I was going to start this review of Battlestar Galactica Online (free) with my best Colonel Tigh "frakkin' Cylons!" impression, but when I went to create a character, I saw that Cylons got bonus XP, so I joined the Toasters. If that sentence didn't make much sense to you...don't worry. If you like blowing stuff up in space, you don't need to know a lot about Battlestar Galactica's complex and often contradictory lore to do it. No one reads quest text for MMORPGs, anyway.
A really quick Battlestar Galactica summary: Cylons are sentient robots; they rebelled against their human masters; the surviving humans are fleeing through space; and both sides like to shoot at each other a lot. This game sets aside the series' complex interpersonal dramas, philosophical and moral debates, and ruminations on the human soul to focus entirely on things going kablooey.
So, as a Cylon warrior, I had fairly limited choices in character customization--some blast damage and armor color changes were about it. However, unlike World of Warcraft or similar games, you spend very little time in Battlestar Galactica Online walking around or dancing. Further, Cylon players seem limited to the metallic Centurion "Toaster" option, not the humanoid "Skinjobs," so there's not going to be any Number Six/Boomer naughty emoting going on. Once the initial choice was done and I had given myself the stunningly original name of "Talos12", I hopped into my Raider and started doing tutorial missions. (In the show, Raiders fly themselves; in the game, Centurions pilot them.)
The first such mission set up the premise for BSG Online. A large chunk of the Cylon and Colonial fleets is sucked into an unstable sector of space, where they must establish bases, mine for ore and fuel, and blow each other up. It's a decent enough way to wedge the necessities of an MMORPG into the show's storyline, I suppose. Other tutorial missions show you the basics of targeting, combat, and mining. Well, sort of. The tutorials could use another pass at polish; I usually figured out what I was supposed to do, but much of that was by hovering over buttons until I got a popup. Other parts of the game, such as the purchase and upgrade system, I just stumbled into.
Purchase? Oh, yes. Apparently, you need to buy advanced weapons, armor, and other systems, as well as better ships, which offer different combat options (speed, firepower, survivability). You buy your upgrades and new ships with currency you earn during missions, such as tylium ore. This is sort of akin to having Air Force pilots pay out of pocket for their planes' fuel and missiles. It's a necessary game mechanic, and getting new gear is always a drive in persistent world games.
Battlestar Galactica Online also includes a skill system which owes more than a little bit to EVE Online, in that you improve skills solely by expending time--click a skill book, and wait some number of minutes, and, ding! You're better at shooting guns, even if all you did was wander around the hangar bay. It is not necessary to pay real cash simply to advance your character, though that is an available shortcut.
You can take on missions from various characters, or you can just jump into space, bring up the map, and jump to a nearby system where some action is going on, and, if you're a n00b like me, be instantly vaporized. BSG Online players can mine asteroids, establish bases, and otherwise seek to expand their side's territory at the expense of the other. You can also upgrade beyond fighters, to escorts and even larger vessels, all explained via the game's backstory of finding "unknown" ships in this sector of space.
Battlestar Galatica Online still has some rough edges. There are places where item names are bugged, so you will see something like "Weapon_Object_Ranged_5" instead of "Kill-O-Zap Blaster". Humanoid animations are very basic. There's no voiceover from the series characters (at least not so far), which is a real shame when you're in a licensed game like this--I'm sure some of the actors involved could have used the work.
It is often difficult to review an MMO on the basis of limited play, and as the game changes, old reviews become out of date. Battlestar Galactica Online offers a fairly rich experience, especially for a browser-based game, but it will need to add content quickly to avoid becoming stale and repetitive . Space is a pretty dull environment, no matter how many glowing clouds you add to the screen. EVE Online thrives due to its cutthroat PVP and deep, deep, deep, economic and crafting models. BSG Online is probably not trying to clone EVE, but it needs to add similar depth.
Battlestar Galactica Online is free, though, so there's no risk in playing it until you get bored, then diving in again later on. There is a cash store, and while I did not play long enough to need to use it, cash stores and PVP are a dangerous mix, as they can allow victory to go to the deepest pockets, not the fastest guns. This, too, is something to watch. In the meanwhile, hop into your Raider or Viper and go blow someone up.