STO: Applejack to the rescue!

applejackLeveling in Star Trek Online is so absurdly fast these days with the double XP toggled on that I’m almost to the max level while only being about halfway through all of the episodes.  I was grateful for this since it got me out of the Defiant ship relatively quickly, although I was surprised to see that I did get a new free ship at Rear Admiral (level 40).  For some reason I thought they stopped giving you new ships around this point.

Not one to look a free ship in the deflector dish, I grabbed the upgrade to the Sovereign (Enterprise-E).  It’s nothing special, but at least is has a few more module slots.  I’m relying on drops and mission rewards for my gear, so it’s very haphazard, especially in the weapon department.  I’d love a few more phaser turrets, although I did not mind that blue-quality plasma mine that dropped the other day.

So the big internal debate I’m having in STO is whether or not to buy a nicer tier 5 ship now and then upgrade it for the expansion or to hold off and get a tier 6.  It probably makes better financial and statistical sense to go for the tier 6, but that knowledge wages war against a few factors such as (1) the expansion is still several weeks away, (2) I haven’t seen an expansion ship yet that I desperately want, and (3) there are really cool ships and special features that would be pretty great to have now.  I know that I’m not going to buy two separate ships; I just want my “endgame” ship to work on and build up.

bridgeRight now I’m in the thick of the Romulan/Borg episodes.  I can’t believe it took this long into the game before a mission sent me into the interior of my own ship — I would not have thought to do so otherwise.  Oh hey, I have a bridge!  It’s kind of neat to see my crew doing things other than running after me with weapons splayed.

I did the Vault mission the other night with my shuttlecraft.  The mission was all elbowing me and saying, “Y’know, this would be SO much easier with a Delta Flyer, which is purchasable from the C-Store for a low, low price!” and I was rolling my eyes back and saying, “How many times do you need a small craft in this game?  And this mission isn’t that hard with the free craft anyway.  But thanks for trying!”

I’m kind of happy that I have two purple and two blue-quality bridge officers.  With all of the XP rolling in, I’ve been able to max their skills out almost instantly.  We had a conference meeting and decided together that the Wrath of Khan uniforms weren’t really working for our style, so we all went to the tailor and swapped to the experimental Sierra uniforms.  I think they work a lot better for our look.

So that’s been about it in Star Trek Online lately.  I enjoy the time spent playing it but don’t feel pulled or pressured into logging in.  It’ll be nice to know that by the time I finish up with these episodes there will be an expansion’s worth of new ones to explore — although how many those will be is anyone’s guess.

STO: In which I hate the Defiant

p1It’s time to bring you up to speed on what’s been happening with me in Star Trek Online.  I barely had time to get to know the Black River, my Ambassador-class ship, before I crossed the threshold of captain rank and got a new starship.  This is thanks to the double XP that Cryptic is running from now until Delta Rising’s launch.  Between that and duty officer missions, I’m absolutely rocketing up in levels.  That’s neither great nor horrible, as I’ve dedicated myself to going through all of the episodes in order anyway.  I guess it’ll be nice to get my tier 5 ship sooner rather than later.

Actually, it’ll be a huge relief to get my tier 5 ship, because I seriously have the buyer’s remorse with my captain pick.  At the captain level, you get your choice of three of Star Trek’s most iconic ships: the Galaxy (TNG), the Defiant (DS9), and the Intrepid (VOY).  Last time around, I went with the Intrepid, which I liked, but I wanted to see what the fuss was about regarding escort ships.  Really, I shouldn’t have bothered.

While cruisers are all about hit points and durability and science vessels about cool tricks, escorts are the glass cannons of the game.  They’re small, not great-looking (in my opinion), and more than a little flimsy.  On the plus side, they’re zippy and can slot cannons to pump out a very impressive array of firepower.

p2I’ve gotten my butt kicked a few times in embarassing ways, ways that would not have happened with a cruiser.  Sure, I’m trying to adapt by going all-out on offense and enjoying the fireworks show, but I think I like living too much to be an escort captain.  Fortuantely, I’m already captain 36, so four more levels and I can graduate to something that doesn’t fall apart when an enemy shouts “boo!” at it.

