That's right! Star Trek Online is celebrating a birthday this week. (OK, it actually happened last week, but who's counting? You there -- stop counting!) We here at Massively like to check in on our games every few months to reminisce about the past, recap the present and ruminate on the future. Let us away!
Regular readers should be pretty familiar with the drill by now. This is the part where I talk about the rough-and-tumble early days of STO.
The folks at Cryptic released STO on February 2nd, 2010. Reactions were mixed, as players and Star Trek fans found themselves torn. The developers had gotten a lot right: starship combat, the often gorgeous graphics and abundant fan service. But they had missed the mark elsewhere: repetitive missions, disappointing exploration and diplomacy, and bland crafting.
Oh, and the Klingon Empire was a bit of a mess. Developers were promising more factions even though they had stuck the Klingon faction with PvP-only gameplay.
Even so, STO was a stable, fun change of pace from fantasy MMOs. Every MMO has its problems getting out of the gate, and the folks at Cryptic approached their game's growing pains with aplomb.
March 2010 saw big changes arrive in STO when Cryptic introduced end-game Special Task Force missions and Season 1: Common Ground within a few weeks of each other. The former gave high-level players some dungeon-like group excitement, while the latter ushered in a host of improvements to the game. Those upgrades included respecs, new uniform options, PvP interface upgrades, new fleet actions and some PvE content for Klingons.
The additions also set the tone for future updating, somewhat easing players' concerns about the thin release content. In just a few months, STO had expanded with new missions, updated crafting and a bunch of other features. And the devs weren't stopping there.
Changing of the guard
In July 2010, STO Executive Producer Craig Zinkievich resigned from the development team pretty abruptly. We're still not sure what happened there. But Daniel Stahl, formerly a producer on STO and now the boss, has steered the ship admirably since then. Stahl's promotion brought with it a renewed focus on improving the existing game and an indefinite hold on the development of additional factions.
At the tail end of July (on my birthday, no less), Season 2: Ancient Enemies blew up live servers with a photon torpedo of awesome. The patch raised the level cap to 51, introduced minigames in the form of Dabo and anomaly-gathering, and threw Klingons a PvE bone with the Fek'ihri.
A few weeks after the release of Season 2, the developers started releasing one of the season's most anticipated facets: weekly episodes. Replicating the story-driven fun of the Star Trek television shows, weekly episodes (a.k.a. feature episodes) went live each Saturday for five weeks.
The first series led players through a confrontation with the frigid Breen, who were on the hunt for an ancient alien race. The second series, which is set to wrap up this Saturday, set loose the Devidians, a race of other-dimensional predators who use the chaos of war to cover for their crimes.
Plugged as a leap forward in STO's focus on story and Trek-ness, weekly episodes have lived up to the hype so far. They have offered varied gameplay, interesting plots, powerful rewards and something new to look forward to. They'll be on hiatus for a while, though, as the folks at Cryptic get ready to push some new content.
STO's immediate future lies in the newest season, which should be making an appearance in the weeks to come. No, the season doesn't appear on the official calendar, but the basic release window has always been very late fall or early winter.
So what do we know about Season 3? For one thing, it'll introduce the usual assortment of bug fixes and polish, which are always welcome.
Second, Season 3 is supposed to introduce The Foundry, the tools that will allow STO players to create, rate and share content with others. This thing will be a game changer. Like, literally. Every player who has ever complained about limited or repetitive gameplay will be able to jump in and craft his own missions. I can easily see STO ballooning to several times its current size, content-wise, in a matter of weeks. That assumes, of course, that the folks at Cryptic implement a set of compelling tools -- they can't get away with another undercooked effort along the lines of starship interiors -- and that they release them in a timely fashion. I do hope we won't have to wait for Season "3.5ish" before we see The Foundry.
STO has grown by leaps and bounds since it launched nine months ago, and with Season 3, it's bound to grow even more explosively. I hear from a lot more readers these days who have happily resubbed in recent weeks and months, and I expect that trend to continue in the near future.
But beyond Season 3, what do the developers have in store for us in the months (and years) to come? In the latest Ask Cryptic, Daniel Stahl offers some possibilities, including further Memory Alpha improvements, expanded bridge officer crews and streamlined currencies. He also mentions Romulans as a playable faction (sigh) and the future of functional ship interiors (yay).
And, of course, a free-to-play business model could be in the cards for STO someday, too.
I know I say this every time, but the future of STO is bright. Really, it is. User-generated content? Sustained storytelling? Major updates every few months? STO is getting better all the time.
Less trustworthy than a Ferengi loan shark and more useless than a neutered Tribble, Ryan Greene beams Captain's Log straight into your mind every Thursday, filling your brainhole with news, opinions and reckless speculation about Star Trek Online. If you have comments, suggestions for the column or insults too creative for Massively's commenting policy, send a transmission to firstname.lastname@example.org.