Seven of Eight (No, Not Talking Star Trek Borg Here)

  It’s been a long road, but I finally got my seventh class-story out of the way in Star Wars: The Old Republic. The Bounty Hunter was a class I knew was going to be near the last of the ones I was pushing for, because honestly? I was never a big Boba Fett fan, and BH’s in Star Wars Galaxies weren’t my favorite group of people, either (exceptions obviously existed) since so much of the development time while I was there seemed centered on “BH vs Jedi” instead of “Rebel vs Imperial”.

  So, being one of the scum of the galaxy didn’t horribly appeal to me.  But I’ve got to say, I rather enjoyed the story behind the Bounty Hunters.  From obscurity on Hutta and requiring sponsorship to the big time, to…well, I’m not interested in spoiling things, but the end of this storyline explains a few things for me that I’d noted in other class storylines.

Off to a new adventure!  (And higher paying bounties!)

Off to a new adventure! (And higher paying bounties!)

  The class itself was entertaining, too.  Unlike what I did with the mirror-class, the Trooper, I went Mercenary for my advanced class, and chose a damage spec more than a tank spec.  The heavy armor helped a lot, though; while not tanky, Chadam, my BH, could take a hit and deliver more of the same.  I’d gone Pyrotech, which used abilities that I wouldn’t have ordinarily considered as a key part of my combat rotation under most circumstances.  (As an aside, that’s something I’ve noticed as I go through classes; the spec you choose really does impact the abilities you choose as your bread-and-butter attacks.)  Unlike with some classes, I never felt like I had too much problems with elites, although sometimes I got killed because I’d flubbed my timing or because I failed to see that the elite was getting backup healers to keep him alive (kicked myself hard for that one).  It was a dramatic change from how I had to deal with elites on my Operative, where every fight was a close one.

  The companion I tended to use most was my healer; that probably contributed to my survivability.  When you’re wearing heavy armor AND getting healed regularly, you tend to come out of fights in good shape.  Tanky companions didn’t do as well in my opinion, mostly because of the downtime needed to rest up to full health again.  Damage dealers did okay to an extent, but since I wasn’t playing a tanky guy, I didn’t exactly have aggro control to keep them upright.

  With my BH now in the rear view mirror at level 52-ish, I’m likely to start looking at the eight and final character class to play to the end of his class story:  the Jedi Counselor.  I’ve started Lasken and when I was more or less bouncing between characters, I’d gotten him as far as Nar Shadda; there will be more on him as time goes on.

“Look out! Costumes!”

  I seriously debated discussing this on the blog.  After all, the whole point is that it covers MMORPGs, and this technically…isn’t.

  But it’s close enough.

By the Seven Suns of Cinnibus!

By the Seven Suns of Cinnibus!

  One of the games that had been on my radar for a while-for a time-was an online game featuring Marvel’s superheroes.  Of course, it became less attractive when I found out that it wasn’t going to let you create your own character, and even less when it came out that it was going to be a “Diablo-style” game.  So I shrugged, and put it in the dustbin of my mind.

  Clearly, this was before City of Heroes shut down.

  The game released last year, and it’s a free-to-play game, and I’d discovered that Champions Online wasn’t fulfilling my superhero needs (and let’s not go there with DC Universe Online).  I figured it was only fair to check out the Marvel entry into the MMO-sphere.

  And oddly enough…it’s not bad, from a gameplay standpoint.

  One of the things that has been bandied around as a down side is the fact that there will be heaps of Wolverines or Spider-Mans (I know, I know-it should be Spider-MEN) running around.  The Marvel Universe has a huge catalogue of characters, but surely, folks would gravitate to the popular guys, right?  But it hasn’t turned out that way.  And there are enough heroes out there in the game with more coming each month to widen things up.  And then you add to it that each of the heroes can use assorted costumes from their publish history (Spidey, for example, has his famous black uniform as well as his traditional duds).  So even on a group of Wolverines, you can see him in his classics, his brown outfit, his “Old Man Logan” outfit and his “Weapon X” outfit.

  Power-wise, it works similar to Diablo’s; each character has a unique trio of “talent trees” which allow them to use more powers-and the three trees have their own themes.  Combat is pretty much your usual action RPG sort of thing-if you were good at Diablo, you shouldn’t have any issues adapting.  The impressive part of it all is that each character is effectively its own class.  Looking that way, we’re talking THIRTY-FOUR classes-with more on the way.  Mechanically, some of those may be duplicating powers, but they all have their own visual spin and enough differences that make them distinctly their own.

