Star Trek Online: Legacy of Shoulderpads

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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.

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Star Trek Online: Enter the Romulans

romulusIt’s not like the signs weren’t there.  Players have been asking for a Romulan faction ever since the game launched, Denise Crosby recently came in to record voiceovers, and the last major update was all about building New Romulus.  Still, the announcement of STO’s first expansion, Legacy of Romulus, is pretty exciting for the Trek faithful.

It remains to be seen how fleshed-out the Romulan content is.  Players have been dubious of a Romulan faction because the Klingon PvE content has never been up to snuff yet.  But now it looks as though you’ll be able to roll a Klingon from level 1, so I guess Cryptic’s figured out a way to give enough missions to each side.

I’m almost done with the Federation story missions, so I like the idea of rolling a Romulan (or perhaps a Klingon) to try out a different side of the game.  I’m not a die-hard Romulan fan, but I do like their aesthetic more than the Klingons.  Really, it comes down to whether you like green or red.  The Borg aren’t happy that they have to share green with the Romulans, but I’ve always thought that the Collective would be better suited with, say, hot pink.  “Resistance is fabulous!”

The improved UI, oddly enough, is the other thing that’s grabbed my attention.  I’m all about making games look and handle better.  STO’s UI isn’t horrible, but it can be cluttered and sometimes not as user friendly as it should be.

So good on STO for breaking the warp-expansion barrier.  It’s a nice sign of a healthy game, and it’s definitely rekindled my interest in playing it.

Star Trek Online: Alternate history

tashaFor someone who left Star Trek 23 episodes into the first season of The Next Generation, Denise Crosby has been clinging onto her Star Trek connection like nobody else I’ve seen.  She came back for a few episodes of TNG, did the Trekkies film series, and has been milking any Star Trek appearance she could get after that.  So I guess it makes sense that she would pop up in Star Trek Online at some point.

I’m not complaining, mind you.  Cryptic threw together a really cool third anniversary mission for players that enlisted Crosby to reprise Yar’s character, harkened to the classic TNG episode Yesterday’s Enterprise, gave us some awesome time travel, and delivered a brand-new ship to the game: the Ambassador-class starship (best known as the Enterprise-C).

I had a chance to log in last night to STO in the first time in a couple weeks, and really enjoyed myself.  Even though the actual featured episode is somewhat short, it’s packed with goodness, interesting from start to finish, and gives out great rewards.

Spoilers from here on out!

So you begin by (of course) investigating some anomalies where starships of various types are popping in and out of existence.  Then something weird happens when you see the Enterprise-C appear: Your starship transforms into a grubby freighter, and you’re suddenly a solo captain who’s working for the Tholian overlords.  Yup, the time stream has been altered and not for the better.

The bulk of the mission takes place on the Tholian space station where you find out from a few people that the Enterprise’s return to the past went a little screwy and messed things up even worse than before.  You see characters, such as the formerly new captain of the Enterprise-F, as slaves in an oppressive society with only a vague notion that something’s gone wrong.  And eventually you bump into Tasha Yar and Castillo from Yesterday’s Enterprise, who want your help gaining access to the captive Enterprise-C before the Tholians dismantle it.

To do so, you need to convince someone to be a distraction to the guards, then you sneak into some tech tunnels to get to the ship.  The mission throws you a loop by taking away the radar, and instead forcing you to rely on a hand map for a simple maze.  I did get a chuckle when I discovered a corpse and got the achievement “He’s Dead, Jiim.”

Past that, getting onto the ship is pretty easy.  It’s an incredible view, however, as you go from the control room through the docking arm and see this starship up close and very personal.  Following that is a fight between you and a bunch of Tholians.  That was more difficult, as the game just threw icons all willy-nilly on my hotbars and forced me to just slam them all over and over in the hopes that I’d win.  I wouldn’t have, if a temporal Starfleet vessel didn’t show up to lend a hand.

Once things are set right, you go back to Earth Stardock and get your rewards: a new uniform and TWO Ambassador ships.  One of the ships is a standard commander-level reward, and one is a limited-time admiral-level retrofit.  I won’t be trading in my kitty carrier any time soon, but it’s nice to have these ships in the bank in case I want to start an alt some day.  And two ships for one little mission?  That’s an incredible deal, especially as Cryptic usually charges a lot for these admiral retrofits.  Definitely worth doing even if you don’t play STO regularly.

So hats off to Cryptic and Denise Crosby for a fun time, and I’m most definitely looking forward to the big content coming this spring (Romulan faction?  Maybe…).

Star Trek Online: On my kitty carrier

caitian-atrox-carrierWhile I had anticipated spending a lot of time gaming over the break, the truth is that I really didn’t get that much in.  I had some time, to be sure, but taking my nephews and niece Geocaching, watching It’s A Wonderful Life, and playing with my new titanium spork took precedence.