I was really pleased at the reward at the end of the Nimbus mission chain, as I got a device that allows me to summon three pirate ships to fight with me every 15 minutes.  Those ships actually do decent damage AND heal you, so they’re great in sticky spots.  I try to save them for big fights.

Right now I’m in the middle of the Romulan series of missions.  It’s like fighting dark Elves, so I’m down with that.  I took some time to level up my bridge officers and train them, and then went to Earth Spacedock to make all of our uniforms the Wrath of Khan variety (only navy blue instead of blood red.

p3We have a lot of fun on ground missions.  I enjoy pulling out seeker probes and going nuts with my minigun while my bridge crew pulls out an array of impressive skills to turn the tide of battle.  My favorite part of ground combat is my ex-Borg officer, whom I gave a sword to that I got at the completion of a mission.  It’s a hoot to see her charge into combat waving that thing above her head every time.  If seeing a Borg with a claymore running full-tilt at you doesn’t give you immediate pants-pee, then I don’t know what would.

There’s still a long way to go before getting up to Delta Rising content level, but that’s fine.  It’s a lot less boring now that I’ve got access to better ships, weapons, and skills.

STO: These are the voyages of the Black River

black1Yesterday I splurged my game time mostly on Star Trek Online.  I couldn’t help it — I was in the middle of a series of really fun missions (the Guardian of Forever one for starters) and on the verge of leveling up.  I hit commander (level 20) quickly, and not only got a new starship (the Stony Point) but the “Yesterday’s Enterprise” tie-in mission that I remember quite well from back in the day.

Despite Denise Crosby’s vocal recording of Tasha Yar sounding old and stilted, it’s still a great mission.  It’s a great call-back to the famous episode while still being its own story.  Probably my favorite moment was crawling around in the maintenance ducts and talking to an “elder tribble” while high on gas.  Plus, you end up getting to pilot the Enterprise-C for a final climactic battle, which is all kinds of awesome.

Even though I just got a new starship, this mission rewards you with an Ambassador class starship, which I instantly switched to for my main as a commander.  I’ve been plotting out what ships I’m going to be needing for upcoming ranks and I think I have it figured out:

  • Commander: My current Ambassador starship, the Black River
  • Captain: Free requisition, might try out a tactical escort for the fun of it.  Never done escorts before.
  • Rear admiral, lower half: I have a Mirror Universe ship sitting in my account bank, so I guess I’ll be using that.  My old character also had the Ambassador retrofit, but that was bound to character, not account, so I’m out of luck there.
  • Delta Rising: If I’m still playing once I get to 50, I’ll probably just buy a tier 6 ship.

black2I was all excited to take my new ship out on a test drive, so naturally the game grounded me for a long series of planetary missions on Nimbus 3 (also known as that craphole planet from Star Trek V and why oh why is this game trying to remind us that Star Trek V was a thing?).  The Nimbus missions are new to me, and while I’m not usually one for desert romps, they were sufficiently interesting.  An ex-Borg bar owner?  Huh.  There even was a dance competition in there.

The big climax of these missions involved storming a fortress, letting prisoners go free, and then being put into the middle of an arena because science fiction can’t go two days without placing heroes in a gladiator arena for some reason.  I wasn’t hating the ground combat, but I really was missing my ship after a while.  Finally, we did go space-born for a bit and I enjoyed the vastly increased killing power that the Ambassador sports.

In defense of Star Trek Online’s ground game

groundAlong with the now-broken “odd Star Trek movies suck, even ones are classic” trope, there’s the well-worn “space combat in Star Trek Online is pretty groovy, but the ground combat is the pits.”

It’s an accusation that had more credibility in the earlier days of STO, to be sure.  It wasn’t that engaging and — I recall with vivid clarity — the fights would go on and on and on as if both sides were attempting to subdue each other with vigorous slaps of wet noodles.  But somewhere along the way, the ground game improved.  Fights got shorter and more dynamic, a pseudo-FPS option was presented, and the NPCs got… well, less buggy and glitchy than before.  On top of that, I can think of six important testimonies that can be said in favor of STO’s ground game, so here we go!