  You have your A-lister characters, such as Iron Man, Thor, and Wolverine, but you also have some lesser lights.  A fan of Squirrel Girl?  She’s in there.  Deadpool?  Oh, yeah, he’s there too.  Moon Knight and Rocket Raccoon too.

Oh, yeah, Dr. Strange is there too.

   As a free-to-play game, it obviously has stuff behind cash gates.  While they’ve got the thirty four characters, only a fraction of them are available as “starter characters”.  The rest can be gained either by cash, or by turning in “Eternity Splinters”, which occasionally drop.  Prices vary, of course.  Costumes are a different story-it’s possible some can drop as loot (I’ve never seen it, though), but it’s more certain via the cash shop.  The cash shop also sells boosts, stash slots to hold more inventory, and their own lottery cards.  The cards and the stash slots are the only things, though, that can only be found in the cash shop-you can grind away for splinters to get heroes, and there are crafting recipes that will turn a costume into a random costume-plus that really rare drop I mentioned.

  It doesn’t have quite the same depth as the MMORPGs that I tend to stick with, but it’s an entertaining bit of time to pass.

Blowing Off the Dust

  Been a while since I put something up here.  Most of that is because I haven’t actually had much to say.

  I’ll be more specific.  As time has gone on, many of my posts tend to be more in the category of thoughts on MMOs on the level of what they mean to the game or the MMO genre.  I’ve ranted about lockboxes, I’ve talked about forum fallacies, and spoken of special events in games, and even looked at some of the stuff that comes out with new publishes.  And after a while, that sort of gets repetitive, and one finds little new to say.

  And somewhere along the way, I forgot that this whole thing started with me just talking about what I was actually doing in those games.  Less and less of my posts spoke of the things I did with these games, and more and more about the games themselves.  Which isn’t bad, all by itself, but it seems to have run its course a bit.  The problem here is that when I start looking at a bigger picture, I start losing sight of the things that made me enjoy some of the games in the first place.

  So I’m not going to spend this post talking about the upcoming Season in Star Trek Online; I’m not going to talk about the upcoming player strongholds in The Old Republic.  I’m going to talk a bit about what I’ve been doing lately.

  In STO, the last couple of weeks has been spent grinding.  This is not something I actually enjoy doing, but it’s worth it in this case.  One of those special events I mentioned earlier kicked off with an invasion from the Mirror Universe attacking a Romulan Republic starbase.  It’s a queued event, so it isn’t located on any maps.  The mechanics involve closing rifts from the Mirror Universe, activating station defenses, and fighting off the attacking ships.  In some cases, it goes real well-and in others, it gets ugly fast.

  The reason why I’ve been grinding through this is because this is one of those Event Reputation things-which means if I do it 14 times in an alloted timespan (and this is a daily), the character gets a heap of marks for other reps or fleet projects…and 50,000 Dilithium.  Now, one of the things about the Fleet Holdings is the idea of special vanity projects, and each of those projects tends to “prettify” the holding.  The Corps of Discovery starbase, for example, has seen a bit of that, which makes it look better-from a fairly basic interior to one that has a nicer bar, open starscape, decor, etc.  And each of those projects cost 200,000 Dilithium.  So if I run this event rep with 4 characters, there’s enough to do one of those projects.  And hey-fleet marks means I can apply them to other fleet holdings and work on improving those.  We could actually see the Embassy reach tier 1 by Summer if we’re lucky.

  TOR has been seeing some time lately; I’ve been working on Chadam, my bounty hunter, and he’s nearing the conclusion of his class story; he’s just finished clearing out Axial Park, which means one more section of Corellia to deal with before he hits the conclusion of his storyline.  He’s already hit level 51, so I don’t expect any shocks.  I figure by this time next week, I may have a good shot at being done, in which case I’ll have only one more class story to complete before I’ve seen all of them:  the Jedi Counselor.  And I’d actually got a good start on that guy-he’s at Nar Shadda right now, if I remember correctly.  Once I get through that, I’m expecting to start off on repeating it all with the opposite advanced classes of the ones I finished; so I’d be using a Sith Juggernaut instead of Sith Marauder with a new Warrior, a Scoundrel instead of Gunslinger with a Smuggler, and so forth.

