Delta is Change

Welp, last week the long-awaited/dreaded expansion for Star Trek Online hit in the form of “Delta Rising”.  I’ve had a bit to say on this leading up to release-most of which was bad-based on the information let out through their web site.  But now, it’s time to take a peek at just what we wound up getting.

The backstory is pretty straightforward; after the events of the “New Accord” which declared, if not peace, at least a cessation of hostilities between the Klingon Empire and the Federation, in addition to the very recently acquired access to the Delta Quadrant-an area of space most famous for having been the area in the galaxy where the U.S.S. Voyager was stranded, the new Alliance between the Empire, Federation, and the Romulan Republic have chosen to take a look around the Delta Quadrant vicinity-and not coincidentally give the players their first opportunities to interact with species and situations left over after the Voyager made it home.  In fact, leading this fleet of allied governments is Admiral Tuvok, in command of the ship that had made that journey home.

A Klingon at Ops; Harry Kim would be proud.

Without going too much into the details of the story thus far-I’ve only gotten to level 55 so far-I’d have to say it’s not bad.  There is a liberal sprinkling of appearances of members of the original Voyager crew; in fact, not only do we get the crew, but also voice-over work from the actors that portrayed them.  Not all are present, but we get some of the unique personalities-Seven, Neelix, Kim, and the Doctor-not to mention Tuvok himself.  The story itself is a little over the place to start with as your ship checks the area around their base of operations, but it soon starts looking like there’s something really big and bad in the area that is beating the tar out of the Borg-which, admittedly, would be more intimidating if the players weren’t beating the tar out of the Borg in the Alpha Quadrant.  Could it be Iconians?  Or could it be another species on the rise?  One such species seems to be reasserting itself strongly.

Like these guys. Don’t they look friendly?

I’ll undoubtedly do a follow up on this once I’ve completed the Delta Quadrant episodes.  But I’ve done enough to have a couple of other observations.

The first is the leveling path.  The first thing you see after you do your first Delta Quadrant mission is a popup message saying that yes, they know you didn’t level after finishing the mission, and that you shouldn’t expect to level after a single mission-that it’s more difficult to level than the standard path prior to level 50.  I, of course, was not impressed.  I remember when it wasn’t possible to level from a single episode-mission.  Back in the day, I needed to do patrol missions and/or some exploration missions to make up the difference (and actually, you usually had to do at least a couple episodes).  But that was before the development team decided to make episodes the end-all/be-all of the leveling path.  Now it looks like they’ve decided to go back to it with these new missions.  Of course, there isn’t any exploration anymore, but you do have access to the PvE queues instead.  And this is actually only really a problem for characters who have already done all the episodic content prior to Delta Rising.  If you happen to have a legion of alts, you probably didn’t do all the episodes-you probably just did enough to get them to 50.  Which means you can probably get a good boost before going into Delta.

Why is that important?  Because, as alluded to above, you wind up in situations where you complete the episodes and you see “you can’t do the next mission until you get a new level”.  So you sort of want to have those levels in your back pocket as early as possible before you hit the wall.  A number of players have found ways to deal with this, and I’m not going to go over them here.  Suffice it to say, there are several ways a player can get the skill points he needs to advance to the next level-and thus, open up the next section of content.

One of those ways-in the low 50s-is Kobali Prime.  It’s sort of like New Romulus and the Dyson Sphere’s battlezone rolled into one.  The natives are under attack, and your actions will help them survive the attack-but in the process, you learn things aren’t exactly black and white.  Moral dilemmas…now that’s Star Trek for you.

Looks like such a nice place, doesn’t it? I’m sure the shield generator is just there for decoration.

As you may notice from some of these shots, I have indeed followed up on my promise to eschew Starfleet for my first run through this content and have sided with the Klingons; when Cryptic/PWE remembers that Star Trek is about exploration, then we’ll consider Starfleet my primary character, but until then, I’ll stick with conquest.  This additionally allowed me to see that the devs have a somewhat…inconsistent view of the Klingons.  In these missions, there were choices in dialogue that made me feel exactly like a Klingon would-and there were times when I couldn’t believe the saccharine garbage coming out of the character’s mouth.  Things that sound natural from a graduate of Starfleet Academy sound completely out of character for a member of the Klingon Empire-even if the character is one of the KDF allied species.  It seems to me that some of the writing could use a second pass-through.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t remark on some of the considerable controversies rolling around at the moment.  The tier-6/tier-5 upgrade mess continues to fuel flames, particularly now that the price points are out.  3000 Zen for a tier-6 ship, or 700 Zen for a tier-5 upgrade token.  Note that the tier 5 ships generally sell at 2500 Zen, and that the upgrade tokens don’t let the upgraded ship be quite as good as a tier-6, and you can see why there’s a bit of anger going on.  (And you can also see why the devs did it that way, too-because players will always take the path of least resistance.)  Then you have the difficulty settings.  Prior the the release, players knew that the difficulty settings were going to be threefold now for the various queues:  Normal, Advanced, and Elite, where the old Elite would be Advanced now, and the Elite would be the toughest of the tough (and Normal unchanged).  Well, what happened was that all levels were increased in difficulty, and the rewards were nerfed, which seems to have…irritated a fair chunk of forum-goers who play queues a lot.  As someone who doesn’t do a lot of the queued content, I haven’t had a chance to really determine how much of this is accurate and how much of it is perception, but the fact that crypticgeko (yeah, that one; I’ve mentioned him a number of times before in less-than-flattering terms) put up a forum post and…well, let’s let the man speak for himself.

New Difficulty – Star Trek Online
Delta Rising was a massive addition, and we anticipate that we will need to make adjustments. So over the next few weeks expect changes in the baseline difficulty, advanced difficulty, and elite difficulty – and also expect rewards to change as we gather more metrics on play-times and success rates.

