So for the next couple of weeks I will be writing about some of the major changes Star Trek Online has undergone in the past two years in the hopes it can help out folks like Beau who are returning to the game after a long absence.
So you've been gone for the past two years...
Yes, the game is very different, isn't it? First of all, the game is now free-to-play. In mid-2011, Cryptic Studios was sold to Perfect World Entertainment, and the sale was completed later that year. Although STO was already slated for free-to-play conversion, PWE's new influence altered the conversion in significant ways and STO began its new life as a F2P game in February 2012.
There are certain downsides to any F2P game. We all know them; they're the things that are put into F2P games that allow it to, you know, actually make a significant profit. Rage as much as you want, but the truth of the matter is if the games aren't profitable (and by profitable I mean making shareholders happy), they simply disappear. I don't need to regurgitate a list of games that have left us in the past two years to prove my point.
One of the main revenue generators in STO is now the much-maligned lockbox. Instituted at the same time the game went F2P, lockboxes are themed loot boxes that drop at fairly regular intervals during gameplay. You'll need a key to open the boxes, and the keys are sold in the game's cash shop. The boxes can contain an amalgam of different items that range from duty officer cadres (I will cover the duty officer system in another column) to flyable ships.
The lockboxes' introduction to the game caused a lot of anger, most of which seems to have subsided since they have been tweaked several times, and yes, the game has actually benefitted financially from their sales. So for those players who might be returning to the game after a long time, those boxes are, for all intents and purposes, the way the game stays afloat.
But unlike other free-to-play games, Star Trek Online really is entirely free-to-play. Nothing that can be obtained in the lockboxes is actually necessary to play the game. All areas of the game are completely accessible by all players. No content in the game requires money to unlock; everything is open to all players, subscription or not. Most other F2P games require money up front or sell expansions and pay-to-unlock content at higher tiers.
A player obtains everything she needs to play STO simply by playing. Ships, weapons, and ship personnel are all provided free of charge. It's even possible to buy lockbox keys without having to spend real-life money. A player can earn a key by either earning enough dilithium (an in-game currency introduced just before the F2P conversion) and trading it on the currency exchange for ZEN (the cash-shop currency formally known as C-Store points) and trading that for a key or by earning enough energy credits (the original in-game currency) and buying a key sold on the game's item exchange.
So if a player is willing to spend an enormous amount of time playing STO, she never needs to spend a single penny on the game. However, the majority of STO's playerbase simply prefers to buy keys with cash in order to obtain the useful items.
With the influx of cash coming into the game, the company has reinvested into STO by hiring new staff that is beginning to create new content that we're just beginning to see.
New ground combat mode
One of the things returning players might be surprised by is the implementation of the game's new and optional use of a reticle in ground combat, known as "shooter mode." Shooter mode is now the default ground combat mode for all new players in the game. The mode can be turned off simply by pressing the "B" button on the keyboard; the game will revert to the original mode for those who prefer it. While I don't personally use shooter mode, I know several players who do as it provides a greater challenge while facing down an opponent.
If you have been away from STO for over two years, it's possible you will remember the first two sets of featured episodes the game introduced in 2010: Cold War and Spectres, involving the Defera and Devidians, respectively. In 2011, one more set of featured episodes involving the Romulans and called Cloaked Intentions was released; it was followed in early 2012 with The 2800, a five-episode arc that revolved around Deep Space Nine and the Jem'Hadar.
The 10 missions released in 2011 and 2012, like their predecessors, have been integrated into the PvE story mission progression in the game. If you have a high-level character, it's possible you may not have run the missions yet and can access them by hailing Starfleet and finding them within the Romulan Front or the Cardassian Front.
The featured episodes have long been a player favorite, and although we haven't seen any more since early last year, more are apparently coming this year. In any event, they are simply some of the best-made missions in the game, and many introduce new tech. An episode in The 2800 actually gives a player a new EV suit so she can walk on the outside of Deep Space Nine. The EV suit will come in handy as players take on the Tholians in the new Nukara Prime material, but I'll get to that in a future column! Until next week, live long and prosper!