There are a lot of science fiction franchises out there, but very few people can argue that Star Trek isn’t the granddaddy of them all. There were a few precursors of course, like Jules Verne’s trip beneath the sea, and even the War of the Worlds which sparked more controversy than an appropriate metaphor, but Star Trek really raised the bar by presenting a worthwhile science fiction experience coupled with the lessons of morality that our society needed then as much as it does now. Over time Star Trek has faded from the mainstream public eye off and on, but now it is front and center, and there are two major MMO’s floating about. One of them is the famous Star Trek Online that seems to have more players than the average Vegas casino, and of course, this new one, Alien Domain which I was definitely skeptical about. In fact, while it showed up in my Facebook feed every two to three days I avoided playing it because I’ve played my share of browser games and I know what a money hungry company can do to the franchises I love. Well, I was finally asked to review this one, and I should have known the day was coming. Well, never one to complain about things, unless they are things, I suited up in my favorite Starfleet uniform (seriously) and jumped into it.
The first thing I noticed is that this game is very similar to an older browser game I used to love called Galaxy Online II. By this I mean there are two particular modes: Space and Ground, though these are a little more fleshed out than in the games of days pat. Before I get into that however I should probably talk a bit about the story. After all, it’s Star Trek right? There has to be a story. If you are familiar with the Voyager continuity then you know all about Species 8472 (as designated by the Borg), and you may know a bit about fluidic space. The story is set shortly after Voyager returned to the Alpha Quadrant, and Starfleet is interested in learning more about fluidic space, so they send a scientific team to study a singularity in normal space. Whilst they are doing all of their scicency things they find that many ships are vanishing, and you happen to be one of them. Trapped in fluidic space, you have no choice but to gain a foothold and try to defend yourself against Species 8472 who seems to want nothing more than to eat your thyroid like a potato chip.
Okay, there are a few problems with this, one of which is the concept of Fluidic Space itself. You see, according to established canon, Fluidic Space is a contained biosphere that does not expand, and everything in it is rather tightly packed. Yes, it’s a small galaxy, but you can’t just start sucking ships into it because it will fill up and there will be absolutely no room left. Okay, disregarding all of that and using suspension of belief on top of suspension of belief that already exists for the entire Star Trek universe, is this a good game? I’d have to say yes.
At the start of the game you are asked to select your character avatar as well as your race. Because this is a Star Trek game they had to throw Klingons in there somewhere, and so the Klingons are actually the only other playable race, trapped in Fluidic Space with you. It’s a little cliché, but hey, it’s a great way to introduce faction vs. faction gameplay without upsetting anyone. I kind of wish they’d thrown in a Romulan race option but it’s a browser game, so can’t really expect them to balance that out can we?
The options for character creation are limited as there are only a few portraits you can choose, and by God, apparently everyone in the Trek universe it hot now. Also, no one keeps their hair at regulation length, so that’s kind of interesting isn’t it? I also notice that the uniforms for Starfleet are the highly recognizable Next Gen variants with a few modifications to the collar to bring out more features in the women. Is it bad? No. Does it make the game more appealing? Yes. Does it grind the nerves of any dedicated Trek enthusiast? Oh yeah.
Moving past the character creation I have to admit that I was a little overwhelmed with all of the options at first but I quickly figured out what all the big scary buttons were supposed to do. Naturally as with any browser game today, much of it was designed around the P2W concept with lots and lots of VIP options and store items. I try not to judge a book by its cover and that means playing until I hit the pay wall. This, however, is something that I will address at the end of this review.
Space Above and Ground Below
Though the majority of the game takes place in space, there is of course a ground building mode. You occupy a planetoid the moment you reach Fluidic Space, though you do have the opportunity to occupy several others as you progress in the game and upgrade your technology. As you move forward you will be able to build several buildings on the surface of your planet, but it is not like many other browser strategy games where you can build whatever you want, wherever you want. There are designated spots on the ground for everything from your crystal production, your deuterium manufacturing, and even an isolinear chip factory to upgrade your ships. These buildings can all be upgraded so that they will output more resources, and upgrading your shipyard will ultimately permit you to have more ships stored at once.
We can’t forget research of course, as in any game, researching technologies will allow you to upgrade your skills, and even add some useable skills to your hotbar for combat. One thing I found very interesting was that weapons equipped to the ships could actually be fired manually in combat, and they made a huge difference, especially when properly upgraded or reformed.
There are two levels of space, one is the fluidic realm, and the other is the fluidic sector. The fluidic realm shows you an overlay of all the available sectors, including those that are still locked to you while the fluidic sector shows the sector in more detail. Each sector contains a number of areas for you to explore or sweep, and inside you will find planetoids that may or may not be occupied. If your exploration yields enemy contact, you will automatically be sent into the fray where you will need to defend yourself. Chances are you’ll win the fight but it’s really up in the air sometimes.
The game claims that there are boss battles available, but I found entering them actually pits you against other players. There is a significant balance problem here, actually. You see, as with any browser based strategy game, players are able to buy their way to the top, and true to form, there was at least one guy there that seemed to be able to smack the rest of the server like a bunch of annoying flies. It sort of put a damper on the competition, to say the least. These boss battles are only available at a specific time, and all players are invited to join, at least if they feel like shedding tears.
VIP Rewards the P2W Stuff
Is the game Pay to Win? Well that depends on what your definition of ‘winning’ is. I found that the game seems to provide a very fun casual experience with good story, albeit with a lot of filler in some cases, but if you want to take the game to the next level and compete with other players then yes, you are going to have to put some money down. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; you should always pay for the things you enjoy and Alien Domain is actually pretty enjoyable. It creates an atmosphere of desperation in a universe where there should typically be none because the Federation is pretty well established. This game creates a scenario where you are cut off from all your usual resources and your normal tactics simply are not going to work. That being said, it definitely provides something different.
Buying VIP cards in the shop is a great idea as it will give you access to more options, particularly the ability to check in on the VIP section of the daily check-in calendar. Checking in gives you rewards and you have the opportunity to do it every day – don’t forget!
There are several other VIP benefits, such as faster building times and multiple build/research queues. All in all, if you want to get ahead then yes, you will have to spend some money on this game. If you’re just looking to relax and have some mindless fun, then it shouldn’t be an issue. It all depends on what you want to do. If you want to boldly go where no browser game has gone before, this might just be your best option – at least, once again, if you can ignore the canon issues.
+ Great Graphics
+ Good Sound
-Ignores Established Trek Canon
-Too much Emphasis on Cash Store
-Not enough Picard