Our goal was to make basic difficulty and the story content something everyone can play – even with a standard T5 ship. Levels 1-50 are generally pretty easy at basic difficulty, so we felt 51-60 should step things up a bit. Although we expect 51-60 accessible everyone, those in T5 ships and non-upgraded gear should to start to feel a definite challenge as they approach level 60. We expect Advanced to be for more skilled players and those who have invested in the game (ships and gear). And we expect Elite to be for the best of the best. We don’t expect most players to succeed on elite difficulty.

If I were to guess, I would expect basic to get some minor tuning, Advanced to get a little easier and Elite to get a lot harder – and rewards, like dilithium rewards, could potentially go up across queues once we are sure we are hitting the right mark. But this is just my guess at this time.

From the sounds of it, they didn’t quite get it right, did they?  Of course, I wouldn’t depend on his guesses; but that’s my personal issues with the man, so I could be an unreliable narrator on that one.

Despite my issues, I’ve enjoyed the expansion so far.  I like what they’ve done with the actors from Voyager, and the episodes have been pretty fun-even if some of the starships seem like a big fat bag of health.

That said:  there area  few bugs that occasionally show up in the game that could probably use some looking at.

Klingon transwarp technology could probably use a bit more polishing.

Shadow of…Makeb?

Okay, now that I have some time to post, and have had time to think on what to post, I’m ready to talk about Shadow of Revan, the upcoming expansion for Star Wars: The Old Republic.

The setup is simple:  Revan, the hero/antihero of the original Knights of the Old Republic is back.  (He’s actually sort of been back, but I’ll avoid spoilers in case someone out there hasn’t actually done a set of four flashpoints that were in the game at the beginning.)  Due to events that happened in the “Forged Alliances” flashpoints (which I’ll also try to be vague on), a man claiming to be Revan has more or less declared war on both the Galactic Republic and the Sith Empire-and he’s got the forces to at least get their attention.

The question of whether or not this is actually the Revan is likely to be a question explored in the expansion; whether or not he is, though, is largely irrelevant if his followers believe it.  For the sake of convenience, I’ll keep calling him Revan; it’s easier than “the man claiming to be Revan”.

Of course, this has gotten some purists upset; I’m not one of them, primarily because I don’t have the emotional attachment of having ever played Knights of the Old Republic.  (I had finally picked up the game years ago, but I made the mistake of picking up at the same time a little game called Star Wars Galaxies.  MMOs are black holes from which there is no escape…)  From what I have heard about the game and the character background, not to mention the events of those four flashpoints I mentioned, I could easily believe that Revan could decide “a pox on both your houses”.  The circumstances of how he made it hundreds of years after KotR could be enough to twist anyone-and let’s face it, Revan has never been the poster child for mental stability.

The expansion will theoretically cover two planets, and include-for the first time-new class stories.  The devs have indicated that they won’t be at the same level as the class stories in the original game here, but that doesn’t bother me either; even if they turn out to be short side-stories, they’re still worth having.  A smuggler is going to look at the events differently than a Jedi or a Trooper.

One thing that does bother me a bit, though, is one of the big changes coming with the expansion:  a revamp of the skill trees.

Your New Skill…Thing

The skill trees are history, to be replaced by something called Disciplines.  The devs figured that there were certain skills in the various advanced classes that are taken because they are seen as essential, so they’ve folded them into the various “disciplines” as being gained automatically, but left in the other stuff as being selectable by any of the trees.  So, for example, if you’re a Concealment Operative, you get abilities from the Concealment Discipline-and can select other skills as you level from all of the former available branches (eg. Lethality and Medicine for an Operative).  Those are called “Utility Selections”.  I’m not one hundred percent sold on this.  That said, if you like your build now, it’s probably a good idea to record somewhere what that build actually is so you can put it together again-hopefully-with the new disciplines.

That change will affect everyone, regardless of whether or not they buy the expansion.  And there’s another rub.

The last time Bioware/EA put up an expansion for cash in this game was Rise of the Hutt Cartel.  There was a preorder with useful bonuses, and if I remember right, subscribers got a discount (I could be remembering wrong, though; been a while).  And this wasn’t considered a big deal.  But five months later, the devs made RotHC free for subscribers.  Now, I don’t have an issue with an expansion being made free after a period of time, but five months was ridiculous.  Now, if you purchase Shadow of Revan, you’ll get RotHC free, regardless of whether or not you subscribe.  And I’m actually okay with that part; this IS about the length of time I’d expect that sort of thing to happen.  But five months was basically (and I hate using the term since it’s so damned overused) a slap in the face to the people who bought the expansion-especially if you weren’t a preorder for it.  When Galactic Starfighter was released, I’d posted that it was a good thing that it was being put in for free, because who would be dumb enough to pay for it after that RotHC stunt?

I stand corrected.  Post after post on the official forums indicate a wave of preorders.  I can’t bring myself to do it; the preorder perks mean nothing to me.  I have exactly one alt who I want to get through the class story, so the 12X class story xp means nothing to me; I could care less about a massive statue of Revan for my stronghold, as he’s sort of the antagonist of the expansion here thus far; I already have RotHC; and a 7-day headstart isn’t floating my boat.  So there’s no benefit to preordering for me-and given that I believe there’s a fair chance that this expansion will also be given away free for subs in six months, I feel no immediate desire to purchase the expansion.  And that’s Bioware/EA’s fault for setting that precedent.

Let’s not end this on a sour note.  I did, over the weekend, finally open up my last room for my Nar Shadda stronghold.  I’d blown a heap of Cartel Coins hoarded from my stipend for one room, but the rest was all in credits-including the last 2.2 million credit balcony, which represents the largest amount of credits I’ve had on one character in that game-ever.  Maybe that’ll be one good thing that comes out of Shadow of Revan:  with everyone running the new content, I’ll not have to compete with other players to finish objectives in the open worlds on Ilum, Oricon, and the Czerka base to rebuild a nest egg (which will allow me purchase more decorations or stuffs off of GTN).

