I’ve held off on posting on this one-even though it’s been Live for a while now-because I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it. But at the least, it’s worth commenting on, so here goes. I’m going to talk about the Reputation system-and its recent changes in Star Trek Online.
The origin of the whole thing can be found in the Fleet system, when the game introduced Fleet Holdings. A fleet could build its own starbase-and later, other holdings like an embassy on New Romulus. However, to build it up, you had to complete Fleet Projects, and a lot of them. The cost was usually in a special currency called Fleet Marks-which you could gain from fleet actions-in addition to items of various types which you could buy for energy credits, and of course, heaps of Dilithium (which, as players of STO know, is the currency which you can effectively buy for real money as well as grind for). Naturally, the requirements got higher and higher with each tier of the holding.
The developers liked this so much, apparently, that they introduced the Reputation system, basing it hard on the Fleet Projects. For MMO players, it’s not really anything new. The requirements aren’t so ugly for the Reputation Projects as they are for Fleet Projects, but that’s because the Fleet Projects are meant to be done by an entire Fleet, while the Reputation Projects are single character. And this wasn’t all that different from, say, faction grinding over in World of Warcraft, for example. As you got higher in Reputation with a faction-which, at this time, includes Omega (Borg), Romulan, Nukara (Tholian), Dyson (Voth), and Counter-Command (Undine). I’ll leave out the special Event Reputation at the moment, since that’s a different sort of grind and isn’t impacted by recent changes.
Now, each of these Reputations have various tiers. Originally, as you completed each tier, you opened up the ability to purchase specialized equipment (for Dilithium, naturally), or start a new project that created even more specialized equipment (like starship equipment sets), which cost Dilithium and more. Also available upon finishing a tier was the choice between two passive abilities; depending on the tier, it would be two space traits or two ground traits. The top tier was a special one, though, because it opened up a new active power you could use.
Mathematically, you can see where this is going. For each reputation, you would get four special traits and a new power. Going on as things have, you could conceivably have 20 new traits, 10 each of ground and space, and 5 active abilities. (Okay, technically 16 and 4, because the Counter-Command Rep came about with the changes in place.) And each new Reputation added-and there will be more, because the devs love adding Reputations like mice love cheese-you would be getting four new traits, and a new active ability. To say that this might be unbalancing probably doesn’t do it justice.
So the devs decided to do something about it. It’s worth noting that in another game, Cryptic did something similar once, which really drove the players bats. They called it the Global Defense Nerf, in City of Heroes, because the Defense traits were just TOO good. But it made a lot of people very unhappy, and I understand that there was a definite migration of people out of the game at that time. (It was before my time in CoH, so I never knew life before it.) I don’t know that this is on the same scale, but it’s hard to see it as anything but a nerf-but at the same time, it’s made things more…interesting.
Now, instead of having all those traits as passives, you have to choose which ones are actually active. In other words: where you might’ve had sixteen traits to work with, you now have eight: four space traits, four ground traits. For active powers, you can choose to have four active; no real change there, since there were only four active traits until the new publish with these changes which adds a fifth. (The screen above shows the “regular” traits that were revamped a ways back, and don’t really enter into this post.)
Any way you look at it, that’s a pretty hefty nerf. But things get a little more interesting, though; after all, if that was all the devs did, it would be pretty hard to motivate anyone to do any more Rep grinds. So what they have done is eliminate the choice: where before you had to choose one trait from two choices per tier, you now have access to both. And you can swap out traits for free-so instead of having sixteen passives, for example, you have a pool of sixteen traits of which you can select the eight best suited for your current needs: four for space, four for ground. So you’ve received flexibility to compensate for power.
Is it a good tradeoff? That’s a good question. After the initial uproar about it on the forums, I don’t see nearly as much posts about it. It’s possible that people have accepted that an ever-increasing number of passive traits active all at once wouldn’t be good for the game; it’s also possible that they’ve found something else to be angry about (STO excels at that sort of thing). I’m not entirely sure that it’s done the Reputation system much good, though; I’ve found myself less motivated to do the Counter-Command rep since a) there doesn’t seem to be any story behind it like the Romulan and Dyson reps as you achieve each tier, b) I’m not horribly impressed with the traits that I’d replace the ones I’ve got active now with the new ones, and c) the top tier doesn’t have much to motivate me. The second one is the biggest obstacle for the Reputation system, going forward: if the traits aren’t as good or better than the ones available from previous Reputations, why would someone bother putting in the effort for it. The equipment offered during the Reputations will have similar issues: if they aren’t better, or suit a specific playstyle, why would someone bother with it?
The dev rationale for all of these changes was to curb the power-creep (at least keep it from being worse than it is with their constant lottery-ship releases-guess they want you to pay for power-creep). But I feel that this will only cause the power-creep to adapt, because players won’t do something in the game if they don’t see any benefit to their characters for it. If existing stuff is better than the new stuff, and there’s nothing else to it, why bother? And so the power-creep will continue…just in a new form.