I don't think many Star Trek Online players really believed it was possible. To be honest, I'm not sure many of us yet believe, but late last week the powers that be over at Cryptic Studios and Perfect World Entertainment let the countdown clock on the teaser page expire to reveal the first ever expansion that Star Trek Online has seen.
The Legacy of Romulus is scheduled to be released on May 21st, 2013 and contains what appears to be a mountain of new content. Best of all, the new expansion is absolutely free to all players. Let's get to the overview, shall we?
STO Romulan escort concept art
A lot of background first
Some people might not know that the Romulans first appeared in Star Trek in the Original Series episode The Balance of Terror, before the volatile Klingons. Romulans are known for being extremely xenophobic, sly, calculating, and surreptitious. The ancient cousins of the logical Vulcans, Romulans descended from those who rejected Surak's reforms of logic and emotional suppression, breaking away to begin a new empire.
The species was rarely seen in the television shows, which only heightened their impact when they were seen, and although there wasn't as much written about their culture as about the Klingons' culture, a huge and extremely loyal fandom was born from a set of five books from Pocketbooks called Rihannsu and written by author Diane Duane.
STO Romulan ships for expansion
Unfortunately, much of what was created by Duane and others before her was summarily destroyed in Trek canon when Bad Robot and J.J. Abrams produced and directed the 2009 Star Trek reboot. In that movie, in what we call the Prime Universe, the planets of Romulus and Remus were destroyed by a supernova leaving only unaffected colonies and the surviving military to carry on.
STO was in full pre-production at the time the film was released, and unfortunately Cryptic was forced to scrub all of the Romulan material that had been written to that point when CBS Studios informed the studio of the fate of the popular faction. STO lead writer Christine Thompson has stated in interviews how emotional that day had been for her as the Romulans are her favorite species and she had already based much of her work on Duane's Rihannsu tales.
STO Character creation UI overhaul
Two years later the game was finally able to address some of the problems that arise when a species loses its home planet, especially when the political toll of the enslavement of another species (the Remans) was beginning to peak. Surviving members of the Reman species were understandably unwilling to remain Romulan cannon fodder, and in STO at least, began to strike out against their former oppressors.
In the STO featured episode series Cloaked Intentions, the player is asked to choose to support the Reman freedom-fighter Obisek or to try to arrest him on violations of interstellar law. Regardless of the player's choice, he eventually discovers that the Tal Shiar (the Romulan secret police) are scheming something much bigger than the mere subjugation of a single species and they are using Iconian technology to bring about the ruin of the entire galaxy. When Empress Sela is whisked away by an unknown alien vessel, the Romulan colonies are once again left without a central leader and chaos threatens to reign.
Enter D'Tan, a Romulan peace activist and pro-unificationist (he wishes to have Romulans and Vulcans re-connect formal ties) who becomes the de facto leader of a new Romulan and allied Reman colony dubbed Mol'Rihan or New Romulus. The colonists are trying to create a new society free from the oppression of the Tal Shiar and have sought the help of both the Federation and the Klingon Empire in order to do it.
STO Romulan bug concept art
New faction and the fulfillment of Klingon faction
When the teaser site showing an updated version of the Romulan bird icon appeared a few weeks ago, many people, including me, thought we might see a new set of featured episodes and maybe the ability to make a playable Romulan character. Few truly believed we would see the release of a full-fledged third faction. I don't think there was anyone who thought that Cryptic would be up to the task of actually filling out the Klingon faction!
According to the promotional material listed on expansion's site, when it's released, players will have the ability to "create [a] character as a member of the Federation, Klingon Empire, or Romulan Republic and level [the] captain from one to 50."
STO drone concept art
It was this statement that took many of us by surprise. Why? Because this means that somehow the Klingon faction has also been fleshed out. How? None of us is quite sure, and I am hopeful that the promised influx of dev blogs will answer what are numerous questions on just how much new playable Klingon content will really be coming with the expansion.
But there is no sense in denying my happiness about the ability to play as a member of either species from level 1. While many people are big Romulan fans, I happen to be a member of a much smaller fan group and will be rolling a Reman as my first member of the Romulan Republic.
Captain's Log STO's Romulan legacy
But that's not all!
The Legacy of Romulus expansion will also include myriad other enhancements, upgrades, and content. Along with the new faction comes a fleet of new Romulan ships, of course! I can't even begin to say how many people are champing at the bit to get a famous D'deridex cruiser or maybe even the classic Bird-of-Prey escort from the Original Series.
We will also get to see the introduction of a brand-new and mysterious enemy in the game. While there are many suspicions as to the identity of the new enemy, there's still so much that we don't know that it's impossible to tell. Will it be the Iconians? Or is it a completely original species that has it out for the Alpha and Beta Quadrants? All I know is that the concept art looks amazing.
STO Tholian ships
There will also be a new reputation faction, although not in the traditional sense. Players can currently earn reputation with both the Romulan colonists and Task Force Omega by fighting for those factions. The new Tholian reputation system will grant reputation rewards to a player who actually fights against the Tholians. Semantics? Probably, but it's worth noting as there were a few people who thought that the Tholians might have made peace with the game's factions. That is simply not the case.
The expansion will also see the implementation of a revamped trait system. Not much is known about the particulars of this new system at this time; we hope to find out more as blogs, posts, and interviews are released.
STO new enemy ships
Finally, the game will see a complete remodel of the user interface system. I've come to understand that functionality will remain very similar to the current UI, but the appearance is being completely overhauled. Some examples of the new look have been revealed and reflect a format very reminiscent of the canon LCARS layout without being burdensome. It should please most players that the new UI will also allow for the alteration of the format's color-scheme so it will finally be possible to remove the persistent (some would say "oppressive") amounts of Federation blue and Klingon red.
I am sure that we will be learning a lot about the specifics of the new expansion as time goes on, and I will be happy to cover them as they do. In the mean time, live long and prosper!