1. Solo squad combat is a rarity in MMOs

Getting to command an entire NPC team into battle isn’t something that you see a lot of in MMOs.  Atlantica Online, Guild Wars 1 (with heroes), and… I’m sure there must be one or two more examples, but my point is that they aren’t terribly frequent.  And yet it’s not only fun to have a whole team at your back, but it shares a strong common link to single-player RPGs, where leading a party by yourself was usually the norm.

I like it.  It’s cool knowing that I’m packing a lot of firepower and that if I go down, there’s a good chance one of my virtual teammates could revive me.  Plus, it looks so much more exciting to be in the middle of a 5v5 battle than a 1v3 one.

2. Miniguns are teh bomb

There are a lot of cool ground weapons in STO, but for my money nothing beats the output and look of a good minigun.  It almost feels like cheating to spray the field of battle with one of these.  If only there was an episode where Captain Picard gave up his preference for those wimpy wrist phasers and brought one of these bad boys to a fight.

3. It’s great to see your avatar and your bridge crew in action

Spaceships are all well and good, but they come with some drawbacks, especially when it comes to connecting with the player.  We simply identify better with humanoid avatars than machines and vehicles.  Plus, in STO we are swapping out starships pretty regularly before the endgame.

I like seeing the guy I spent a half-hour fine-tuning during character creation and his bridge crew.  One of the little things I’ve been appreciating during the missions is how little helpful snippets of bridge crew dialogue will pop in from the left side of the screen — not obstructing anything, but a good reminder that these are supposedly real characters instead of silent meat shields.

4. It helps to give a balance to mission pacing

If Star Trek Online was 100% set in space, let’s face it, it would get boring pretty quickly.  Listen, I love the space battles, but if it was just that and little else, I would feel claustrophobic.  I really appreciate how the game breaks up missions into a somewhat predictable pattern — space section, ground section, space section.  The variety helps keep both parts feeling fresh.

5. It’s not just about combat

Plus, the ground game isn’t solely about fighting.  Star Trek Online may not be up to The Secret World investigation mission standards, but there are several surprisingly trickly and thoughtful missions that require thinking, deduction, and puzzle solving.  The other day I was doing that mission where you’re on a space station in the past, trying to get a part for Scotty.  That required me to order a specific nerve tonic for one of the NPCs, and to do that I had to grill Scotty about drinks she had ordered in the past and figure out what combination might work today.  It was a little silly but also something that woke up my brain instead of spamming “1” over and over.

6. The locales are more varied than most of the space zones

STO does all it can to keep its space zones looking interesting, but let’s face it: They are a lot of empty space with pretty backdrops and objects floating around.  The ground zones have a visual advantage, offering a lot more variety and visual density.  We get to visit space stations and planets and labs and abandoned tunnels and the like.  It helps to reinforce the notion that you’re actually going to very different places and exploring the wide galaxy.

STO: Deep into the black and blue

s1The only game I played during this past weekend at PAX was Star Trek Online.  It wasn’t just that I had an urge to go back to it, but that it played well with the hotel’s slow wifi and Cryptic was giving out a few free goodies over the weekend.

Instead of returning to my maxed-out carrier, I rolled up a new captain.  And instead of going for the female character that I usually pick, I created an old, craggy guy who may or may not have been influenced by Edward James Olmos from Battlestar Galactica.  Well, the concept at least.  I like thinking of him as pretty disillusioned of the shiny Starfleet philosophy, skewing more to a practical, cynical command.

While I wasn’t overly thrilled at having the basic starter ship again, I did want to work my way up to a different type of endgame vessel.  Fortunately, I guess somewhere along the line I got a couple of other starter ships, including one from Neverwinter of all places, so that made the first ten levels breeze by.

You know what’s one little thing that I really like about STO?  That the team posts player screenshots (with attribution) for loading screens.  More MMOs should do that.

