Interview: Star Trek Online’s 11.5 mid-season update

Look at the time!
Yesterday’s Season 11.5 update for Star Trek Online is a bit of a hodgepodge, an assortment of several separate pieces all sitting in the same space without a great deal of thematic connection. In a way, though, that’s entirely appropriate. This patch was meant as part of the bridging action after the game’s first six-year story arc came to a close, and the seeds of it were sown back at the end of that story arc… even if they weren’t as explicit as might seem necessary.

I had a chance to sit down and speak with Steve Ricossa, the game’s executive producer, about the 11.5 update, the mechanics involved, and some of the future plans involved for the game. The Na’kuhl’s presence in this first story arc is, in fact, entirely to be expected, as the developers were planning on this at the same time that players were finishing up against the Iconians.

As it turns out, Cryptic’s staff in general is full of time travel fans, from Star Trek’s nigh-ubiquitous time travel episodes to other media. The team is also usually planning a year and a half or so ahead of the game’s updates, so there was no mystery about where the game would be going next; the big question was simply how we¬†were going to get there. Thus, the time travel that ended the Iconian war was partly there to prime players for the Na’kuhl and temporal considerations, seeding the future with the past. It feels like a thematic link even though the factions aren’t connected.

Of course, the Na’kuhl also come from Enterprise, which was historically not one of the most beloved Star Trek series (to put it gently). But Cryptic enjoys pulling lore from Enterprise, and there’s an ongoing effort to use races that were present in that series but hadn’t be seen in chronologically later Trek shows. There’s a lot of stories to be told there.

Oh no, look, your ship's all broken and on the floor.

Players who are struggling with the new skill system will be happy to know that a sale will be going on for both respec tokens and bundle packs of respec tokens if you feel the need for extra flexibility. On that same note, I asked Ricossa about the Strategist specialization, which was entirely meant to serve as a tanking spec for players who find that particular playstyle more engaging. More options means more chances to delve deep into a playstyle, and while some people won’t care, Cryptic is more worried about giving options to the people who do.

Does this mean that the game is going to focus more heavily on having a tank-healer-DPS trinity setup? Not unless that’s how you want to play. If you have a dedicated group that likes to play that way, Strategist helps you do that; if you’d rather have your Tactical captain flying an Engineering ship and blasting away for damage, that’s fine too. It’s an option rather than an enforced playstyle.

We also talked somewhat about the new Na’kuhl red alerts, with Ricossa acknowledging that some red alerts (particularly the Tholians) were essentially uninteresting in terms of gameplay compared to others, swapping one set o ships for another. The Na’kuhl red alert is meant to have more back-and-forth motion and scale up over time.

While the Na’kuhl are a clear threat, Ricossa also said that one of the big goals of the narrative side is to avoid some of the mistakes made with the Iconian arc, where every single update was a new major conflict or another buildup to the eventual war. The conflict is nigh-inevitable, since the game’s space combat is such a central feature, but not every single update needs to focus solely upon it. It’s about catching seeds of the conflict that are building up, and have a more balanced flow over time.

Hello, I'd like to have an argument.

I asked Ricossa about the new Exploration system on that note, and he said it’s currently too early to speak about that or Season 12 plans. The team has a plan, but it’s a matter of where it’s going to fit well.

Last but not least, it’s impossible to run Star Trek Online without thinking about the new upcoming series in the franchise. Ricossa confirmed that the developers are in communication with CBS about participating and supporting the show and the game in both directions, though it’s too early to talk about the details.

Ironically, if we could actually travel through time in multiple directions, we could probably have those details now. Our inability to break out from linear time aside, I appreciate Ricossa taking the time to chat with me about the state of the update and future plans.

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