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Hands-on with Star Trek Online's space combat

Kyle Horner

Space battles in Star Trek Online are going to be a big selling point for many a Trek fan. I recently got some hands-on time with the closed beta and found several interesting talking points to deliver like hot fresh delicious phasered pizza. I imagine some of you are quite up to snuff on the basics of combat in Star Trek Online, so if you find your interest waning I suggest skipping ahead into the analytical aspect of this feature.

Gallery: Star Trek Online Gallery | 128 Photos

Starship movement is handled in a couple different ways. Engine thrust can be incresed or decreased via your 'Q' and 'E' keys or conversely by an on-screen indicator. Turning is handled by the classic WASD configuration or through clicking both mouse buttons simultaneously and directing the camera to the location of your desire. I found the WASD method to be favorable, although adjusting your ship's direction via mouse/camera can be useful for reestablishing your sense of direction.

Power distribution is handled in a couple ways as well. You can either use a UI that allows for presets for weapons, defense, engines or "balanced" which is the default setting. The other method allows you to switch to a slider system and manually adjust your power settings. Personally, I found the former system to be far more manageable in the midst of combat.

Phasers and photon torpedoes can be fired individually, but the best way is to use the spacebar to fire all available phasers and crtl-plus-spacebar to fire your torpedoes. There's no need to conserve ammo and much of you time is going to be spent judging tactical movements and the timed use of your bridge officer powers, which can be clicked through the GUI or activated via your 1-0 keys.

So it all sounds a little confusing, right? You're moving with your ship through space and around your enemeis, hitting the spacebar to fire your weapons and still have to use your bridge officer powers... This is why I prefer using the WASD configuration during combat, as it frees up your mouse hand to allow for bridge officer powers.

Yes, the controls take some getting used to, especially when you're fighting off several cruisers and fast attack ships. Then again, the three hours I played closed beta sped past so quickly that I barely even noticed my roommates had left. Indeed, I came out of my playsession with a kind of gaming amnesia. I couldn't really remember anything beyond adjusting power settings, maneuvering around bogeys and firing off countless weapons banks supplemented by bridge officer abilities.

Space combat may get to a point -- we're talking after release, here -- where players can do it so deftly that it becomes somewhat boring, but I kind of doubt it. Every battle offers different challenges depending on the configuration of the enemy forces. At the same time, it's easy enough to judge an opponent by their ship's setup -- at least to some degree.

I didn't get the chance to do any PvP, but from what I can gather by the looks of other players ships moving about space, it won't be too difficult to discern whether or not a foe is packing armor, weapons or advanced systems capable of support functions. However, considering I was playing as a tactical officer and had available to me a science officer who could drain enemy shields, it's probably never wise to assume your foe is limited in their capabilites.

While there's still plenty more to discuss concerning Star Trek Online, for now I'll have to keep you guessing at its deeper inner workings. The ways in which it handles partying, the greater travel through our galaxy and many other subjects will be making their way to your screens in the near future. For now, feel comforted knowing that those things are all covered and only serve to enhance the space combat that I so desperately wish I could return to at this very moment.

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