Aside

And naturally, not even a couple hours after I finished writing up my last post, Bioware announces massive changes to the class system.  Plus the release of a new paid expansion.  So the next post is probably going to involve ranting.

Aside on the Old Republic

Building Character: The Cross-Game Edition

Well, let’s see where things stand these days with my assorted crazy characters in my currently active MMOs.

Over in Champions Online, I’ve been on a bit of a tear.  I’ve gotten a few characters up to 40 in the last couple of months.  It’s not as impressive as it sounds; most of the characters (Mindblade and Ultrawarrior) already had a fair chunk of levels under their belt-and with the anniversary xp boosts liberally used, it wasn’t all that hard.  I do take a perverse pride that I didn’t do it using the Alerts, which are the queued content.  Sure, that’d be an easy way to grind characters up to 40, but I kind of enjoy doing the game content.  That said, there’s a place for alerts when you want to get together with a bunch of heroes and smack down bad guys.  Among the new 40’s is Asteroid, so that character is now relatively complete.

I’ll get a pic for the Automaton sometime in the future. In the meantime, meet Shadewalker.

Presently, I have a couple of new projects being worked on now.  One’s a Reawakened Automaton, the new Archetype which I freely admit I’m doing solely to unlock the extra powers for freeforms.  There’s a better than good chance, in fact, that when I get done with the character, I’ll convert ‘em to a freeform with similar powers.  I was originally planning to just kill the character after I finished with him (it, actually), but decided that I liked the look of the design enough that I’ll probably keep it on the roster.  Plus, y’know, it’s not like I lose character slots if I get a guy to 40.  The other one is Shadewalker, the next-best thing to a Stalker (from CoH days).  He’s not exactly a Batman homage, but he’s definitely more of the vigilante sort of character than the “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” sort.

I will admit that I have not completed the Mechanon story arc.  The last portion is a team thing, and I haven’t been motivated enough to try to team up with anyone to do it.  The Mechanon Recognition store doesn’t have any costume parts that are screaming for me to grind out Mechanon to purchase with Mechanon Recognition, so I’m not exactly highly motivated.  I know that some folks have managed to solo through that mission, but it seems you sort of need the right kind of build to have a chance at it-and I’m not exactly known for my awesome builds; I tend to do builds I find interesting or suit the character more than build for maximum power and durability.

I’ve semi-stalled a bit on my development on my Star Wars: The Old Republic Jedi Counselor.  There’s two parts to this.  First, there’s a graphic bug that has the character’s head clipping through the hood of his robes, and it’s driving me crazy enough that I just don’t want to look at it.  I’d put on some headgear to hide the hood, but honestly, I like the look on that hood.  But the other reason is that I’m still working on doing the impossible-well, for me, anyway.  I’m one room away from opening up fully my Nar Shadda stronghold; I’d had a heap of cartel coins added up over time that I finally slapped to open one of the big rooms left to open, but I’m not immediately inclined to spend real money to open up the last-I mean, I’m already paying a sub.  At the rate my Cartel Coins accumulate, that’ll get me to the total I need in about…oh, four months.  The alternative is for me to scrounge up 2.2 million credits amongst my characters.

This is far from impossible as far as accumulation goes-in fact, I set a personal record for myself by having my Smuggler get his first one million credits.  I’d have gotten it sooner, but for the tiny issue of being distracted by something shiny on the auction house.  I see something out there I want to get a hold of, and just like that, my finances are down the drain again.  I usually did this for Cartel Market outfits that I felt suited my characters or companions, but now I’ve hit a stretch where there’s almost nothing in the market that I feel the need for-except for some decorations that go for millions anyway, so that can’t stop me.  And I’m closer than it looks-there’s at least a few hundred thousand available on my Imperial Agent, too, so between the two characters, I should get what I need well before the four months it would’ve taken if I just wait for the Cartel Coins to add up.

That brings us to Star Trek Online.  I remain irritated with a number of moves the devs have made, although the heat of the fires have cooled down substantially.  One of the outcomes here is that I’ve decided that I will not be concentrating on my Federation main for Delta Rising; I’m still hacked about the removal of exploration.  Instead, my Klingon main is going to get the call, so I’ve been putting a bit of time in to the character so I can get some reputation traits unlocked and ready to roll for him.  Fortunately, several rep traits have been maxed out by my Federation main, so I was able to send the Klingon a special token that allows him to get double rep-xp, so the road shouldn’t be as hard for him.  He is, however, restricted by time-the daily rep projects are really the most efficient use of reputation marks, the coin used to advance.  I don’t even need to get him to max reputation on anything-it means he won’t have any active abilities from that grind; he’ll be limited to the passives.  But really, half the time I don’t use the active abilities on the characters who have them.  Just the way it works, sometimes.

We’re a little over a week away from the release of the expansion, and I have no intent to purchase any of the new tier-6 ships; if I’m sufficiently motivated to burn Zen from my stipend, I MIGHT pick up the upgrade kits for my Klingon’s ship, and someday may do similar to my Federation and Romulan mains, but I’m still dubious on whether I’ll bother.  That sort of thing is another one of those things I’m still unhappy about.  Fortunately, one of the few things I don’t have an issue with these days is the stories being told with the game.  I’ve enjoyed the Dyson Sphere features, and I anticipate that the Delta Quadrant should be equally enjoyable-particularly if the devs have done right by the actors who are reprising their roles from Star Trek: Voyager.  My one fear is that they’ll overshadow the player characters, and I continually worry that the devs are putting together missions that more and more don’t include the character’s bridge crew.  I have intentionally stayed off of the test server to preserve these little surprises for myself.  We’ll see how that turns out.

So, things are still rolling along.  Stay tuned for my impressions on Delta Rising in…well, a couple of weeks, anyway.  I may or may not have another post before then, though-maybe a rant, maybe just observations.  Depends on what comes up.

