Who is Future Guy?

Well, the latest update has hit with Star Trek Online, a mid-season sort of publish.  It features a new episode with time travel shenanigans and a new “Red Alert” where you have to protect a convoy from temporal attackers.  Also included is a new Admiralty path, a Romulan campaign to join the Federation and Klingon Empire ones; and a revamped skill system.  That’s a respectable amount of stuff to throw into a publish.  Let’s take a look at this, and my thoughts on what we might see ahead.

The new episode (“The Temporal Front”) features a conference with representatives from the major empires attending.  As has been pointed out by a heap of players, nothing good ever comes out of these conferences, particularly if you happen to have been invited.  The Na’kuhl take the opportunity to attempt an assassination, and the pursuit is taken through time-and an encounter with one of the big Na’kuhl leaders, Vosk.  The episode once again demonstrates why it’s easy to have a headache from time travel, and seeds a bunch of potential problems throughout the timestream.  One detail is at least resolved by a certain famous captain in the past, at least, so you’re getting some help up and down the timestream.

The Red Alert is a pretty straightforward one.  Protect convoys of ships against waves of Na’khul vessels.  Red Alert’s aren’t exactly complex affairs; the Borg Alert involves blowing up Borg and their command ship; the Tholian Alert involves blowing up Tholian ships; so why would the Na’khul be any different?  That said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a desire to just log in and blow stuff up in defense of civilians.  It offers a bit of Dilithium, and a decent number of reputation or fleet marks of your choice as rewards-not to mention an obligatory box of R&D materials for crafting.

There isn’t much to say on the Admiralty path; if you’ve done the Starfleet and KDF ones, then the Romulan one offers no shocks.  If you complete the “Tour Of Duty” missions on it, you’ll receive some universal tech upgrades which can be used to improve your existing equipment (for, I presume, a hunk of Dilithium to go with it).  If you haven’t bothered to do those Omega Particle missions during anniversary events or skill up your crafting so that you can create assorted tech upgrades, and if you have any interest at all in upgrading existing equipment, this isn’t a bad way to go.  Just be aware that it’s not something you can complete in a few days (watch-someone will prove me wrong on that.  Just wait and see).

The skill update.  Man, where do I begin with this one?

I’m dubious that this makes the system “simpler”.

Let’s see if I can explain this in a nutshell.  This system is thematically similar to the way you do Specializations at the post-level 50 game, right down to the whole top-down diagram.  Instead of putting skill points into a skill, you just select the skills.  Each one gives certain benefits, and there are two “paths” for each specialty in space-which can branch, as shown above.  When you spend enough points at the lower ranks, the next rank becomes available to put points into, but you can still put points into lower rank skills.  Additionally, as you put points into one of the three specialties, you have a track at the bottom that unlocks additional passive abilities (and you get a choice of two for each), or the ability to train boffs in skills-much like you could if you put enough points into a skill in the old system.  If you go hog-wild into one specialty, you can unlock “ultimate skills”, the usefulness of which I haven’t fully explored-particularly since I tend to spread points around to make a fairly balanced captain.  That said, I’ve only done this for three captains on my roster, and I may be willing to experiment with the ones I use less often.

There is also a screen for ground skills, which have four sections, less options to worry about, with less points (since there are less skills), and each point opens up a passive ability for the captain, much like the space version.

I’m not certain at all that this actually improves anything for players.  You have cute boxes and numbers, but still no idea what some of them mean.  Exotic damage isn’t exactly explained, for example-so new players may have trouble figuring out what qualifies.  Some of the skills involve affecting boff abilities that you aren’t sure if they fall under drain skills or something else.  It doesn’t bother me all that much, but I’ve been playing since the beta; new players are likely going to have the same sorts of issues that they had before the revamp-just in different ways.  And while the devs said that we should be able to duplicate previous builds from the old system to the new…well, I’m not so sure.  All that said, I have yet to put my captains through a rigorous test yet, so my opinion may change-stay tuned.

There’s also a new specialization for captains in the post-50 game:  Strategist.  I don’t have a lot of points backlogged in specializations, and you can’t respec them, so my thoughts on this will have to wait for another time.  It’s worth noting that it is a secondary specialization, which means it probably isn’t quite as fleshed out as Command or Intelligence-or even Pilot.  It’ll be more like Commando.

