For those readers who aren't familiar with my history at Ten Ton Hammer, let me get this out of the way and state that yes, I was the Community Manager for our Star Trek Online site. I helped build it, and I did do our review when STO launched in February of 2010. That said, I still have to say, "Holy crap... what has Cryptic pulled off?" because the level of polish and excitement surrounding the Legacy of Romulus expansion is nothing short of impressive.
For the first time I can remember, I'm back playing a game I left years earlier not because of any assignment, but because I was genuinely excited to do so when I heard this expansion was coming. The only thing I wanted to do when I heard Star Trek Online was originally being created was to play a Romulan. I love their stories and I really love the starships the Next Generation crew created back in the day. I just wanted to be a Romulan Commander, controlling a Romulan Warbird (the Dderidex Warbird Battle Cruiser we always saw in the show, to be exact). I may have had to wait over 3 years for the chance, but it's finally within my grasp. I still have a number of levels to go until I'm high enough to purchase the Warbird of my dreams, but one day, it will be mine!
While I may be obsessed with the Romulans and eager to play an STO expansion based on them, that doesn't mean everyone else is. So, imagine my surprise when I went to log in this morning and there was a queue. That's right - I didn't stutter. I said, "A queue". I was shocked. What 3 year old game, which many seemed to have written off as dead and gone, ever sees a resurgence of players as to justify a queue? That alone should tell you there's something here worth checking out. But enough rambling about generalities - let's get into what makes the expansion so intriguing. Minus the implementation of the coolest race ever, that is.
For starters, the character creation interface and process has improved substantially since the game went live. There is a wide variety of pre-made faces, better randomization, and better lighting all the way around. Along with having an easier time actually creating your character, you're also no longer forced to play a Federation character up to level 7 or so to unlock the other factions, as you had to do in order to play a Klingon at launch. This alone is a big step in the right direction, and its only the beginning.
The team has had over 3 years to hone their skills in episodic storytelling and, from the moment you enter the game after creating your Romulan, it's obvious they've been putting that time to good use. When I found out the Tal'Shiar are considered bad guys by the Romulan people as a whole, I was initially upset (sue me - I loved the Tal'Shiar when they were involved with ST:TNG episodes). I overcame my frustration when a mysterious new race was soon introduced and their involvement with the Tal'Shiar began to unfold.
I'm only up to the rank of Centurion at the moment, and I just got my Tier 2 Warbird, but so far the story has been engaging. The team has done a great job getting you to care about what's going on. Eventually, you will be forced to make a choice between allying yourself with one of two different factions. When this choice was presented, I sat and stared at my screen for nearly 30 minutes before deciding which one I would ally with. Or so I thought until I made my selection and the system asked me if I was sure, since there would be no turning back. Thanks! That just ate up another 30 minutes as I agonized over the decision again before finally committing. Some may read this and think, "Great, sounds like a way for the game to limit your character and waste your time." I see it as the complete opposite, however. I cared enough about my character, my crew, and the consequences my decision would have for my fellow Romulans, that I contemplated my choice for nearly an hour. I love it when a game makes me genuinely care about a decision. In terms of storyline and storytelling, the team has certainly earned a tip of the hat from me.
Not everything is a bed of roses, however. Ground combat is still less than fun or exciting. Some new changes have been implemented, including giving players the option to play ground missions in a pseudo-FPS mode. While it's a valiant effort, it's not very smoothly implemented and, at the end of the day, it just doesn't feel natural. I applaud Cryptic for trying to fix an aspect of the game that was horrifically broken at launch, but even though its much more bug-free than previous iterations, ground combat is still the weak link. The good news is that the storyline is engaging enough that the ground combat is tolerable for those short bursts when it's required.
With the exception of a few UI changes, space combat doesnt appear to have been altered much at all and, quite frankly, that's awesome. Dont fix what isnt broken. I've never been shy about my undying love for the space combat system Star Trek Online introduced when it launched, and it still stands up well. Lots of games toss multiple enemies at you, but these enemies are continually moving, firing, and attempting to get position on you. You can choose to play it slow and relatively safe by concentrating on just one target and flying around, or you can have a lot of fun by regularly switching targets when opportunity for a clear shot presents itself.
This is one aspect of the game that is relatively easy to understand and play, but incredibly challenging to master. What may appear as a strategic retreat one second can suddenly turn into a high speed daredevil hairpin turn that sends a photon torpedo up your ships right flank just after a previous pass stripped that side of its shields. If you get a group of players that really understand space combat tactics and shield control, and maneuver well together... it really is a thing of beauty.
So, what's my initial verdict based on the short time I've had with the expansion? I've got to say it's definitely worth the time to download the 6 gigabyte patch. Even if you haven't played in years like me, the new tutorial system, while not perfect, is much improved from the original and should quickly get you up to speed. Give it a try and let me know what you think. And if you want some tips on space combat, give me a holler!
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