Fantastic Voyages in Millennium City

The Crusade has begun!  Well, that’s not strictly true; the evil robot Mechanon in Champions Online has been an unseen presence pretty much from day one, with hints about it both in Millennium City and in Snake Gulch at the Southwest.  (Players may be familiar with the Evil ATM Machine, which always puts a smile on my face.)  But the robot-long considered an equal to the Ultimate Villain in the setting, Doctor Destroyer, has been absent.  But events are happening which will lead to a big showdown with one of the top-tier supervillains in Champions.

First, though, the heroes have to deal with the opening round.  The new Steel Crusade storyline takes place in Millennium City, where the police have cordoned off a section because the civilians there have begun to spontaneously combust and incinerate.  Doctor Silverback and Microman need the help of heroes to try to identify the cause of this apparently contagious disease-and hopefully put a stop to it.  In the process, the heroes will discover that things aren’t as obvious as it looks on the surface, and make inroads to stopping it-only to learn that, as the trope goes, “this is only the beginning”.

Cooling off doesn’t work so well if you’re already on fire.

The missions are no great departure from your standard sort of mission.  From a mechanical standpoint, they’re pretty straightforward.  But if you’re playing Champions Online, you’re looking for the plot and the story.  And the settings, of course.  The presence of Microman is enough of a hint to tell you that in order for you to learn what’s going on, you’ll have to get small-and by “small”, I mean, “microscopic”.

Fantastic Voyage-Hero Style!

I definitely got an old-school sort of vibe from the missions that take place inside the human body.  You just don’t get those kind of stories in comic books anymore.  There’s a host of science that would go against what’s going on here, but who cares?  This is about entertainment!  If you have to shrink down microscopic size to fight off nano-robots in the hypothalamus-don’t just sit there asking yourself how it’s possible.  It’s a setting where dinousaurs (albeit small ones) roam an island, assorted aliens are among us-some of whom are closer than they look-and where you can have villains engaging in that time-honored trait of monologuing.

I’ve not done this arc repeatedly too much as of yet; I’ve been taking advantage of the double-xp being offered for the CO anniversary, also currently going on right now.  But I’ve done it a couple of times, and enjoyed both run throughs.  That said:  this isn’t the end of the story.  Later this month, the second part will be released, and all indications are that it will be out of this world-literally.

As you might guess, it may also involve a larger version of this guy.

The best part of the Steel Crusade is that-unlike a lot of the content released for CO over the last year or two-this is a permanent addition.  Not an Alert, but a constant real presence in the game.  That’s honestly the best sort of news you could ask for.  And other indications are that there may be more content upcoming, which-if true-will be welcome news to CO players.

The second part is released on 9/18.  And if you think you’re done with Mechanon at that point, don’t you believe it.  Super-villains are sore losers, and retaliation comes on 9/25.

Delta Sinking?

Well, my original plan to make comments on Champion Online’s “Steel Crusade” has been bumped a bit, since the event itself has been bumped to the middle of next week.  And I really, really, really wasn’t sure I wanted to make this post…but hell, I’m going to anyway.  Maybe writing it down will help me work this out.

Star Trek Online, as noted before, announced its Delta Rising expansion, and it has some…let’s be kind and call them controversial plans.  The fact that the level cap will be bumped another ten levels is no surprise; that’s been expected for a long, long time.  (The fight about associating rank with level, up to “Fleet Admiral” now, is a fight long lost; I bypass most of that in my own head by keeping my character titles and rank insignia at Captain.)  But what started burning me up was the revelation of Tier-6 ships; which, as one might guess from the name, will replace the Tier-5 ships as the latest, greatest, and best ships available.

Here’s one of those new Tier-6 ships.

Which sort of flies in the face of previous comments.  I regret I haven’t been able to dig up the posts on the subject in the past, because I’d swear that we’d been told repeatedly that the tier-5 ships would be the top line even if/when level caps increased; the plan was to extend the usability and ability of these ships.  Clearly, however, with changes in developers over the years, that concept got thrown in the wood chipper-and screwed over everyone who’s ever bought a Tier-5 ship in the C-Store.  But it gets better.

See, the devs plan to make available “upgrades” to most of the Tier-5 ships that will make them “almost but not quite” as good as the Tier-6 ships.  Of course, there’s a catch here, too-besides the “almost” part.  See, the lockbox ships will be able to do the upgrade for free, so if you got your ship in a gamble pack, or even for the Lobi currency in the gamble packs, your ship will be upgraded to that “almost as good” level.  But the C-Store ships…they’ll have to pay for it.  In Zen.  That’s the “real money” for you, and priced at five or ten dollars-each.  (They haven’t settled on a price yet.)  God help altoholics.  Keep in mind that most of those Tier-5 C-Store ships started out at twenty-five dollars.  Plus another five if they were previously “upgraded” to a “Fleet Ship” if you happen to be in a fleet with access to upper level shipyards.  So your shiny ship could be effectively a forty dollar investment after all is said and done-and it still won’t be as good as a Tier-6 ship.  Which, of course, will be sold on the C-Store.  The price point hasn’t been revealed yet, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to look at the thirty/thirty-five dollar range.

Pretty recognizably Klingon, at least

One begins to suspect that Cryptic/PWE has been looking enviously at the Star Citizen model.  Check out the prices on those ships there-for a game that hasn’t actually been fully released.

It’s probably no secret that I’ve been disenchanted again with Cryptic/PWE’s development of STO for some time now.  They seem to have this penchant for removing content from the game and putting nothing in their place.  The Terrordome STF?  Gone.  The mission featuring the character “Q” in it?  Gone.  Exploration content?  Gone.  Memory Alpha?  Gone.  God forbid they do anything to improve these things or give them meaning again.  I have no issue with the creative side of the game; the writing is pretty good, they do pretty good missions/episodes, and the art tends to be solid.  But the development of the game continually leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.  It’s for reasons like that that I’ve spent only fifteen dollars on the game since the game went Freemium-and that was because I felt that the Legacy of Romulus expansion did everything right, and for a short time I thought I could start funneling monthly money at them again (in the form of Zen, as I was a lifetimer from before launch).  And then they did something again that reminded me why I had stopped giving them cash.

