That question made me pause in Star Trek Online; my character was asking this of the Romulan mission commander in the Season 8’s main attraction, the Dyson Sphere in the Delta Quadrant. Seems innocuous, right? Surely, everyone in Starfleet knew of the the events in Star Trek: Voyager, even though it was 30-ish years ago in the timeline.
Thing is: the person asking that question so instinctively was my Klingon. While I’m sure that the Klingon Empire was more than aware of that event, it seemed odd that this would’ve been the first reaction of a Klingon. I could’ve bought him asking “Is the Borg anywhere nearby?” or something along those lines, but the trip of a vessel of an enemy power? Now, I just shrugged this off at the time, but it did start me thinking about the problems that STO has with the Klingons-or, to be more honest about it, multiple factions in general.
Cryptic’s first game was City of Heroes, as readers will recall remains near and dear to my heart. (Almost one year ago, too. I’ll reflect on that around that time.) It was a pretty simple premise: you make superheroes. They fight bad guys. Just that simple. But later, they put together a stand-alone expansion sort of thing: City of Villains. The intent was to have them separate except for a very specific meeting area which was neutral ground, or in PvP areas where the heroes and villains could do what heroes and villains do best: beat each other up.
But even at its launch, it seemed that the villains didn’t have as much content as the heroes, for a stand alone game. Part of this is probably because of the very significant head start that the heroes got-CoH had been out for quite a while and had a number of publishes fleshing them out further. One would have assumed that once the villains had a number of publishes under their belt, they’d be on a par with the heroes. But that ignores a central reality: the same development team worked on both CoH and CoV. They couldn’t exactly completely ignore CoH to bring CoV to an equal status. So as time went on, the developers worked on content that benefited both sides. For systems, it wasn’t bad. For lore, well…. Truth is, a common complaint from those who swore by villainy was that their characters were too often being put in “save the world” situations. Sure, it’s in their best interests-can’t rule the world or do villainous sorts of things if the world is conquered by someone else or simply demolished. But the reality was that they were being forced into situations where they’d have to act heroic-and there were never situations where the heroes would have to act…well, unheroic. Eventually, this changed a little with the morality missions and the like, but all that came after Cryptic headed off and left CoH to NCSoft. (And in full disclosure, the development of the joint content was pretty much after Cryptic left, too-on the other hand, they had been formerly with Cryptic, so the general mindset is probably still valid.)
The next game rolled out by Cryptic was Champions Online. It’s probably important to note that there is no “villain side” there. And given the lack of attention in CO, it probably wouldn’t happen even if they were inclined to do so.
That brings us back to STO. It’s pretty clear to me that the KDF faction was an afterthought. Maybe the intent was to have it as “monster play” like seen in Lord of the Rings Online, but the supporters of the game during beta kept pushing hard for a KDF faction. Eventually, Cryptic announced it would happen-but the leveling process of the Klingons would be through PvP, not through the usual traditional methods. All the story work and PvE stuff was focused on Starfleet. This was so much of an issue that when the game launched, you couldn’t have more than a few characters in total (a couple more if you were a Lifetime Sub), and you couldn’t roll up a Klingon faction character unless you’d gotten to level six with a Starfleet character and/or finished a certain mission.
So the Klingons were crippled on day one as far as potential population goes. Sure, a PvP only faction sounds like a PvPers dream, but that really doesn’t work in practice if the other side could care less. There was the interfaction PvP, but that really didn’t do it for them. And for people who liked Klingons, but didn’t like PvP, it was just-and I really hate to use the phrase, but it fits-a slap in the face. They got a limited amount of PvE put in with Empire Defense missions, but the surest way to advance was still PvP missions.
By the time STO went freemium, the KDF had gotten some PvE missions. Mostly by virtue of the Feature Episode series, but they did get some minor Klingon arcs-no more than two or three missions per arc, and there were three or four of those. Still nowhere near parity with Starfleet. And when the game did go freemium…the whole rules on how to roll a Klingon changed; the devs recognized there wasn’t enough content for a leveling experience from 1-50 (or 6-50, as the case may be) and put the Klingons as characters who started at level 21. This effectively removed the lower level ships from the game at that point. It wasn’t until the game got to Legacy of Romulus when the Klingons were finally given a leveling path from 1 to 50; the late game for them was pretty much identical to Starfleet’s, except with Klingon spin in the dialogue. (To be fair, it was pretty similar to the Romulans as well, introduced at that time.)
Cryptic seems to have issues with two faction games; I’m not entirely sure why. Other game companies seem to do a reasonably good job of it. WoW is obviously the leader here, but then, they’ve got oodles of cash to throw at the game. Star Wars Galaxies (and later The Old Republic) didn’t seem to have huge problems in that arena-although as a sandbox, SWG didn’t really NEED heavy factional content until the NGE made it less sandboxy. EVE Online has four different factions-or heaps, if you include the player alliances; still, most of the ships in the game are supplied by the four empires, so you could look at it in that way. Clearly, it is not impossible to develop a game with two points of view. But Cryptic never really seemed committed to that, and it shows-even in minor bits of dialogue like this post’s title.
And it goes beyond simply story. There is still a huge disparity between ships in the C-store for Starfleet and the Klingons. Looking at STO Wiki, when I peek at the number of ships Starfleet has at the Vice Admiral level (not including Fleet ships) compared to what the Klingons get, the numbers are depressing: 20 for Starfleet…7 for the Klingons. Hell, even the Romulans have 10. The developers hem and haw, saying nobody buys Klingon ships.
Gosh. I wonder why. I suppose hamstringing a faction for years couldn’t possibly have anything to do with that. And by ignoring the problem hoping it will go away…yeah. That works well. The Romulan players will be getting into the act too, once the shine starts to wear off and they realize that they aren’t the favored child either-particulary since their ability to use an allied faction’s ships ends at tier 4; the tier 5 vessels must be of their own faction (something that actually makes sense, lore-wise, but is going to cause issues in gameplay eventually).
The devs do have the point that you don’t need special ships from the store (and I’m not even looking at the lockbox ships, usable by either faction-I consider that a wash) to play the game. You can do every mission with the ships in the game that aren’t even C-store ships. But as long as they keep making shiny good stuff for Starfleet and leave scraps for the Klingons (and soon, the Romulans); as long as the story in the game keeps assuming Starfleet characters even if they aren’t members of Starfleet; as long as the non-Starfleet faction keeps being pushed to the side, there will continue to be a perception of a major disparity.
Oh, and it’s worth noting: Cryptic’s latest game, Neverwinter? Only one faction, to my knowledge. The trend continues.