|Dev: Cryptic Studios|
|Pub: Perfect World Entertainment|
|Release: May 21, 2013|
|Players: 1 (MMO)|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes|
by Robert VerBruggen
Cryptic Studios and Perfect World Entertainment could not have picked a better time to debut a fresh expansion for Star Trek Online. Legacy of Romulus is almost guaranteed to get a bump from Into Darkness, J. J. Abrams' newest film based on the franchise.
But is the new, improved Star Trek Online good enough to hook new players and maintain existing ones? Based on my early experiences with the new material, I'd say it is.
Legacy of Romulus provides a fairly standard MMO experience in many ways, but it sets itself apart by offering a unique Star Trek story, well-done voice acting, and gripping space combat. Throw in the fact that all the new content is free-to-play -- with purchasable enhancements, of course -- and you have a game that deserves to live long and prosper.
Before this expansion, Star Trek Online players had a rather limited set of story options. The Federation was the only available faction at Level 1; you had to unlock the ability to play as a Klingon, and the Klingon characters you created began at a higher level. Now, the Klingons are available from the get-go, with a new tutorial and some missions added to provide a smooth leveling experience. More importantly, the expansion features an entirely new faction as well, the Romulans. At last, Star Trek Online feels like a fully featured MMO, instead of a starter kit for a bigger experience.
I rolled with the Romulans, seeing as they're the hot new thing. For those of you who don’t know Star Trek from Star Wars, the Romulans splintered off from the Vulcans centuries before the events here -- while the split wasn't violent, the Romulans didn't want to head down the Vulcans' logic-oriented path. The Romulans settled on the planet Romulus; Remans, a related group that appears in the expansion as well, settled on nearby Remus.
Unfortunately, Romulus and Remus have been destroyed, and refugees from the planets have dispersed throughout the universe. The evil Tal Shiar seek to unite the Romulans under one banner by force, but you will play as a member of the resistance, rescuing refugees who don't want to be part of the Tal Shiar and fighting back. Once you play through the new Romulan content, you'll choose whether to ally yourself with the Klingons or the Federation, and then you'll play the rest of the game alongside your new friends.
The gameplay in Star Trek Online is divided into two different types. Sometimes, you'll be acting as the captain of a starship, maneuvering through space and directing your crew to attack the enemy. At other points, you'll leave the ship to explore planets, equipped with the usual handheld weapons of the Star Trek universe.
The action on the ground will be very familiar to anyone who's spent a few hours with World of Warcraft (or any other MMO, for that matter). While the combat takes place in real time, it doesn't have the feel of action -- you just click on enemies to direct your character to attack them, and then you engage your special abilities as often as the cooldown timers will let you. It’s kind of like Diablo from an over-the-shoulder view.
I won't sugarcoat it: This can be boring. World of Warcraft is about a decade old, and many of us didn't find its combat all that intriguing to begin with. It doesn't demand careful thought like a turn-based RPG or sharp reflexes like an action game; instead, it's a clumsy hybrid of the two that mainly requires you to figure out the attack pattern that maximizes your damage-per-second statistic and stick to it. Sure, you have to be careful not to trigger too many enemies at once -- and hardcore gamers can discover a lot of nuance, especially when it comes to PvP tactics and high-level dungeon raiding -- but it’s really not for everyone.
Fortunately, the combat is much, much more interesting in space. While the ships move slowly, there is a great deal of strategy involved -- you can cloak yourself and go in for a sneak attack, and many of your weapons will fire only in the direction your ship is facing. Romulan ships are each equipped with a singularity warp core, which charges until it can unleash a huge attack. With this expansion, all non-Romulan ships will receive warp cores as well.
MMOs aren't just about the combat, of course -- they're also about the addictive character-building experience. Legacy of Romulus excels here, albeit mainly by taking the WoW model and giving it a Star Trek-themed makeover.
Over time, you'll acquire massive amounts of gear, as well as crew members and skill points. The skill trees, which have been revamped for this expansion, are ridiculously expansive -- you can create a character with any combination of perks you'd like: from high weapon damage, to an uncanny ability to use grenades, to a variety of less exciting but equally useful skills. Of course, the occupation you choose at the beginning of the game (engineer, science, or tactical) will strongly influence your choices as you beef your character up.