I won’t be giving them cash on this, either.  I’m not sure how much play I’ll be giving Delta Rising; I’m almost sure that if I do, I’ll be using either my Klingon or Romulan primary characters, because a Starfleet without exploration isn’t Starfleet.  If the game has decided that exploration isn’t important, then I might as well use characters who share the dev priorities of “kill-kill-kill”.  (Okay, that was unfair; that’s the hazards of being an MMO.  But given the number of “scan the planet for anomalies”, “aid the planet”, and “investigate strange stuff on the planet” that could come up in Exploration-even though it was often crazy and usually involved “scan 5 things”-it was still closer in spirit to the shows than the game is.  And don’t get me started on the loss of First Contact missions.)

The devs claim that you don’t need the Tier-6 ships to do the Delta Rising content.  I’ll certainly put that to the test, because I’m not going to be using the Tier-6 ships, and I’m not going to be paying even more Zen to upgrade my ships (my vet ships, apparently, will get free upgrades-but if a character isn’t already using it, I’m not swapping over).  And if I can do the content without Tier-6 ships…well, why the hell would I want to pay for them, anyway?

The Romulan one looks like it fits their design philosophies

Well, that’s enough of a downer post.  Hopefully, next time I”ll have something more cheerful to report.  Like smashing robots.

Galactic Stronghold Impressions

Well, it’s been a couple of days since Star Wars: The Old Republic unleashed its latest big expansion-Galactic Strongholds, the latest thing in player housing.  So, time for my own impressions.

My Nar Shadda stronghold.  Okay, so it’s not THAT pretty-I never claimed to be good at interior decoration….

Purchasing the Strongholds are pretty easy-as long as you’re at the Fleet of your respective faction.  The area to go to is the Crew Skills area, which has been reshuffled a little to now include the various Stronghold related vendors.  One of the first things you’ll see there is a new hologram with an appropriately attired salesman pitching the strongholds.  The Imperial one is a really nice touch-he goes all into how powerful you are and how a powerful individual like yourself deserves a holding at least as mighty (or words to that effect).  Clearly, the guy knows his Sith.  Interacting with the hologram also has the benefit of giving you a mission to purchase and visit a stronghold.

Prices vary; the base unlock for a capital world stronghold is 5,000 credits.  That’s a good deal, right?  It opens a main room and a couple other rooms.  More rooms can unlock for more credits…in some of those cases, a LOT more credits.  Going back to the base unlocks, though:  while the capital world unlocks are reasonable, there are unlocks for a stronghold at Nar Shadda and Tatooine-and their base unlocks are far, far pricier.  These are seemingly meant to be luxury items.  Fortunately, because of subscriber benefits over the last several months, a significant number of people have access to Nar Shadda with some free rooms-some with three extra, some with five, depending on if you were subscribed during certain points in time.

It will not be shocking that you wind up with a pretty bare stronghold.  The good news is, you start getting reward items for completing that mission I mentioned, which includes some basic decorations.  One of them should be a mailbox item:  I HIGHLY recommend that be the very first thing you place down, because you can expect mail to start showing up with some more interesting decorations, and you may want to use them right away.

Nar Shadda’s entrance. Vehicles not included. And their parking skills stink.

With all that space to work with, you’ll probably start wanting to slap things in there right away.  You have some basic decorations available from the mission you finished, and you may have other things to place by virtue of having played the game.  Maybe you got some vehicles from the Cartel Market; maybe you beat some Flashpoint bosses.  Maybe you maxed out one of the in-game Reputations.  You probably have some pets.  You certainly have at least one companion.  These are examples of things you can place around.  The pic above shows an example-you can’t see the mailbox well, but you should see a few of the vehicles my characters have come up with.

Which brings up another aspect.  These strongholds are not individualized.  These are shared with your other characters.  This means your other characters may ALSO have pets or vehicles or done things or the like that they can place into the stronghold.  Not bad, eh?

Okay, this is a little better in decoration. Still not exotic, but at least it looks like it might be lived in.

There’s downsides, of course.  There always are.  So let’s look at a few.  First, there’s the nature of the decoration scheme itself.  The walls, floors, and ceilings are littered with “hooks” where you can place items-basically various squares and rectangles.  And of course, you have large, medium, small, oblong, what have you.  But…they can be swapped off.  If you see a large area, you can change the layout to multiple medium or even more small areas.  After all, why use a large square when you can use the same area to hold several items?  It’s not quite as freeform as that of another game I can mention, but it’s a damned sight more impressive than others.  There is still some ability to mess around, though; within that square, you can control where exactly in that square the item is placed, and you can control its rotation on the Z-axis (which is to say, turn it left or right).

Another downside is how they deal with companions.  My impression in all the pre-expansion hype was that you could use your companions almost as “armor racks” to show off gear.  At the very least, you could have situations where you’ve got Vette and Risha catching up on old times, for example, by simply placing them in a room.  But…the reality has flaws.  If the companion isn’t one of your current character’s, or is currently in use by your current character, they show up as a hologram.  I could understand that if it was just for your current companion, because hey-your companion is presently with you!  But this is a step beyond that.  (And of course, the holograms don’t have the gear or even the character customization attached.)  Additionally, there is a limit in how many companions and pets (which tend to be animated in their setting) you can place.  There are server performance issues involved, but the devs have said they may raise the limits depending on how actual performance in the live environment goes.  That said, I don’t expect to get anywhere close to that limit.  And I suspect the companion issue involves the design of the system:  either they’re holograms because the original companions only load with the character you’re playing, or because the companions’ equipment would be more load on the server.

The ultimate fate of bosses downed in flashpoints: just another brick in the wall.