Looking at the current Season in its entirety, the “New Dawn” has more or less opened up into a new war, with a “Temporal Front” which is almost impossible to defend; when a cause can create an effect that happens earlier than the cause, and people go back in time to make sure things either happen or don’t…this is why there was a Temporal Prime Directive in the first place.  Time travel is a messy thing to start with, and this set of episodes wallows in it.  I am appreciative that we’re getting the Temporal Cold War into play here-with all the time travel we’ve seen prior to this Season, it felt inevitable.  Still, it seems we’re wrapping up a number of interesting temporal loose ends that tie into the assorted television series.  It’s already potentially explained the Sphere Builders and their animosity-and unless I miss my guess, it is also explaining the origins of the biggest loose end from Star Trek: Enterprise continuity.

The very first episode in that series featured the Suliban Cabal, the Temporal Cold War-and a mysterious figure in shadow who quickly earned the nickname “Future Guy”.  There were a lot of theories as to who this could be (my favorite was Jim Kirk, hacked off at the very idea of the Enterprise series), but this was never resolved on the show; it sure wasn’t Vosk, who effectively closed off the Cold War arc on Enterprise.  But we may have an excellent candidate for the part in Noye, who has the motivation and the temporal knowledge to try to kill the Federation in its crib, and has that history with the player character at this point.  If this is true, then we may be seeing more of the Enterprise related dangers, such as the Suliban Cabal and the Sphere Builders-and possibly the Xindi will step into the stoplight too.  We’ve seen one of their ambassadors in a previous episode on the Dyson Sphere, after all-be a shame not to follow up.

So, I’m looking at the mid-season publish as a sort of “hit and miss” sort of publish.  Solid Red Alert, decent episode, okay Admiralty path, iffy skill revamp, and plenty of possibilities to work with as we continue through the Season.  Episodic content has slowed down a lot since the Iconian War wrapped, but looking for monthly releases was asking a lot on an extended basis.  We seem to be at what I will laughingly refer to as a “normal” cadence-but I’ve been wrong before, and we might see another episode come May, so we’ll see what happens.

Checking Out The Backyard

Sometimes, you really need to do some basic checking around your new home.

Clearly, that didn’t happen when the Outlander set up shop on the world of Odessen in the Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion Knights of the Fallen Empire.  Because for the first time, thanks to the new chapter “Visions in the Dark”, your character must leave the headquarters of the Alliance against the Galactic Eternal Empire.  As with previous content review posts on this subject, I’m gonna leave “read more” tag so spoilers can be avoided.  But first, a couple of comments related to some thoughts of mine from the last post on the subject.

I’d heard rumors about the fate of the companion Khem Val, based upon a new companion alert out this chapter, but they seem to have been debunked by a producer’s livestream, indicating that one day, the Force-Eating, Sith-Eating, Head-Screwed-Up Dashade would return.  So Inquisitors, rejoice!  (Or not-I’ve found that peoples love of the assorted characters varies wildly.)  Also of note:  the Smuggler Companion Count remains at zero; supposedly the Eternal Championship will finally land next month, but we’ve heard this before.  Even more insulting is that it sounds like the next chapter is going to feature an epic heist, and you would think that at least one Smuggler companion would be involved-but nope, looks like we get a pairing of a BH and a Sith Warrior companion.  Enough to make Smuggler players to give in to the Dark Side….

Next month’s HK related rewards involved HK inspired skins for the ship droids.  They look catchy (basically palette work), but I think my Smuggler is going to keep his “Targeting Dummy” skin on his droid.  Seems more appropriate somehow.  Some posts on assorted forums are screaming “enough with the HK-related stuff” as subscriber rewards.  People, Bioware/EA was pretty up front about the subscriber rewards and their theme.  Nobody says you gotta use ’em, and nobody says you even gotta subscribe that month (although if you’re only in it for those rewards-good heavens, WHY?).

Okay, with all that stuff out of the way, spoilers await!

Continue reading

Building Character: Overloaded

Things have gone pretty nicely in Champions Online this last week.  Thanks to careful use of the XP Alerts (I can never remember if they’re “Smash” or “Grab” alerts, not helped by the fact that the devs swapped definitions at one point) to help maximize the xp gains from the in-world missions, my character of Overload hit level 40.  This had a number of side effects.

First, and most important to an altoholic like me, it creates a new character slot to use; I will never not love having more slots for character concepts.

Second, and almost as important to me, it unlocks the Reawakened Automaton powers for freeform characters.  That’s only a couple as I recall (Aspect of the Machine and Rocket Punch), but both are powers I can see myself using.  The Rocket Punch in particular is slated for a character concept I’ve been working up.  It’s a pity that the Punch doesn’t really show the character’s actual fist detaching (at least, not that I’ve ever really seen.  I should demorecord and see sometime frame-by-frame).