  And because I get kicks out of self abuse sometimes, I have also spent some time reacquainting myself with EVE Online, which remains a sinkhole of corruption and treachery-or so I read.  Since I tend to solo my time there, I’ve had one character do some exploration site stuff-mostly data and hacking sites, although I did move him out of a Brutix battlecruiser into a Myrmidon because he does drones better for combat sites.  Mostly, though, he’s been working on starting level 4 missions for the Sisters of Eve, because I’d like to get a hold of one of the Stratios exploration cruisers that they have.  I don’t have anywhere near the cash to purchase one off the market, but it looks like that getting Loyalty Points to purchase directly might be a bit out of reach; my character’s not quite ready to deal with the level 4 combat missions, so that restricts him to the courier missions, and they give out less LPs than the combat ones-plus tends to be less profitable.  My other character IS outfitted for level 4 combat missions-although not with the Sisters, not enough faction standing-so I use him to help out the financials.  My big goal at this point is less about getting the Stratios than about getting my standing high enough to create jump clones at Sisters space stations.  That’ll open up some possibilities over the long haul.

  I’m not sure how much longer I’ll go with EVE; it’s a nice diversion from the other games I fiddle with, but there nothing there that’ll keep me long term, I think.  It’s just a nice break from the usual, so it was worth putting some time into.  Plus, there’s another game that’s kind of caught my attention of late, but I think that’ll deserve its own post-and that’ll give me an excuse to try to keep the dust off on this blog, which would be a useful thing, yes?

Innocence Lost?

  When is a gift not a gift?

  This isn’t exactly an idle question.  Recently, Star Trek Online began its 4th year anniversary.  All well and good.

Sure seems like it would be a swinging time, doesn’t it?

  In previous years, one of the nice additions was the giveaway of free ships.  For example, the 2nd year anniversary gave us a baseline Odyssey and Bortas’ class starship (depending if you were Starfleet or KDF).  To get it, you participated in a very VERY short mission where you gave the prototypes their shakedown cruise (and shot at the other faction’s version.  Can’t leave well enough alone, hm?).  The 3rd year anniversary gave us the Ambassador or Kamarag class starships, and to get those you had to do a full feature episode.  This wasn’t really seen as a bad thing; the playerbase as a whole loves feature episodes.

  So as the 4th anniversary approached, it was expected to see a new ship as a reward from some kind of mission.  And that’s where things get derailed a bit.

  In the last year, Reputation projects became a thing in STO.  Basically, it’s faction grind, much like you see in other MMOs (even if under a different name).  One of the types introduces was the Event reputation, which allowed them to set up a grind for the Holiday events.  This year, they added one for the anniversaries.  The free ship-so to speak-was locked behind it.  The kicker?  The grind involves doing dailies in addition to the feature episode.  Or spending lobi, a currency gained from lockboxes.  I’ve spent more than enough space talking about those.

  So in order to get your free ship this year, you have to grind daily for a couple of weeks.  There’s some wiggle room, but probably not as much as one might like.  This has also gone over about as well as you’d expect.

  I think a part of it has to do with precedent.  Grinding during holiday events didn’t bother us as much.  The Winter Event had elements of that with their presents early on for a Breen ship, and the Reputation thing had been well established when the devs introduced the Summer event for the Risan race ship.  But…the anniversary had been, for lack of a better word, pure.  It was seen as a way of thanking the players for their continued loyalty to the game-for playing the game.  And turning this into another event grind…well, it rubs folks wrong.

  Never mind that the ship will have upgraded versions in the C-Store soon enough; that’s no big deal, as that happened with the Odyssey and Bortas’.  Never mind that the grind involves beaming to the factions’ respective academies, and basically doing a set of five shell games (or chases) successfully, which is a fairly simple thing.  The pain is mostly felt by people who can’t get on that regularly, or by people who try to get these on all of their alt characters.

  I’ll take a moment to also mention that the devs really screwed up on the shell game.  As it stands now, we have two methods to complete the mission to advance the event rep at the Academy.  One is to do a shell game with a tiny Q, which takes about a minute or two to do.  Or if you’re lucky, the Q will instead try to run like hell, and you have to catch him-which usually takes about ten seconds.  So what some players have decided to do is just trigger a Q, and if it does the shell game, move on and try another Q.  Which makes it hard for other players who are looking for a Q so they can finish their daily.  If talking to a Q locked a player into finishing their game-whichever it was-before allowing them to talk to another, this wouldn’t be an issue.  But then, if the devs hadn’t attached a grind to an anniversary ship this time, this wouldn’t be a problem either; I sure don’t remember this sort of thing happening last year, when the event was about fun instead of grind.

  It seems that in a way, STO’s innocence has been lost.  Everything seems to be about a way to grind, or a way to fleece customers from their money.  Lockboxes and C-Store offerings don’t seem to be enough these days.  Posts on the forums seem to imply that if something can’t be tied to bringing in money in a direct way, it just won’t get done; I know that’s an oversimplification, but that’s the way it’s taken.  And it’s a shame, too, because it partially overshadows some very good stuff-like the fact that they gave away some C-Store items (low sellers, undoubtedly, but it’s the thought that counts) for free over a period of four days, or the fact that the feature episode released includes a Voyager alumnus voice-acting work, a lead in to the Next Big Thing, and is a generally entertaining mission to do.