Another downside is cost.  It’s expensive to unlock rooms, but what is probably not understood fully until now is that it’ll cost quite a bit to outfit the stronghold.  A lot of items will rely on crafting certain fabrication kits-and even the lowest level of them require some rare items, from collection skills that don’t necessarily go with your chosen craft skill.  This may be easier for folks with a lot of alts, but if you don’t, the only hope is through the auction house-and right now, things are damned expensive.  Supply and demand in action-eventually, there will be a glut, and perhaps prices will drop on the more common items.  On the other hand, if you’re looking for stuff out of the cartel packs-you knew that stuff had to be in the gamble packs, didn’t you?-or if you want to put a starship on your balcony, expect to pay out credits that make unlocking rooms look like candy.  And since we’re in early days, some of the things in the gamble packs will probably not be showing up in large numbers until we’re much further along.  Of course, you could always purchase a gamble pack, but by definition, it’ll be a gamble.

All in all, though, it looks like the strongholds are a success in doing what they set out to be.  It gives people something to spend credits on-I mean, not everyone is as relatively broke as I am!-and they look impressive.  At some point, I hope to take a peek at some other strongholds that other people have put together; if you manage to have enough stuff in it, you can make it public for other people to ooo and aah at.  And I’m always happy to see what people can pull off, even given limitations of a system.  Maybe sometime I’ll even visit yours.

Ends and Odds

Gonna cover a bit of territory today-this’ll be one of those posts where I hit thoughts on a number of different games.

So, here we go.

Galactic Strongholds is about a week away from Star Wars: The Old Republic, and while there are a few other things coming along with it, it’s the Strongholds that are the big draw.  I’ve been making plans to get credits enough to expand my free Nar Shadda stronghold, with the understanding that I’ve never managed to get a million credits on a single character.  I was coming close recently, with a character getting up to over 700k, but then I made the mistake of going on the GTN trading house and went “Ooooo!  Shiny!” and that was that.  I have no discipline….  According to the latest guide I’ve seen, it’ll take about 6.5 million credits to fully unlock all the rooms in the Nar Shadda stronghold.  That’s not counting whatever credits will be dumped into decorations.

Clearly, this is a long term project for me.

Still, it’s not like I have to spend all the credits at once.  Most of it can be done in 2.5 million chunks.  Not an easy number, but it’s not impossible, either-I can fairly easily get 100k inside of an hour or a little more doing some of the dailies.  If I had any sense of the market, I’d sell stuff on GTN, but since I rarely do flashpoints or operations, I don’t have the big ticket items to sell.  Well, I’m in no hurry.  All of this means, though, that there’s no chance I’ll be working toward the guild flagship, which unlocks at a colossal 50 million.  If my guild was something other than mostly-dead, it might be achievable, but with maybe two people active at best, that’s just not gonna happen.  Especially since, you know, personal strongholds first.  I MIGHT spring for a guild stronghold, which unlocks at 50k on Coruscant (which is what I’m figuring on) and opens all rooms at 1.5 million, but that’s probably as far as it’ll go.  No flagship also means the desire to do the upcoming Conquest content is iffy, and it sounds a lot to me like that large guilds will dominate that stuff anyway-since it’s conflict between guilds, and all-so the way I see it, I can do without that too.  This doesn’t bother me; there will be enough for me to work on without that.

The next new content related thing is coming from an unexpected source.  Champions Online is actually updating with something other than “single mission and done” with Steel Crusade, introducing one of the most dangerous villains of the setting:  Mechanon.  The report says that this is a two-part update that will include a new mission arc, several new areas (although I’m dubious about these “new areas” being anything more than a mission instance).  But the most interesting part of this update is something City of Heroes players may find familiar: the introduction of an Epic Archetype, which is unlocked for anyone who has a character who gets to max level.  The Reawakened Automaton is said to have new powers that aren’t available to Freeform characters…at first.  But if you get the RA to the max level, those powers unlock and become available to Freeforms as well.  I expect to see a lot of these characters early on, as I suspect almost EVERYONE who plays CO has a max level character somewhere on the roster.  I certainly do-in fact, Asteroid recently hit that status himself, so I’m getting ready to work on one of my older characters who deserve play time.  (It’s so much easier to level characters when you don’t have to deal with guild-related stuff.)  This update is due to hit early September.

The last big update news is the announcement of Star Trek Online’s Delta Rising, which features a continuation of the game storyline by taking the characters into the Delta Quadrant.  Technically, they’ve been operating there for a little while thanks to the Dyson Spheres there, but this will be taking them into areas explored by the USS Voyager back when it was lost in that area of space.  New ships are expected-including a tier-6 set of ships, which has irritated a number of forum posters as it implies that C-Store ships have just become obsolete.  There’s talk that there are upgrades to “make them competitive”, but so far, it sounds like the ships being granted such upgrades are lockbox ships or Fleet ships.  Whoopee.  Well, given my disenchantment with the game lately, it’s not like I’ll care that much.  Besides, I’ve skipped tier upgrades before-back when the game was new, I used my Constitution-variant ship for twenty levels.  I’ll live if I can’t use my Odyssey-class as a tier-6 upgrade; I’ll just adapt to having it punch above its weight class.  Of course, given that STO doesn’t include things like exploration anymore, I might just decide to throw in the towel on Starfleet and use my Klingon characters since it’s more about conquest.  This expansion is due to hit in October, and like Legacy of Romulus, is a free expansion.

So, a lot going on in the major games I play.  The next few months will be interesting, and it’ll give me plenty of fodder to comment upon in the weeks ahead.  Next time, I expect to have something to say about Galactic Strongholds; if for no other reason than to mock my decoration skills.

Our House

We’re about two weeks out from the next big expansion for Star Wars: The Old Republic, called “Galactic Strongholds”.  It’s the introduction of player housing in the game, something I honestly thought we’d never see in a game like this.  Of course, it’s also not quite what fans of SWG might’ve liked, either, but I don’t see how that was going to happen.