Thirdly, and this one was sort of intriguing, I had enough in-game currency to purchase a Cosmic Key off the local trade market.  These keys can be usually purchased off the C-Store to open lockboxes, but since the keys aren’t bound, folks will put them on the market to get a quick infusion of currency.  Unlike the similar keys in Star Trek Online, these aren’t usually priced to obscene numbers, making them a possible-although rare-purchase for me on the market.

Why would I do this?  Well, for a time, CO was linking a costume part available if you opened a set of three different lockboxes (meaning three “eras” of lockbox, not just three of the same lockbox type).  I was interested in some of the parts, so I’d done this before; an “alien skin” and “jet wings” part were the treasures of previous series; the one I’m working on now is not so big a deal:  a raven-on-the-shoulder sort of thing.  Now, of the three lockboxes in this series, the first was the “Space Scoundrel” lockbox (cashing in on a popular movie that had just released a couple years back).  To my substantial pleasure, when I opened that box, I managed to get one of the prizes of the set:  the Space Scoundrel costume set.  (The other big prize would’ve been the vehicle in that set.)  So at some point, I imagine I’ll be developing a character concept for that outfit to fit!

The other two lockboxes aren’t likely to be as big winners in my eyes:  the Defender vs. Foxbat lockbox (or maybe I got that backwards?), and the Ravenwood Academy lockbox.  Nothing much in those boxes really appeals to me, but then, given how long it takes me to accumulate the currency to purchase a key, no real hurry.  Especially since the whole “costume part unlock for three types of lockbox” thing seems to have become a thing of the past, based on the recent lockboxes I’ve seen over the last year.

So, that’s another character down, which means I have another character ready to step up.  Actually, more along the lines of “I have too many characters” to step up!  The big question at hand is, which one to run?  I’ve got a djinni with air powers, a cyborg with electrical powers, and a Lemurian with telepathic powers on my list of who to advance.  (There are others, but I’m determined to fill my first page of characters with 40s, and those are the only three left on that list.)  All of them are at level 15 or less, so they have a lot of play time ahead.  Fortunately, I have some time before I need to make the call, because a new chapter is landing today in Star Wars: The Old Republic, and as all of eight of my primary characters are up-to-date on that story now, I expect that’ll take priority for a little bit.

Breached Whale (and Other Tales)

One of the things that I haven’t spent a lot of time talking about have been the queued content of Star Trek Online.  Given how prominent that content is in the game-after all, re-running queues a lot is in some cases the only way to get certain reputation marks-it’s a bit of a glaring omission in my running commentary on the game.  So today, I’m going to look at a couple of the queues I’ve been running in the last couple of months.

The queued content comes in two basic varieties:  the kind that are performed in space with ships, and the kind that are performed on the ground with your Captain.  In each case, you are teamed with (in theory) four other Captains.  Yes, that means all of these are grouped content.  It’s also worth mentioning that there are usually three varieties of the individual queues:  a “Normal”, an “Advanced”, and an “Elite” version.  Having no illusions about my level of uber-ness, I tend to hang around in the Normal queues-and I’ve found a preference for the space queues more than the ground queues.  The last time I did a ground queue, it had been an accidental click of the wrong one (I’d been trying to click the one above it in the list), and by the time I found I’d hit the wrong one, it was already too late.  I did stick around to do what I could to help in that queue-thank heaven it wasn’t an Advanced or Elite version; I figured why penalize the other players for my mistaken click?

So with all that in mind, let’s take a peek at the queues I’ve been running lately.

The first came out with the latest Season, and it involves the Mirror Universe-led by Admiral Leeta-attempting an invasion at Deep Space Nine in “Counterpoint”.  And this invasion isn’t simply “beam an army on the station and fight inside”; this is along the lines of physically bringing her own space station to that space:  Terok Nor (which was the original Cardassian name of the station before the Federation and Bajor claimed it).  The goal of the queue, in a nutshell, is to stop the invading fleet, perform a counterattack by beaming assault teams onto Terok Nor (one of which is covered in the aforementioned ground queue that I’d accidentally joined), and beat the Mirror heavy-hitters to force Terok Nor to retreat back to the Mirror Universe.

As far as queues go, it’s a fairly uncomplicated one.  Blow up lots of ships.  There’s a couple mechanics that are interesting, such as going back and forth between DS9 and Terok Nor to pick up and deliver assault teams, and you want to inflict damage on Terok Nor while keeping DS9 more or less intact-but you can’t ever destroy Terok Nor, and I’m not entirely sure if DS9 can be blown up (seems unlikely); there’s also a section where you can try to close off portals to the Mirror Universe to stop reinforcements from coming in, but that’s optional.  At least on Normal; I’d be willing to bet that at least on Elite, those are required objectives.  All this said, at the Normal level, it’s a fairly straightforward “Fire Everything!” sort of queue, which doesn’t require much out of the player.