  I just hope that the powers-that-be behind STO realize that the game has to be more than just about “making money”; it has to be about the value for that money.  The moment the player base decides that the money going in isn’t worth the value coming out will be the moment the game begins to die.

  Which could, admittedly, be a statement applied to most of the MMOs out there.

Nine Years In

  It’s kind of amusing that this is (if WordPress is counting right) my 100th post on WordPress for the blog.  I don’t recall how many there were on the original Faces site, so it’s iffy as far as landmarks go.

  What isn’t iffy is that it’s been nine years since I started MMO gaming.  Almost a decade now.  It’s a combination of “my god what have I been doing with my life?” and “damn, that’s pretty cool!”  Ah, the contradictory feelings of gaming!

  Let’s take a peek at the last year, hm?

  First up:  there was no City of Heroes action.  Probably because NCSoft killed it.  Fortunately, some enterprising folks managed to put together an application that allows access to the costume creator, and even access to the maps in the game, which is great for screenshots and stuff, but not so good with things involving other people.  That’s all I’ve got to say about that, as Gump would put it.

  Okay, into the actual games.

The Winner of the Most Time Spent award this year

  A significant chunk of my time has been in playing Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Thanks to the magic of paid server transfers, I consolidated my characters into one server-Jedi Covenant.  I’ve managed to complete the class stories on the Sith Inquisitor, the Sith Warrior, the Trooper, and the Jedi Knight-which means they join the rarefied air breathed by my Imperial Agent and Smuggler.  This leaves me working on the Bounty Hunter and Jedi Counselor as my final two class stories to finish.  My BH recently wrapped up Chapter One, while my Counselor is still hip deep in it.  The next step after those two will be the really insane idea of trying the other Advanced Classes; this would mean I’d have two of each basic class.  My sanity may or may not hold out that long.

  As far as the game itself, the Rise of the Hutt Cartel has caused me both irritation and joy.  It was a nice enough planet-and a coherent story, and I liked the kind of sneaky end of the storyline on the Imperial side.  I did complete the Republic one, too, which led to the amusing conversation of “why is Makeb still here?  Wasn’t it falling apart last time I was here?”  It makes sense when you do both sides.  On the other hand, I hated the fade-to-black transitions when you take the speeders to each location on Makeb-I know some folks complain about time eaten up in travel, but I like the scenic views in flight!  More of an annoyance was the way Bioware/EA treated the expansion itself.  They charged for it, and made it free in less than a year.  I know it’s traditional for an expansion to become free eventually, but that tends to happen when another expansion hits-maybe-and after a period of time substantially longer than a year.  It’s a good thing that the latest expansion, Galactic Starfighter, was a free one, because after feeling burnt on RotHC when they gave it away after charging for it scant months before, I’m certain I wouldn’t have bought it-especially since it’s pretty much solely a PvP expansion.

  A lot of the added content besides these two have centered on short maps and dailies.  The Czerka facility and the planet Oricon are fairly small, and most of their story seems to be tied up into flashpoints and operations.  Full disclosure-I’ve only really started doing some of the Oricon single player content, and am currently trying to figure out how to deal with a beast that can overwhelm my tank companions and then me in very little time.  I really need to do some serious gearing up again….  Also for fans of the grind, the game introduced a Reputation system, so if one can work to get some gear and other stuff if they get on the hamster wheel.  The good news is that it’s account-specific, not character specific, so it’s not like you have to really abuse yourself on multiple characters-all of your characters can help.  And that’s a good thing.

Who would’ve thought a year ago that this would’ve gotten an expansion?

  Star Trek Online hit its own expansion with the Legacy of Romulus, bringing Romulans into the fold as a subfaction for Starfleet and the KDF.  In spite of this game-mechanic status, they had their own set of missions-at least early on.  By the time you get to the Beta Ursae sector block, you start sharing missions originally designed for Starfleet, but with a Romulan spin.  Even more importantly in my eyes, however, the expansion raised the level for the Klingons, allowing them to FINALLY have a full 1-50 leveling experience.  The situation isn’t perfect-the majority of stuff released is still Starfleet centric, with the Romulans being a distant second thanks to the fact that they were the focus of the expansion.  The Klingons did manage to get a new ship this year, though, so you know, improvement.  The addition of the Dyson Sphere prior to the end of the year brought us the dinosaurian Voth as new antagonists, and again, it seems that the hidden Big Bad of the game is involved.  Whether or not we actually see any movement on this during the year is iffy-but on the other hand, the developers have indicated that they’re working on a new expansion for later this year-although it will not include a new faction-which might give hope for major movement on the setting’s story.

