Along with the now-broken “odd Star Trek movies suck, even ones are classic” trope, there’s the well-worn “space combat in Star Trek Online is pretty groovy, but the ground combat is the pits.”
It’s an accusation that had more credibility in the earlier days of STO, to be sure. It wasn’t that engaging and — I recall with vivid clarity — the fights would go on and on and on as if both sides were attempting to subdue each other with vigorous slaps of wet noodles. But somewhere along the way, the ground game improved. Fights got shorter and more dynamic, a pseudo-FPS option was presented, and the NPCs got… well, less buggy and glitchy than before. On top of that, I can think of six important testimonies that can be said in favor of STO’s ground game, so here we go!
1. Solo squad combat is a rarity in MMOs
Getting to command an entire NPC team into battle isn’t something that you see a lot of in MMOs. Atlantica Online, Guild Wars 1 (with heroes), and… I’m sure there must be one or two more examples, but my point is that they aren’t terribly frequent. And yet it’s not only fun to have a whole team at your back, but it shares a strong common link to single-player RPGs, where leading a party by yourself was usually the norm.
I like it. It’s cool knowing that I’m packing a lot of firepower and that if I go down, there’s a good chance one of my virtual teammates could revive me. Plus, it looks so much more exciting to be in the middle of a 5v5 battle than a 1v3 one.
2. Miniguns are teh bomb
There are a lot of cool ground weapons in STO, but for my money nothing beats the output and look of a good minigun. It almost feels like cheating to spray the field of battle with one of these. If only there was an episode where Captain Picard gave up his preference for those wimpy wrist phasers and brought one of these bad boys to a fight.
3. It’s great to see your avatar and your bridge crew in action
Spaceships are all well and good, but they come with some drawbacks, especially when it comes to connecting with the player. We simply identify better with humanoid avatars than machines and vehicles. Plus, in STO we are swapping out starships pretty regularly before the endgame.
I like seeing the guy I spent a half-hour fine-tuning during character creation and his bridge crew. One of the little things I’ve been appreciating during the missions is how little helpful snippets of bridge crew dialogue will pop in from the left side of the screen — not obstructing anything, but a good reminder that these are supposedly real characters instead of silent meat shields.
4. It helps to give a balance to mission pacing
If Star Trek Online was 100% set in space, let’s face it, it would get boring pretty quickly. Listen, I love the space battles, but if it was just that and little else, I would feel claustrophobic. I really appreciate how the game breaks up missions into a somewhat predictable pattern — space section, ground section, space section. The variety helps keep both parts feeling fresh.
5. It’s not just about combat
Plus, the ground game isn’t solely about fighting. Star Trek Online may not be up to The Secret World investigation mission standards, but there are several surprisingly trickly and thoughtful missions that require thinking, deduction, and puzzle solving. The other day I was doing that mission where you’re on a space station in the past, trying to get a part for Scotty. That required me to order a specific nerve tonic for one of the NPCs, and to do that I had to grill Scotty about drinks she had ordered in the past and figure out what combination might work today. It was a little silly but also something that woke up my brain instead of spamming “1” over and over.
6. The locales are more varied than most of the space zones
STO does all it can to keep its space zones looking interesting, but let’s face it: They are a lot of empty space with pretty backdrops and objects floating around. The ground zones have a visual advantage, offering a lot more variety and visual density. We get to visit space stations and planets and labs and abandoned tunnels and the like. It helps to reinforce the notion that you’re actually going to very different places and exploring the wide galaxy.