The second queue came out during Season Eight, but was temporarily retired when the current Season rolled out for some modifications.  “The Breach” involves a massive Voth ship that dwarfs pretty much every starship in the game (up to and including the Borg command ships).  This is pretty much in keeping with what we’d seen on the Voyager episode that introduced the Voth.  But it makes for a terrific opportunity for starships to fight in the interior to at the very least disable the vessel.

Size matters not?  Right.  Those specks on the left?  Those are your FLAGSHIPS.

Size matters not? Right. Those specks on the left? Those are your FLAGSHIPS.

This queue has five major phases to it.  The first involves something out of Star Wars and its famous trench run; you go in, blow up hardpoints at high speed, and weaken the defenses enough for you to blow a hole into the hull of the ship wide enough for starships to go through.  This tilts the advantage heavily to ships with the bridge officer ability “Fire at Will”, although if you were one of the players crazy (!) enough to use a ship with nothing but turrets, you could probably use “Scatter Fire” as well.  Weapons with wide fields of fire like beam arrays and yes, turrets, will find that they have a cornucopia of targets.  The second phase is to deal with the initial internal defenses:  Voth starships much closer in size to yours, requiring you to shut down hangars to stop more reinforcements from coming.  Next, you have to deal with one of the Voth Dreadnoughts deeper inside, which is set to 10 levels above your own; if you don’t have abilities that allow you to bypass shields at least some of the time, this fight is going to be a major slog.  On this section, I would usually pop any abilities that could do that, as well as deploy any other ships I could, whether it’s a Scimitar’s Scorpion fighter complement, the saucer of an Odyssey ship, or the Fleet Support abilities derived from either your Captain skill or rewards gained from other content like Nimbus or Delta Rising.  You really can’t have too many ships shooting away.

The next section is a bit of a shell game; there is a subspace core protected by one of three power transfer conduits.  You can open them up, but only one of them has the core you need to hit; the others are either empty or have a decoy.  This area isn’t undefended, either; but if you handled the previous phases, these ships aren’t hard.  Each time you knock a third of the health of the core down, the conduits close and it’s moved to another conduit.  Rinse and repeat.  The following section is the grand finale:  a massive core crystal protected by rotating shields.  It’s got some nasty defenses, but again, if you survived that dreadnought, you should be able to handle this.  Once it explodes, you have to speed your way out of the Voth ship before everything blows up.  (That’s not actually required, but if you want to maximize your rewards, you want everyone to make it out intact.)

As you can see, the Breach is more complicated than the DS9 queue-but it takes correspondingly longer to complete.  The big reason it’s getting a big push these days is because of an event running that follows Cryptic/PWE’s usual methods of “do this for fourteen days and you get something neat at the end”-in this case, an Admiralty ship “card” for the Admiralty system.  Oh, and a heap of fleet marks and Dilithium.  I was “eh” on the ship card, but I’m all for more Dilithium and Marks (so I can be ready for when the next big holding push comes-or maybe put some towards those vanity holding projects that are collecting dust).  Because of the length, though, I decided to only run three characters through this ordeal-one of which is Klingon aligned.  The bright spot is that the daily completion also gives rewards-mostly your choice of reputation mark type, or just straight fleet marks.  That got me a heap of fleet marks, plus all the Terran reputation marks I needed to complete my main Federation character’s Terran grind, and what I need to go from 0 to top-tier in that grind for my Klingon, too.

The Eternal Struggle

Recently, Bioware/EA released a new chapter in the Star Wars: The Old Republic saga of Knights of the Fallen Empire, titled “Disavowed”.  It’s also occurred to me that I never put my thoughts up on the previous chapter, “Anarchy in Paradise”, so I figure I’ll kill two birds with one stone and talk about both.

As with my previous post discussing the KotFE content, there be spoilage here.  I’m throwing a break here so those who wish to avoid not knowing what comes next can remain undisturbed.  If you’re the kind who likes to peek ahead, though-or if you’ve already done that content-read on!

Continue reading

Building Character: New Champions and Onslaughts

My last post concerning Champions Online was last June.  Really says something about how often I’ve been playing it since then (and it’s worse than it sounds-the post was only covering the recent tutorial “revamp” at the time).  But recently, I’ve been in a superheroing mood again, so I’ve dipped my feet back into CO.  And because this is the sort of thing I do, I’ve got thoughts on a relatively recent addition to the game and on characters I’ve got to keep me occupied there.

Let’s talk Onslaught.