The MMO that got the most time, actually, was Star Trek Online.  My online Christmas present to myself was the purchase of an endgame Atrox carrier, aka the kitty carrier (so named because a cat-race designed it.  I’ll let that slide, as I’m not a cat person but really wanted a carrier.).  Carriers aren’t as easy to come by in the game as other types of ships, either requiring real money purchase or some lengthy rare currency grind.  It just looked pretty darn cool, and I’m quite satisfied with the purchase.  Not only does the ship look insanely sleek (and atypical for most Federation starships), but it can spit out a dozen fighters and fire off six turret guns like a wolverine of the stars.

I also went through the whole Breen featured episode series again, this time to get the Breen bridge officer that Cryptic brought back for a limited time.  Right now I have 8 rare BOs that jockey for my love and affection, although the Breen dude might just top them all.

As much fun as I’m having in STO, I don’t really know what I’ll do when I finish out the Cardassian, Borg, and Undine story arcs.  There’s always task forces and foundry missions, but I’m not feeling attracted to them.  Chances are that I’ll be putting my ship in mothballs until the next featured episodes come out, whenever that is.

That might be for the best, since I’ll want to free up that fifth MMO slot for some of the gaming goodness coming out next year.  One day at a time, O captain… one day at a time.

Bow before me, Starfleet!

Last night I hit max level (50, or Vice Admiral) in Star Trek Online for the first time.  Man, I’m on a roll this past month or something!  Actually, that’s not so much of a personal accomplishment as it is a testament to how the duty officer system can just rocket you up through the levels.  I’d say I probably earned about 20 of the 50 levels through normal questing.  Maybe 25.

That’s okay; levels kind of feel less substantial.  More like a gatekeeper for ships.  But I don’t feel the endgame wall or anything, as I have scads of featured episodes left to do.

I decided that once I hit 50, I was going to take stock of my game and do a lot housekeeping that I’ve been putting off.  I was pretty much throwing bridge officers into slots, neglecting their training, and not trying to squeeze the most out of the resources I had.  No longer.

The first step was to upgrade to a Vice Admiral-level ship.  Typically with STO’s free-to-play, you don’t get one for free like the previous levels, but have to either buy one from the cash shop, from the player exchange, or earn one somehow.  Fortunately, I’ve been sitting on the free anniversary Odyssey cruiser from last January, so that problem was solved.  It’s a bit of a boat, as my fleet calls it, but it’s a heavily armed boat.

Actually, what I *really* want is a carrier ship.  Those aren’t the easiest to come by, but I’m doing my homework and trying to save up enough store currency to buy one.  Carrier ships always appeal to me in sci-fi settings for some reason.  But that goal is going to be a ways out, I’m afraid, unless I break down and plop cash into the game.

So the next step was to equip my new ship, which I did with the purchase of five Mark X turrets.  I prefer turrets on cruisers, not just for their cool pew-pew-pew look, but also for their 360-degree firing arc.  That way I can throw them into the aft weapon slots and always have them be firing while I load up my front weapon slots with torpedoes and cannons.

Bridge officers were next on the to-do list.  Man, I had been neglecting them.  I even had two purple candidates that I hadn’t activated.  I deleted the non-rare ones from my staff, promoted a couple, and made sure that I had everyone at the right station.

Finally, I had to redo all of my hotbar skills, which took a while because there’s just so dang many of them at level 50 and only three visible bars to use.  I grouped them by maneuvering skills, weapon skills, shield heal skills, hull heal skills, and random buffs/attacks.

It’s definitely a good feeling to do that spring cleaning, although I know that I have some more research to do and a lot of tweaking in the future.  My gear is also pretty subpar, although considering how many missions I have in front of me, I’m not worried.  My only regret is that STO is running a promotion that if you complete the Breen featured episode series, you get a cool Breen bridge officer — and I’m two series behind that right now.  Don’t think I’ll be able to get through that before the promotion goes away.  Oh well.

The model of a modern rear admiral

spork“Captain on the deck!” the yeoman’s voice shrilled, but I took no notice of it.  I think it’s her only job anyway, and that gets confirmed when she shrinks back into her cubby and sits quietly with her hands in her lap until the next time I depart and then return.

I ask my first officer for a status report, but he along with the rest of the bridge crew are standing there with their mouths hanging open.

“We… thought you abandoned us!” he gasped.  “We’ve been floating out here in space for months, literally months, without any leadership!  Where did you go?”

I rolled my eyes.  No initiative, these goonies.  “A little Guild Wars 2, some Secret World, what’s it to you?  Now status report before I airlock the lot of you.”

They catch me up to speed.  We’re still in some sort of crisis with the Romulans, although apparently that whole society put the crisis on hold until I came back.  That’s stupidly considerate.  I refamiliarize myself with the complex controls of this multi-billion credit starship, which is to say that I locate the “F” key to pick up crap and the spacebar to shoot crap.  We lay in a course and go to warp.

