The Legacy of Romulus expansion has hit Star Trek Online and with it some changes have happened to the way that the game presents itself, slight changes to gameplay, the addition more cinema and voiced narration as well as the Romulan faction. Players will also be able to play all factions starting from character creation (Federation, Klingon, and Romulan) although Federation and Klingon remain the major factions—Romulan players choose a side at level 10.

A new enemy faction, the Elachi, has been added. This enigmatic and evil race becomes an enemy faction against the Romulans—and everyone else—by allying with the Tal Shair to do as-yet-unknown things to the Romulan population. As a result, players are pulled into an episodic series of missions based on intrigue and the history of the Romulan empire and the weird alliance with the dangerous secret-military faction of the Romulan culture.

The UI in STO has also changed to better match the famous LCARS interface system seen in Star Trek: The Next Generation and onwards.

Graphics and Sound: Improvements! Noticeable texture changes and more voices

With the update to the Romulan content, Cryptic has also changed the game’s rendering engine somewhat—the game feels a little smoother, textures have more polish, and there’s even a great deal more voicing and cinematic effect. This is right in line with what Star Trek Online felt like before: an MMO that became essentially Star Trek episodes.

First and foremost, the new tutorial for Romulans and Klingons (I have not looked at Federation yet) shows that Cryptic is spending time thinking about STO as an MMO for ST fans who are looking to become part of the universe and perhaps hearken back to the media from which it arrived: the TV shows and movies. In fact, the tutorial feels a great deal like playing through an episode of Romulan Star Trek. There are a great deal of narrative and cinematic sequences, voiced and narrated elements, and a way to break up or segue between changes in environment.

The only problem comes in that the Romulans just don’t feel very Romulan—we’re introduced to them as if they’re an almost-human village trying to survive on a new planet. It’s all too much Fantasy and not enough SciFi. This theme seems to bleed away the sinister-but-serious cultural affectations of the Romulans we used to know from ST:NG. It would have been nice to see them presented with the Senate and what made them so interesting.

The Romulan expansion also added a lot of new ships and along with them a lot of interesting designs to look at while flying around. One other thing it added is a whole new way for people to explode—in the case of Romulan ships, it involves a singularity-failure, i.e. a black hole. When Romulan ships go up, a greenish swirl appears sucking at everything nearby, that then collapses and explodes violently—not your usual warp core explosion.

In short: particle effects and party poppers everywhere.

Cryptic has done a great job of using this expansion to bring STO updates forward with better technology and even changed up the UI a little bit. Instead of the slightly clunky bordered-windows, the UI now looks more Star Trek-like in that the LCARS layout is part of the interface (best known from Star Trek: The Next Generation) with the rounded buttons, colorful layouts, and sharp contrasts. For most people, though, the changes won’t be all that noticeable as not very much about the entire UI has changed.

Although some of the subtleties might get people initially there’s was virtually no learning curve for me.

Gameplay: Space ships get “warp cores” and characters have a new trait system

For the most part, gameplay has not changed altogether much—there’s still ground combat and ships as per the usual Star Trek Online fare, but now we have a slightly different way of approaching space combat and characters are built slightly differently.

Warp cores are a new ship equipment that all factions use—Federation and Klingon ships use matter-antimatter cores; whereas Romulans use singularity cores—this adds to the number of items that can be slotted as ship equipment and increases general customization for playstyle. Warp-cores function primarily as buff items adding traits to ships that affect engineering abilities such as increasing shield emitter effectiveness, electro-plasma, engines, batteries, et cetera. Whereas, singularity cores add special ability effects to Romulan ships (an interesting addition to the STO gameplay.)

The Legacy of Romulus expansion adds the concept of singularity powers—a sort of special ability that Romulan ships happen to possess given to them by their specialized warp cores. Aside from a battle-cloak, this gives them an extra bag of tricks to pull out during combat. While a warbird is flying in combat (and not cloaked) singularity power builds and when a power is triggered it drains all the accumulated power. Amid those powers happen to be Plasma Shockwave (a PBAoE damage shockwave), Quantum Absorption (temporarily extra hitpoints, instant shield heal), Warp Shadow (produce invincible mirror images that taunt enemies), Singularity Jump (a jump coupled with an AoE accuracy jam and crowd control), Singularity Overcharge (massive weapons barrage.)

Each of these abilities is accessible at higher tiers of ships respectively and adds an extra dynamic to flying a Romulan ship—i.e. that bag of dirty tricks—only accessible by Romulan warbirds and no other ships in the game. In short, it makes them unique and interesting compared to Federation and Klingon ships in that they can pull these tricks.

The trait system for characters is slightly different in that instead of picking traits for the get-go, characters grow into them as they level. As a player works their way up the ranks, new trait points are added that can be slotted into traits. This is spoken to in the dev blog about the revamp.

This essentially means, that as characters level they will trait themselves (or spec) and as a result, choose how and what they want to develop. As tiers advance, players will think about the sort of traits they want and discover how to synergize them; if they make a mistake early on, there’s always the chance to respec those chosen traits. This is something we’ve gotten used to in other MMOs, although it’s certainly new to STO where traits were set from the beginning and never changed.

Conclusion: It’s the same game, just better—more content more bad guys more ships

This is not a brave-new-Star-Trek-Online and it isn’t just more-of-the-same either. The developers over at Cryptic have incrementally addressed changes in the way they hope to take the game and have introduced them with this expansion. Really, this expansion is all about the Romulans—but looking at the updates to the rendering engine, textures, and even the Klingon tutorial it’s obvious that it’s been put to excellent use.

The changes to the trait system show that Cryptic is thinking about how new (and old) players approach the creation of their characters. Before, traits were fixed at creation and now traits are part of the leveling experience and its possible to easily respec them.

Romulans make an excellent addition to the STO universe and the third faction doesn’t really change the current layout of STO’s factions—after all Romulans join the Federation or KDF at level 10. It’s more like adding a new race with their own ships than an entire faction to the game. And those ships are really interesting.

There’s a lot of ways that the Romulan ships remind me of Klingon ships—they’re quick-strike fighters with a medium durability and high maneuverability and a battle-cloak—but they differentiate themselves with the special singularity warp cores. They further differentiate themselves because of the singularity ability, which is a mechanic unique to the Romulans themselves (specifically their ships.) While players can also use faction-chosen ships.

The storyline added to support the Romulan content is nice. It’s another edge to the story being built around STO and as a result, a reason for players to get into and play a Romulan (and of course, the new Klingon content same for them.) Cryptic is doing a good job of creating a living-breathing world for players to become part of.

If you haven’t played STO in a while, it’s a good time to come back; if you haven’t played before it’s a good time to join.