Three very positive things about the free to play Star Trek Online MMO jumped out at me. One, I didn't have to choose a server to play on, implying that the game will handle bringing players together automatically if and when I get the chance to play online with others. Two, the integration of the Star Trek fiction and window dressing are very good. As a fan of next-gen shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and even Voyager, I am seeing, hearing, and reading a lot of familiar and fun things in this game. The sounds, the text, the environments, even the attitude of the medical hologram all seem to be well done. Lastly, characters are surprisingly customizable, despite only having three career options at the start of the game.
There is a hefty list of species to play as along with an eye-opening custom alien option, which I chose. My character Quek is a Tactical officer, which is the damage-dealing "tank" of the three choices in the game. It sounded more interesting than the Engineer healer-type and Science officer damage-over-time type. And while it certainly was odd to see the Trek universe of squeaky clean and shiny Starfleet officer types redefined into classic MMO roles, I guess it's necessary even if it means trying another career might require starting all over again.
The choice of races, incidentally, is really huge and the fan service in this part of the game is impressive! Each race has an accurate description that matches the fiction as well as special abilities and drawbacks, and each ability is shown in the context of whether it is a space or ground ability (ship bonus/drawback vs away mission bonus/drawback). The description of the Pakled race is a good example of well written fan service. It indirectly references their "We look for things. Things that make us go." episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation and notes how they are underestimated and looked down on by those species that don't know them, but are very cunning and will use that to their advantage.
Once you've chosen your race you can customize the look and the uniform in many, many ways, right down to a selection of stance your character will take when idling. I found the Animal stance where the character is hunched over and looking from side to side in a feral way to be especially entertaining. Quek is a little more highbrow, even for someone who likes guns, so he strikes a Thoughtful pose.
Some aspects of the game definitely break with the fiction that informs it. Some of the "ground" or on-foot areas in the tutorial are almost comically huge. For example, the medical bay of the ship looks like it has cathedral ceilings maybe 30 feet up and the clearance around the beds in the tutorial is far too big. This is necessary I'm sure for visibility and to let the players get around but it's such a big difference from the TV shows and movies that it really sticks out.
As a beginner I find the UI somewhat confusing. The designers took the LCARS theming a bit too far here with button-like window dressing everywhere on the menus, some of which are clickable, some aren't which, for example, made assigning skill points very confusing. This extends to managing your ship during ship combat, but the tutorials do seem to give you the basics pretty clearly, and they map to the regular MMO tropes of weapons being on number keys and each type having a cooldown.
Ship combat has some interesting aspects, including directional shields, the ability to manage power output to different systems, and each weapon on the ship having a firing arc. As an example, on my ship, which I want to say is a Reliant class ship similar to what was flown in Star Trek II, there are two phaser weapons, one to the fore and one to the aft. You can only fire the one that can reach the target, but if you pull alongside you can fire both! It takes some getting used to, and I didn't do so well against the Borg probes (whatever they are) in the tutorials. I didn't get a clear idea about how to get ahead in combat since most of the time my attacks weren't doing much, but I did get a sense that the AI bridge crew you assemble ends up having different abilities on the ship (with respective cool down amounts) than they do in ground combat.
Death in space, at least in the tutorial, didn't seem like a big deal. I got destroyed by the Borg probes once, which just respawned my ship back into the fray to keep attacking the same enemies. I'm guessing every player will keep their own ship and crew when teaming up in space, and then co-operate more directly on the ground, but having a team of friends working together as a crew on a single ship might have had some potential.
Some things about classic MMO's definitely still apply here. The odd sense of being a little newbie fish swimming in a big squirming, running, and jumping mass through newbie areas with other players all doing the same thing definitely somewhat breaks the immersion, but this is how MMOs have almost always been. I can't fault the game for that.
Star Trek Online's opening activities were interesting enough to make me want to play some more, and I'm looking forward to seeing what else my character can do for fun in the far future. I'll be playing it again sometime soon.