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These Are My Voyages

July 9th, 2010

As if I needed yet another way in which to fritter away my precious hours on Earth, last weekend I signed up for Star Trek Online, another role-playing game from the company that brought us Champions Online. The Trek game has been out since February, but I decided to wait until I could get it cheap. Thankfully, Steam came through with a massive Independence Day weekend sale.

I even dropped the extra couple of bucks for the “deluxe digital edition,” which came with bonus content such as Original Series uniforms and enough store credits to purchase the classic Enterprise. It wasn’t very long before I’d created a mini-skirted, go-go booted Starfleet lieutenant!

Unsurprising to anyone who knows me, Lt. Caitlin Howard is a long-legged redhead who just happens to be a distant relative of Beverly (Howard) Crusher from The Next Generation. She commands the U.S.S. Bellerophon, named after the doomed colonist ship from the movie Forbidden Planet.

Lt. Howard kicking some Gorn ass.

While much of Trek Online feels very familiar to me–having played a couple of games from the same design house–there are at least two major differences. One is that, instead of a single avatar, each player has an “away team” of five characters when participating in ground combat. The other bridge officers aren’t under direct control, but you can train ’em, outfit ’em with gear, and dress ’em however you like. (Naturally, mine are rocking the ’60s miniskirt look.)

The guy on the right is Tim the Red Shirt, the only male on my crew at the time. Also known as "the luckiest man in Starfleet."

The second big difference is space combat. Glorious, glorious space combat. While the ground portion of the game seems a little undercooked to me, the space missions are everything I could’ve hoped for. Massive starships lumber about in true Trek style, unleashing phasers, photon torpedoes, polaron beams and what-have-you.

One thing I find appealing is how intuitive space combat is to me, having played my share of Trek tabletop wargames. One has to allocate power to the various systems, and maneuver one’s ship to face the enemy’s weakest shield, all the while keeping one’s own shields charged. Most weapons have a firing arc, so if I want my Constitution-class vessel to hit that Orion cruiser with both of my phaser banks, I need to expose my flank. However, if I want to hit him with a volley of torpedoes (which I do!), I need to be facing front.

My first fleet combat went very poorly.

One thing I want to stress is how frickin’ gorgeous this game is, at least on my gaming laptop. Many of my screenshots have been desktop-worthy. Space is filled with floating asteroids, colorful gas clouds and sweeping rings.

Seriously, look at this:

And this:

The game is filled with all manner of Easter eggs for Trek fans of both generations. It’s set several decades further into the future of the original Trek universe (not the divergent timeline from the most recent feature film), and while familiar screen characters such as Picard, Sisko or Janeway don’t seem to put in an appearance, I believe I’ve encountered grown-up versions of just about every child seen on the various televised series. (Haven’t run into Worf’s son Alexander yet, but I gotta think he’s out there somewhere.)

Many familiar locations are reproduced, including Deep Space Nine, Memory Alpha and Space Station K-7 (from the classic episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”). I’ve enjoyed my scenic tour of the galaxy, but I have to admit that I’m a little disappointed that there’s not more to do in these famous locales. The fabled pleasure planet of Risa seems to consist of nothing but a bit of beachfront and a couple of boring vendors. I can’t even buy a bikini for Lt. Howard! And really, Quark’s bar on Deep Space Nine should have a Dabo Wheel minigame, or the chance to play a hand of Fizzbin.

Still, I’m enjoying what’s there quite a lot. I don’t know if it would be as much fun for those with only a casual interest in Star Trek, but as a lifelong fan who likes it when ships go boom, it’s a good time!

Set your equipment to "fan service."

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