Star Trek Online: Armistice

For an expansion that only has six (now seven) missions as its main story content, you’d think that Star Trek Online would have to make every episode in Victory is Life absolutely count. With so few, they’d have to all be slam-dunk winners, right?

Well, I’m two episodes in, and so far I am incredibly underwhelmed. In fact, Armistice is one of the lamest missions that I’ve played in the game to date. Part of the problem is that this expansion is so deeply Deep Space Nine-focused that it comes off as a lot of fanservice that, as a person who hasn’t seen most of the series, will not get nor appreciate. Usually Star Trek Online is pretty good in bringing us non-viewers up to speed, but this quest was some sort of weird coda to one of the show’s episodes. And it was pretty dull.

Armistice had me heading into the Gamma Quadrant (which I couldn’t explore, as the mission auto-warped me right to the planet in question) where I was supposed to rescue the old Bajoran priest who was intentionally marooned here but now I guess they want to un-maroon her. Oh, and they had given her and her companions immortality via nanites. You’d think that all of the universe would be using these nanites by now, but I guess not? As I said, it’s very confusing if you’re dropped into the middle of it.

Anyway, getting her out is compounded by the pesky Hur’q, the new villains of this expansion. Like what I’ve seen so far, they’re kind of generic bug-aliens. Underwhelming. Lots of swarming and hyperactive jumpers.

Kira and Bashir come on this mission for some reason, and Kira — looking like a cartoon action figure — activates her bizarre pink lightning sonic power. Honestly, I have no idea what’s going on in this picture here.

Part of the dullness of this mission is that it’s very lopsided in favor of ground exploration and combat on a planet that’s just not interesting in the least. Oh well. I entertained myself by firing a miniature Death Star laser all around the place.

The worst part of the mission was the boss fight against this overseer insect up there. He hit so hard with multiple cone attacks, and any time we respawned, we were right at his feet and had no time to regroup and prepare. Basically, it was one of those instances of “throw your bodies at the boss often enough and hope that you get lucky sooner or later.” Took me about a dozen tries.

Back in space, there’s a hectic fight against a huge Hur’q fleet. Lots and lots of ships vs. me, my fighters, and the reprogrammed drone satellites. Everything was so small that I couldn’t really see it. As a carrier, I kind of have to take it on faith that my ships are actually fighting and not just doing donuts and figure eights.

I guess I save the day. Kira stops being a priest and goes back to being a captain, which is good for her because she looked like a gerbil in that getup. Then the wormhole opens and Sisko talks to the two Bajorans in a brief and unilluminating cameo. I get that they didn’t bring Avery Brooks back and so could only use voice clips for the show, but what was all that about?

I don’t get how this mission moved any sort of plot along, and even if it did, it wasn’t worth going through for the story or rewards. Two down, five to go!

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Star Trek Online: Storm clouds gather

Let’s face it: Deep Space Nine has seen much, much better days. But in a way, its better day also arrived with the new expansion, Victory is Life. Apparently the developers spent insane amounts of time and effort revamping the interiors to be as show-accurate as possible, which I’ll have to take their word about since I’m still only in Season 2. Hey, it’s HARD watching hour-long shows when you have four kids and always put gaming above TV time.

I do find it funny that the show has this obsession with baseball, as if that would be the sport that would survive to the 24th or 25th century. I mean, I like baseball, but it’s just such a random pick. You’d think that soccer or quidditch would have beat it out in popularity.

I spent some time touring the revamped DS9, which looked just as fine as the old one did (again, to my eyes). Good to know that even in the future, the Papyrus font endures. And is that Comic Sans?

No story here other than this little corridor offered me the chance to take one of my all-time favorite screenshots. LOVE. IT.

Anyway, let’s talk about this mission itself. Cryptic’s been billing this expansion as the closest thing to a Deep Space Nine sequel/movie/reunion that it’s ever going to get, and with 12 voice actors returning, I suppose that’s the truth. It’s been 25 years since the show first went on the air and 30 in-game years, so it’s been a while. Everyone’s older and settled into their new lives, but an old threat brings them back.

That’s how you do a reunion episode, by the way. You’ve got to reunite the band and come up with a reason why all of these people who had previously gone their separate ways would come back for one last ride. In this case, it’s the threat of the Hur’q, yet another faction of weird-looking bad guys that has the Dominion wetting its pants and other races concerned about unchecked aggression.

Really, I just want an expansion about the accordion-playing Klingon. Victory is Music.

