When Star Trek Online launched it’s “Season 7” content update featuring New Romulus, I checked it out. After about an hour of wandering the new alien planet and performing a tedious series of six quests featuring objectives composed of nothing more than ‘click 25 things and come back”, I clicked out, never to return. It was while getting back in to STO several weeks later during their winter event I felt compelled to try the New Romulus stuff one more time. Yup, still just more ‘pick this, scan that’. Beam me up, Scotty.
Much to my surprise, I stumbled upon a whole new chapter in STO’s ongoing story revolving around the devastated Romulan people and the shadowy machinations of their secret police force, the Tal Shiar, buried in the interface used to equip my ship and crew. How did I miss all this new content? Twice? I’m such a dunce. let me explain how straightforward it is to get to:
Remember that series of six ‘fetch 25 things’ quests? Those earn you Romulan Marks (Not to be confused with Fleet Marks, Omega Marks, or any of the other dozen or so currencies now gracing Star Trek Online’s ludicrously cluttered metagame). Once you’ve racked up a few dozen of these Romulan Marks, you are expected to turn to the all-new fourth tab of your equipment and skills screen. Ya know, as opposed to the Mission screen you use to get all the other missions. There you must select a sub-tab for the Romulan stuff and assign “projects” to one of three available slots, complete with dire pop-up warnings that anything you do on this byzantine, instruction-less screen can NEVER be undone. Once your project is assigned, you must then manually load your Romulan Marks, along with three other wads of currency or items, into the project. Filling up these for requirements kicks off a twenty hour timer before the project is completed. You’ll need to remember to return to this buried interface because STO new saw fit to inform you when it completed and you need to click yet another button to finally and actually finish the project. Because in the 25th century computers never actually finish anything until you tell them to, I guess. This gives you Romulan Repulation. Not Marks, just Reputation. Thankfully, these seem to file themselves in the right spot. Got it? Good. Because you need to repeat the whole process again and again and until you score enough Romulan Reputation to gain a Romulan Reputation Tier. Or rather, until you have the opportunity to gain a Tier. First you have to assign, fill, and wait through an upgrade project that can ONLY be assigned to your third project slot. Gaining a Romulan Reputation Tier is explained as granting your captain a new ability and store unlocks, but not missions. Surprisingly, it does, in fact, quietly insert a mission somewhere into your voluminous quest log (already cluttered with with half-complete tutorials and reoccurring daily missions) pointing you to the next chapter of the story.
I know! It’s so obvious! How could I ever have missed it?
Until recently Star Trek Online has be easy to point out as one of the most straight-forward and comprehensible MMORPGs available. Quests and missions are easily selectable from a menu, transporters prevent ever having to backtrack through a conquered enemy base, and the sci-fi miracle of subspace communications means never having to track down a quest giver in person. So why on (or off) Earth would a title so geared towards accessibility dedicate its latest expansion towards taking a giant leap backwards to emulate the jumbled mess online RPGs used to be rather than confidently striding forward knowing that they’ve mastered what their contemporaries are only now coming to terms with?
Perhaps that is the real Romulan conspiracy to uncover. Whatever the reason, it’s a shame. Speaking for a family of gamers who are very fond of STO, we look forward to a new excuse to boldly go where no one has gone before. Previous seasons provided new story arcs dished out in TV-style weekly episodes that had us all saddling up our star-faring hoopties to unravel the mysteries of the universe and looking to plant a photon torpedo between the eyes of the bad guys. It was a grand event in the classic tradition of family game night. Scanning rocks and clicking menus for 30 minutes every night just to ensure the game was ready for all of us come the weekend just can’t cut it. I mean, Arkham Horror is easier to setup! I understand the need for persistent online game worlds to have ‘time sinks’ for the grind-happy hardcore crowd, but this is traditionally reserved for the +2% endgame gear min/maxing MMO junkies crave, not story beats complete with voice acted cutscenes more casual customers come looking for. While recent MMORPGs like Guild Wars 2 have made huge strides is allowing player to adventure together anywhere at any time, Star Trek has seen fit isolate every player under ‘game mechanics’ more at home in a Facebook game. Except Zynga let me pay to skip the 20-hour timer…
Sadly, I am out of time to ponder what exactly went through the heads of the designers over at Cryptic Studios with the release of Star Trek Online’s Season 7: New Romulus. You see, there’s the politician that is so totally being set up by Sinister Forces and only I can save him. But only after I pick enough glowing flowers to trigger another seven 20 hour progress bars for Mark or Tiers or Tribble Filled Chimichangas or whatever bloody thing it takes to save alien politicians. It’ll be a tough job for Eee Mou and the crew of the U.S.S. Nom Nom as we’re going it alone on this one. You see, no one else in my family is stupid enough to grind through all this monotonous crap to save him.