I’ll dispense with the “boldly going” jokes and get right to the heart of the matter. Today, July 6, Perfect World Entertainment and Cryptic Studios is launching the third expansion for Star Trek Online, Agents of Yesterday. It’s the company’s tribute to half a century of Star Trek and flings players all over the timeline, including an encounter with Trek’s most irrepressible ensign.
I had the chance to talk with Star Trek Online Executive Producer Steven Ricossa about the expansion, which allows players to create a brand-new captain in the year 2270, a year after the end of The Original Series’ run and nearly a century and a half before STO’s main timeline.
“You’re just going to be a regular guy from that era,” Ricossa said. “You’re not going to be a time traveler, that’s just where you’re from. You’re going to be going through some Original Series adventures, and you’re going to start seeing some really weird stuff from – for you – the far-flung future.”
Gorn to be wild
In the meantime, you’ll get to participate in several adventures inspired by The Original Series; screenshots show the Guardian of Forever and the Gorn from the episode “Arena.” “We’ve got the tutorial that’s based on ‘The Galileo Seven,’” Ricossa said. “You have the episode ‘Journey to Babel‘ from the Original Series, and we’ve got an episode called ‘Return to Babel,’ where you’re in the episode behind the scenes, trying to prevent the bad guys from ruining how that episode actually happened.” Ricossa drew parallels between that experience and the DS9 episode “Trials and Tribble-ations” – one of the most-loved episodes in all of Star Trek – where Sisko and company had to travel back in time and keep a low profile to prevent James Kirk from being assassinated.
Eventually, your officer will find himself in the 25th century and recruited as a Temporal Agent and embark on a number of time-travel-related adventures. Another Temporal Agent who will accompany you as you play is none other than Pavel Chekov, voiced by original actor Walter Koenig. You’ll meet up with Chekov at various points in his life, both as an Enterprise crew member and later in his career as a captain following the events of Star Trek: Generations. Also joining the cast is Chris Doohan, son of Scotty actor James Doohan, who will be voicing his father’s role. Ricossa assured me that the younger Doohan did “a great impersonation” of his father.
(And if you’re a “Trek nitpicker” and wonder how 23rd century ships are supposed to stand up to 25th century ships, don’t worry. As Ricossa explained, as a Temporal Agent, your “undercover” ships may look like an older ship model but they actually have all the tech of a “modern” ship.)
Thanks to the game’s revamped endgame progression, you can also convert your existing captains, of any faction, into Temporal Agents and play them through the time-travel storylines, or take your newly made 23rd century captain and run him through the “current” timeline’s adventures. For you altaholics out there, you can also partake of the Temporal Recruit System, which is similar to the Delta Recruit System implemented last year, which grants account-wide rewards for completing certain objectives, such as completing episode arcs or difficult tasks.
Then there are, of course, the new Kelvin lockboxes coming with the expansion, and they’ll offer the first pieces of loot from the rebooted J.J. Abrams Trek universe, including the Enterprise from those movies and the Klingon Bird-of-Prey with its animated wings from Star Trek: Into Darkness, as well as a Romulan ship from that universe, the T’Laru Warbird, designed with CBS/Paramount’s blessing, and Section 31’s Dreadnought cruiser.
However, one of the coolest things captains can get, at least from Ricossa’s point of view is torn TOS-era uniforms, which James Kirk was famous for having on several occasions. “For years and years, even when I was just in QA, I wanted torn uniforms. It’s something I insisted upon when we got into TOS.” Just don’t try wearing them to the admiral’s fancy dinner party.
The past and the future
If you’ve been away from Star Trek Online for a while, you might have missed not only the recent content, but the much-needed skill revamp. STO’s original skill system was complex and confusing, especially when you had to account for it across all your bridge crew characters. “The new skill system is incredibly clear,” Ricossa explained, while also expressing amazement that the old one lasted for as long as it did. “They’re very clear powers, not obfuscated. You don’t have to pull out a Star Trek encyclopedia or dictionary to understand what’s going on.” It also includes the specialization system that kicks in after you hit level 50 and provides progression beyond the maximum level.
The skill system revamp has understandably brought about a few “dumbing down the game” comments, but Ricossa said that there was still plenty of room to plot out some sweet builds. “As soon as we put it on Tribble, our test shard, people were trying to find the best min-max build.” Or, as Scotty would say, they were givin’ ‘er all she’s got.
The console port is coming along smoothly as well, with a big challenge understandably being adapting the control scheme and UI for a PC game over to consoles and their limited buttons. “We told ourselves, if we couldn’t come up with a prototype in five or six weeks that made space combat feel good, we weren’t going to do it.” The UI was designed from scratch, purpose-built to work with a controller. There was also a demand for significant graphical updates to make a six-plus-year-old game “look like it belongs” on a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One – advancements that will also come to the PC version of the game this fall.
Finally, I had to ask.. since they’re now going wholesale into TOS and the Abrams universe, I asked if Ricossa and his team were looking forward to the new Star Trek series, starting next year – and if you are, you probably can’t say anything about your plans for it, right? His response: “Yes and yes.” Any time travelers from the future out there who can fill me in?