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PAX 2009: Hands-on and phasers locked with Star Trek Online

Kyle Horner

We stopped by Cryptic's booth at PAX 2009 for a chance to speak with the Executive Producer for Star Trek Online Craig Zinkievich, and obviously to get our hands on the game as well. Well, turns out our demands were acceptable, and we got to both play the game and prod at Craig with our incessant "questions" for your -- and of course our own -- pleasure.

Cryptic's goal for Star Trek Online is to make players feel like they're inside an episode of Star Trek when they play the game. That's why they call their story-focused missions episodes, and why every one of them deals with both ground and space combat. Our hands-on experience focused on this aspect of the game, and much combat was had by, well, us.

space combat is exactly what Cryptic has been promising. It looks, sounds and emphatically feels very Star Trek. Transferring power between your various ship systems or shields is obviously in, but there's a lot more nuance than most people may have been expecting. For instance, we were lucky enough to see Craig take out one Klingon ship by exploding another that was flying nearby. Two Birds of Prey with one torpedo, the way Kirk would've done it.

Let's start off with your bridge officers. You being with just one of these uniformed youths, eventually earning up to around 12 or 15. They're a lot like pets taken above and beyond the concept of what we've come to expect a pet to be in an MMO. You design and name all of your bridge officers, level them up, write a captain's log about their back story if you want, give them weapons, personal shield and more for ground combat and take them planetside on missions. Most importantly, each of them brings various skills to your ship depending on their rank and archetype -- an Ensign rank character will only have one ability while a Commander offers your ship three.

Of course, ships have a finite number of bridge seats for officers to rest their laurels in, so a little decision making is in order. Bigger and better ships do indeed offer more seats, up to around six, but you've still got to choose. As Craig told us, they're essentially a secondary part of your entire character and depending on what ship, crew load-out and skill set you go with ends up really defining your role at that moment.

In fact, all of the special ship abilities that make combat feel it takes place inside an episode of Star Trek are used through your bridge officers. You'll actually see their portraits and each character's corresponding ability. Tachyon Beam is one many fans will remember, and when you have a bridge officer use it the beam indeed disables a chunk of your target's shield so you can slip in some torpedoes. And according to Craig, we can expect to see a whole lot of that all throughout the game.

All the away missions will always take place with five characters, whether they're your bridge crew or other players. If you do go down with your bridge officers, it offers a very cool immersion factor when you see the guy who was just on your UI sitting at the science station on bridge now carrying a phaser rifle and following you around a strange alien planet. Like all other things in STO, your away team makeup is configurable. So if you want to load up on tactical guys and run in guns blazing, you can. You can also play more carefully with a support or balanced team, depending on your play style.

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