Neverwinter, one of the most popular MMOs on Xbox One, will soon have some competition from its own makers. Perfect World Entertainment is set to launch Star Trek Online on consoles this fall. Star Trek Online lets players captain their own ship and engage in limitless sci-fi adventures. We recently played the upcoming MMO to bring you these detailed impressions.
A galaxy in turmoil
Star Trek Online debuted on PC as the first Star Trek-themed Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) way back in 2010. The game takes place 30 years after the end of Star Trek: Nemesis. It is set within the Prime Reality as opposed to the Kelvin Reality featured in the post-2009 Star Trek films.
Following the destruction of Romulus (as seen in the 2009 Star Trek film), the galactic balance of power has drastically shifted. A new Chancellor has assassinated his way to the top of the Klingon Empire and reignited the Federation-Klingon War.
Meanwhile, the Undine, an alien race introduced as Species 8472 in Star Trek: Voyager, has initiated a war of subterfuge against both the Federation and Klingons. And pulling the strings behind the Undine's aggression are the Iconians, a race that long ago ruled the galaxy (according to Star Trek lore).
Thus the Federation, Klingon Empire, and the newly-formed Romulan Republic all find themselves in great need of ship captains to fight their battles. Players can choose between the three factions, create a character from a number of Star Trek races (including my favorite, the Andorians), recruit a Bridge Crew, and set out into a galaxy filled with adventure.
Although the Star Trek Online storyline is all-new and ever-expanding, it includes many elements from previous Star Trek TV series and movies. Players will revisit iconic locations such as the Guardian of Forever from The Original Series and meet numerous characters voiced by their original actors, such as Worf, Seven of Nine, Tuvok, Chekov, Scotty (voiced by Chris Doohan), Tom Paris, and more.
Players will eventually acquire and customize more powerful ships, all of which can be named to their liking. Of course we'll have a USS Windows Central when we play! You can also pilot famous starships such as the many versions of the USS Enterprise, though the more desirable crafts tend to be sold as In-App Purchases or acquired from premium lockboxes. This is a free-to-play game, after all.
Consoles are the Final Frontier
Star Trek Online is still going strong on PC, but it's also a six-year old game. To make the game feel at home on consoles, some updates were in order. The first thing Cryptic and Perfect World did was update the looks of the game to bring them up to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 standards.
Graphical enhancements include brand new High Dynamic Range Lighting (which seemingly confirms enhanced colors for the Xbox One S console), deferred rendering (a shading technique), and specular light probes. These improvements look quite pleasing to the eye in motion, although the actual performance of the game on Xbox One is comparable to Neverwinter, which suffers from occasional slowdown during complex scenes and crowded areas.
Reworking the controls and User Interface (UI) was the next step in getting Star Trek Online to work on consoles. I expected Perfect World to simply borrow Neverwinter's controls wholesale, since that game already works just fine (with a bit of a learning curve). But Star Trek Online is a much different game, so the developers went to the extra trouble of developing entirely new controls and UIs for it.
Steering your Starship
One of the things that makes Star Trek Online so different from Neverwinter is that it has two completely different methods of traversal: space and ground. Piloting a starship isn't as simple as riding a mount around like you'd do in a typical MMO. Space flight and combat is a big part of what makes this a legitimate Star Trek game.
Players pilot their ships from a third-person view. The controller inputs are relatively intuitive while providing a high degree of control over the starship's numerous abilities. Left Stick steers of course, whereas the D-Pad manages speed. Up accelerates, down decelerates, and holding up all the way initiates full impulse, maxing out speed. Simple!
Shield management proves surprisingly intuitive as well. Each ship has shields on each side that take damage independently of each other, just like in the shows and movies. Should one side lose shields, the ship will take massive hull damage there. But you can easily redistribute shields evenly across all four sides by clicking in the Left Stick. This will draw power from stronger sides in order to reinforce the weaker ones.
The Right Stick aims at targets. Clicking it in will lock onto a single target. After locking on, left or right on the stick will jump directly to other ships in the vicinity. You can then blast them with energy weapons (Phasers, Disruptors, etc.) via Right Trigger or torpedoes (Photon Torpedoes, Quantum Torpedoes, Plasma Torpedoes, etc.) with the Right Bumper. Left Trigger initiates evasive maneuvers, temporarily increasing speed and maneuverability.
Activating the ship's other abilities (called Powers) is where the developers really had to get creative. Each ship can have numerous powers, which players need to be able to call on in quick succession. A few examples of powers include Emergency Power to Shields, Sensor Analysis, Saucer Separation, Brace for Impact, and more.
The console version has three Quick Powers slots (shown at the bottom of the screen), each assigned to a specific button. To access the full suite of powers, players just need to hold the B button to open the radial Powers menu. From there you can fire up as many as needed in only a few seconds.
It wouldn't be Star Trek without landing parties. Star Trek Online gives players plenty of opportunity to send their captains down to strange new worlds in order to complete away missions.
When playing solo, you'll beam down with four members of your bridge crew. Each crew member has special abilities and stats to bring to the table. But Star Trek Online is an MMO, so playing with friends is the best way to enjoy the game. Co-op players will automatically take the place of bridge crew on the ground.
On foot, the game plays like a standard third-person shooter. Move with Left Stick, aim with Right Stick, and hold Left Trigger to aim. Aim and lock on to a target and you'll then be able to flick between them with the stick, just like in space. Fire your beam weapon's primary attack with Right Trigger and its secondary attack (such as a spread shot) with Right Bumper. The Y button changes weapons and B performs a melee attack.
The ground mission I played involved my team beaming down to a research colony under attack from the Borg, a malevolent race of cybernetic hive-mind drones. We had to rescue members of the research team on the planet surface, enter their facility and lock it down, and blast hordes of Borg drones.
Other than a few UI anomalies like interaction prompts appearing all the way at the top of the screen rather than next to the object of interaction, it looked and played like a smooth, modern Star Trek experience.
Coming soon to a console near you
Star Trek Online will include two expansions and 11 seasons worth of content when it arrives on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Every mission has been rebalanced for console play, and redundant missions have been dropped in favor of a smoother pace. The entire game will be free to play with optional In-App Purchases, just like on PC.
The Xbox One version of Neverwinter has traditionally lagged behind the PC version by about three months. The Star Trek Online team hopes to have a much smaller gap between PC and console versions. It will launch with nearly all the available PC content, including full fleet (guild) support. A few months after release, they expect the console game to be just a few weeks behind the main version.
Star Trek Online arrives on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 this fall. Are you excited about teaming up with friends and boldly going where no one (besides PC gamers) has gone before? If you can't wait, you can grab the game now on Steam for PC.