For naming my ships, I decided to go with names of Revolutionary War battles.  Currently I’m piloting the Chelsea Creek.

s2It’s been a while since I went through all of these quests, and some have obviously been tweaked since Legacy of Romulus.  Last night I went through the Devidian missions, which are about as scary as STO gets (and I say that without being too sarcastic).  It’s mostly about atmosphere and a general sense of dread instead of any jump-scares.  I’m still impressed with how these missions use the dark, the encroaching blue that signals the Devidians phasing in, and the little flashlight that probably does more harm than good with my imagination.

I did get a little frustrated at one point when I got turned around on the map and my squad got completely split up.  That got me killed, but such is life.

I keep going back and forth on whether I really want to be playing.  There’s something about STO that I can’t get anywhere else, especially with the division of gameplay styles (space combat, ground combat, ground investigation).  But I keep getting flashes of “done this already,” so I might be keeping this at a very casual level.

Star Trek Online: Legacy of Shoulderpads

romulans1

Fear our shoulder pads!

Despite my best efforts to keeping my MMO gaming roster small, it’s swelled from four to five titles this past week as Star Trek Online’s first expansion rolled out.  I’ve long since parked my Federation character in storage, pending any new featured episode series, and thus had no reason to play the game until now.

With Legacy of Romulus, Cryptic hasn’t just added onto the core game, but completed the game in a way that it’s needed ever since launch.  There are three major additions: A full Klingon PvE experience, the addition of the Romulan race and ships, and a UI overhaul.  All three contribute to a finished product and make STO feel “whole.”  I know a lot of folks are sore that Romulans aren’t a full-fledged faction (instead of being a third faction, they’re a neutral one that can eventually join Klingons or Federation), but I’m okay with it.  I think Cryptic is working within its time budget here, and finishing the Klingon content was far more important.  I can only imagine the outcry if Romulans had a full PvE leveling experience and Klingons were still left broken.

So I rolled up a new Romulan and took the maiden voyage of the Manatee.  Romulans — AKA “dark space elves” — have never really fascinated me in Trek.  It’s not just my hatred of elves, but the fact that their culture felt dull and their shoulderpads were far too paddy.  Plus, they were pretty dull in Nemesis and the 2009 Star Trek.

I can’t believe that rolling a Reman — AKA “super-ugly dark space elves” — is considered a premium slice of content.  You either have to grind faction or pay for a special pack, and I just do not see the draw.  It’s like going to Pizza Hut and having them charge you a lot extra for a personal pan pizza with alfalfa sprouts and anchovies.  Maybe you’d order it just to feel different and superior, but the rest of us are going to be eating tasty stuff.

What do I think of the expansion thus far?  I’m inclined to be quite favorable toward it, actually.  STO has always been a guilty pleasure of an MMO for me.  I know it’s not as full-featured or as Trekky as some would like, but the core gameplay has always kept me entertained.  More of it was welcome, indeed.  I like little touches, such as the new Romulan theme, the way the character select screen now shows your ship and crew, and how the UI has been cleaned up significantly.

Rolling a Romulan is basically starting over, so I’m back with a basic bridge crew that everyone else has, a tier 1 warbird that everyone else has (and looks like what you’d see in the Captain Kirk era), and only a small handful of skills.  Still, I look forward to logging in and going down this path again.  I never liked the goody-goody Federation attitude, so a change of pace is welcome.  The story puts you in the shoes of a colonist who flees his/her world when it comes under attack by a sinister Romulan faction.  Over the course of a few missions, you’re tasked with scouting for a new Romulan homeworld while building up your crew.

I chose a Tactical officer this time around, and I’m more than eager to ditch the basic warbird for something better.  I guess the big draw for Romulan/Klingon ships is the ability to cloak, although it doesn’t seem that thrilling to me — you have to stop firing just to reposition and get a brief buff to weapons when you de-cloak.  No thanks, I’d rather keep firing if it’s all the same.

We’ll see how it goes.  I’ll be joining the KDF side when I get the choice, mostly because I don’t want to do the same Federation missions all over again.  Also, forget those guys.  Their shoulder pads are puny and limp, while ours are large enough to launch small aircraft from.

shoulder2