I finally got around to buying a modern phone, upgrading my Galaxy SII to a Galaxy S6 Note Edge. With the upgrade in tech, I've finally started trying out some of the free-to-play mobile games that are flooding the market. I had already played SimCity Buildit on my previous phone, but its poor performance and bugs held me back from bothering with any other games on that old SII. But now that I have a new phone, I wanted to try the Star Trek-themed game Trexels.
Star Trek games are few and far between, and good ones are virtually unheard of. Probably my favorite Star Trek game ever was the Windows 98 4x-strategy game Birth of the Federation, which was basically just a Trek reskin of Microprose's Master of Orion II. It wasn't the most technically proficient of games, and the A.I. blatantly cheated, but it was a game that captured the essence of Star Trek by being primarily about exploring the galaxy and colonizing new worlds. Most Trek games are content to just be reskins of shooters or space combat games, which always feels out of place. So Birth of the Federation, despite its obvious flaws, has always stood out to me as a game that really felt like one of the most appropriate uses of the Star Trek license for a video game.
Finally, a Star Trek game that's about exploring space, rather than just shooting things!
And that brings us to Trexels, a free-to-play mobile game that is about exploring space while developing the skills of your ragtag crew and completing the construction of your ship. Sounds like a Star Trek-worthy premise. At least it isn't a first-person shooter. You start the game with a mostly-empty ship and handful of crew members. Your task is to build infrastructure in the ship to allow you to acquire new crew and harvest resources (including "command point", "research", "power", and "dilithium").
To boldly grind...
Resources are harvested by assigning crew to work the relevant rooms, and then you wait some period of real time for the crew to complete the assignment so you can collect the resource. You spend your accumulated resources to build new rooms in the ship, train your crew to increase their ability points, and attempt missions. Completing missions rewards you with experience and ... more resources? So it's kind of circular: you spend resources to attempt mission, and then are rewarded with some of the resources that you spent.
Your crew harvests resources from specific rooms, and other rooms unlock abilities and power-ups.
You also gain general experience, which doesn't really do much other than to unlock new expansion slots for rooms in your ship. Virtually everything you do gives you experience, so you level up fairly quickly. I always have way more available expansion slots than I can possibly use due to the slow rate in which you acquire resources. Once you get past the very first few missions and room-construction, the game really starts to turn into a slow, slogging grind. New missions get very expensive very quickly unless you're opening the app every five or ten minutes to collect resources and re-assign your crew to create more. Without that level of compulsive play, it will take days to accumulate enough resources to do virtually anything. Unless, of course, you spend real money to buy more resources.
You can also grind out some excess resources by playing a skill-based shooter mini-game. Here, you shoot down asteroids and space debris with the ship's phasers. Each piece of space debris drops a glob of resources for you to collect. Some pieces will even drop rare and valuable dilithium! This feature is useful for when you're just a few points short of something that you want to build or do, but you'd have to play for hours straight if you wanted to pay for a whole mission or build project.
You can grind a few extra resources by shooting down space debris. You might even get dilithium!
There's very little - if anything - that you can do while you wait for resources to be harvested, and it's very hard to pipeline different missions or tasks since I was rarely ever able to afford to start more than one or two missions, build project, or skill training at any given time.
These are the dull voyages of the starship Trexelprise
The actual missions don't do much to save the game either. You'll get a sector of space to explore that has a handful of planets or anomalies to explore. You start by sending out a probe to "explore" a location first (which costs resources). Then you perform a chain of missions at the location (each mission costs resources).
There are a few different types of missions. Some will require you to simply select a couple of your reserve crew members to perform the task in the background. Their success is determined by a random number generator that is influenced by the crew members' ability in the respective skill (diplomacy, science, engineering, or combat). If they succeed, you get XP, skill points, and resources and unlock the next mission in the chain. If they fail, then you have to start over, and one or more crew members may get injured and have to spend time recovering in sickbay. The difficulty of the mission doesn't even decrease if you fail, so you're only hope is to keep sending your reserves to the Starfleet Academy room to train their skills (which costs resources).
Grinding your crew through the Starfleet Academy skills trainer is the only requirement for some missions.
Each character also has native traits that affect their ability to complete these missions and makes certain characters innately better at certain roles. These cannot be changed, and their roles in the game are not very well explained. I wasted a bunch of time trying to grind a couple characters' diplomacy skill up in order to complete some missions, but still couldn't make a meaningful difference in the probability of success because those same crew members had traits that negatively affected their diplomacy mission success.