  Not too much on the character front going on, though.  The Corps of Discovery’s rush of activity faded, but not before we pulled up to a tier 2 starbase-which is really as good as can be asked for at this stage.  Technically, the fleet’s working on an Embassy to tier 1, but the upgrade project for it is a long haul, and if it gets done before year’s end, it’ll be impressive.  There’s two other fleet holdings available in the game, but there’s no chance they get upgraded.  Most of my characters in the game are at level 50-including a few new Romulan factioned characters-but I’ve found my time shrinking in STO.  With luck, I can work on ways to help keep my interest up there-either by going nuts in the PvE queues or learning how to use the Foundry to develop my own missions.  (Given how things ended with the Mission Architect and I in CoH, though, I’m iffy on how far I will go with that.)

Well, they can’t all be winners….

  And then there’s Champions.

  Well, I tried.  I got a few characters to max level, but the content drought continued, and the folks I played with faded out from it, and ultimately, I felt there wasn’t enough to keep me around playing on my own-and I more or less crash and burned myself out on putting together supergroups (or guilds, or whatever you want to call them), so with absolutely nothing holding me there, I let the sub lapse, and that’s been that.  I think I’ve logged in maybe twice since I hung up the cape there.  During my time there, they’d introduced vehicles, and a few events-one featuring the attack of Lemuria on Millennium City, one involving the Forum Malvarum (I know I spelled that wrong) on the moon, and one involving a hack down to the big supercomputer of the Champions (did they ever actually finish that arc?).  And put in auras for characters, but that was after I’d left.  Not sure what lies ahead for CO, but it’ll have to be something that happens without me.

  With my written fiction stuff, I didn’t get much done as far as number of stories.  On the other hand, they also were longer than any of my previous efforts.  “Landwalker” was written to fill in a blank spot from my SWG stories back in the day, while “Storm” is my interpretation of the big Coming Storm event that City of Heroes should have gotten (that one’s still being posted-there were not short bits of writing like most of my previous stuff). 

  It would seem that year 10 could be slowly winding down my time in the MMO-sphere; I expect to finish the class stories in TOR this year, and STO may or may not manage to hold on depending on what else comes along there.  On the other hand, TOR is a freemium game, so if I decide I’m done, all is not lost there; and I’m a lifetimer in STO, which means even if I’m done, I’m never REALLY done (although there are actions being made by Perfect World Entertainment that could put a ticking timer on this-more on that in the future).  And if there’s one thing I’ve been astonishingly bad at, it’s been predicting the future.  Plus, hey, it’s possible I may simply spend some time at one of the other games I’d done in the past for short stints (EVE?  WoW?  DCUO-okay, now I’m getting crazy).

“Did We Go As Far As Voyager?”

  That question made me pause in Star Trek Online; my character was asking this of the Romulan mission commander in the Season 8′s main attraction, the Dyson Sphere in the Delta Quadrant.  Seems innocuous, right?  Surely, everyone in Starfleet knew of the the events in Star Trek: Voyager, even though it was 30-ish years ago in the timeline.

  Thing is:  the person asking that question so instinctively was my Klingon.  While I’m sure that the Klingon Empire was more than aware of that event, it seemed odd that this would’ve been the first reaction of a Klingon.  I could’ve bought him asking “Is the Borg anywhere nearby?” or something along those lines, but the trip of a vessel of an enemy power?  Now, I just shrugged this off at the time, but it did start me thinking about the problems that STO has with the Klingons-or, to be more honest about it, multiple factions in general.

  Cryptic’s first game was City of Heroes, as readers will recall remains near and dear to my heart.  (Almost one year ago, too.  I’ll reflect on that around that time.)  It was a pretty simple premise:  you make superheroes.  They fight bad guys.  Just that simple.  But later, they put together a stand-alone expansion sort of thing:  City of Villains.  The intent was to have them separate except for a very specific meeting area which was neutral ground, or in PvP areas where the heroes and villains could do what heroes and villains do best:  beat each other up.

