Further Changes Coming to Star Trek Online
A decade ago the MMO genre tended to favour quite complex game systems. It is what the playerbase expected and allegedly preferred. But tastes and prevailing trends change over time. Plus game developers often see a change in staff and alterations in their creative visions. Hence over time, game systems can become unwieldy, esoteric and frankly annoying. So when a decision is made to refine, rationalise and improve these systems, it can be a complex task to undertake. Furthermore not only are there the practical and logistical realities of having to tackle ageing code, there is also the choppy waters of community relations to navigate. Because regardless whatever you seek to change, there will always be those who will oppose it and consider it an outrage perpetrated upon them, comparable to the Peterloo Massacre.
For years a common facet of the MMO genre has been factions. A new player made a choice when creating their character to affiliate to a specific faction which would permanently separate them from those who were aligned differently. It makes narrative sense in some respects and certainly suited the prevailing genre attitudes of twenty years ago. But thing change and although some people really dislike that fact, nowadays such dogmatic attitudes towards factions have softened. The One Tamriel update did away with the faction driven regional boundaries in The Elder Scrolls Online in October 2016 and the game is arguably better for it. However, one of the biggest obstacles facing the removal of factions in other games is often lore. And that lore becomes even more immutable when it derives from a third party, licensed intellectual property. Which brings us to the case in question, namely Star Trek Online.
When Star Trek Online launched in 2010, you could play as Federation officers and once you hit level 20, it unlocked the option to play as a Klingon. However, that Klingon alt was by default at level 20. It took a while before this changed so that players could level a Klingon allied character and play though a unique backstory. Over the years other factions have been added to the game including the Romulan Republic. Although there has been a degree of sharing assets and resources, lines of demarcation have remained. Romulan ships can only be used by Romulan characters. The same policy has been maintained for the Klingon Empire. However, Cryptic have decided to remove this restriction from the Romulan faction, as part of their ongoing updating and modernising the game. Cryptic are also overhauling the events service within the game, which up until now has been part of the wider reputation system. The UI is to be amended and event progress is to be tracked as a subset of the mission journal. Instead of working like reputation projects which require daily input, the new interface will display an experience bar. Progress will also be account wide for those players with multiple alts.
Both of these changes seem very reasonable at first glance. The first question most people have asked is whether this restriction will also happen with Klingon ships? Sadly, it would appear that rights holders CBS, have some very particular caveats in their license arrangement, so the answer is “no” for the present. However, being able to fly a Romulan ship on my Federation character, is an interesting proposition, as they have some stout vessels with good stats. From a financial point of view (some would argue Cryptic’s default position) it opens up a whole new range of ships to buy. This change is also a shot in the arm to the Admiralty system, as I can now add more Romulan vessels to my deck. But some players would argue this change comes at the expense of class identity and the relevance of factions per se. STO was initially created around the traditional trinity of DPS, Tank and Healer with its Tactical, Engineering and Science classes. But this has long been abandoned in any meaningful sense. The additions of factions in recent years has also been half hearted. None are truly independent and at some point in levelling, have to ally with either Starfleet or The Empire.
You can argue that there’s a lot to put right in STO. The game still has a lot of bugs, many of which have persisted for years. Cryptic seem to be tackling matters in a somewhat erratic fashion. The current streamlining of the game has seen the loss of The Foundry, older missions “temporarily” removed from the game for updating and Tier 6 ships level scaling so they can be used immediately. Some of these things work, other do not or are a loss to the game. I have never felt that there has been adequate promotion of the Romulan, Klingon or other faction storylines in STO. The game is very much focused on the Starfleet perspective. Cryptic has stated that the numbers show that most players are overwhelmingly Federation orientated but if more effort had been made to promote and maintain the other faction’s storylines and resources, would things have been better? I’d argue that the Romulan Republic story arc is the best in the game from a narrative and lore perspective.
I cannot help but feel that Cryptic have pursued whatever can be added to the game, at the expense of what is already present. The Kelvin Timeline is not exactly popular with core Trek fans yet it was dovetailed into the game. And no sooner had they released the superb Deep Space Nine themed expansion, Victory is Life, it was dismissed and they went hell for leather with the integration of Star Tre: Discovery related content into the narrative. I suspect that they may have a rabbit to pull out of the hat regarding Star Trek: Picard. But that doesn’t bode well for the return of classic missions like City on the Edge of Never and others, which are awaiting a makeover. I applaud Cryptic for trying to bring STO up to the standards of modern MMOs but I’m not sure about the route they’re taking and whether they be able to achieve their goals with their “tinkering”. I also would like to see more narrative content delivered more regularly. As ever, time will tell. Unhappy players vote with their feet sooner or later.