Friday, October 4, 2013

Back To The Future

I don't know what it is, exactly. Maybe it's that Star Trek Online is set in the Star Trek universe, which is a place I feel very comfortable in. Maybe it's all the new content we've seen in the game recently. Maybe it's the fact that I long ago became a lifer in this game and so I get all the perks paid players do. I don't know. All I know is that it's good to be back.

I've been a Star Trek addict since I can remember so when it was announced that Cryptic Studios would be doing a game called Star Trek Online, needless to say I was excited. There's so much fodder for great stories yet to be told in this universe that when lifetime subscriptions for this game became available it didn't take me long to sign up for one.

The first months of STO post-launch were great. There was plenty of content to play...until there wasn't. Soon after launch, the content updates just stopped. Players who'd been with the game since the beginning like me suddenly found themselves with nothing to do. After a while, I just gave up. As much as I enjoyed the game and the universe it was set in, Star Trek Online had become repetitive and boring for me. I sailed on for other shores.

Oh, I checked in now and then to see how the game was doing but the result was always the same, nothing new or interesting aside from a very few exceptions. Then, the kiss of impending death when STO was sold to Chinese game developer Perfect World Entertainment and went free-to-play.

Really, I thought that was it, that it was only a matter of time before the servers closed and the dev team moved on to other things. Still, as a lifer I just had to keep logging in and now and then, to see if maybe, just maybe...

I've never been happier to be proven wrong. It seems that STO being bought by Perfect World was perhaps the best thing that ever happened to it. It's like the old fire is back, the kind of creative and thoughtful writing and mission design that got me excited about this game when it was still in beta. Anyone playing this game who hasn't yet played through the Romulan storyline must stop whatever they're doing in-game and play it immediately. Yes, it's that good.

STO has gone through some major growing pains, but it's matured into something very worthwhile. Cryptic is finding that right balance between the deep lore every Trekkie craves and the action and adventure every gamer wants. It's a game that's become more than the sum of its parts, and that's a very good thing.

STO has something very few other MMO's do: A universe that even people who don't normally play MMO's want to visit. I've always wondered about the gamer/Trekkie breakdown on this game, but if you read the STO forums you know there has to be a lot of overlap.

I'd like to see STO more directly compete with SWTOR. I like both games, but SWTOR wins the production values war hands down. I'd love to see more invested in the aesthetics of STO, especially in terms of more voice acting and cutscenes. Appearances by Leonard Nimoy, Denise Crosby, and Zachary Quinto have been terrific, but it would be great to have more, especially considering that having the original actors voice their roles in STO is one area where SWTOR does not, cannot, compete (ok, who thinks Bioware's going to be willing to shell out what it would take to get Harrison Ford or Carrie Fisher to do an expansion in SWTOR?).

The great thing about Star Trek is that while official Star Wars canon is made up of just what's in those six movies, Star Trek has all the movies, all the series, most of the novels, and even all the cartoons to draw from. Plenty of stars and guest stars equals plenty of guest voice acting opportunities. There are rumors flying that Dwight Schultz, who played Barclay on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Star Trek: Voyager" is slated to appear in the major content update but so far there's no official confirmation on that.

Personally, I'm loving STO right now. This is the game I thought I was signing up for when I plunked down a pile of money for a lifetime membership and a Collector's Edition. This is the game that made me want that lifetime membership in the first place.

It's good to be back. More soon.