Onslaught was a patch that introduced the capability of players to get their feet wet as a villain.  Not one of your own design, however; you basically become an established villain from Champions lore.  And we’re not talking the cannon fodder types, either:  you can (at this writing) become Medusa, one of the most powerful psionics on Earth; Gravitar, the mistress of gravity who is a team-wrecker all by herself; or Grond, the massive four-armed monster who’s a walking disaster area.  As a villain, you earn onslaught tokens which can be used for stuff (shock, right?) and to unlock the ability to become these villains more frequently.

Now, here’s where things get a bit crazy.  You get these tokens by wiping out checkpoints throughout Millennium City…or by turning heroes into guano.  That’s right:  villains can go after heroes in a PvP sort of thing.  Now, this isn’t a complete recipe for griefing:  they can only attack heroes who attack them first.  In other words, a hero who takes on a villain is pretty much volunteering to have his butt kicked (well, if things go well for the villain; builds that can take on giant monsters solo will probably not be impressed by Onslaught villains).  Why would a hero go after the villain?  Well, besides the obvious “because that’s what heroes do”, the hero may also earn guardian tokens which can be used for stuff.  Getting more precise, villain tokens tend to be good for gear and special powers; guardian tokens to unlock villains (although that’s less impressive, if you’re a subscriber or lifetimer, because you can become one of the villains once a day anyway via a mission).  Both are also used to unlock new costume pieces, which are tied to the supervillains available in the system.

There are daily quests which help add to those token totals.  It takes an awful lot of tokens to get things, though.

I’ll cheerfully admit I haven’t indulged in this much.  I’ve gone two rounds as a villain and I’ve helped fight off a couple of those villains (usually as a part of a crowd, because I’m not one of those guys who can solo giant monsters).  It’s not something that grabs me to do as a regular thing, but it has enough amusement value to it that if I feel like stomping around the city crushing things, the option is there.  Likewise, if Grond shows up in the Ren Center, I might not have an issue with contributing to the fray.

There is also a new endgame-ish sort of thing out involving one of the major villains of the setting, Teleios, but as I’m not an endgame sort of guy (I’ve never even done the Nemesis Confrontations), I’m highly unlikely to ever mess with that.  Especially since I don’t spend all that much time in CO.  So I can’t comment on that one way or another, save to say that I’m still happy to see something new developed for the game-even if it’s not my thing.

So, unsurprisingly, I’m out to do the usual missions and occasional Alert queue for the xp buff.  My primary character-of-the-moment is Overload.  Overload’s not a freeform guy, but rather a representative of the Awawkened Automaton archetype.  Honestly, the only reason I did that was because the AT has a unique power-rocket punch!-which is only available to that AT…but unlocks for freeform once you hit max level with that AT.  In other words, I’m doing it because I want to slap that rocket punch on another character concept I have floating around.  The RP perspective is that Overload is Robocop without the human component; Deathlok if he were only run by the onboard computer.  He views combat scenarios as a program that must be run to a satsifactory conclusion-with the criminals beat and him still standing.  I’ve gotten him to level 30, and he does have a Nemesis of his own (Arctic Master, with the Frosty Gang!); the AT is pretty much a glass cannon sort, with little in the way of defensive passives or cooldowns, meaning he’s gotta be careful with the aggro or he becomes greasy pulp.  The AT does have a self-heal, but it’s really not up to combat conditions.  Too many tough guys at once can wind up effectively disassembling him.  All that said:  I do enjoy the mix of particle beams and rocket punches for range, and while it has an absurdly high energy cost to use, I absolutely adore the extendable chainsaw.  (Best used on robots, zombies, and other unliving things; I try not to think about the times I use it on common crooks….)

It's only a flesh wound. Honest.

It’s only a flesh wound. Honest.

Not sure who will be next on the list; it may be a while before I finish up Overload, or it may be next week.  It depends on how long my superheroic mood lasts.  I’ve been mixing alerts and missions, so it may go quicker than one might expect.  I’ve a number of concepts I want to mess with afterward and haven’t gotten my heart set on any.

Of course, all this will be interrupted shortly by virtue of the next Knights of the Fallen Empire chapter in Star Wars: The Old Republic; not to mention the current event rolling in Star Trek Online for heaps of dilithium in regards to running “The Breach” queue.  Time’s always a factor.

Time and Time Again

The beginning of the signing of the most important treaty of all time, thirty seconds before things went to hell.

Seems like it’s been a while since I said I’d put up remarks on the current storyline threading through Star Trek Online, doesn’t it?  Let’s see about rectifying a bit of that now.