There are also some default characters that have native traits that make them poorly suited for the very roles that they are assigned to perform. Janet Donnely, for instance has an "aggressive" trait that negatively affects her engineering mission performance, despite the fact that she's an engineer. This doesn't decrease her chance of success, since the negative modifiers apparently only affect the danger level of the mission. It adds some nuance and maybe even a bit of personality to the character by making them a liability in the area that they are supposed to be specialized in, and so you need to be aware of these traits when developing your characters.
Engineer Jenet Donnely is a liability
in engineering missions.
And you can't assign your currently active officers to perform these missions, either. This forces you to constantly shuffle your active officers and reserve officers in order to find the characters that best meet the criteria for a mission. So there is a modest personnel-management system going on. But since active officers don't seem to do anything, I don't understand why this distinction is even made, and it just feels like even more senseless busy-work.
Another mission type usually requires one of your crew to use some facility on the ship in order to complete a task - usually some kind of examination of an artifact or something. They might go to the sickbay to examine an injured alien recovered from a planet, go to the sensor room to scan something, or so on. These missions basically just require that you have the prerequisite room(s) built (building rooms, of course, costs resources). So if you have the resource requirement to start the mission, and the room exists, then you just wait for the crew to finish his or her task. They will usually have to perform a chain of tasks in different rooms in order to complete the mission. Aside from building any room(s) that you don't already have, this mission requires no active participation from the player.
Can away missions redeem the game?
The last mission type is an "Episode" or "Away Mission". This requires that you take your captain, first officer, and two more crew of your choice through a series of playable mini-games. These mini-games are probably the most boring and tedious element of the entire experience. They can range from scientific examinations, negotiating with aliens, repairing mysterious devices, to performing ship battles or phaser fights on a planet surface. But every one of them plays the same: colored blocks appear on the screen, and you tap them to collect them, then spend them to perform a task.
Away missions frame themselves as puzzles, but really don't require any thought at all.
The scientific, diplomacy, and engineering mini-games are all functionally identical. You collect blue blocks until you have enough to use an ability that progresses a status bar. There is also a "danger" bar that slowly fills up and ends the mission if it fills up completely. You can spend your collected blocks on a second ability to reduce that danger meter back to zero. If you don't fill the progress bar before a timer runs out, the mission also fails. Other abilities unlock as you build more rooms in your ship, but I honestly still haven't figured out what any of them does. I've made it through almost every one of these missions by simply collecting the blue blocks and filling the main status bar. I've only had to ever discharge the danger meter once or twice. So these are very simple and very tedious.
Combat missions are a little bit different. You still collect blocks and spend them to perform actions, but there are two different blocks now. There are red blocks that power up your weapons and blue blocks that allow you to heal. When you power up your weapons, you tap an enemy target to fire phasers at it, which damages or kills it. In the meantime, the enemies will fire at you and do damage to your crew. You'll have to spend blue blocks to heal.
Combat missions have attack abilities and heal abilities, but are still functionally similar to other missions.
Since the attack and heal abilities are fueled by separate sources, you don't have to think about whether you want to attack or heal. You just do either action as soon as you collect enough of the respective blocks to perform it. So once again, there's very little thought or strategy to combat - at least not early on. It's yet another boring, tedious, time-sink of a task.
Not interested in Trexel's strange new worlds
And that's basically the whole game! There are some missions that unlock special "guest characters" from the show that can help you on certain missions, and every now and then you'll be prompted if you want to spend real money to buy characters from the show or cosmetic improvements such as new uniforms from the different series or movies. It's all just cash-grab stuff. You can also watch in-game advertisement videos in exchange for resources, which, considering how slow resources are acquired, is almost necessary to progress!
The art style is very simple and cutesy, and I want to give the game credit for at least trying to be about more than just shooting bad guys with phasers. But I just don't like the game at all. Everything is just such a tedious grind with so little reward. I think I even preferred SimCity Buildit over this game because that game at least had the challenge of managing your limited inventory to keep your supply chain and economy running. If you didn't have the resources to build or upgrade something, it was usually the result of your own mismanagement. In Trexels, it's just because you haven't grinded enough because everything consumes the same resources!
Maybe, later in the game, it might get better once you have more infrastructure and crew to work it. But just getting to that point takes so long and is so uninteresting that I don't think I'll want to play long enough to get to that level and even find out. Trexels doesn't do anything to make space exploration seem exciting, interesting, or worthwhile in any way. It just makes exploration seem like a dull, tedious slog of busywork. It's just one more bad Star Trek game in a long, sad history of bad Star Trek games.
Strange new worlds don't seem as exciting as you'd think...