I’ve been getting back into Star Trek Online recently, which really means that I’ve been scratching the surface of the game again for a bit because there is a lot in this game. Seriously, even though I still have complaints about various aspects of the title, I think it deserves a lot of praise for the sheer volume of content within. It also deserves a lot of praise for managing to keep expanding on the game when it has a set of reference points expanding much more slowly than the game itself needs to.
1. The Klingon-Federation War
Right, let’s start with the thing that most people cited immediately as a problem wherein the game wasn’t paying enough attention to the lore. People were pissed about the idea that the Klingon Empire and the Federation were at war again, after the two factions made peace following the original series and then already went to war and made up again over the course of Deep Space Nine. What a lazy rehash, right?
Except, well… here’s the thing. Have you ever noticed that every prediction of the future seems to involve this happening in the franchise?
You can argue how “real” the futures we saw in episodes like All Good Things, Endgame, and The Visitor are. But it’s not that in one or two of them these two powers were at war again; it’s all of them. Every single time, KDF and Starfleet ships were shooting at one another. It’s almost like the peace between them was never as solid as anyone wanted, and maybe this was an eventuality nobody liked but everyone saw coming just the same.
In other words, this might feel like a retread… but it’s one that had the groundwork not just laid down ahead of time but telegraphed repeatedly. In some ways, having this become a major plot point actually solidified some of these ideas.
2. The Vaadwaur
One of the tricks of STO is that it has a lot of alien races to draw from, but many of those races existed to do one thing, in one episode. The Vaadwaur, for example, were very much a case where Voyager was trying to help what appeared to be disadvantaged survivors of a lost race only to discover that this species was actually the bad guys from ages ago. Then you have to expand that into a whole species instead of a one-off gag.
And it works. Very well, in fact. Aside from just having the feel of old-style battleships and assets to hammer home the idea that the Vaadwaur are old, they also have a unique attitude among Star Trek’s more belligerent races; they’re not conquering anything so much as just taking back what is, by rights, already theirs. It’s a sort of arrogant dismissal that isn’t mirrored elsewhere and changes them from being another foam-headed alien into something distinct among its peers.
3. The Solanae
The reality is that the more you know about something the less scary it is. The Solanae were the starring race of one of the weirder late-season episodes of The Next Generation, but part of what made them so memorable was the fact that they seemed not just unable but uninterested in communication. It was even debatable whether or not they were fully aware that the crew of the Enterprise was sapient.
Certainly, having them be somewhat-knowing pawns of the Iconians and their overarching push for power removes a bit of that menace. But at the same time, they’re still sort of… out there. They don’t field fleets against us. They’re not a direct threat to beat up. They’re lurking, and that subtle air of menace permeates their presence whenever they do show up.
4. The Tzenkethi
The Tzenkethi are easily the most important race to never show up in an episode of Star Trek, even though they’re mentioned quite a bit. Having them show up in STO as these weird monsters is actually kind of brilliant, because it simultaneously explains why we really didn’t see them on-screen on the shows while also giving them a chance to slide in effortlessly as seemingly familiar faces.
I also really like that, well, the Tzenkethi are antagonists mostly by virtue of having their own goals and not caring what their pursuit of those goals does to anyone else. They have their own goals and mostly just don’t care about who gets trampled along the way. It’s a different approach from most antagonistic races, again. (And that in and of itself is one of the things I like; that the array of antagonists never become rotating factions with the same set of goals.)
It would have been really easy to pretend that the destruction of Romulus didn’t happen, but I’m glad the game didn’t. Instead of just moving forward with Romulans acting the way they always had, the entire arc around the Romulan Republic, the Tal Shiar, and the fight to remain a galactic power became one of the first things in the game that really made the effort to expand beyond the established setup of the franchise.
Seriously, I love that the arc here is neither as simple as “now the Romulans are our friends” or “now they’re still basically the same as always.” The Republic is much more open and personable than the Star Empire ever was, but at the same time they’re still Romulans. There’s still a strong sense of distrust, maneuvering for power, and an unwillingness to cede portions of control to the other two factions if it can be avoided.
6. The Cardassians
Meanwhile, the Cardassian antagonists act exactly like you’d expect Cardassians to act… and here, that’s actually a virtue, because one of the not-at-all-subtle points raised repeatedly during Deep Space Nine is just how obstinate Cardassians can be as an aggregate. Having factions of Cardassians who are still basically pretending the past few decades never happened in an effort to reclaim lost glories is so very Cardassian.
7. The Voth
Expanding the Voth into an actual race with history and goals and so forth is not, actually, all that difficult. Sure, there’s stuff to do, but Distant Origin (their one episode) actually does a lot of that work to begin with. Placing them into a Dyson Sphere as an antagonist makes perfect sense.
No, the part I like about this is that the lore is expanded to just go all in on the idea of space dinosaurs with laser beams. This is exactly the right way to take the Voth. They are in every way a serious threat, they are treated as such, but the designers are also unwilling to do that at the cost of the inherent amusement found in fighting outer space dinosaurs.
8. Dyson Spheres
Speaking of these big planet bubbles, the inclusion of the Dyson Sphere as a serious location was in and of itself a major departure for the game, but one that took existing lore into new directions. We knew that these existed, since the episode which introduced the concept made it clear people would be studying the structure… but at the same time, the main focus in that episode had more to do with Scotty than anything about the awe-inspiring structure trapping the Enterprise. You could replace the sphere with any number of weird phenomena and it works.
Instead, the game uses the spheres as a reminder that there are bigger and grander things than even the Federation is aware of, that even having taken technology from sources like the Borg the galaxy is still large and capable of throwing new and weird things at you. It’s kind of wild.
9. V’Ger Borg
This is a really, really minor thing, but it tickles me every time. V’Ger’s history in Star Trek: The Motion Picture involves coming into contact with a planet of living machines. Ever since the Borg were introduced in The Next Generation, there’s been speculation about a connection between the Borg and V’Ger. STO never once mentions V’Ger… but the massive Borg ships that accompany their deep space encounters are structured exactly like V’Ger, use the same sound effects, and seem in every way to be smaller copies of the same thing.
I love this. I love that this is just subtle environmental storytelling that requires you to pick none of it apart in order to appreciate the game’s story or the setting, but also rewards you for a bit of observation. It’s a mystery that need never be explored more than just existing, and yet if we ever get a dedicated Borg expansion, the seeds are there to make it all feel organic.
10. The Khitomer class
I love this ship. I love the weird blend of aesthetic styles into something that looks right even as it’s very visibly different from other ships in both lines, I love the naming, I love how it’s meant to be the first in a new experimental line for both factions. And it’s a sign of things changing in this timeline, that rather than rehashing the old it’s possible to remix existing beats and explore new fictional frontiers along the way.
You might say that it’s kind of weird that we have a ship that looks like it’s both a Federation and Klingon ship at the same time. I say that there’s no better way to explain how this game works, the way that it brings new things to the lore even as it still doesn’t strike out in entirely new territory. And it lets you gain access to a new starship trait and console; that’s fun, too.