Since being released in February 2010 for Windows and iOS, Star Trek Online has been expanded in a variety of new directions. There have been a total of nine (!) updates to be exact, with each serving as a new “season” for players. The most recent release, Season 8: The Sphere, will get its own halfway mark upgrade, a first for the MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role-playing game). But here’s the kicker: It’s more than your typical update, because it’s part of a fourth anniversary celebration for the game.

To ring in the occasion in a big way, the developers have brought a character from the Star Trek: Voyager television series to the game. According to Joystiq, Tim Russ, who portrayed Tuvok, will reprise his role (voice and all) in the latest update. The details on his involvement are rather skim prior to the release, but he will man the U.S.S. Voyager on what’s expected to be a new mission. Not only that, he recorded enough data for the next update (Season 9) and perhaps even more in the future. As for the Season 8.5 update, there’s at least three ships being brought into the fray, with one for each faction. For reference, they are Federation, Romulan, and Klingon.

As for other upgrades, the art and gameplay portions of the entire game will be updated as part of Season 8.5. This will come as great news for those just starting out and anyone who wants to go back in the series. Likewise for the longtime players, it’ll be easier than ever to switch between starships in the sector space and social zones. And speaking of starships, there will be room for even more, though a total figure hasn’t been revealed. Beyond that, the hourly calendar events are being overhauled, due to their popularity, and several will become weekend-long adventures.

Looking at all these upgrades in Season 8.5, it’s truly been fascinating to watch how this series has maintained its popularity and also branched into new niches over the past few years alone. Of course, the biggest reason for that is the new Star Trek movies directed by J.J. Abrams. The two films released thus far have received critical acclaim and filled seats in theatres across the globe. Abrams and his team took the franchise and gave it a modern and stylish spin, which has made the films enjoyable for anyone—Trekkie or not.

That popularity has translated to growth in other realms, including online gambling. This is most evident at Bet Fair, where there is a game created by IGT that’s modeled after the 2009 Star Trek film. It’s not just the looks that will draw people into this game, but the attention to details. There are bonuses for all four main characters—Kirk, Spock, Uhura, and Scotty—along with a nod toward the narrative. Could this lead to more console game action for fans of the franchise? Hopefully, because the 2013 installment on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Windows failed to inspire.

But at least for the Star Trek gamers out there, they can look to Online for continued inspiration. The Fourth Anniversary Featured Episode as part of Season 8.5 will be released on January 30, 2014.

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