Your weapons have limited firing arcs and in some cases, long cooldowns, so position and timing are key. Before your hull takes damage, at least one of your 4 shields must be depleted, and you can shift power between them. Consumables consist of things like engine batteries and shield batteries, which give you an extra boost when things aren't going your way.
For RPG combat with spaceships, it's a nicely implemented system that is easy to learn and fast-paced. It's also dripping with cool Trek sounds and powerful explosions. Higher tier ships hold more weapons and gadgets, so combat gets increasingly varied as you progress.
I suspect a lot of people will be disappointed not to find twitchier space battles, or something akin to the complex, simulation-style combat of earlier Trek games. Instead, this is much closer to Pirates of the Burning Sea.
Dying is of little concern in STO, because there is no death penalty; you simply respawn nearby with full health and shields. When you've taken heavy damage, suicide is often a quicker way to get back in the fight than trying to repair.
It wouldn't be Star Trek without away missions. STO lets you beam down to planet surfaces, accompanied by your AI-controlled bridge crew, to have face-to-face encounters with aliens. Ground combat resembles that of just about any RPG, although you can give your crew a handful basic orders and you can equip them to your liking. Crouching improves damage, and you can dodge by double-tapping a movement key.
Gunning down hostile aliens is a pretty routine affair, and you'll likely find yourself wishing there weren't so many of them before it's over. The ground areas are also quite small, which further dampens any real sense exploring a foreign planet. It's a welcome change after blowing up ships for a couple hours, but it wears thin much more quickly.
Starfleet has plenty of assignments to keep new recruits busy. There is a set of missions that reveal the storyline as well as repeatable quests which can involve defending and exploring designated sectors. Many missions have both space objectives and ground objectives. When you enter certain missions at roughly the same time as other players, you're often grouped with them automatically. You will rescue ships in distress, escort ships to safety, confront species 8742, save planets with medical supplies, and perform a variety of other duties fitting a Starship Captain.
Although Trek has always offered a certain amount of action, exploration is also a big part of it, and STO attempts to recreate this element with exploration missions. These take you into "uncharted" sectors with randomised planets and mission objectives, which is an enticing prospect. Unfortunately, these consist of a handful of mission templates with a few variables juggled around, and they fall sadly short of "going where no one has gone before." At times you'll complete an exploration mission in one system only to get an almost identical mission in the next.
STO also has Fleet Operations, which are essentially public quests in space for up to 20 players. People can enter or leave these instances at any time, and they typically require your team to kill certain numbers of certain types of enemies before they reset.
Missions are not the best part of STO, but they're not the worst part either. As hard as they try to make them stand out from each other, it still ends up being a great deal of running around and clicking on various glowing objects while shooting/blowing up large numbers of enemies. Rest assured that you'll see more action in your first day than Kirk saw in his entire career.
STO offers several types of PvP matches that you can queue for from anywhere in the game, much like the instanced battlegrounds in other MMORPGs. The largest of these are capped at about 20 players, and they're divided into tiers depending on your level. Right now Federation players can only play against the Klingon faction, whereas Klingons can take on the Federation or other Klingons. PvP rewards experience, so it is an alternative way to level in STO.
Klingon ships have cloaking abilities, and this has far-reaching implications on PvP combat. Science Officers have an ability that helps expose cloaked ships, giving them a vital role in these engagements.
If you find yourself in a match with no Science Officers, you may end up waiting for the enemy to show themselves. This is further complicated in Klingon vs. Klingon battles.
Because of the scant content on the Klingon side, that faction has far fewer players than the Federation side, which can mean long queue times for Federation players. The word is that Fed. vs. Fed. matches will be added soon to help resolve this problem.
Although I wasn't able to spend much time in STO's PvP, there's clearly potential here. With a few additional maps and a bit more balancing, it could become one of the more engaging parts of the game.
The Bottom Line
Personally, I would have preferred a game that took more risks and didn't stick to the RPG formula so closely. At the end of the day, there isn't much to distinguish STO from a dozen other MMORPGs aside from the Star Trek skin. Nevertheless, what it tries to do it does reasonably well, even if the final product is rough around the edges. There's definitely fun to be had in the ship combat portions of the game, especially after you've graduated to a better vessel and get more abilities to play with. For Trek fans that don't have huge expectations, STO offers some casual entertainment with a quick learning curve that can be enjoyed in short bursts. If you're looking for something more than a generic RPG with a thick layer of Star Trek frosting on it, you might want to pass on this one.