  But even at its launch, it seemed that the villains didn’t have as much content as the heroes, for a stand alone game.  Part of this is probably because of the very significant head start that the heroes got-CoH had been out for quite a while and had a number of publishes fleshing them out further.  One would have assumed that once the villains had a number of publishes under their belt, they’d be on a par with the heroes.  But that ignores a central reality:  the same development team worked on both CoH and CoV.  They couldn’t exactly completely ignore CoH to bring CoV to an equal status.  So as time went on, the developers worked on content that benefited both sides.  For systems, it wasn’t bad.  For lore, well….  Truth is, a common complaint from those who swore by villainy was that their characters were too often being put in “save the world” situations.  Sure, it’s in their best interests-can’t rule the world or do villainous sorts of things if the world is conquered by someone else or simply demolished.  But the reality was that they were being forced into situations where they’d have to act heroic-and there were never situations where the heroes would have to act…well, unheroic.  Eventually, this changed a little with the morality missions and the like, but all that came after Cryptic headed off and left CoH to NCSoft.  (And in full disclosure, the development of the joint content was pretty much after Cryptic left, too-on the other hand, they had been formerly with Cryptic, so the general mindset is probably still valid.)

  The next game rolled out by Cryptic was Champions Online.  It’s probably important to note that there is no “villain side” there.  And given the lack of attention in CO, it probably wouldn’t happen even if they were inclined to do so.

  That brings us back to STO.  It’s pretty clear to me that the KDF faction was an afterthought.  Maybe the intent was to have it as “monster play” like seen in Lord of the Rings Online, but the supporters of the game during beta kept pushing hard for a KDF faction.  Eventually, Cryptic announced it would happen-but the leveling process of the Klingons would be through PvP, not through the usual traditional methods.  All the story work and PvE stuff was focused on Starfleet.  This was so much of an issue that when the game launched, you couldn’t have more than a few characters in total (a couple more if you were a Lifetime Sub), and you couldn’t roll up a Klingon faction character unless you’d gotten to level six with a Starfleet character and/or finished a certain mission.

  So the Klingons were crippled on day one as far as potential population goes.  Sure, a PvP only faction sounds like a PvPers dream, but that really doesn’t work in practice if the other side could care less.  There was the interfaction PvP, but that really didn’t do it for them.  And for people who liked Klingons, but didn’t like PvP, it was just-and I really hate to use the phrase, but it fits-a slap in the face.  They got a limited amount of PvE put in with Empire Defense missions, but the surest way to advance was still PvP missions.

  By the time STO went freemium, the KDF had gotten some PvE missions.  Mostly by virtue of the Feature Episode series, but they did get some minor Klingon arcs-no more than two or three missions per arc, and there were three or four of those.  Still nowhere near parity with Starfleet.  And when the game did go freemium…the whole rules on how to roll a Klingon changed; the devs recognized there wasn’t enough content for a leveling experience from 1-50 (or 6-50, as the case may be) and put the Klingons as characters who started at level 21.  This effectively removed the lower level ships from the game at that point.  It wasn’t until the game got to Legacy of Romulus when the Klingons were finally given a leveling path from 1 to 50; the late game for them was pretty much identical to Starfleet’s, except with Klingon spin in the dialogue.  (To be fair, it was pretty similar to the Romulans as well, introduced at that time.)

  Cryptic seems to have issues with two faction games; I’m not entirely sure why.  Other game companies seem to do a reasonably good job of it.  WoW is obviously the leader here, but then, they’ve got oodles of cash to throw at the game.  Star Wars Galaxies (and later The Old Republic) didn’t seem to have huge problems in that arena-although as a sandbox, SWG didn’t really NEED heavy factional content until the NGE made it less sandboxy.  EVE Online has four different factions-or heaps, if you include the player alliances; still, most of the ships in the game are supplied by the four empires, so you could look at it in that way.  Clearly, it is not impossible to develop a game with two points of view.  But Cryptic never really seemed committed to that, and it shows-even in minor bits of dialogue like this post’s title.

  And it goes beyond simply story.  There is still a huge disparity between ships in the C-store for Starfleet and the Klingons.  Looking at STO Wiki, when I peek at the number of ships Starfleet has at the Vice Admiral level (not including Fleet ships) compared to what the Klingons get, the numbers are depressing:  20 for Starfleet…7 for the Klingons.  Hell, even the Romulans have 10.  The developers hem and haw, saying nobody buys Klingon ships.

  Gosh.  I wonder why.  I suppose hamstringing a faction for years couldn’t possibly have anything to do with that.  And by ignoring the problem hoping it will go away…yeah.  That works well.  The Romulan players will be getting into the act too, once the shine starts to wear off and they realize that they aren’t the favored child either-particulary since their ability to use an allied faction’s ships ends at tier 4; the tier 5 vessels must be of their own faction (something that actually makes sense, lore-wise, but is going to cause issues in gameplay eventually).