New Dawn is the current “Season” in STO, and it was heralded as a return to exploration-at least, as far as story goes.  If you were thinking exploration content was going to make its return here, you’re out of luck.  In some ways, we’re looking more at something that’s sort-of emulating Star Wars: The Old Republic.  It’s not exactly as interactive as that game’s storyline, but the ideas here is that we’re getting episodic content, and while it’s not at a one-per-month cadence, it’s not doing horrible.

There have been thus far three episodes released for the new season-not counting the revamp of the Cardassian Struggle story arc.  And the shape of things seems to be aiming at an effectively-abandoned story arc from the Star Trek: Enterprise television series.

The first episode was “Sunrise”, an optimistic title taking place after the “Midnight” of the Iconian War.  The players are asked to investigate a problem with a star in the Ferenginar sector, and it features a new alien species, and meddling time travelers.  Yes, if you thought the time travel hijinks in the Iconian War were done, you thought so, so wrong.  In fact, if you thought this was going to be all peaceful-like, well, that  one’s gone too.  The Tholians are involved with a star’s early death-and you’re the only one who can stop it.  Well, you and someone from another time period coming to call.  In fact, you could say this episode is yet another example of why Time Is Not A Toy.

The consequences of that episode unfold in “Stormbound”, where you have to recover the Macguffin before the Tholians can do more damage with it; and it turns out that a species called the Na’khul have been targeted.  Who are these guys?  You could be forgiven if you didn’t know them as one of the species that were heavily involved in the Temporal Cold War that permeated the first couple of seasons in Enterprise.  There wasn’t a whole lot to the episode, although it does feature a trip aboard a Tholian ship, so make sure you have your environmental suits.  It can get pretty toasty in there.  If you’re sensing a theme developing for these episodes, you’re probably right on the money.

The current storyline recently released a new episode, and it threatens to shake the core of the setting.  “Time and Tide” brings you through time once more-but this time, it’s to the future, where you are to witness the signing of the Temporal Accords, which in theory will help stop meddling in time.  But your past literally comes back to haunt you, as a time traveler declares vengeance upon the signatories of the Accords and the Federation in particular for screwing up the timeline in the first place-and he has a very, very personal reason for his actions-a reason, in fact, you were present for, and arguably were responsible for.  If you didn’t think that wasn’t going to come back and bite you during the Iconian War…well, oops.  Just another example of why Time Is Not A Toy.  The time traveler also has the backing of a few other fairly significant aliens, whose title should be easily recognizable to folks who watched Enterprise.

The three episodes may not have the epic scope that the Iconian War did, but then, it’s better to bring the story into a more tightened focus after such a conflict.  I’m a bit uncertain about the “temporal genie” being let out of its bottle, to borrow a phrase; time travel is a messy thing to start with, and when you start propagating that all over the galaxy, I feel you’re opening yourself up to a mess.  Then again, Dr. Who’s been dealing with time travel stuff for decades; maybe I’m being needlessly concerned.  We’ll see how that shapes up.

A side note:  the developers finally released tier-6 versions of the flagships (Starfleet Odyssey, Klingon Bortas’qu, and Romulan Scimitar), and to nobody’s great surprise, there’s no special discounts or the like for those who purchased the tier-5 versions.  (I don’t know why someone would’ve expected it; there wasn’t any for the tier-6 versions of other ships that have rolled out:  why would this be the exception).  I hemmed, I hawed, but I finally decided I’d dump the Zen into the big megapack that gets all three versions for all three factions.  It’s not as big as it sounds; I haven’t actually spent much in the way of Zen since the game went freemium, so the stipend has just been accumulating; whenever I have purchased something from the C-Store, I’ve supplemented that stipend with Zen acquired from the Dilithium Exchange.  And while my tier-5 flagships are technically 5Us, two of those were effectively free upgrades for assorted reasons, and the other was-again-via Zen+Exchange.  Finally, I was patient enough to wait for sales, which I took ruthless advantage of.  The flagships were released at 15 percent off, and I decided waiting for them to qualify at the next 20 percent off sale didn’t really net me all that much of a savings, so I dumped a large amount of my accumulated Zen into those ships.

I’m not horribly impressed with the redesigns for the most part; while I have the option of using parts for the new designs for these new flagships, I chose for the Federation and Klingon ones to use the same ones I’d been using originally:  the original Bortas’qu and Odyssey looks.  In contrast, I did like the designs for the Romulan flagships, which I liked to think shows the difference between the Romulan Empire’s Scimitar and the Romulan Republic’s outlook, so I decided to change up the look for my main Romulan’s ship.  (My Reman, however, whenever I get around to changing up his Scimitar, will remain as the original look-after all, in the final analysis, I still sort of think of the Scimitar as a Reman design-which may be the other reason I went with the new look for my Romulan main.)  I’m still working to figure out use of the consoles; because I’m fond of the ones that went with the original T5 versions, and combining with the new T6 ones may have significant impacts on the performance of the ships.  I’m no powergamer, but I do want to at least remain effective.  We’ll see how that develops.

