When we tend to (very fondly) remember Deep Space Nine, we champion its boldness: Serialised storytelling, a darker look at a utopia in crisis, the daunting dramas of the Dominion War. But it wasn’t always a bleak examination of Trek in wartime – and the latest expansion for Cryptic’s free-to-play Star Trek Online, Victory is Life, remembers that well.
Odo unites some familiar Deep Space Nine faces with characters from Star Trek Online in the game’s latest expansion, Victory is Life. Image: Cryptic/Perfect World
Set roughly 40 years after the conclusion of Deep Space Nine, Star Trek Online has already examined a Federation in crisis.
It takes place in a period after the destruction of Romulus and Remus – events you’ll be familiar with as they’re what led Eric Bana’s Captain Nero to travel back in time in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie and kick off the Kelvin Timeline. There’s been war with the Klingons, war with the Iconians, war in the Delta Quadrant, and, well, more war than most people would know what to do with.
The set up for Victory is Life is no exception. A bug-like alien species known as the Hurq has all but shattered the Dominion’s holdings in the Gamma Quadrant, where they have mostly kept to themselves after the signing of the peace treaty between the Dominion and the Federation at the end of Deep Space Nine.
Now the Hurq plan to jump through the wormhole to the Alpha Quadrant and ravage Klingons, Romulans and the Federation alike. Odo, acting as an ambassador for the flailing Dominion, reaches out to his former friends from his time on Deep Space Nine, requesting an alliance that could fight off the insectoid hordes together.
Odo, Kira and my Star Trek Online bridge crew – who yes, are totally wearing the reboot movie uniforms, thank you for noticing – come face to face with one of the nefarious Hurq. Image: Cryptic/Perfect World
It is in this primary storyline that Victory is Life feels the most “traditionally” like Deep Space Nine. This is not only because so much of the show’s cast returns to voice their characters again, but also because it’s where you have your intense diplomatic discussions about the cost of war, and debates over whether or not the Dominion can be trusted in the wake of its own devastating conflict in the Alpha Quadrant.
It’s where you have the characters you know and love forced to compromise their morals for what they believe is the greater good and survival of their civilisations in a way Ben Sisko would gladly raise a glass of whiskey to.
While not as overly grim as Deep Space Nine itself got for reasons I won’t spoil, its the evocation of that mood that perhaps matters most – if Victory is Life is an MMO’s version of Deep Space Nine‘s greatest hits, this is its remix of a beloved track.
Garak’s model in Victory is Life is both eerily accurate and also hilariously over-animated. Please appreciate the many faces pulled by everyone’s favourite Cardassian in this gif. GIF: Star Trek Online (Cryptic/Perfect World)
It’s also the lens through which you interact with most of the returning Deep Space Nine stars, and get to see how they have grown and changed as people in the decades since the show – or not changed, in a few cases.
Odo is still the put-upon man he was as DS9’s constable, but as an Ambassador for the Dominion he finds himself at odds with people he still considers close friends, despite his long absence.
Garak is no longer a simple tailor but a leading member of the slowly-reforming Cardassian government, although he still craves the political intricacies and spycraft of his younger days.
Kira herself apparently took a hard dive into spirituality after Deep Space Nine, acting as current Kai of Bajor’s prophet-based religion, only to quickly eye a return to Starfleet over the course of the story.
That’s about the extent of the biggest changes of the returning cast – Quark, Rom, Leeta and Dr Bashir are still pretty much the same as they were when we left them last, and Nog is now a Starfleet Captain. Yet like the wider story with the Hurq, that familiarity is what drives most of Victory is Life‘s appeal.
Kira and Opaka are reunited in Star Trek Online. Illustration: Cryptic/Perfect World
But two of the missions in Victory is Life‘s new story also serve as a reminder that there was more to Deep Space Nine than just the war with the Dominion; the spirituality of the Bajorans and the sort of everyday underhandedness of episodes that focused on Quark’s exploits drove so much of the world built in the tiny little promenade of Deep Space Nine‘s titular space station.
They both come to the fore in missions that directly follow up on two episodes from the show: The season one episode “Battle Lines”, which saw Kira confronted with the loss of her spiritual mentor Kai Opaka, and the hilarious “The Magnificent Ferengi” from season six, which saw Quark and Rom recruit a crack team of Ferengi enforcers for a rescue mission to save their mother from the Dominion.
Quark gets in way over his lobes in a hilarious mission inspired by one of Deep Space Nine’s goofiest episodes. Image: Cryptic/Perfect World
Though the Kira mission mostly serves as a chance to have Kira stop being the current Kai (basically Bajor’s answer to the pope for its unnamed religion) and resume duties as a Starfleet officer, it still has some good moments reminding us about the Bajoran spirituality that seemed to motivate some of the show’s best early plots.
But the latter Quark-and-friends mission offers some of the funniest storytelling Star Trek Online has ever done, as the Ferengi is begrudgingly forced to get his team back together to help recover a sacred Klingon artefact that could help in the new conflict with the Hurq.
It’s goofily charming in a way that Deep Space Nine totally was with a lot of its Ferengi plotlines – and in a way that we don’t often remember the series being.
But these two elements, and the characters wrapped up in them, were just as important to Deep Space Nine as the bleak, moral complexity of the Dominion War was – and the fact that Star Trek Online embraces that in this anniversary-themed outing is a loving reminder that there’s more to Deep Space Nine than we often remember.