I wouldn’t consider myself a Trekkie. I’ve enjoyed the shows over the years, having watched all the episodes of Next Generation, Voyager, and Deep Space Nine, but I don’t speak Klingon. When I first heard about Star Trek Online (STO) I was excited for about a minute. Then I realized that a MMO would never come close to offering what Star Trek is really all about. Ask any fan to tell you what the top themes are of Star Trek, and they should in their first or second answer, tell you it’s inherently about exploration. It’s about exploring new planets, meeting new species, coming across new, unseen sights, and going, as they say, “where no man has gone before.” So what’s the problem? The problem is that no MMO, no matter how big it is, no matter how many development teams are out there making new content, will ever be able to give a player that feeling of freedom and exploration for more than a very short period of time.
First, let’s look at the scenario of discovering a new planet with intelligent life. In one of the shows, the crew will almost always be there alone, they’ll check the planet to see what their level of technology is, try to establish diplomatic relations if they are advanced enough and so forth. In STO, you’re going to have a dozen other player’s around you, so it won’t feel as if you are discovering anything. There will never be enough options for you to feel like you are actually making the diplomatic choices – whether it comes in a script or allows you a couple options, it leaves the mystery and intrigue out.
Meeting new species in space shouldn’t be much different. It’s not hard to figure out that what you meet is going to roughly be about as powerful as you, if you are following the guide of progressing quests and so forth. That takes out the risk and suspense. They are never going to have some crazy technology that works differently, because the technology has to conform to the mechanics build into the game and used by the player. I just assume you can bump into new species as you explore, it wouldn’t be hard for a MMO company to add content like that, I just think that regardless of how big your team is, it’s not going to actually feel like you are the first one there, trying to make a good impression for the Federation.
Anomalies… what a joke. Even if you design them so that some are traps, some are resources, etc, they are never ever going to be like the anomalies in the shows. Why? Because just about every anomaly is different, and when something goes wrong (which happens with most of them), it takes creativity, a feat of engineering, and the hard work of the crew to figure it out and escape. This depth does not exist in STO. It’s not because of a flaw in the developer, it’s just too complex of a system to design into an MMO. You would have to literally design and implement every aspect of one of these star ships and then some more, so that players could actually flip switches and re-route power around different areas. It sounds cool but it’s so beyond what a MMO could handle.
When it boils down to it, most stories in Star Trek are not of MMO nature. With the exception being large space battles, and maybe hanging out at DS9, it is usually one ship, headed way out in space making discoveries alone. I’m not trying to bash Cryptic Studios at all, I just think that the very core of Star Trek is impossible to re-create in an MMO. Without that feeling of facing the unknown, of having true control over one’s actions and one’s ship, STO will never really be able to offer any more than a watered down version of the core theme of Star Trek.