Using the term 'game' to describe Star Trek Online is really pushing the definition of that word to its outer limits. Most games have some sense of challenge to them, some potential for failure in order to keep things interesting. Even MMOs, with their lax attitude towards character death, usually at least try to make the content engaging, varied and difficult enough to disguise the grind at work behind the scenes.
STO has none of that. For all the pretty colours and fancy ship models on display, there is no challenge on offer. The much-vaunted tactical ship combat very quickly becomes a basic case of flying in circles pressing 'fire all' when the countdown timers run down, and since there's no death penalty worth a damn, there's simply no reason to worry if you get blown up as you'll just re-spawn 10 seconds later and jump back into the fray at full strength again.
This is attrition gaming at its worst. You never fail to progress, it might just take a few re-spawns to get there (although even that miniscule threat is practically eliminated when you're in a team), but any progression you make isn't going to come about through any displays of gaming skill or tactical nous, you just hang on long enough, pushing the same two buttons when they light up and eventually you'll be an Admiral.
It's not even as if the enemies offer any threat. When they're not getting themselves stuck inside scenery (a very common bug), they just go through their one party trick (throwing out mines, cloaking for 10 seconds, whatever) while turning around in circles around you, waiting to explode.
On the ground it's no better. In fact, it's far, far worse. For all its flaws, ship combat at least somehow manages to offer a smidge of interest with the four-sided shield system (although don't be fooled into thinking this is a 3-D game - that's yet another illusion. Like Khan, STO displays very two-dimensional thinking).
When you're planetside, STO manages to capture all of the worst aspects of MMO gaming from the last five years - tiny zones, limited variety, the same three or four character models being used over and over again, little in the way of effective communication tools, overly confusing on-screen cues, no strategic gameplay and again, nothing in the way of meaningful challenge.
Ground missions do make some attempt to capture the flavour of the various TV shows, but again, only by referencing Star Trek touchstones. The gameplay boils down to either shooting your way past loads of enemies in order to press the action key on a particular mission goal, or just running around empty landscapes, pressing 'scan' five times when you're told to. No challenge, no thought, pure grind.
I can't say this enough, with sufficient stress or in any more effective a font: Star Trek Online is not a game. Not by any measurable yardstick. Neither is it an effective online social space (the other vital component for any decent MMO title), as it offers little in the way of communication tools, player meeting spaces or guild functionality.
There are occasional flashes of inspiration - I genuinely like the auto teaming aspect when you enter a mission area for instance; this addresses a typical MMO bugbear of pick-up grouping - but there aren't enough of these touches to warrant setting up a monthly drain on your bank account.
So, with all that having been said, there is left one niggling question - why, for all the many, many, many faults on display here, do I keep wanting to return to the thing?
Star Trek Online does one thing well - just one thing, but I've found that for many people, that one thing is enough: it provides enough fanboy service to help the diehard Star Trek fans look past the fact that the game is beyond terrible.