Housing is one of those things that seems to provoke strong opinions on the ‘net.  One group insists that having housing is a way to give players more of an investment in their chosen game.  Not a financial investment-an emotional one.  That sort of thing, they say, encourages players to stay with the game over the long haul-everyone likes showing off their houses to guests.  Another group, though, tends to view it as a waste of time; it’s playing “dress-up” with houses instead of going out and doing things.  The time spent on putting in housing could be better spent, they say, on actual content.

I kind of see both sides of this, especially in today’s content-locust environment.  TOR has been fairly quiet with content lately; there have been a couple flashpoints, a couple raids, and small planets (very small) for dailies, but that’s been about it for a long while since Makeb.  (Oh, yeah-and Galactic Starfighter, for the PvP crowd.  How’s that been working out?)  Nothing that significant for a game that touted itself as relying on that fourth pillar of “story”.  And now we get housing.  But…they aren’t wrong in the idea that having a housing setup can promote a sense of place in the game.  Plus, there is another flashpoint coming along with this expansion-and while I am somewhat incredulous that the developers can pull this off, they still claim another Makeb sized expansion is in the wings before year’s end.  I’ll believe that one when I see it.

Which brings us to the housing itself.  Full disclosure:  I don’t have access to the test server-mainly because I don’t have the client downloaded.  At this point, I have exactly two test clients on my system:  Star Trek Online, because I never bothered to get rid of it, and City of Heroes, because I can still access useful bits thanks to a utility put together not long after it shuttered.  I don’t need to add more test clients.  The point being:  what I know is hearsay, mostly from awesome sites like Dulfy’s.  (Incidentally, as a side note, it sounds like the Rakghoul plague has hit again in Tatooine-I only know this thanks to Dulfy’s.)

Let’s get the obvious out of the way, first.  The housing is instanced.  There was absolutely no way it was ever going to happen where you could place homes on the planets that exist.  I would think that sort of thing would’ve had to have been planned for from the initial development of the game.  Now, I’m not sure if the strongholds will have an obvious hook into the world, or if you will have to use something similar to a “quick travel” to get into it.  I’m sort of expecting the latter, based on the screenshots I’ve seen.  The good news is that you should be able to access it no matter what world you’re on, so there’s the tradeoff.

In many ways, it sounds a lot like the housing in Champions Online with their hideouts.  Except better.  First, the scale seems on first glance to be larger; and second, you have a much larger selection of decorations to put up.  It isn’t a free-placement sort of decor.  Heaps of sections in the Stronghold can handle different styles of “hooks”.  You put the decorations on the hooks-some of which, as I understand it, have a hook of their own (tables, maybe?).  The downside seems to be that to get the good decorations will require achievements of various types, or a lot of credits-or materials gained via raids.  Not to mention crafting; crafters seem to be the way to get the building blocks needed to create various decorations.

There’s a monetization aspect, too-does it surprise anyone that some good decorations are going to be in Cartel Market packs?  It shouldn’t.  More frightening, though, is the expansion of the Stronghold.  It costs a heap of credits-and I mean a HEAP-to open up more rooms to the maximum size.  Of course, Cartel Coins can be used to do it as well.  That’s the price one pays for a free-to-play/freemium game.

The Strongholds themselves cover a wide area:  Nar Shadda, Tatooine-these are “any faction” Strongholds.  Then there’s Coruscant and Dromund Kaas, which are factional strongholds.  A key factor here:  Strongholds are “legacy wide”, which means you pick up a Stronghold, and all your characters have access to it; it’s not tied to a single character.  Which means, yes, your Sith Lord can go to your Coruscant Stronghold.  There’s apparently some kind of cost to doing that-unless the character is a l, who’s used to breaking rules all the time, or an Agent, who’s used to going where they’re not supposed to all the time.  (And as an amusing note, I consider my Smuggler to be my Republic “main”, and my Agent as my Imperial “main” character.  Sometimes the choices work out!)

This is theoretically a bit of what Coruscant’s could look like.

In keeping with the idea of the Strongholds being open to the roster of characters on the server, there is available a “legacy bank”, which allows access to all your characters to inventory.  Cost may be an issue, and credits aren’t one of the things that can be shared, but it might prove helpful to crafter-heavy players, depending on how many slots are available.  And like other cargo bays or inventory, more bays can be purchased.  But expect sticker shock.

Finally, it’s worth noting that a guild can open a Guild Stronghold.  There’s also the idea of Guild Flagships that are supposedly hitting the test server in the near future, and from what I understand, the cost on those things will be…let’s call it “nontrivial”.  It’ll be brutal for small or dead guilds, but larger guilds should be able to spread the pain-similar to how I’ve seen things work with the Fleet Holdings in STO.  Between the personal Strongholds, the guild Strongholds, and the Flagships, I imagine that there’s going to be a great deal of anguish as far as wallet-beatings go.  Cost of doing business-think of it as a set of goals to go for.  As for me:  I plan to deal with my personal Strongholds before I even think about anything Guild related.  And I’ll likely try to fill out at least three of those Strongholds, and theme them to fit the worlds:  Coruscant will be heavily Jedi-ish flavored, a place of heroes; Dromund Kaas will be so Sithy it’ll make your head explode; and Nar Shadda, which I figure is gonna be Casablanca.  We’ll see how it all shakes out-in about two weeks, should all go well.

“We’ve always been each other’s greatest nemesises… uh, nemesee… wh-what’s the plural on that?”

One of the best parts of Champions Online has always been its Nemesis system.

Every hero has one.  Batman has the Joker.  Spider-Man has the Green Goblin.  Thor has Loki.  Superman has Lex Luthor.  And so on, and so on.  That one villain who is the bane of their existence.  But wait-honestly, it’s not so much that they have a single nemesis-they all have a rotating rogue’s gallery, a heap of villains.  Bats doesn’t just have the Joker; he’s got the Riddler and the Penguin and Ra’s al Ghul and Catwoman.  Spider-Man has Doctor Octopus and the Lizard and the Kingpin and Kraven the Hunter.

