One difference between Star Trek’s away missions and the type of quests seen in most MMOs is that Star Trek Online blesses you with the addition of four NPC away team members.
In the beginning, these NPCs are labelled as ‘Security’ but as you progress through the game, you gain access to bridge officers (think Spock and McCoy) who can be any one of the aforementioned classes and can be developed as you go too. You can select which skills they train in and generally level them up much in the same way you might expect to do with your own character in an MMO.
Controlling your ground team is something you have a lot of control over. Their status is displayed on the right hand side of the screen and you can issue all the commands under the sun to gain a tactical edge over your enemies. You can rally your team members to a point, tell them to hold cover or attack specific targets.
This is all well and good, but for the first ten levels of the game the sheer force of having five characters (you and four NPCs) was more than enough to breeze through all the missions without managing the team at all. In part this is just as well, as it makes for a potential cargo bay-load of micromanagement – which may not be to everyone’s taste.
Where are the cannon fodder Red Shirts when you need them?
Some elements of real-time action have been added to the usual mechanism of shortcut hammering for away missions. For example, you can dive and roll in any direction, allowing you to get out of the way of grenades or other incoming attacks. Greater damaged will be done to you – and by you – if your position means that you’re flanking an enemy, so moving around can be beneficial.
Between this and the fact that there are often five friendlies fighting groups of foes, the ground combat is frantic, fast-paced and generally pretty fun, even if it’s too easy much of the time.
Much as you might expect, ship to ship combat is a very different affair. Again, anyone that has played Pirates of the Burning Sea will have an idea of how STO does things. First up, you need to break through the enemy's shields, which are presented in four quadrants that cover the ship.
Phasers to frag
Phasers drain shields and, as you render an opening in a portion of the enemy shields, you can slip in photon torpedoes to tear through the hull - though enemies will be re-routing power to that part of the ship in a bid to hinder your efforts and rebuild defences. This of course goes for both sides and the result is a combat system that takes some decent piloting when you have an evenly matched opponent or two.
You can change your power configuration for different combat situations too, which is pretty handy. For example, if you’re in the thick of it then you can bias your power distribution towards your shields, providing extra defence.
The same can be done for engine and weapons. Your bridge officers add additional skills to your arsenal and you can use disposable items (read potions) for those tricky spots. Throw in a decent level of ship customisation – both in terms of equipment load outs and aesthetics – and you have yourself a dynamic and rewarding ship to ship combat system. One downside with it is that, much like ground missions, it’s difficult to find an even match and the first part of the game is insultingly easy.