Character advancement in RPG games tends to follow a predictable pattern. You start out as a lowly level 1 scrud and begin the hero’s journey of learning the ropes and climbing the ladder. You accrue fame, fortune, and delight in the dopamine drip of seeing that level indicator climb ever higher. Once that level counter tops out, players clamor for ever more levels and ‘end game’ material in the form of raids, PVP, and daily missions. At least, that’s how it usually goes. Strangely, members of the Klingon Defense Force (KDF) in Cryptic Studios’ Star Trek Online (STO) have spent the past three years asking for the exact opposite: More content designed for lower and lower level characters.
The Klingon Empire, along with their allies the lizard-like Gorn, telepathic Letheans, surly Nausicaans, and the too-sexy-for-their-shirts Orions, have been part of the Star Trek Online experience since the game’s original launch in 2010. Sadly, some players might never have noticed. The original release revealed the KDF faction to be more of a marketing bullet point than a feature. Klingon gameplay only became unlocked after having put considerable time in playing STO’s Federation faction. Should someone tear themselves away from the Fed side long enough to check it out, they didn’t find much. Klingon missions were in short supply and the faction as a whole was widely regarded as only fun for players looking to engage in player-versus-player combat. To compensate for this lack of content, Klingon characters began the game at a much higher level, side-stepping the leveling problems incurred by a lack things to do but making the game half over before it even started. Many players weren’t buying it. Even the allure of flying a Bird of Prey, one of Star Trek’s most iconic starships (masterfully recreated in STO to provide an experience completely unique from every other ship in the game), was not enough to pull players to the other side for long. Developers would add new missions, ships, and end-game content to the faction over time, but the experience based cost of entry and a, not undeserved, reputation for being unfinished kept players away. Fans of the bumpy-headed baddies cried out for the rights most RPG gamers take for granted: To begin at the bottom.
All that changed in May of 2013 with the release of Star Trek Online’s Legacy of Romulus expansion.
Yes, Star Trek Online’s massive upgrade added a slew of new features (Upgraded graphics, a flattened interface, new equipment categories, additional multiplayer missions, raids, and challenges, the Romulan Republic faction, etc.) but it is sci-fi’s favorite space samurai who have the most to celebrate. As new and returning players bask in ever richer loot on the quest to level 50 and beyond, the fiercest warriors in the galaxy finally get their wish: Starting at level 1.
While undoubtedly overshadowed by by the titular new faction of the expansion, Legacy of Romulus made dreams come true for the beleaguered members of the KDF. The varied races of the Klingon Empire finally take their place on every player’s character creation screen beside their Federation and Romulan counterparts. No strings attached. No prerequisites required. No head starts. New missions, ships, and a fresh coat of paint plugs the final gap in the KDF’s early game content. Gone is the tedious walking tour of Qo’noS’ First City that passed as a tutorial. In its place is a new, voice acted adventure that had your character climbing the ranks to captain Klingon-style during a prisoner transfer gone wrong. In addition to new missions, earlier ones have been rewritten, rescripted, and generally overhauled to provide more drama and better fit with STO’s newly expanded expanded-universe fiction. Freshly indoctrinated lowby characters will soon find themselves at the helm of a B’rel class Bird of Prey, a design most widely recognized from Kirk & Co.’s rechristened HMS Bounty in Star Trek IV and formerly only available as a $20 top-tier ship. The opening act has fledgling warriors teaming up with Worf and Alexander to thwart a conspiracy to destroy the House of Martok. Need more? You got it! What’s the best companion in any RPG? Yup, KDF captains are getting a dog! Well, jackal-mastiff. Sliding down the power curve has never been so appealing.
It is one of the strangest stories in gaming. A player base given a free ride to the top clamoring for ever more low level content. Now, after three years of incremental upgrades, the virtual armies of the Klingon Defense Force can hold their heads high and sing, “Noobs at last! Noobs at last! Thank you, Cryptic! We are noobs at last!”