  The devs do have the point that you don’t need special ships from the store (and I’m not even looking at the lockbox ships, usable by either faction-I consider that a wash) to play the game.  You can do every mission with the ships in the game that aren’t even C-store ships.  But as long as they keep making shiny good stuff for Starfleet and leave scraps for the Klingons (and soon, the Romulans); as long as the story in the game keeps assuming Starfleet characters even if they aren’t members of Starfleet; as long as the non-Starfleet faction keeps being pushed to the side, there will continue to be a perception of a major disparity.

  Oh, and it’s worth noting:  Cryptic’s latest game, Neverwinter?  Only one faction, to my knowledge.  The trend continues.

Lighten Up

The image that launched a thousand screams

  Once in a while, something the Star Trek Online devs add to the game causes screams of anger from the purists.

  I’m sorry-did I say “once in a while”?  I meant, “Virtually every release”.

  The image above may not seem like it, but yes, it’s from the upcoming Season 8 publish for STO.  The primary antagonist (I haven’t checked enough to call them “the bad guys”) are the Voth.  Don’t feel bad if that doesn’t sound familiar-they showed up in a single episode of Star Trek: Voyager, and the implication was that THEY were what happened to the dinosaurs-as in, they up and left.  Long story.  They were way ahead of Starfleet tech, having ships that literally dwarfed the U.S.S. Voyager-in fact, they dwarf Borg cubes.  They’re big and bad, and they have their own priorities in the setting of Season 8-a Dyson Sphere (unrelated to the one found in Star Trek: The Next Generation).

  So.  We have dinosaurs with frickin’ laser beams on their heads.  That’s actually a quote from my “favorite” dev in STO.  Predictably, there is a segment on the STO forums who went berserk.  It was ridiculous.  It was stupid.  It didn’t fit Trek.

  I’m the last guy to defend certain devs given my personal opinions, but in this case…I gotta.  This is, after all, a setting which included meeting Greek gods and giant amoebas (the Original Series), a transformation of humanoids to slugs when exposed to transwarp velocities (Voyager), jellyfish in space (Next Generation), diseases spread via mind-melds (Enterprise), and Ferengi (notably any given “Ferengi” episode on Deep Space Nine).  Ridiculous is par for the course.  It’s a bit too cutesy, maybe, but whatever.  It’s not going to break the franchise harder than anything else in the game.  Hell, I’d be more offened by that infamous Divide et Imperia mission in the game which insults the intelligence of the average player than dinosaurs with tech weapons.

  I’ve not yet looked at everything being offered up by Season 8 so far (I haven’t hit the test center as much this time around), but from what I’ve seen of that, plus the feature episode that recently hit Live, we’ve got enough good stuff to satisfy the average player.  I’ll have more to say when we get closer to release, which is early next week.

How Much Grind Is Too Much?

  Star Trek Online has begun hyping its next major publish in “Season 8: The Sphere”.  The intent on it is to advance the game’s storyline with regard to the “Big Bad” that’s been hinted at since day one (which I’ll keep my mouth shut on just in case there are folks who don’t want to know because they haven’t gotten that far in the game yet), and bring in a few more Voyager elements.  Previous content has hit on many of the Trek series, with Deep Space Nine being a bit favored, but not neglecting Next Generation and the Original Series, but Voyager hasn’t gotten much love.  And that’s not shocking-most of its goodness was in the Delta Quadrant, and that’s a long way from the setting of STO.  Nonetheless, things are coming in a big way.

The Next Fleet Holding. Yeah, It’s Big.

  One of the things coming is a new reputation system (eg. individual grind) and a new fleet holding (eg. fleet grind).  This is in addition to the grinds that already exist in STO.  To put it in perspective:  there are no less than four individual reputations on an ongoing basis:  Omega from dealing with Borg content, New Romulus from dealing with the Tau Dewa content, Nukara from dealing with Tholian related content (mostly in the Nukara system-shocker!), and now the new one for Season 8.  Most of that requires separate marks to gain, along with dilithium (usually), and energy credits which are the basic currency-or items purchased with said credits.  And they tend to require a lot of them.  THEN, if you’re in a fleet, you have similar projects to deal with for your fleet:  the starbase, an embassy on New Romulus, and a dilithium mine-and now a new holding with Season 8.  Those projects also tend to require significant resources, including duty officers and fleet marks gained by doing fleet content (well, group content, that is.  It’s an interesting fact of life that you don’t actually need to be in a fleet to get fleet marks).

  God help you if you have multiple alt characters….