Also of note:  the STO fleet has managed to get a Research Lab holding up to tier 1, so at this point, the Corps of Discovery has at least tier 1 in each holding except the Spire, if I recall correctly.  While I’d love to get the Spire up and running, I’m thinking advancing the second branch in the Dilithium Mine may be the way to go, since it will open up the prospect of fleet mark discounts on projects, and that could be a bit of a big deal.

Knights, Continued

This week, barring shocking surprises, Bioware/EA will be releasing the next chapter of the Knights of the Fallen Empire story in Star Wars: The Old Republic.  It’s been a few months in coming, and is the start of what the developers are hoping will be a monthly cadence.  I’ve heard that song before, though, and I remember how it usually ends, so we’ll see if they can actually get the storyline complete before Christmas.

There’s been some info that’s come out concerning the near future.  A couple of companions will be returning with the next two chapters, while another is…well, I imagine that it’ll involve a choice between two companions, because the primary character involved with the new chapter isn’t known for her ability to play nicely with others without a strong hand to keep control of her more psychotic tendencies-and by all appearances, her tendency to not mind collateral damage is going to really rub another of your companions the really wrong way.  My prediction is it’ll be a “you’ll get one or the other” here, because their viewpoints are entirely antagonistic.  The devs did say that this chapter would involve a choice with consequence, after all….

With the chapter dropping this week, I took stock of where my characters stood in terms of the story-which is to say, my eight primary characters representing each class.  (I’m not insane enough to run my class alternates through…am I?)  My two main characters, my Smuggler and Agent, have not only finished all story chapters to date, but also managed to unlock every companion available to them with the exception of their respective PvP-required ones.  No offense to Pierce or M1-4X, but no reward is worth that.  All star fortresses have been downed in the heroic mode on those characters, and all of the Alliance contacts are at least influence 10.  So as far as I’m concerned, these characters are well positioned for anything coming their way.  One of them even managed to loot one of the 208 rating barrels for his primary weapon; the other managed to pull out a barrel from an offhand weapon and stick it into his main before the devs decided that wasn’t allowed.  That’s really annoying, since no main weapon damage mods are available-or for that matter, no main hand weapons period-on the data crystal vendors for advanced gear.  That limits your main weapon to either a 190 mod or a non-customizable weapon drop, which is annoying.  Crafting is supposed to gain the ability to craft up some better mods, but I’m withholding judgment on that one until I see the material requirements-if they involve stuff from operations and the like, I’m going to be unimpressed.

With those two characters out of the way, there are six others that I’d been planning to run through the content.  Of those, five have completed the story chapters, which is a pretty good percentage, all things considered-particularly since I chose, as a part of the whole process, to make sure they ran the Jedi Prisoner/Foundry flashpoints, the Ilum flashpoints, the prelude to Shadow of Revan flashpoints, and the Shadow of Revan expansion through Ziost.  I was willing to leave Makeb incomplete for a few of these characters, and few of them have set foot on Oricon-considering that the Dread Masters story is mostly via operations, I didn’t lose sleep over that last one.  Portions of Makeb are a pain in the butt for some classes, too, so in the end, I was okay with letting that one just slip into the dustbin of history.  One character, however, has not made the jump to the expansion; at this writing, my Jedi Counselor is still on Rishi, working through the Shadow of Revan content, and he’s not likely to get complete before the new chapter drops.  His story, accordingly, is likely to encounter a significant pause as I work the current group of characters through the new chapter.

Screenshot_2016-02-08_18_53_45_965327

And in other news…

There’s been an additional bit of amusement on my end.  I made the “mistake” a month or two ago of taking a peek at someone’s Yavin stronghold, and was impressed enough that I decided to make a run for my own.  The problem was that this is probably the most expensive stronghold to purchase and unlock all the “rooms” for (can’t recall if Tatooine is pricier, but I imagine that Yavin may be the winner here).  Well, make that the second problem.  The first problem was determining which stronghold I already had to shut down.  At this time, you are limited to three active strongholds.  I had Nar Shadda, Coruscant, and Dromund Kaas all unlocked and decorated (although not to the maximum amount; I don’t have THAT many decorations).  One of the three had to go.  Shadda was never on that list-it was the priciest one I had thus far, and as a guy who considers his Smugger a main character, it just couldn’t happen.  I liked the atmospherics for Kaas, so the Coruscant one was stripped of decorations and closed down as I started working to gain the millions needed to purchase the Yavin stronghold and unlock rooms.