City of Heroes had never really been able to replicate that sort of thing, one of its few lingering faults in my opinion.  Mission Architect could help a little bit, but that required you to actually figure out how to make a mission from start to finish.  CO may have its faults, but their Nemesis system seemed to definitely be a winner, and it still stuns me after all these years how-outside of one endgame thing-they never bothered to iterate on it.  As in, at all.  It’s one of their prime attractions to that game, and they ignore it.  (I’ve spoken recently about how dumb the decision making at Cryptic is; this is just another example.)

Over my time in the game, I’ve managed to mess with this with a few heroes; one of them even managed to jail no less than two of his nemeses.  This probably demands a bit of explanation first before I get into them.

When you get to level 25, you can go to the police station in Millennium City and “reveal” a secret history to the cop there-about your Nemesis!  It’s a thinly veiled story lead-in to allow you to design your villain.  The villain has pretty much all the same costume options as the hero does (save for weapons, I believe).  You define a general power set for them, and assign henchmen-which have their own powerset.  Once you’ve done that-and an introductory mission for the Nemesis-then you can expect to occasionally be ambushed by the minions of the Nemesis while you’re out in the world beating bad guys.  If you defeat them (which, honestly, is rarely too hard-the hard part is if you’re fighting someone else at the same time.  This will happen-often), one will usually drop a clue that goes in your inventory; opening it starts a “Nemesis Mission”, which features something the Nemesis is doing or the minions are doing, which you get to foil.  Eventually, it all comes to a head and you may finally confront the Nemesis and defeat them, and put them in jail.  Except…you have the option of reactivating the Nemesis, which will start a new cycle with villain, or create a NEW Nemesis.  And when that cycle is done, you can choose to reactivate either of the old ones, or create yet another.  And so on, to a maximum of eighteen.  That’s not as easy as it sounds, because there is a cooldown timer limiting how often the minions ambush you-or more accurately, how often they drop clues.

There’s occasional bugs in the system; the Prison Break mission is infamous for having a bug that prevents you from completing the mission (I avoid it by just not saving any policemen, opening the cells, and making sure to defuse the bomb; I can’t be 100 percent certain that any of the above actually helps).  And there’s one mission involving a VIPER Draysha facility that doesn’t cooperate so well if you’re teamed up with other heroes.  So no, it isn’t perfect, and since CO is basically barely above maintenance mode (it still finds time for lockboxes), they probably won’t improve anyday soon.

That said, it’s still fun to have your hero occasionally get reminded by your Nemesis that they’re still out there.

So far, I’ve had four Nemeses (see?  I know the plural form!) for my characters, and they’re worth sharing.

Demons are NOT people too!

The first one was Fhtagath, a Nemesis for Runelord.  That character was a wizard sort of guy, so it made sense to make a demon sort of guy to fight him.  The name was derived a bit from Lovecraft; it sounded suitably horrific.  I’d gone with a savage personality with Infernal Supernatural powers, so he was a definite melee brute-a nasty counterpoint to my ranged based Grimoire character.  I used Ice Demons as his minions, but gave them fire powers; I liked the dichotomy.  He actually featured in the one bit of fiction I wrote for Runelord as the demon that killed his master, but in the service of its own master (who never, alas, was revealed).

Beautiful and deadly was also a consideration.

The good news for the good guys was, eventually, I managed to put him in jail (well, from a character standpoint, I banished him).  So I expanded Runelord’s gallery by introducing the Black Blade.  I made her a swordswoman-again with the melee!-and made her a thief of occult treasures and artifacts.  Since Runelord’s backstory included possession of a fairly potent artifact, it would be a fair hook for any future writing I did (alas!), as well as give him a villain who wasn’t necessarily focused on simply rending him apart.  Her minions were your traditional ninja; I’d not worked out why they worked for her, but I’m pretty sure I was leaning towards them being bound to the owner of the sword she used.

Why yes, she IS threatening you.

Gunfighter was another character who had a Nemesis available, and she was still at large; Mind Ripper was a telepath, and she came from the same program that had produced Gunfighter; the difference was that instead of being given tech to take advantage of exceptional skill, she had her very genetic structure remapped to produce telpathic powers-which drove her nuts.  Her minions were thugs-who also wielded telepathic powers.  My rationale was that she had effectively created a hive-mind with these thugs, so they no longer had any will of their own.  I’d given her a maniac personality; that’s something worth mentioning-each Nemesis could have one of three personality types:  mastermind, savage, or maniac.  It could lead to some dialogue that didn’t really make much sense, and three is just limiting-you’d think it wouldn’t be hard to add more types, but again, that would require developers to actually iterate on the system.

The hair alone should qualify him as “mad”.

The last Nemesis is the most recent, and is tied to my recent hero, Asteroid.  When I was working up a backstory for him, included a reference to a mad scientist who had owned the moon base that Asteroid now uses; Asteroid referred to him as “Doctor Whatsisface”.  So I decided it would be a good direction to go for his first nemesis.  Since I liked the humor I was putting into the character’s backstory, I decided to continue a bit of it for his Nemesis.  I decided that the name “Doctor Whatsisface” actually stuck, and that’s what the media started calling him.  So now you have a mad scientist who has put conquering the world as a secondary goal, with a primary goal of beating up and burying that alien buffoon who stuck him with that ludicrous nickname!  I gave him a gadgeteer powerset, which is pretty nasty as I hear it, and gave him insectoid minions with the power-armor powerset:  genetically engineered and heavily armed, I wanted to put the “mad science” into my mad scientist.  Given that I didn’t have a lab coat costume part to work with, I think he came out pretty good.

The Nemesis system may have its flaws-I’m sure the missions can become as repetitive as time goes on, but it’s still one of the better parts of CO.  And really, what’s the fun of making a hero if you can’t make a villain to go against him?  The only negative is having to get a character all the way to level 25 to do it, but given how deadly those villains can be, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.