Legacy of Romulus hit Star Trek Online like a sledgehammer on glass-and STO’s hardware seemed to have been on the wrong end of that. Despite the usual messes that plague major launches, it seems that the game is beginning to settle down, and people are already moving forward with advancing their Romulans in the game.
I’ve managed to get through the Romulan content at this point, including the stuff I didn’t get to mess with while the expansion was on the test server-which is to say, everything that happens after the Nimbus series. And what I’ve seen has impressed me. Without going into specifics: your character begins as a colonist after the destruction of Romulus a couple decades ago; the Romulan Star Empire has been undergoing a slow collapse, held together primarily by the will of Empress Sela (yes, that Sela for TNG fans) and the Empire’s secret police, the Tal Shiar-with the big name there being a charming guy named Hakeev (yes, that Hakeev for people who remember the Romulan Feature Episodes in STO).
It’d be a pretty boring career, though, if you just played colony-building. The name of the game is STO, after all, not MULE. (Let’s see how many folks get that reference.) Thanks to the intervention of the Tal Shiar and a mysterious-and apparently powerful-alien species, you wind up propelled off of your colony world and into the birth pangs of a new rival government: the Romulan Republic. Of course, the Empress doesn’t exactly greet this Republic with open arms….
Some of the details are predetermined. You know you can’t kill off Hakeev, for example, because the Romulan Feature Episodes dealt with his fate-along with Sela’s. You are looking for a new homeworld to base the Republic, but not only has it been around since the last Season release, it’s on your map as “New Romulus” even before you get there. But there’s plenty here to fill in blanks, and there’s plenty of intrigues as well: because your prime opponent is the Tal Shiar, you can expect to be targeted for treachery or turning-and you will engage in that yourself.
It’s already been talked about elsewhere on the whole “ally with the KDF or Starfleet” thing, and I won’t hash into that too hard. I will say, though, that while the later missions-the ones that take place in Beta Ursae near Deep Space Nine and later-are headlined by the hierarchy of the characters of the two “major” factions, they do recognize that you aren’t actually in their chain of command, and you do tend to look at things from a Romulan perspective-albeit one that has chosen to work with said factions. So even though your activity with the Romulan Republic goes into background until you get to the Vice Admiral level stuff for New Romulus, it’s still present.
This storyline has caused a bit of a rift in the players of STO interested in the Romulans, though. There’s a pretty vocal segment who are aghast at this story-they’re the ones who were interested in playing as the Tal Shiar, working with the Star Empire instead of working against it. They decry the Republic as “just a generic race”-that the Romulans were never portrayed that way.
So, I’m probably gonna offend them when I say, “so what?”
Let’s leave aside the prospects that societies can change dramatically in the course of decades. Let’s look at the Klingons for a minute. If you go by how the Klingons were portrayed (and we’ll also ignore that they were portrayed VERY differently in the Original Series), you’d say that they’re all about battle, conflict, fighting. If that were a fact, they’d all have starved to death because nobody would’ve had the brains to think about food. (I suppose there’s always cannibalism…) Someone has to do the farming; someone has to learn how to build stuff-and clearly, they did, because you can’t have an Empire without that. Likewise, if all the Romulans did was scheme and intrigue and backstab everyone, there wouldn’t be enough people loyal to an Empire to start one. We’ve seen everyday Romulans in the Unification episodes of the Next Generation; shockingly, they aren’t a monolithic culture. What we see in the series is, honestly, a minority-starship captains and politicians.
The Romulans aren’t any more shoehorned into their roles than Starfleet is in their missions. Or the KDF, for that matter. There is no obligation for you to follow the storyline for the Romulans after you get to level 10 (the general area when you choose an allegiance to the KDF or Starfleet); at that point, you can do your own thing by going to the patrol missions or exploration missions, for example, or simple PvP; none of these require you to follow the storyline, and in fact, this was how the KDF lived at launch (except without the exploration or patrols). In fact, if you want to get really technical, once you’ve made your first Romulan and done the tutorial, you don’t even have to do that. It’s a safe bet that the Foundry will soon have a heap of Tal Shiar-aligned missions in it by players with the creativity and skills to make them. In fact, if you want to minimize interaction with the episode structure, I’d say the would-be Tal Shiar player would just need to run maybe two missions: the one that brings you to the point of choosing an allegiance, because player experiments show hideous game limitations if you don’t actually make a choice; and the one that begins an infiltration of the Tal Shiar (because that allows you the costume parts for a Tal Shiar uniform and the IRW prefix for your ship instead of the RRW prefix).
By playing the episodes, whether you’re Starfleet, KDF, or Republic, you’re consenting to being shoehorned into the story developed by Cryptic. If you’re looking to be something else, it’s your choice. Speaking for myself, I enjoy the idea of the Romulan people trying to take this chance to get out from under the thumbs of manipulation by politicians and treachery from the Tal Shiar. I wouldn’t object to seeing more underhanded activity taken by the Republic-old habits can reassert themselves-but I’ve got no issues with being the good guy. And hey-I’ll bet real money that there’s a number of RP fleets in the game who have made the other choice and are doing their best to serve the Star Empire even in its weakened state. The episode structure is only a set of shackles if you let it be.