There’s a reasonably popular wargame out there called Warhammer 40K. The basic concept is that the future is a grim, dark place, and humanity is in a never-ending war against…well, almost everything out there. You would have to crawl up a substantial way to be called “bleak” there. There are no friends out in the darkness of space-only beings that want to kill you. There is only war.
The future of Star Trek Online isn’t quite that bad, but one could be forgiven if one decided that yes, it’s becoming its own brand of grim-dark. The very beginnings of the game were rooted in war-a war between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire (the Organians must be shaking their heads on that one; the two may have been destined to be fast friends, but man, the road’s been rocky). As time passed, the Federation’s found itself also fighting the remnants of the Romulan Star Empire, a faction of the Cardassian Union with Dominion allies, the Borg, and the Undine. Then they get sucked into another war over in the Delta Quadrant.
It isn’t all bad news; it’s not much of a spoiler now to say that the Klingons and Starfleet have, at least, a temporary truce while they focus on the alien beings that have been working on wrecking the Alpha/Beta Quadrants so successfully: the Iconians. And it seems that Cryptic is about ready to start pushing this story to a climax: next month, a big push is on for something they’re calling “Delta Recruitment”, in which each faction has a representative from the future come to newly created characters and gives them special objectives during their normal leveling process that will-in theory-prepare them for the war against the Iconians-who, by all appearances, are the ultimate foe. This will include theoretical special rewards (the nature of which remains mostly unrevealed). This could, of course, be problematic.
Why? Because STO, while having a heap of character slots, is not the most alt-friendly game out there. This wasn’t always true, but the amount of grinding that has to be done by any character these days has gone pretty far; reputation grinds, Dilithium grinds, and the grind after level 50 (and technically beyond 60 if you want to ever max out your Captain Specializations); and getting top-of-the-line gear is rougher, too; I imagine that fully equipping your ship with purple (very rare) gear is much more of a pain than it was in past days. My Starfleet captain, for example, is purpled out (although not with the top gear anymore, thanks to the tier jump), while my Romulan one is still using plenty of greens (uncommon). Now, there’s a caveat here: doing the alt thing is not so horrible if you don’t actually care about maxing out a character’s abilities or gear. And fortunately, I don’t-at least, not beyond “main” characters.
But I’m not exactly representative of the average gamer. The average gamer isn’t likely to want to do the Delta Recruitment grind for a whole new character from scratch, and ignore their primary “main” characters. Not unless the theoretical rewards will benefit their main characters in some way. Details are still hazy, but it does seem that there will be at least one reward that benefits all characters on the account. Whether or not it’s actually worthwhile is still an open question.
Delta Recruitment is only one part of the big changes coming to STO in the near future. Sector Space, long organized into many blocks, is about to undergo a massive revamp. Loading screens between sector blocks are about to become mostly extinct, as they are being consolidated into Quadrants: Alpha, Beta, and Delta. (The Gamma Quadrant remains mostly unexplored in STO, outside of a mission set there; DS9 will get its turn again someday…) In a way, it’ll still be like sector blocks-except they’re much bigger now, and only a couple of load-screen boundaries exist. How that’ll affect the Diplomacy reward of being able to go into opposite-faction home territory is iffy, but I suspect that reward is about to become obsolete. (Outside of getting an opposite faction bridge officer, there’s not much point to maxing Diplomacy now, honestly.)
Also upcoming-as in, next week-is a new feature episode which sounds like it’ll kick off the Iconian conflict in earnest. The STO web site indicates that this has been five years in the making; it’s time to see the payoff.
And heck, maybe at the end, we’ll actually see some exploration back in the game. “Does anyone remember when we were explorers?” Captain Picard told us in Star Trek: Insurrection. We can only hope.