“Sir, we’re picking up a warp signal. Federation ship exiting warp at coordinates 122 mark 265.”
“Raise shields. Full power to phasers. Helm, take evasive maneuvers!”
I cast my eyes around the bridge, watching my crew at their battlestations. Security Chief Worf manned the tactical position, whilst Captain Picard worked the communications terminal. Seated to my right was my first mate, Defiant Commander Worf. Yes, my bridge crew included 2 versions of Michael Dorn‘s lovably dour Klingon warrior. Such things are not uncommon in Star Trek Timelines – a universe being torn apart by chronological anomalies.
Star Trek Timelines casts its players in the role of a ship captain, with a mission to investigate and correct a host of chronological and alternate universe rifts and tears in the fabric of reality. You will put together a diverse crew, spanning almost all versions of Star Trek, and lead them in story quests, space battles, and away missions as you try to correct potentially reality ending problems.
Your game begins with a skeleton crew and a Constitution class Federation starship. A map of the universe will show you areas with quests, with most locations having several missions that make up a semi-complete story arc. Upon arriving at your destination, you will be given some story background prior to deploying your crew.
There are 3 different mission types. The most common type has you deploying crew to assist a major character in the effort to correct the timeline. These missions give you a branching left to right path through the events of the mission, with several different nodes placed along each route. Each node represents a crucial action taken by your crew, will have a required skill check to pass, and may have other requirements, such as requiring a particular keyword. As you progress along a route, you will choose the crew member that has the best chance of defeating each particular node event on the route. Captain Picard is adept at Diplomacy and Command challenges, for instance, while Chief Medical Officer Beverly Crusher would be a good choice for Medical challenges.
Characters on tap here come from all the myriad Star Trek series out there, including the Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager, the cinematic universe, and Enterprise. You will add to your starting set of characters by using the time portal store to buy packs which may contain characters. Packs can be bought with both in game currency and real world dollars.
Characters have a number of statistics, including skills, keywords, ship ability, and rarity. Skills include Diplomacy, Command, Security, Science, and Medical aptitudes. All characters will have one of these, with higher rarity characters having 2 or maybe even 3 skills. Keywords, by comparison, are much more varied, having in excess of 20+ keywords. This includes racial keywords (think Klingon, Human, Cardassian, Romulan, and the like) as well as occupational terms like Doctor or Investigator, and descriptive terms like Prodigy. Keywords are sometimes required to for a character to participate in a specific node challenge.
Once you pick a character for a specific node, the game compares the character’s skill to the challenge of the node. Characters use their base skill number plus a range (think of this as a virtual pool of dice that are rolled and added to your skill check). If they complete the challenge, they either progress to the next node, or complete the mission if they are at the end. Failure of a node often makes future challenges harder. Failure of the final node basically scraps your run, leaving you with nothing to show for your efforts.
Completion of challenge nodes rewards players with equipment for their crew. Completing whole missions opens forward progress to the next assignment. Each mission has 3 levels – normal, epic, and elite. Each mission that you complete with 3 stars will unlock the next level of that mission. Stars are awarded for finding all the rare equipment in a mission, which is easily denoted by a star maker on nodes that still contain rare gear.
Characters level up through play as well. This is accomplished in a 2 part system. Crew gain experience by completing missions. At every 10th level, the crew “advances” to their next stage. In order to do this, all of the character’s gear slots for that 10 level window must be filled. Gear can be obtained during missions, or crafted. Gear also increases the characters base stats, as well as the range added to each value during a challenge. Higher rarity crew also have a “star” rating. This ranges from 1-5, and all characters start at 1 star. Common characters have a 1 star maximum, and each higher rarity adds 1 to that max value. Star level is actually increased by combining 2 identical characters. This fusion will give a stat bonus that is added based on the character’s level, and will give that bonus retroactively for all levels earned on that character. Legendary crew top out at 5 stars, and you are honestly unlikely to see them reach that point without plunking down some cold hard cash.