On the way, one of the bigshots from Earth Spacedock hails me and says that there’s some sort of big crisis and would I be attending?  I would not be, I tell him back, realizing that as a rear admiral, I don’t have to take this kind of order nonsense any longer, and besides, what kind of military organization are they running when captains get a choice in what missions they will and won’t accept?

I’ve long since abandoned wearing any semblance of Starfleet uniform, preferring my mercenary duds.  I only keep the logo on the ship because I get a discount at Space GAP when I present my service card.  All around me in stellar space, ships with such daunting names like Iwannaseeyounekkid and the U.S.S. Nose Picker show me how far this organization’s sunk.  That’s okay.  I was thinking of cutting a deal with the Borg and carving out a slice of my own space empire where we will use actual currency, act like normal people, and once in a while use a toilet.

We arrive at our destination and I assemble my away team.  They’re a little rusty, but they’ve kept that mean edge I do so love about them.  At my side in the transporter room is an ex-Borg commando, a Reman superhero-wannabe, and a dour Jem’Hadar.  As you might expect, the talent show night on the ship is just a hoot and a holler with this crowd.

We beam down and a wheedly faced man comes running up to us.  “Oh thank goodness, it’s Starfleet!  We need help with the…”

I push a rifle barrel up his left nostril.  “Can it.  Where’s the gold-pressed latinum, and quickly, chump.”

He blinks.  “You’re robbing us?”

I shrug.  “Gotta pay for that 2500 Cryptic Point starship somehow.  Starfleet pays replicator peanuts.  You ever work for an outfit that has some sort of weird moral compunction against using money?  We’re just supposed to do all this for the nobility of it all.  Now look in my eyes and ask me if I’m an interstellar Santa Claus or if I actually care about a retirement plan.”

Our treasure in tow and a large portion of the base burning from the exploding insectoid race rampaging through its halls behind us, we depart for our next conquest.

Play Diary: Busting the Vault (#sto )

Yesterday was mostly Star Trek Online day, as I haven’t put much time into that game lately yet was feeling the itch to get back into space.  What really prompted me is when I found out that a new daily mission had been added to the game that allowed players to mine for dilithium (the main in-game currency that can be exchanged for store points or used to buy nifty stuff).  As I’m dilithium-poor, I thought it was worth checking out.

The mining mission is actually pretty nifty.  You suit up in an EVA outfit, then head out to the surface of an asteroid and look for shards of dilithium.  When you find one, you can activate a little minigame that requires you to use the arrow keys to rotate and resize a triangle to match what’s on screen.  The quicker you do it, the more dilithium is mined.  I think my best was 753 in a minute.

I went to exchange my dilithium for Cryptic Points, and found that the market was currently around 253 per point, which seemed high but I have no idea.  For people who like to play the market, there’s some money to be made selling high and buying low, but I don’t have the patience for that.

Next up on my agenda was to continue the Romulan featured series arc and hope that it would nudge me over the line from 39 to 40.  I want me a new ship, darn it!  While that didn’t happen, I did encounter one of the coolest episodes in the game to date (and that’s saying something).  I’m just constantly amazed with how inventive and different STO missions can be, especially the featured ones, and this one is a great example.

It’s called The Vault, and I’ve seen it mentioned many times on other MMO blogs.  The backstory is that the Romulans have a massive secret facility where they’re doing… something… and you’re called to break into it and find out what’s going on.  Instead of using your ship or a ground assault team, the game requires that you hop into a shuttlecraft (or if you’re rich — which I’m not — a Delta Flyer or Runabout) and make like a mouse.  Shuttlecraft missions are really interesting, because they make you so much more vulnerable and limit your options, which definitely ratchets up the tension.  In this case, I knew that practically everything could squash me like a bug, so my best chance was to be stealthy.

Just getting into the Vault was tricky, because it’s got ships and a sensor net around it (and the facility is the size of “a small moon”).  Your bridge officers give you a few options of how to do so, and I chose the path that had me jetting over to an asteroid, cutting off a piece, pushing it through the sensor net and following it in.  Honestly, I really did hold my breath going through the net, certain that I was going to be spotted.

Once inside — and again, the place is HUGE — the next step is figuring out how to open a chamber door.  I think there’s a couple ways, but I found a code that allowed me to head on in.  It’s fairly straight-forward for a while, as all you have to worry about is disabling tractor beams and dodging these shield-damaging beams.  But once I got to the very end and found out the TERRIBLE SECRET that the Romulans were hiding, I was discovered and had to make my escape.

This got awesome in a hurry, because you’re not only going through all the traps that you had to dodge before, but you’ve got fighters on your tail and the occasional Big Ship that cannot be fought but must be avoided.  I was destroyed once, but just once, and after a few nail-biting moments, I was scott-free.

Honestly, I wish more games had missions like this, because that was completely engaging even though the combat aspect was minimal.  MMOs can and should be about more than just fighting, and this is proof as to how they can achieve it.