Why Star Trek Online needs lots of combat

STO_Beta_Tutorial

Note: The image above is my beta character right at the beginning of the tutorial. I’m hoping to have some more time with the game over the weekend, with a view to writing up my own impressions next week.

Star Trek Online is well into open beta when I write this. Syp has compiled a long list of various blogger’s first impressions if you are curious as to how the game is being received, but one comment that I have heard from fans is that … Trek shouldn’t be a combat centric game. After all, in the episodes, the crew are much more likely to be brokering diplomatic treaties, discovering cures for space lurgy, or just messing around with Q.

In response to this, an anecdote from my pen and paper years. As an undergraduate engineer, we were all sent off to a one week course in a factory in Birmingham to teach us to use machining equipment (it was considered essential that all qualified engineers know how to use a lathe, grinder, arc welder, and other machine tools — even software engineers). So there we were, staying in a pretty rough area where the nightlife wasn’t, and it wasn’t safe to wander around late anyway. One of the group had brought his Star Trek RPG books with him so we got a game together to pass the time.

It was great. But every time anyone did anything cool, they got court martialled. My character got court-martialled once for setting her phaser to kill even though she didn’t shoot anyone with it. That is the Star Trek universe if you play it according to canon. The hijinks that the crew of the Enterprise get up to in the TV series will get YOUR character court-martialled. And they were mild compared to the antics that a group of player characters (PCs) will typically manage.

So if Cryptic choose to stir things up by declaring all out war all over their background, it should be considered a great boon for immersion. Why? Because in times of war, even Star Fleet will actually let you kill people and generally take part in the sorts of mad derring-do that people play games for in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, a more canonic version of the Star Trek ethos would be fun, and would probably work great in a single player game where you can really play up the inter-character drama and interesting choices that players might need to make. (I’m thinking that a Star Trek themed game like Dragon Age would be terrific fun, but we do have Mass Effect 2 coming up for those who want to get their Bioware Sci-Fi game on). But when you have lots of players milling around in your world, especially when said world has largely negated the need for crafting or currency, you probably do need to let them shoot things.

Or else instead of Star Trek Online, you will end up with Star Fleet Court Martial Online.