion is rebuilding its forces. As the game states, the Alpha Quadrant is balanced on a knife edge and it is up to us to help save the Federation.
As the game proper begins we are an Ensign and are asked to report to the Bridge, this is the beginning of a tutorial mission which lasts the best part of an hour. During this session we learn many of the main gameplay features. When on foot we control the character using the standard WASD method with space to jump and F to interact with objects. C takes us into a combat stance and the mouse is used to aim/look and attack.
Following the initial section of the tutorial which familiarises us with basic foot based action we are allowed to choose our first bridge officer and begin the process of learning to pilot our ship.
Piloting a ship in Star Trek Online is a fairly intuitive process. WASD is once again used for main movement with Q and E controlling impulse speed. The mouse controls our camera and mouse buttons perform selection of items. As with ground based action, interaction with other ships and objects is performed by pressing F.
Following our initial orientation into ship navigation our next mission objective takes us down to the planet surface where we learn about team based combat as well as equipping items and our inventory. The inventory works much as any other RPG, as does equipping…simply drag and drop items to make them active.
For away team combat, after we choose a team to accompany us we can assign states to the NPCs such as having them follow us or defend. We also learn through the mission that flanking enemies causes us to increase the damage we can cause using our weapons.
Generally ground based action, at least in battle, is very fast paced and action packed.
Next up as we continue through the first tutorial mission is space combat training. Weapons fire is generally performed by pressing number buttons 1-3 above the movement keys and we can assign states to our ship such as attack or defend which boost our success in each by a small amount. Bridge Officer skills also come into play here as each offers a unique action which can assist. An engineer for example can offer to significantly boost the shields for a short time whereas a tactical staff can fire a spread of photon torpedoes. As well as attacking the enemy we also need to take into account the shield status of our own ship, there are four on each craft and it is wise to continue attacking foes from different angles to spread fire around our shields and allow damage to repair elsewhere. This also has benefits in ships which have weapons on the back and front as moving side on allows us to fire both at the enemy.
From the outset ship combat is a highlight of the game and where we have fast paced action on away team missions, fights in space are much slower paced and more tactical. They are also far more fun.
Our final piece of training involves navigation from location to location. To do this we leave orbit at a planet or base and enter the map. From here we can travel to nearby locations using warp power on a map style environment, it is a similar process to navigation on missions.
For longer distances we can open a more generic area map, choose our destination and following a short warp animation we arrive at our destination.
After a successful first mission we arrive back at Earth Spacedock where the game begins in earnest. From here our main task is to accept new missions from Starfleet but we are also able to perform a huge amount of secondary tasks. These include simple actions such as banking items we recovered on missions to ship enhancements.
This is also a good time to spend the skill points we have earned while completing the various mission tasks. There are essentially two types of points to spend. The first we can use on our own skills, increasing our ability to command the Starship, other points we can apply to our bridge officers. This allows us to increase items such as the effectiveness of their special action.
From here the game essentially allows us to play as we wish, join a "guild" or just play on our own adding to a team where necessary. Missions vary from exploration to rescue and all-out attack... often being a mix of several styles... much like the TV series.
Be careful out there though, sometimes you can take on a little more than is possible to handle...