IGN.com February 6, 2009
Developing a game from a franchise with such a passionate and knowledgeable community can be both a blessing and a curse, and it seems the Cryptic is taking the responsibility very seriously. While they're trying to remain faithful to the established history and overall theme of the franchise, they've also decided to set the game 30 years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis to avoid having to recreate any of the more familiar timelines that the TV series and films have already covered.
In the year 2409 the Khitomer Accord that preserved peace between the Federation and the Klingons has broken down and the two factions find themselves on the edge of an all-out war. Into the midst of this conflict, an age-old threat returns to the galaxy to become a third player in this drama. Though Cryptic isn't yet willing to publicly reveal who exactly this new threat is, we can definitely say that it's a force that fans of the series will surely recognize.
One of the designers' original intentions with this game was not to try to force Star Trek content into a traditional MMO format. Rather they hoped to take the concepts and themes of the franchise and build an MMO around them. And while the game will definitely feature familiar MMO elements, they're going to be used in some original ways.
Each player takes on the role of a captain, either in Starfleet Federation or the Klingon Defense Force. You're free to play as any major race, not just humans and Klingons. Players can also choose to be Gorn, Orions, Vulcans, Andorians, or Bajorans. Players can also create an entirely unique race, selecting from a whole range of physical characteristics. Given the breadth of options found in Cryptic's Champions Online, we imagine that you'll be able to make some truly creative designs. Each captain picks a career path -- either tactics, engineering or science -- and then heads out on their first patrol as captain of their very own starship.
Of course, no captain is complete with a bridge crew, and Star Trek Online gives players the chance to create their own subordinates among the various departments of science, medicine, engineering, and tactics. Depending on the ship you're leading, you may find yourself weighted more towards one type of crew member or another. A Defiant class ship, for instance, will need more tactical officers than a pure science vessel. You'll create these crew members, giving them names, choosing their race and even equipping and advancing them as they gain experience alongside you in your adventures.
In a way, these crew sort of act as your pets during planetary encounters, helping you in your fights and investigations and even opening up new optional content for you from time to time. It won't be quite as restrictive as it is in Mass Effect where you might miss entire quest arcs if you didn't have the right team with you, but you will be rewarded for bringing a balanced force with you on your planetary missions. Right now the designers are giving the crew members a fair bit of autonomy during planetary encounters, mostly because they don't want you to have to micromanage the entire team. Still, you will be able to direct their actions by some general stance orders and by the equipment you give them.
When you beam down to a planet, you can bring five crew members with you, but if you're playing in a group, the other human players will take up one of those slots. That means if you and two other captains beam down to a planet, you'll have to examine the mission ahead of you to decide who among all your crews should come along. Do you bring your high-level medical officer or do you invite another captain to bring a few extra tactical officers?
Of course, since this is Star Trek, you have to have a fair bit of space combat as well. The designers caution us that the game isn't going to play out like a dogfight in space, where reflexes and turning rates win the day. Instead, combat will be a tactical affair, much like you'd see in games like Pirates of the Burning Sea. Ship position, weapon arcs and management of your weapons and other systems will be the factors that win the day. Of course, the skills of your captain and crew and the equipment you've used to outfit your ship will have a tremendous impact as well.
Given the tensions between the Federation and the Klingons, not to mention this new threat, there's a lot of opportunity for PVP in the game. Players can head to the Neutral Zone to fight it out in space or on nearby planets, but there will also be indirect PVE content that impacts the balance of power in a zone. We imagine that this system works a bit like the public quests in Warhammer Online, but the designers weren't willing to be more specific about it right now.
They were willing to reveal that a lot of the content would be episodic and instanced. Rather than relying on collecting rat hides to drive player advancement, the team is hoping to structure the content much more like a traditional episode of Star Trek. Players will start in space, for instance, before beaming down to rescue scientists on a hostile planet, and then beaming aboard a nearby space lab to help put out fires and make some repairs before finally engaging in a climactic space battle. On the more casual side, there will be plenty of procedurally generated content for players to explore as well.
Players can expect all the iconic locations and themes from the franchise. Players will be able to visit well known planets, space stations and even meet the descendants of famous characters from the series' history. There will even be nods to particular episodes and plot points that hardcore fans will surely pick up on. In true Trek fashion, there will also be a fair bit of kitsch in the shows as well, from time travel missions to, yes, even tribbles.
The game has been in development for a full year now and, thanks to Cryptic's advanced technology, is already at a state where the team is playing it on a weekly basis. We've been anticipating this one for a while now and, while most gamers' expectations are very high, we're encouraged by these initial details.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for footage of the game and a video interview with the game's producer.