So here's the thing about my job: Sometimes I'm in the 40th hour of a review and I just need to play something else for a little bit (or go outside). This weekend, that something else was, weirdly enough, Star Trek Online.
This was not my first visit to Cryptic's MMORPG. I've been playing on and off since launch, as I described in this piece I wrote on the occasion of its fifth anniversary. My last serious turn with Star Trek Online was back in 2012, which was about the time that it went free-to-play. I stopped playing in part because I had gone through all of the content that was available at that time, but a free starship and lots of new missions have lured me back.
The changes since 2012 are significant. There are fleet starbases to build, a reputation system that will earn you special traiits, and many, many new gear sets. The actual missions are also sharper than ever, featuring appearances from a large number of former cast members, most notably Tim Russ (Tuvok), Michael Dorn (Worf), and Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine). From a production values standpoint, Star Trek Online is finally somewhere resembling where we imagined it would be five years ago.
Funnily enough, though, I've spent hardly any of my time with those missions. Instead, I've mostly been popping in to send my duty officers on missions, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood-style, and collect the fruits of their labor. It's a fairly passive way to play, but it's nevertheless rewarding to return to your ship to find tons of completed missions waiting for you.
While I've mostly stuck to my own corner of the Federation, though, it's hard not to notice how... strange... the community has gotten. Best as I can tell, there are two types of people still playing Star Trek Online: Hardcore min/maxers who are grinding for all the best gear, and the whales who are dropping hundreds of dollars on premium ships. The latter is in the midst of a feeding frenzy of sorts trying to obtain the new Krenim Annorax Science Dreadnought, an admittedly cool ship that can be randomly obtained through duty officer packs. I can't even put the current atmosphere into words. The mania to obtain this virtual ship is bizarre.
This atmosphere, which has been stoked by Perfect World Entertainment and Cryptic since the game went free-to-play several years back, has understandably turned off quite a few people. It's ironic turn for a game based on a property in which money and materialism are supposedly a thing of the past.
Having said that, I find that Star Trek Online is still perfectly possible to enjoy without spending money on all the fancy ships. There's a great deal of solo content - at least 50 or 60 hours worth - spanning pretty much every piece of Star Trek show and movie to date. In some ways, Cryptic has actually almost gone too far into the side of fan service, eschewing original content in favor of callbacks to obscure one-off races and episodes. Their most significant contribution to Star Trek's lore is their depiction of the Iconians, and even they are grounded in a single mediocre episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Still, for Star Trek fans, arcs like "The 2800" and the battle against the Doomsday Machine are hugely nostalgic - and incredibly nerdy - forays into Trek lore, and there's more coming soon.
With that in mind, Star Trek Online continues to be one of the more interesting video game adaptations of the long-running franchise. There's a great deal to find and do in Cryptic's expansive universe, and all of it can be enjoyed from the bridge of one of the free ships, which can be obtained in-game or by joining a fleet. Alas, if you want to drop some money on something cool like the Tier 6 Resolute Cruiser that just came out, it's going to cost you. Premium ships in Star Trek Online average around $30, pretty much leaving behind the "micro" part of the microtransaction business. It's a ludicrous amount to charge, and incredibly, people pay it on a fairly regular basis. Its only saving grace is that in-game currency can be converted into premium currency, making it theoretically possible to get the cool stuff if you save enough dilithium. A lot of special ships also make it to the exchange for in-game currency, those they cost millions of credits.
It's kind of a shame that microtransactions have taken Star Trek Online to such an extent, but I still recommend Star Trek fans have a look. The premium ship mania doesn't really take hold until you've hit the level cap, which is a lot of value for what is ostensibly a free game. After that, though, be careful. Lock boxes bring only tears.
Otherwise, what have you guys been playing this weekend?