I know Cryptic’s artists do the best they can with the models of the actors (aged forward three decades, of course), but some just look better than others. Bashir did not come off as well, with his huuuuuge forehead and weird beard. Odo looks more plasticy than normal, Kira’s got that goofy Bajoran headgear on, and the Ferengi… well, they look just as ugly as on the show. I suppose the artists were rushing through some projects to spend that extra bit of time on Chase Masterson’s model.

“Guys, she looks good enough as it is. Time to move on.”

“One more pass, Scott. I haven’t quite captured the transcendent beauty of her arches.”

“Go home. Your family misses you, man.”

“CHASE IS MY FAMILY NOW!”

Reunion aspect aside, the episode itself was mostly a prologue with your standard ground action and massive space battle. Actually, the space battle WAS really crazy. I kind of just park myself somewhere and fire at will while sending fighters out to swarm the bad guys, and that seems to work.

Star Trek Online: Survivor

As promised, I extracted the U.S.S. Firefly from Star Trek Online’s drydock this past weekend and took her out for her first mission in many months. I figured that with the new expansion launching this week, it just made the most sense to switch back to my highest-level character and ship that was mostly ready for it all.

To get back into this character/ship’s groove, I perused my mission list and noticed that I had missed this episode, which I guess was added a year or so ago. It turned out to be one of the better stories that I’ve experienced in this game, combining Yesterday’s Enterprise, the Tholians, and time travel. All of the dependable Star Trek ingredients for a good romp.

I guess this mission could be considered the sequel to the rather excellent Temporal Ambassador. That one, too, was all about Yesterday’s Enterprise, Tholians, and time travel, having the player crew assist Tasha Yar and Daniels in escaping an alternate universe and taking the Enterprise-C back in time to fight and be captured.

Well, Survivor picks up on this story thread and fill in some of the gaps to the whole Tasha Yar/Sela story. We know that Yar was captured by the Romulans, became a concubine, had Sela, and supposedly die, but I guess STO’s writers wasn’t happy with this thin story.

Instead, while investigating temporal anomalies around a Romulan prison planet (which is drawing Tholians like flies), we find out that Yar and company were plopped down here and left to rot after the Romulans abandoned the prison (and the guards!) after a time. Sela, Yar’s daughter, joins the away team to investigate the aftermath of all of this.

And Daniels is here, too. I kind of get the feeling that the actor who played Daniels was so delighted to get an expanded role in Star Trek Online that he never left the studio. He seems to be in an awful lot of episodes, kind of like Cryptic kept making time travel ones just to work him in.

I’ve always thought that there is irony in the fact that while Denise Crosby (who played Yar/Sela) left the first season of TNG, she seemed to spend the rest of her acting career trying to get back to it. She got to come back for Yesterday’s Enterprise and the Sela episodes, and Star Trek Online certainly is making the most out of her appearances. At least Sela in this particular mission isn’t that unbearable. She’s here against her will, but you can sense a curiosity when she starts uncovering the details of her mother’s lengthy stay on the planet.

The mission, for the most part, bounces back and forth between reading datapads of Yar’s life as the situation on the planet became more and more desperate and the danger of pocket temporal anomalies that were a major cause of death for the survivors. Some really well-done cutscenes on this mission.

Oh, and there’s some crazy Vulcan admiral from the parallel universe who’s making the anomalies or something. I was far less interested in her story. Darned space elves.

You kind of feel really bad for Yar and Richards for how all of this went down. Can’t think of anything less heroic than wasting away and eventually dying off, forgotten, on a jungle prison world.

I really thought that the mission was going to have Yar pop out of the shadows and officially rejoin the timeline, but no… it’s time to press “F” to show respect. Yar, you died too many times, and yet you were scrappy and wanted back in the limelight. I respect that.

The mission ends with a tantalizing cutscene showing Sela, in an “undisclosed location,” talking to an unnamed, unseen character (presumably Data) about her mother. Aww. Getting sentimental, are we?

Star Trek Online: The search for better music

Last week when I was griping about a few of Star Trek Online’s worst features, my sour opinion on the game’s music seemed to hit a chord with at least a few readers. I know my Battle Bards co-host Steff disagrees with me — she seems to like this OST, although I suspect it’s mostly for a couple signature tracks — but honestly I’m surprised how irritating and non-Star Trek most of these pieces are.

While I hate to turn off the soundtrack in an MMO, preferring to let the game present itself to me in its fully intended glory, I haven’t been able to listen to STO’s music for years now. Any time I come back, the music is always deactivated, and I provide my own score for the stars.