  Still, it seems from reports coming from the Tribble test server that things may not be as horrid as they sound.  Maybe.  While the fleet holding may still require heaps of grind, it appears that the devs are looking at ways to make individual reputation less of a horror for alt characters.  This includes a different means of accounting for doing the new content to replace the marks currency for that holding (which may or may not carry over in the future to existing reputations), and will also include at the top reputation a project to create a special voucher to give to another of your characters to give them double reputation xp, which would mean the work required would be cut down dramatically in terms of projects needed to advance reputation.  (How that would translate to actual cost is a bit dicier; I don’t believe it’s a 50 percent discount as a result, but it’s still a pretty significant chunk.)

  The grind exists on multiple games, and it’s pretty much par for the course.  The challenge has always been to find a way to disguise it in some way, to make it seem like less of a grind.  Star Trek Online hasn’t done the best job of it, but it isn’t exactly the worst, either (I remember WoW grinds).  Grinding may be one of those necessary evils, however.  Given the proportion of time it takes for a developer to create content versus the amount of time it takes for a player to complete it…well, it’s in the best interests of developers who don’t want to go mad to have content that can be repeated often so that players have something to work towards before the next big content push.

The Purity Foundry arc

  Fortunately, at least in STO, there is always something else around if you’re willing to look.  The Foundry, which allows dedicated players to play missions designed by other players, and while most sadly share an attribute with the old Architect Entertainment woes in City of Heroes-as in, many farming missions of one sort or another-the ones spotlighted by the devs tend to be of better quality, such as the current “Foundry Feature” episodes by the folks at StarbaseUGC.  With the Foundry having spotlight episodes for both Starfleet and the Klingons, there’s at least something that gets pointed out every week which can make for a nice break from the grind.

  Late Breaking Edit:  Seems that my post is timely.  A few hours after the original posting, Cryptic puts up a blog on the new Reptutation, including the part about the doubled rep xp vouchers.

Aside

  According to the Unnamed SWTOR Podcast by way of Massively, sure sounds like that there will be no updating of space missions that currently exist (or any PvE action at all) for the Galactic Starfighter expansion.  Well, that’s not that big of a shock.  When you think about all the craziness you’d have to program in-computer AI can be tricky.  Much easier to stick with PvP when the player controls all the action instead of creating behavior for other ships.

  So the short version is:  PvP off rails, PvE on rails.  Well, it’s not like I do much space content in the game anyway.

Aside on Starfightin’

Starfightin’

  The devs over at Bioware recently announced the ill-kept secret they’ve been hiding for quite a while now:  the next digital expansion, Galactic Starfighter, for Star Wars: The Old Republic.  As the name implies, it brings mass starfighter combat to the game.  There’s precedent for this, of course.  Star Wars Galaxies had a similar expansion (although theirs was their first expansion, while this is TOR’s second) called Jump to Lightspeed.  That expansion was hailed as a pretty significant success for the folks interested in flying the ships of Star Wars, and being able to use the bigger ships as a ground map at the same time they were fighting in space was a big deal.  That’s a hard pedigree to match.

The Empire Strikes Back. Or at least they’ll have a shot at it.

  The expansion is a free one, unlike Makeb (although that has recently been given for free to all subscribers), and the major feature here is massive PvP combat in space-and presumably no longer on the rails like the current space content is.  Despite the fact that I am not a big fan of PvP, I do consider this a good thing.  PvP players, as a general rule, get shafted repeatedly in MMOs.  I can see a developer’s point there:  balance is a neverending struggle with classes and gear, and nothing would probably ever get done if they tried to keep up with that.  Not to mention the fact that said balancing tends to only happen to the classes and gear, which means the PvE elements-which don’t get balanced to the new realities-tend to become either more vicious, or pathetically easy.

  PvP appeals to the competitive spirit.  That’s a big draw with the target demographics that MMOs like to get a hold of.  So it makes sense to court them occasionally with a big deal.  This expansion can be considered just that.  But since it’s pretty much all PvP, there isn’t exactly much incentive for the folks who do the PvE exclusively to bother with it-which makes it a wise decision to make this particular expansion free.  First, it’s dubious that the PvP population is large enough to justify its purchase and make a profit off of; Bioware’s already had bad PR to add to it.  Second, after that stunt with making Rise of the Hutt Cartel free for subscribers so soon after making profits off of charging for it (with damned little to compensate for that), it’s unlikely that you’d find a lot of people willing to shell out cash for the next expansion-especially one with such a narrow focus.

  It remains to be seen if Galactic Starfighter will be as big a deal as Jump to Lightspeed was for SWG.  It could open the door to updating the existing space missions-or it could remain isolated in the sphere of PvP.  And as is often the case in an MMO, adding new types of content usually means a call for more content of those types; it won’t be long, I think, before the PvP pilots want new gear for their shiny new ships, and new PvP maps-and scenarios-to fight over.

  In other words, standard operating procedure for players of every MMO out there!