It was a cold, dreary Saturday morning in January 2010 when I told my wife that we had a quest to accomplish. It was absolutely imperative that we drive into unsafe areas of Detroit to locate one of the very few Del Tacos in the area in order to buy cups. On these cups, as I explained to my increasingly incredulous spouse, were codes for shuttle pets in the upcoming Star Trek Online. I had to get some, I insisted; Captain Kirk was depending on me.
An hour later, our mission was accomplished, and my wife had another tale of husband-geekery to share around the office. To her credit, the very next week she happened to be driving by another Del Taco and purchased me six additional cups to give away to fans who otherwise couldn't get one. That's how awesome she is.
I tell you this story because it is indicative of my relationship with Star Trek Online: silly yet passionate, excitable yet frivolous, and flawed yet fascinated. I've played this game off and on for the past couple of years and have become convinced that while it's clunky and lacking in areas, it's an MMO gem that deserves much better than the slander it's endured.
This is why I play it.
Why I play: I have unresolved Trekkie issues
Like Terilynn, who also wrote about STO in this column, I've been a lifelong Trekkie (although my MMO experience didn't start with this game). The height of my fandom came during my high school years, during which I turned to the franchise to help me through depression and loneliness. While I watched The Next Generation religiously, I was a classic series Trekkie all the way. I seriously owned every single Star Trek book and novel ever printed, had seen every episode dozens of time, and spent countless hours building Enterprises out of LEGO bricks.
Around the time I went to college and Voyager came out, I started to wean myself from Trek as a whole. As with any long-term relationship, my experience with Star Trek left me both cynical about the show and fond of it at the same time. You know how that is, right? The classic love-hate relationship, right there. And no matter how much time I put between me and those teenage years, I could never quite divorce myself from Trek entirely.
So when the MMO was announced, I created many colorful if nonsensical curses because I knew that I was going to play it, even if it ripped open old wounds and memories.
Phew, this might be a landmine, but I'm going to forge ahead anyway. I kind of like Cryptic Studios. There, I said it. Pelt me with stones and half-empty cans of Mountain Dew if you must, but for all of its many failings, this studio has a certain charm and style that I totally dig. I love the emphasis on character creation in all of its games, I like that its products have always been kind to the casual and newcomer, and I admire how the team keeps taking hits (many deserved) but comes on back anyway.
Star Trek Online is a Cryptic title through and through, for all the good and bad stigma that it carries as a result. It's colorful, it's slightly cartoony, it trips over itself to try to do the right thing, and it keeps experimenting with different ideas until the good ones bubble to the surface. It's been a rocky two years, but looking back at where it was at launch, I can definitely say that the game Star Trek Online is now is so much better than it was back then, and this is thanks to a lot of dedication of a few hardworking folks.
Why I play: The starship combat is unparalleled
You can have your EVE Online with its mindless circling and autofiring; I'm happy to be over here with the most exciting and interesting space battles ever put in MMOs. Even naysayers of the game have to grudgingly admit that STO's space game is pretty awesome, with loads of special effects, strategic thinking, and explosive ballets between large ships packing serious weaponry.
The space game never fails to entertain me, especially since I can't get this anywhere else (although some friends tell me that Pirates of the Burning Sea comes close). While space battles weren't the centerpiece of the series, Trekkies loved the action anyway, and Star Trek's style was more about battleships taking broadsides at each other rather than fighter planes dogfighting.
Why I play: The quests are clever -- and not always violent
Here's something I think is the unsung hero of the game. After two years of retuning, shuffling, and adding quests to STO, Cryptic's created a game where the missions are so much more inventive and immersive than what you get in most other MMOs. Sure, you can sign up for boring patrol or kill missions, but if you follow the featured episodes (which take you from the start to the endgame and beyond), you'll be in for a treat.
Star Trek Online's missions often transition between space and ground portions, providing loads of variety in line with the show's scope. They can be scary (actually scary, trust me), thrilling, thoughtful, and often surprising. What I like the most is that many of them involve actual thinking and puzzle-solving beyond just "blast things with phasers." The creativity of the quest design team amazes me, and I haven't even touched on the player-created missions of the Foundry.
Why I play: The duty officer system is fun in and of itself
I'll close with this. Star Trek Online has many minigames nestled inside it (such as becoming a diplomat or mining on an asteroid), but the relatively new duty officer system is arguably the best of them all. It's a time-based strategy system in which you acquire and assign crew members to various tasks, which reap you loads of goodies if they are completed successfully. It's downright addicting to get into and gives me a great reason to log in each day to play.
I was thrilled to see Star Trek Online go free-to-play because I've always argued that it's a perfect "play once or twice a week" title. Having weathered many storms, STO's come out into the F2P realm stronger than most titles of its age, and I will certainly keep playing it for some time to come.
There's an MMO born every day, and every game is someone's favorite. Why I Play is a column in which the Massively staff members kick back and reminisce about all their favorite MMOs. Whether it's the new hotness or an old fan favorite loaded with nostalgia, each title we cover here tugs at our heartstrings and keeps us coming back for more.