Captain's Log: A new era begins

Tristan at Starfleet Academy STO
As you probably know by now, Star Trek Online is converting to the free-to-play format this coming Tuesday, January 17th. If you've held off subscribing to STO for the past two years, you might be wondering what you can expect should you decide to give STO a try.

If you've never played an MMORPG and are thinking that this might be a perfect time to try one, I think you might be right. STO is not like most other MMOs. That can be a good thing but also a detriment.

This column is here to help you, Trekkie or not, gamer or not. And I'm going to try to help you decide whether STO is the F2P game for you.

Belleau Wood STO
Is it really free-to-play?

A lot of people who have shown interest in this game are understandably wary when they hear that an MMO is "free." There's an automatic assumption that the F2P (Silver) players will not have access to all of the actual playable content that subscribers do. Let me make it very clear: STO absolutely will be free-to-play. All of the content that the subscription holders can play, Silver members will be able to play. Access to all of it -- patrols, exploration missions, fleet actions -- will be open to all Silver members at no charge.

Silver member will also have access to all of the Foundry missions, which were actually written, created, and published by STO players. Access to the Foundry creation tool itself will be accessible for a nominal charge of in-game currency. So if you want to try your hand at making your own mission, you will be able to unlock mission slots without the need to spend real money.

Sure, there are going to be lots of things to buy in this game, but none of those items is necessary to play STO. What will be necessary, you ask? If you're an experienced gamer who thrives on PvP and you're just beginning STO, it's possible to play without spending anything, but you will be grinding for a long time to earn the gear you believe is acceptable for PvP.

However, if you like fancy-schmancy ships or variants of uniforms, you will have to pay for them as well as for places to put them. You can't park a ship or hang your clothes up unless you expand the garage or your closet! It's by selling items like ships, costumes, bridge officers and the slots in which to retain those items that the company hopes to make a profit.

All players can earn in-game currency and then trade it for C-Store points, which are usable in the game's store. So once again, technically, if you're willing to play a long time to earn in-game currency to trade, you won't have to spend a dime. However you won't need to change costumes or fly elite ships in order to play and enjoy this game with your friends.

Speaking of friends...

Dancing at Risa STO
Will I have to talk to people I don't know?

No, of course not. While most MMOs are designed for team/group play, STO is considered to be a very casual game, and the vast majority of it can be played solo. You don't even have to monitor a chat window. You can be gloriously alone in your ship and fly through the quadrant and take on enemies without having to acknowledge another real player's existence.

There are only a few times when you will be forced to team with other players, and that's if you decide to do the very difficult special task force missions that are available when your character nears the level cap, which is currently set at 50 or Vice Admiral.

But you might be surprised if you allow yourself to team up for the "regular" missions now and again. The current playerbase is incredibly nice and fun and will be happy to be your wing-person if the Cardassians just get too feisty one day. Sure, you may run into the occasional jerk, but there are, in my opinion, at least, far fewer jerks in STO than in other games. I'm not sure if it's that "Trek mentality," but it certainly helps to know that if you have a few friends in game, you have someone to share the fun with. Who knows, you may find yourself joining a fleet!

I'm a huge/I'm definitely not a Trekkie -- will I hate this?

Well, the game is set in the Star Trek universe, after all, so if you loathe Star Trek, chances are you might not like the game. However, the game's timeline and story history are vastly different from the television series as left at the end of Star Trek: Voyager. Much more focus has been placed on battle and war in order to make this game appealing to the broader gaming market and general science fiction fans.

By contrast, the game's diversion from the franchise's peaceful roots may not sit so well with the more avid fans. Diplomacy in STO has definitely taken not just the back seat but the way-back of mom's 1970s station-wagon. Yes, there are diplomatic missions, but they're repetitive and ultimately lack any sense of real accomplishment. The newly implemented duty officer system has added a missing element to in-game diplomacy, but if you're a hard-core Trekkie, it still won't seem like enough.

But don't let that dissuade you just yet; as I mentioned above, this happens to be a very social game, and Trekkies are an extremely social (and passionate) people. What the game lacks in diplomatic functionality it makes up for by encouraging players to socialize with other Trekkies in a universe that is, without a doubt, very Star Trek.

TOS Bridge STO
The environment in this game is lovingly created and passes the muster of even the most finicky canon-focused fan. The ships are canon or canon-based, and you can even chose to buy environments that can place you on the bridge of an Intrepid class or let you sit in a command chair identical to the one belonging to the infamous James Tiberius Kirk, complete with the original sound effects.

If you're a Trek roleplayer, you may find your Nirvana in STO. There are several roleplaying fleets that gather in certain social zones and have created very elaborate worlds. You can ask to be allowed in or just as easily create your own with a few other friends.

I have always wanted to play a Klingon, but I hear things are bad.

Well, here's the deal: You can't even begin to play a Klingon character until you first play a Federation character to level 25. At that time, Klingon play will be unlocked and you can begin to defend your Klingon honor.

Admittedly, there's not as much PvE content on the Klingon side at this time, but studio representatives have stated that they are working on new material. Still, there are really great things about the Klingon faction that counter-balance the absence of lower-level content. First, since you start at level 25, you don't have to level so much. But more importantly, there is a wonderful community on the Klingon home world of Qo'Nos. The visuals of the new First City and Academy are incredible. The fleets are tight-knit and are some of the most welcoming I've ever seen -- a true Klingon kinship, so to speak.

You can play a Klingon or any one of the Klingon-allied species, from Nausicaan to Orion, and yes, you can create a green Orion "slave" woman. But we all know about them. They're not really the slaves...

So when can I play for free?

Appropriately enough, STO's F2P launch will be the 17th of January. That's right: 1701! (Yes, it's a Trekkie reference. Wait until you see the number of "47" references in game. It's enough to warm the cockles of a dead Trekkie's heart.)

It just so happens that on that day, Massively is hosting STO's F2P launch events, and I, alongside STO Community Manager Brandon Felczer, will be joining forces to entertain and educate. There are several social events and even livestreamed tutorials to help out those who might be thinking of trying out their very first MMO. Come join the fun -- you might even win up to 5000 STO Promotional Points!

Live long and prosper!

Incoming communique from Starfleet Headquarters: Captain's Log is now transmitting direct from Terilynn Shull every Saturday, providing news, rumors, and dev interviews about Star Trek Online. Beam communications to terilynn@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.