Captain's Log: Star Trek Online's expansion and communication

We're hard at work developing stuff, some of which will come off as tone-deaf.
So we finally know what the next expansion is going to be for Star Trek Online, and my speculation regarding the Xindi and points related turned out to be way off. Nope, we're heading into the Delta Quadrant, which is less interesting to me than the Gamma Quadrant, but I suspect the powers that be are exploring all the angles of existing content first. It's coming with a level cap increase, a new tier of ships, a bunch of new tricks, and apparently some bonus communication misses.

Delta Rising is really on track to be a pretty divisive expansion anyway. It was inevitable, really; raising the level cap now was going to lead to problems no matter how it was handled. Unfortunately, Cryptic Studios hasn't done a great job communicating what's in the works for players, nor have the first few things that we've heard exactly countered some early suspicions. It was a minefield that's thus far been navigated largely with a push and a blindfold.

I look forward to learning more about this ship; it looks like the Federation is baking some of the Dyson ship ideas into its ships of the line.Let's start with the obvious problem: the communication gap for the expansion title. Star Trek Online's expansion was revealed at the start of August at the Las Vegas convention, and fans waited for an official announcement to trickle out. This took place... on August 7th, four days after the convention was over, well after most of the people following the game online had heard about it. Rather than coming out of the gate swinging, the team seemed content to just let people speculate in silence.

Then the reveals actually started coming out, and that's led to the most recent issue with communication. We've known that there will be new Tier 6 ships for captains to pilot, which was inevitable and both a good and bad thing. We've still heard nothing about how one acquires a Tier 6 ship (that I've seen, anyhow). But we do know that Tier 5 ships can be upgraded... if you spent real money on them or they were part of a special promotion. The upgraded ships are strictly worse than the Tier 6 ships and also cost more real money to upgrade in the vast majority of cases.

I understand why this announcement was timed in the fashion it was. But this has two problems, starting with the fact that unless I missed some big reveal about the Tier 6 ships, what we've been told thus far is that players can either pay money for a Tier 5 upgrade or pay even more money for a Tier 6 ship. Not to mention that most of the cool stuff from Tier 6 ships doesn't carry over to Tier 5 ships. So my Patrol Escort Refit got five whole months before going obsolete.

The second problem is that no matter how many times the developers say that the new tier is not mandatory except for the hardest content of the game, it functionally is. The best that you can provide is a City of Heroes-style power ceiling wherein the 60 endgame is balanced around Tier 5 ships rather than even Tier 5 upgrades, and then you need T5u/T6 simply because they're far more powerful than the endgame is balanced for. The assurance feels hollow. Either starship traits are useless, or they're useful enough that T6 becomes much better than anything below it.

And again, in fairness, this was always going to be a problem with raising the level cap. There was no way around it. After having a set level cap for this long and an entire endgame built around that cap, players were always going to have a hard time when that cap was broken. I can even understand the philosophy that the current endgame tier is bloated and cumbersome and that the developers want to improve things all around.

Starfleet guidelines recommend against shouting enjoy while ziplining on an away mission.Still, at the moment, a lot of players -- including me -- are a little put out at the idea of paying more money for ships just to stay in the game. I'm looking forward to exploring the Delta Quadrant, but I think it could use a few more communication passes and some distinct improvements before we go live. Yes, I totally get that this is a source of revenue and that's important, but this move is more harmful to the customers already providing a stream of revenue than the people just popping in for free.

Other than ship issues, honestly, what we've seen so far looks keen. For one thing, I'm interested in the way that the Delta Quadrant provides a contrast to the other parts of the galaxy. The four quadrants, loosely speaking, all have a different governmental influence, but the Delta Quadrant is the one without a strong leader akin to the Federation, the Romulan or Klingon Empires, or the Dominion. This is what space looks like when no one sets down a rulebook, and it's not terribly pleasant.

I'm also super happy to see the Vaadwaur show up, since they're one of my favorite Delta Quadrant races. They're pretty hostile, but they don't have the sheer strength necessary to bully everyone to their side; in a region of space with the Voth, the Borg, and even the Kazon, that puts them in an unenviable position.

The specialization system is a nifty idea, albeit one that raises the question of whether or not we need another 10 levels when they're not going to be levels in the strictest sense of the word. It's also a great chance to sort of wipe the slate clean and start in again with a different equipment setup, using some lessons that have been learned about the existing level 50 endgame.

I really do hope that the developers were joking about Harry Kim getting only one promotion. If the series finale can give him the big chair, so can STO.

I don't mean to be negative, but the entire year has been building up to this big addition to the game. This is the last level increase we're likely to see, since going to Fleet Admiral is already kind of ridiculous. I'd really like that road to be a pleasant one rather than a song with several jarringly off-key notes.

As always, feedback can be emailed to eliot@massively.com or left below in the comments. Next month, I'm sure we'll know more about the expansion and what's coming, so tune back here for more pre-launch speculation, discussion, and irritation.

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Massively, as recorded monthly in Captain's Log by Eliot Lefebvre. Its continuing mission -- to explore strange new game systems in Star Trek Online. To seek out new content and new experiences. To boldly go where many captains may or may not already be going, but they seem to be having fun, right?
This article was originally published on Massively.