Treat Perfect World Entertainment as a discounter publisher of MMORPGs. A small number of better-than-nothing quality games with a free-to-play business model behind and the money dribbles in via the numerous options to buy cosmetic ingame stuff. I think it is a great way to have a large number of players access and try out the game, and if it satisfies you, pay for it to your own leasure and get some extra pimp to support your vanity.
Having played Neverwinter, I found it to be a nice little game of this kind. But it could not really capture me for a long term, due to a rather bland story about a lich queen attacking the city of Neverwinter and a very dragged-out game play experience. My dwarven guardian fighter is somewhere around level 30 when I started to get a headache, assaulted by all those currencies and item options, which are not really options but just your usual level grind experience. No, thanks.
Star Trek Online suffers the same problem, but a bit less pronounced. And it has space combat, coupled with planetary third perpective combat. So I can enter a little bit and acutally play a game and try to ignore at best the level-grind elements. A perfect fill-in until Elite: Dangerous has developed a bit more!
I have by now developed a Romulan chick with pink hair, level 36, just having saved the new Romulan homeworld from an assault from an alien invasion fleet. And I have started a level 14 human starfleet commander. Prussian, to be correct. Sub-Lieutenant Mark Brandis rivals Vulcan ideals of discipline and logic, and the German reader probably recognizes my blunt copy of the hero from a famous teenager science-fiction novel series.
The game mechanics feature a kind of top-down map based space combat, with some strategic choices between hard-hitting cannons, which need some more maneuvering to get into firing position, wide-angled beam arrays, full-360´-turrets and torpedoes, which hit hard on armor and hull but are stopped by 75% by your Star Trek typical energy shields. The shields are split into four facing directions and need to be taken down individually, which requires you, besides auto-shooting and getting into firing position, to switch positions now and then in order to avoid hull damage and show a still "fresh" broadside to your enemy. I do have quite some fun with this more tactical approach, as opposed to the piloting-perpective in Elite: Dangerous. Besides shooting and maneuvering, you can also activate abilities, part your own, part those of your bridge officers (cutely abbreviated by players as "boffs").
Ground combat consists of the average third-person perspective, nothing special about it. Well, laser pistols instead of crossbows, a few melee swords and klingon-chunbackus (or whatever they call their weird mixed form sword-staff-axes). No pause to play, since it is an MMO and you can join teams with other players.
Nice also the need to actually administer a part of your big spaceship, including from 200 to 1600 crew members, of whom you are interacting with, chosing from a pool of around 100 duty officers ("doffs", funny) up to 20 of them to also buff (doff, baff, paff, rofl) your combat performance on ground and in space.
The game is difficult to access. As a forum member wrote in one of the many player-made guides, which you will definitely need to get into the game; besides a little tutorial and the screen where you can buy Zen for real-money, nothing is really explained.
The story captures me a lot more than that of Neverwinter, not necessarily because it features some very well done tie-ins with the Star Trek series. Yes, you can encounter most of the characters known from the movies, and the stories around them are well done and on par with any CRPG out there, but I admit I am not that kind of a geek about Star Trek. I just enjoy a science fiction setting and story with a little bit more complex take on mechanics and tactics.
My two characters focus on the two main styles of space combat. The Romulan commands a stealthy highly maneuverable "tactical" warbird, two heavy disruptor cannons, two photon torpedo launchers in the front, turrets in the aft-section for close-angle high damage attacks. The Starfleet Officer steers a slow-turning mighty cruiser which can absorb a lot of damage and relies on wide-angled beam arrays to whittle the opponents down. When one style of combat starts to bore me, I switch character.
Ground combat is less interesting for me, probably because it is already a well-known and overly played experience from other games. However, the odd well done ground mission still manages to capture me. There was for example one in the bowels of maintenance tunnels of a space station, with a very horror movie like atmosphere; you are literally haunted by what turns out to be a holo-persona driven mad by computer viruses, right along with a spectre-like race of transdimensional aliens. However, it goes right over the top, you even have to travel back in time and fend off the aliens right alongside with Scotty and Bones. And it gets downright ridiculous when in the middle of it all,you suddenly have to spend your time finding out about the right mix for a drink of some ex-affair of McCoy in order to calm her down and give you a piece of equipment, which is required to save the whole crew. Yeah, well. Some good, some bad. Back to space combat.
There is some space pvp maps, however when I entered the only one which I was actually able to find, it was full of borg cubes to defeat, and no enemy faction to be seen during all those about 20 missions I repeated in there.
Still, I like and consider it refreshing to the traditional fantasy settings or fantasy-sci-fi mixes out there. It is a kind of a purist approach. Also, it makes partially more sense to me to find/salvage a technological more advanced equipment, say, a mark IV phaser beam array with improved targeting systems, for a space ship than, a Diablo-style leather-armor of painful punishment with more armor rating than a full-blown standard plate mail. Talk about suspension of disbelief. It is somehow easier on you in a sci-fi setting, I think.
I am also a little bit back in the "old days" of CRPG, when you still had to steer and manage a full party and imagine their interaction amongst each other, which was fully perfected in games like Baldurs Gate or Neverwinter Nights. Here, I have my trusted first officer, my science officer piping in with scientific mumbo jumbo, and my engineer who is always ready to throw in a fix to a problem. I can equip them with armor and weapons, choose their skills, too, well, the old days.
Well, that is just a first impression and motivations about this game. So far I can say that Star Trek Online is better than I was led to believe by many a review or discussion. I am playing it now since end of August, while eying each new newsletter from Frontier for actual news on Elite: Dangerous, fully ready to come back once they fixed that stupid gimbal laser bug on my Anaconda and added some more interesting game elements to the current "Space-Trucker" core experience.