What I’ve been doing as of late is substituting the music from the Star Trek series and movies, and I have to say that it works remarkably well. In particular, Ron Jones’ TNG soundtracks transform this game with their very unique and memorable qualities. Berman reportedly disliked how much attention Jones’ music was getting, and Jones was let go after TNG season 4. That’s a shame, because most of the rest of the music from that show was pretty generic and forgettable. His stuff? Still well worth listening to today, even if it is totally synth 80s, through and through.

I took this approach with Star Wars: The Old Republic, too. SWTOR’s soundtrack isn’t bad (and I quite like the newer stuff, to tell the truth), but when it got a little dour, repetitive, or lengthy, I would switch over to a playlist that used the movie music as a perfect substitute.

Star Trek simply deserves great music. The franchise has seen some masterpieces (Star Trek’s I, II, III, VI, Ron Jones’ work, the theme songs), but it’s not as consistently great as it should be. Likewise, the game needs killer audio to go with its gorgeous visuals. I’ve put three screenshots from recent adventures in this post, and you can tell that this game is not lacking in those cinematic vistas. Bad music or no music at all detracts from it, while stirring symphonies transform these adventures into unforgettable experiences.

It’s probably just a pipe dream to hope that Cryptic will bring on board a composer(s) who would do this game justice at this point. Kevin Manthei has his strengths, but he is not suited for MMORPG composition at all. Maybe one day, STO will sound as good as it looks. Until then, my substitutions will have to suffice.

6 things Star Trek Online does poorly

Now that I’m back in Star Trek Online and spending a lot of time going back through the storylines and building up a new ship, I’m convinced all over again that this MMORPG has really become a gem in the industry. I know it gets some flak for its lockboxes and cash shop, but honestly it doesn’t bother me that much or seem that prohibitive. There are so many great aspects of the game, yet I cannot help but see six areas that definitely need improvement.

Let’s gripe!

1. Cutscene glitches and lip syncing

Star Trek Online gets a lot of points in my book for going to great lengths to secure the actual actors from the show and for doing a whole lot of voice acting (in fact, I would say that STO has the most voice acting by the original cast of any IP-related MMO ever made, unless I’m forgetting a glaring oversight). Yet it often squanders that with abysmal lip syncing and visual glitches during cutscenes.

The mission briefing screens are fine, but any time the game decides to throw in a cutscene… boy. It’s usually pretty bad. Lots of overacting in the emote department and no link at all between the vocals being said and the way the characters are moving their mouths. My favorite glitch — and I’ve seen this many times — is when the game shows my character standing on top of the command chair with her head out of frame. They really need to throw some people at this.

2. A lack of true exploration

Star Trek is well-known and -liked for its focus on exploring the unknown… yet Star Trek Online has pretty much never had this. Its old exploration system was a laugh, and eventually Cryptic yanked it and replace it with a big “under construction — check back later.” It’s been years now and we still haven’t been able to really go exploring as ship captains. That’s a shame.

3. Explaining the stats

I’m willing to look stupid here by admitting that I have very little idea what all of the stats do in this game. Star Trek Online is one of those titles that has way, way, way too many stats (for both space AND ground), and once you get up in the levels, they stop being self-explanatory. What should I focus on? How do I build my ship? Eh, I’ll just trust that purples are “good” and hope for the best. It’s not like this game is ever going to explain it all to me.

4. The music

This is a Cryptic problem more than a Star Trek Online one, but man… the music in this game has never been that good. Oh, the main theme is dynamite and there are a handful of decent tracks, but for the most part it’s those blaringly awful Cryptic tunes that made me switch over to real Star Trek movie and TV themes while I’m playing.

5. Tight ground combat

I’m not one of those people who hates ground combat. I actually really do like controlling parties of fighters and seeing them all do their stuff. It’s also good to get out of the ship and see my avatar once in a while. Nice change of pace, that.

But my problem with ground combat is that it always feels loose and slippery. There’s too much rubberbanding and delay between what you see on screen and then actual effects happening. It all needs to be tightened up to be a lot more fluid and reactive, especially considering that all of this takes place inside instances.

6. Give you stuff to do inside your ship

Watch pretty much any Star Trek show, and a vast majority of each episode takes place on board the ships. Yet in the game so little of it ever does send you to the interior of your ship. I was thinking about this, doing the tutorial a few weeks back. That was pretty great because it did have a lot more interiors — and your bridge officers even talked. But now all the action takes place outside your ship, and I wish that wasn’t the case.