Ship battles are also sprinkled throughout your adventures. These encounters are played in real time. Each ship will have a number of positions to deploy crew, and deploying the right crew to the right position gives some great bonuses. Ships come with an ability or two, and have stats for damage output, accuracy, and evasion/shield/hull life. Each crewman added to the ship may modify these stats with their ship ability, or they may add an extra “use” ability to the ship. These battles occur in a 3D space, and look fairly nice right up till one ship explodes (the debris that spirals out of the explosion could maybe use a bit of work, but it’s not terrible).
Finally, you can also send your crew on away missions. These missions ask you to populate a shuttle with crew containing specific characteristics. Once the shuttle is manned, you send it away for a fixed period of time. Upon return, you’ll get gear and power ups if successful, or nothing if the crew failed. You do have a bar that indicates likelihood of success, so you can gauge your own risk. Each away mission is also connected to a particular faction (such as the Klingon Empire, the Maquis, or the Dominion), and will earn you influence with that faction, allowing you to unlock gear and other characters with in-game currency. Each away mission also requires a token to go on; these are often included in game rewards, or can be bought with other currency.
Sounds pretty in-depth, doesn’t it? Well, on some levels it is. I personally have rather enjoyed my time with Star Trek Timelines. I love getting new crew (I have my favorites, but there is also that nagging collector in the back of my mind that wants everything), and the stories are somewhat entertaining as well. You can also upgrade your ship or unlock new ones via game play, allowing you to cruise about in the Defiant, Voyager, or even a Borg Cube. There is almost always something that you can be doing in game to improve your standings, whether it be grinding gear for crew, or looking for that next piece to upgrade your Enterprise-D. This has kept me engaged longer than I thought it would.
Therein lies the problem, however. As is typical of free to play games, Star Trek Timelines gates off and monetizes a large portion of the game. You have an ever-regenerating pool of “chronitons” which must be spent to do almost any action. When you run out, you’ll either need to wait for them to come back, or pay through the nose for more immediately. Similarly, you will need far better characters than traditionally come in the in-game currency only packs in order to progress much further than the 3rd or 4th chapter of the game. I’ll admit, I’ve put about $40 into the game, and even playing daily, I am hard-stuck in the middle of chapter 5. I’ve got multiple high level characters at different rarities, and I still don’t have the skills to get by. The sharp curve is here by design, I suspect; the game contains numerous methods of backing you into a corner that almost requires you to make a cash purchase in order to circumnavigate them.
Monetization is really at the heart of Star Trek Timelines. While the game is good in and of itself (for Trek fans, anyways), it is simply flat out pay to win. While the “regenerating currency required to play” metric is pretty widely used and potentially considered the standard, this issue goes deeper than that. Getting specific characters with certain keywords in order to defeat specific challenges to get a specific piece of gear for a specific character is exactly as convoluted and aggravating as it reads. Beyond that, some of the monetizing packages are exactly as ridiculous and abusive as South Park has taught us. While I have enjoyed my time with Star Trek Timelines to this point, I suspect that I will not progress much further with it. I have hit the peak for crew member capacity multiple times, and if I wanted to increase my capacity beyond the 75 slots I have (collector, remember?), I’d have to plunk down something like 20 bucks to get 5 more slots. I’m also not willing to pay cash to progress past where I am stuck in the story, leaving me with just one option – walk away.
Star Trek Timelines is a great little game for the Trekkies among us out there. The stories are somewhat interesting, the “what if?” nature of the setting lets the imagination run wild, and the game sounds and looks pretty great. That said, the traditional and heavy-handed strategies employed to pull money from your wallet might have you feeling like a scantily-clad Dabo girl in a bar full of Klingon warriors drunk on bloodwine. Give it a try, but be prepared to spend a bit of gold pressed latinum if you want to make a real career as a Starfleet Captain.
Star Trek Timelines is available for free on the Android and iOS marketplaces.