So here's a big warning: Thar be a few spoilers ahead! If you don't want to know anything about the story of the Romulan Republic, then you might want to avoid looking past the jump, but if you're not bothered about seeing some of Star Trek Online's upcoming content before it's released, then press that big button right down there and let's get to it.
I was able to play to level 11 (Centurion) on the Romulan faction before I needed to write this column in time to make my deadline. However, those 11 levels made up what was probably some of the most riveting, compelling, and fascinating gameplay I have ever experienced in STO. One word can actually be used to describe the story, and that's personal.
Cutscenes (although the voice-overs were not yet implemented) and rich landscapes were prevalent, but events are so different from what's available to the other factions that it's actually quite difficult not get wrapped up in all of it. By the time a climactic scene occured right before I was asked to affiliate with the Federation or KDF, I was so angry at everyone, and I mean everyone, that it took me a full 10 minutes to decide which side I would assist.
If anyone thinks that the Romulans will somehow end up catering to either the KDF or the Feds, I will now personally reassure you that I don't think it's psychologically possible. Yes, I chose an ally, but it's only for convenience's sake. My character answers to no one except the Republic.
So what are my first impressions? Simply this: From what I've gathered from the first 11 levels, this may be the best material Cryptic has ever dreamt up.
The Romulan play begins identically to the Federation and KDF. How's that, you ask? Using the character creator, of course!
Creating a character in STO will be a bit different when the expansion goes live on May 21st. The UI has changed in significant ways. While it's much easier to pick from a set of pre-made facial and body types, it's also almost too easy to pass up the entire customization process. Since computers have been in our lives, we've been trained that to get to the next step in any process we should click on the word next. In STO's character creator clicking on that word will take you out of the customization panel. So a word of warning: Don't click next until the creation process is done!
Instead, a player should take his time and click on the advanced tab, then allow himself the freedom to play with the incredibly rich and intricate set of sliders and costume options before he moves on to the new faction tutorial.
The tutorial begins approximately two weeks before the current tutorial for the Federation. A player's Romulan character first appears on the surface of a planet with a thriving Romulan colony. The colony has been in existence since before the destruction of the homeworld but has seen an ebb and flow of other surviving members of the species in the 22 years since the planet was decimated. As a matter of fact, the first time we see this colony, it's preparing for a large celebration to honor the fact that it's been so successful for so long.
It's a gorgeous planet. The colony seems peaceful without being utopian. The residents are hard workers; many of the older members were once part of the old Romulan military and aren't afraid to use their skills to protect their home. They're receiving news reports that an upstart terrorist organization is giving Empress Sela some grief. Several members of the resistance cell have already been executed. Word from the same news source reveals the Borg have reappeared in a distant Federation sector as well.
But back at the colony, the local vintner is upset and begins to harass the player to come help him. Indigenous insects, normally docile, have changed in their demeanor and the player has been tapped to go research why they're destroying the vineyard's irrigation system. The player's investigation reveals that the insects have been infected by an unknown agent. Worse yet, the player comes across a mysterious device that seems to be affecting the insects. It's deactivated and turned over to the authorities for research, just as the festival is set to begin. Then all hell breaks loose.
A monstrous vessel crosses the sky and small robots begin to snatch colonists and lift them up and away. Panic ensues, and the player is instructed to help protect the locals. Tal Shiar forces beam down and hamper the defense's efforts. Once it's set in that the colony is a total loss, your object becomes assisting with evacuation efforts.
The player's shuttle makes it to space; one of the other surviving members of the colony points out that they're keeping old warbirds in semi-useful states for emergency purposes. Seeing as though that emergency has come to fruition, the player begins the delicate process of sifting through several derelict ships to piece together one that will run with a decent warp drive and weapon system. It's still not enough for an escape as the Tal Shiar ship is far too powerful. Suddenly, the player receives an assist from an unexpected source: That terrorist organization shows up and saves his rear.
Ultimately, the colony has been destroyed. Everything is lost and everything was ruined by the Tal Shiar. The Tal Shiar have taken to killing and kidnapping innocent Romulans. Merely by defending his colony, the player is tagged as a terrorist by Tal Shiar General Hakeev. There is no choice. It's either fight the Tal Shiar or die.
The player somewhat unwillingly joins the rag-tag flotilla led by D'Tan and his military counterpart. They have grand ideas but little support. Additional missions place the player into key roles as he attempts to elicit support from other colonies. Some are successful; others are not. The player is also very instrumental in locating a planet that seems suitable for colonization.
But what good is another colony if it's just another target for annihilation by the Tal Shiar? D'Tan takes steps to have the movement recognized, formally, by both the Federation and the Klingon Empire; both factions would love nothing more than to get their hands on Romulan technology, but it all just smells like one big set-up, and both the Federation and the KDF aren't willing to walk into a trap.
What happens at Khitomer will remain a secret. It's far too good to blow for anyone. It must, I repeat, the mission must be experienced. It's the first time I got so emotionally involved in a story in STO that I had a visceral reaction to it. Cryptic knocked it out of the park, and I seriously can't wait to play this all on Holodeck! Until next week, live long and prosper!
Incoming communique from Starfleet Headquarters: Captain's Log is now transmitting direct from Terilynn Shull every Monday, providing news, rumors, and dev interviews about Star Trek Online. Beam communications to firstname.lastname@example.org.