Also, we need a LOT more housing options on board ships. I’d love to be able to customize my interiors! But I guess I’m out of numbers.

Star Trek Online: Another world bites the dust

One feature that I really like about Star Trek Online is its mission level scaling. I don’t know if it’s universal, but from what I’ve seen, any time there’s a featured episode or an event episode, pretty much anyone of any level can jump into it. Thus, even though this character was pretty low, I was able to enjoy the recent Renegade’s Regret episode and get the weekly reward from it.

Plus, it was kind of nice to get back in touch with this storyline, since it’s been a while. Going to be a while, too, until this character goes through it for real.

It wasn’t a hard mission but it was a good one from a storytelling perspective. You’re learning why this particular four-limbed cyber-reptile has decided to defect from his people. Basically, the answer is “planetary genocide.”

The twist here is that you, the player, actually takes the role of this alien in a series of events that led up to the defection. I was given an overpowered starship that ripped through civilian and defense craft alike and paved the way for the planetary bomb that would wipe out all life.

By the way, how terrifying would it be to live in this era? I don’t care about all of the progress and everything if there’s some xenophobic alien race that can drop a single bomb to wipe out any planet I may be inhabiting.

Even though it is really dark in theme, the visual effect of the planetary bomb is starkly beautiful. A very nice effect by the dev team.

Enough of that vacation, it’s time to get back to speed leveling! Star Trek Online has an imbalance in its campaigns, I’ve noticed. The first one, the Klingon one, has several episodes, whereas some of the later ones might only have a small handful. As such, it feels like it takes a really long time to get through that campaign when starting out.

It also meant revisiting all of these classic episodes that sometimes have pacing issues. For the record, I like an awful lot of them, especially the “Bonnie-Kin” mission. And I thought it was pretty funny to see a Reddit thread pop up for Delta Recruits that had a quick reference list to some of the more notorious quests and their very specific solutions (such as how to make that “nerve tonic” for Scotty’s friend.

Probably my only real complaint about the whole leveling process is that the ship progression feels really superfluous. I get quite tired of swapping out ships every four or six missions, and I never get attached to any of them because my eyes are on my future endgame ship. Maybe we should just start with that? Be able to upgrade it behind the scenes?

Star Trek Online: Flashback

I resisted as long as I could. Truly, I did. Hey, I don’t need another game on my plate right now, but Star Trek Online is going all out to grab my ears these days, so I guess that’s that. I’m back. Between the news of the upcoming expansion — which sounds way more interesting than the past two — and the return of the Delta Recruit event, I felt it was a sign that I should at least check in with the game on a weekly basis. And of course, I had to roll up a new character, since I do that pretty much every time I return to this game.

At least I have a good excuse here! I don’t remember the last Delta Recruit event, but it’s as good a reason as any to start from scratch. You get bonus rewards and some account-wide unlocks for pursuing alternative goals in missions and across the game, provided that it’s a brand-new character created in that time window.

So Crickety was reborn, this time as an Asian Trill. I even sprung for a Bajoran outfit, in honor of the Deep Space Nine expansion focus. The one big requirement for a Delta Recruit is that you have to go through the entire tutorial — something I haven’t done in years. And while it was cool from a story angle, especially with the added time-traveling stuff for the alternative objectives, man was it ever long.

I’ve never seen this version of the tutorial. Back in the day it was maybe 20 minutes, tops. This tutorial stretched on for two hours with multiple missions. Granted, it was well-done, had solid voice acting, and did a good job taking immersing you in both the game setting and the mechanics, but after a while I felt so antsy just to be done with it and get started with the proper missions.

Even with the exciting missions, it is beyond a stretch to take a wet-behind-the-ears graduate of Starfleet Academy and, within a DAY, see her promoted to a starship captain. I’m guessing that every graduate secretly hopes that their commanding officer will be killed so that they can assume the chair and stay there until the next graduate shows up.

My crew likes to drink. A lot. With the way I drive my ship, I guess that makes sense. By the way, it was a nice touch to have all of us start out in the academy uniforms, changing only to the customized uniform when captaincy was achieved.

In a night, I knocked out the tutorial and the first two missions while making headway on a third. For this run, I’m naming all of my ships after failed car models, so meet the U.S.S. Pinto. She’ll do 30 in a 50 m.p.h. zone and spew smoke the entire time.