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Captain's Log: A look into the future of Star Trek Online

Ryan Greene

Hello again, everyone! Welcome to another installment of Captain's Log, our weekly dose of Star Trek Online goodness. I trust you all had a fine time with Captain Trout last week, learning about the Klingon beginner's experience. While you were gone, the lovely engineers on the U.S.S. Bob Wiley have installed a brandy new graphics processor, so we're back up and running!

Cryptic Studios have had a busy week or so with STO. First came their big push to welcome back players, which included a free weekend for lapsed subscribers. Then came the exciting news of Cryptic's development plans for the next three months. And today saw the release of an update to Season 1.1, which includes much-needed Memory Alpha improvements and the somewhat-delayed fourth Special Task Force mission, Undine Terradome. I want to take this opportunity to highlight some of the incoming content that could make this the summer of STO -- and to ponder a few roadblocks that might get in the way.

What to look forward to

Between today's patch release and Cryptic's latest Engineering Report, STO promises some quality upgrades on the horizon. Fans of the game now have a solid idea of what to expect through July, from minor UI improvements to huge chunks of content.

has its detractors, no doubt, and I haven't been shy about airing my own concerns from time to time. This summer presents Cryptic with the perfect chance to add swaths of new content and to quiet some of the naysayers. And with a certain Nameless Behemoth's next expansion expected sometime in the fall, the next few months could prove critical to STO's future. So let's see what Craig Zinkievich and company have in store for us.

1. Crafting Improvements

Oh. Thank. Goodness. I am so glad crafting has finally seen some major changes. This very morning, Cryptic released an update to Season 1.1, one of the main features of which was the crafting overhaul. They didn't fundamentally alter the mechanics, but the UI improvements alone elevate Memory Alpha from the teeth-grindingly obtuse mess it was before. I won't go into the improvements too much -- Shameless Plug Alert: See next week's Captain's Log for a basic guide to STO crafting -- but suffice to say I am very pleased.

2. Starship Interiors

According to last week's Engineering Report, STO will feature playable starship interiors come July. Cryptic have been throwing this idea around for months, and frankly, I didn't really think it would happen. At least not this soon. I imagined ship interiors would turn out to be a pipe dream (a Jefferies tube dream?): something the players would so love to see and the developers would so love to implement ... eventually. Maybe. At some point.

But if Cryptic's timeline holds, ship interiors will be available a lot sooner than that. Specifically, the Engineering Report promises:

  • Curved Federation ship hallways
  • Smaller Federation hallways (non-combat versions)
  • Player ship interiors
From the sound of it, STO will include both mission-ready and strollable vanity interiors. I have no idea whether interiors will be customizable, but we've got a while to wait for more info. Klingons are maybe getting the shaft on this feature, too, unless they just don't believe in hallways. But the addition of starship interiors is a pretty enormous win all the same.

3. Diplomacy

Y'know how in most episodes of Star Trek (pick a series, any series), Federation officers don't spend nearly every waking minute blowing stuff up? And y'know how in STO, they do? The game's dearth of diplomatic endeavors has distressed diehard fans since day one. But Cryptic will offer some relief in July with the planned introduction of the Federation Diplomatic Corps. Again, details are forthcoming, but it sure sounds promising, doesn't it?

4. Season Two

Season One introduced a heaping helping of new content, and it looks as if Season Two will do the same. In addition to starship interiors and diplomacy, STO's second mega-patch is set to include all sorts of awesome stuff.

  • New skill point cap
  • Klingon episodes (finally!)
  • A new high-level sector
  • Into The Hive, a new STF
We can also look forward to new off-duty uniform pieces, new enemy types and ship designs, and even wildlife creatures. Okay, I don't actually care about new critters, but the rest of it is gravy.

5. Veteran rewards

As part of their recent "hey, everyone, look at STO!" blitz, Cryptic announced the rollout of veteran rewards. For every 100 days that they subscribe, players will receive a handful of different rewards. Each set of rewards includes a new title and a skill point boost, and other rewards include respecs, character and starship slots, and costume pieces. I can't wait for my 400-day vanity yacht!

Incidentally, STO fans who have subscribed since the game's Feb. 2 launch have just hit the 100-day mark, so be prepared to claim some goodies soon (presumably from the C-Store, as with other special unlocks):

  • The title "Stalwart"
  • Free respec
  • Free Veteran badge costume piece
  • A 2-percent boost to skill points for you and your Bridge Officers

Worried about the welcome back weekend

Lest I paint too rosy a picture, I'm not all thumbs-up on STO at the moment. Sure, the veteran rewards are nice, but their announcement coincided with a multi-level effort to attract new and lapsed players and to retain current ones. A downloadable demo will introduce interested gamers to STO's initial missions. A referral program encourages current players to talk friends into joining. And this past weekend, Cryptic reactivated closed subscriptions for a few days of free play.

None of those measures is new to MMOs, and maybe Cryptic are wisely implementing them sooner rather than later. But maybe they're already worried about something. Jack Emmert, Cryptic's Chief Operating Officer, said in March that STO had 100,000 subscribers, a smaller number than some expected. And a free weekend to woo back old players seems premature for a 3-month-old game, doesn't it?

And a misplaced priority in a pear tree

Enough baseless speculation, because I have a genuine bone to pick with Cryptic's development plans. Their latest official poll asks players which playable faction they would like to see added to STO.

Argh! I've mentioned this before, but the issue of adding new factions drives me crazy every time. In my opinion, Cryptic need to focus on making the game deeper before they make it wider. Klingons need gameplay -- yes, they're finally getting episodes in July, five months after release -- and more ship customization. The end-game needs work. Cruisers need to turn faster (just sayin')! What players don't need is a third-rate faction eating up developers' time and thinning out the content spread even more.

But then, with all the updates coming with Season 1.2 in May, Season 1.3 in June and Season Two in July, maybe many of those issues more will be resolved. New Klingon and high-level content is on the way. Episode replay and weekly missions are coming. Even the highly advanced technology of sitting in chairs is on the horizon! As the cliché says, only time will tell.

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