The heroics that have been readjusted for the KotFE story have helped a great deal in this respect.  I’ve been able to complete a whole lot of objectives at once doing those.  First, I made credits-and that was a big deal.  Secondly, I got crates of stuff to donate to the Alliance contacts, allowing me to get their influence ratings to 10 for my two mains.  Thirdly, the Voss ones allowed me to max out my Voss reputation just in case I want to get something from their rep vendor, like dye recipes.  Not a bad plan, and thus far, it’s allowed me to unlock all but two rooms in Yavin-and I expect that before the month is out, I might be able to unlock the remaining two.

Screenshot_2016-02-08_18_54_52_740147

Mmm, reactors imported from Zakuul.

Since Coruscant was closed down, I chose to make this one a “Jedi Temple” with a Republic Military annex attached.  I got to use some of the new decorations I’d gotten thanks to my star fortress runs (like a pair of big sun-reactors), slapped up some turrets at key points for defense (it’s all appearance-it’s not like they actually fire on anyone), and put in the usual utilities I demand in my stronholds:  mail, legacy bank, cargo bays.  Plus I decided to construct a couple new GTN terminals so that Yavin and Kaas could access the trade network.  I’m still debating constructing guild banks for those two as well; Shadda has one (and it already had a GTN kiosk from earlier work).  It’d be easier just to purchase parts from GTN, but since I have a bunch of characters, I have a wide range of crafting skills available, so putting in the effort to build them myself seems cheaper; it’s what I did for the starship decoration I have on Shadda, after all (I did have to buy a couple things from GTN for that one, though).

With the next chapter incoming, I’m looking forward to seeing a couple old companions make a return appearance, and dreading the choice that I predict will be forced upon me (I’ve got a good idea of what my Smuggler will do, but the Agent is probably going to be a game-time choice).  And I can’t forget that this chapter should also include the January monthly subscription reward of an HK-55 companion.  I’m not sure if we’ll see the February one as well, which is the HK-inspired jetpack, but we’ll see.  Most important, though, I’m looking forward to seeing the continuation of the story of the Eternal Empire and the Alliance that is slowly building to oppose it.  Hm, an Alliance versus an Empire.  That sure has a familiar feel to it….

Eleven Years In

When I looked back at 2014 in my MMO gaming, I had some concerns that I might be reaching a nadir in my enthusiasm for the genre. While it’s true that the number of games I played around in didn’t budge, the amount of time I spent in them did tend to vary. And in all the cases, it came down to “new stuff”.

So: eleven years. That’s a pretty lengthy amount of time to have put into MMOs. What did 2015 hold for me and my games?

Moving towards its first major story content update.

There has been an awakening…have you felt it?

Star Wars: The Old Republic probably has a slight edge in the amount of time spent this last year. I’d completed all eight of the class stories in the year before, but I still had an ambition to also complete the stories on all the advanced classes. Since there are two advanced classes for each class, it would effectively mean doing the entire story again, all the planets again, all of it another eight times. Even with that, I was willing to slap some time into it. But Bioware/EA helped out a lot on that when they put in the 12X xp for subscribers on class stories, which cut down a lot of the time spent, and made it possible to achieve that goal: which I did, thankfully. Finances in-game have been better than ever, as well, as I’ve managed to purchase the opening area for the Yavin stronghold after making the “mistake” of looking at one in-game and deciding “I want one”. My Coruscant stronghold was shoved into the locker (and after unlocking all of its rooms, too. Good thing I didn’t spend cartel coins on that one).

The biggest news for the game, of course, was the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion, which is still a work in progress: we’ve gotten nine chapters of the story, and more is slated to come in the coming months. With that came the addition of the release of Shadow of Revan for subscribers as well, and I finally got to play through that content. A lot of flashpoints and heroic missions also became doable solo, which meant some of these I was able to do for the first time. It wasn’t all fun and games, of course; companions have been buffed then nerfed, xp has been buffed considerably (too much? Hard to say), and the refocus on story has come at the price of operations and PvP. As I never did any of the ops and tend to avoid PvP, I’m obviously not too sorry, but I do recognize that raid-like stuff and PvP are pretty much an accepted part of any MMORPG these days, and there should be some content aimed in that direction. I’ve been looking to push through my “eight mains”, one of each class, and so far I’ve gotten five through to the end of the available content, one of whom even unlocked all his Star Fortress companions and rank 10 with the assorted supply contacts. It’s not unreasonable to think that by the time the next chapter is released in February, I’ll have gotten all eight in the same boat as far as story progression.

Not much to say about the guild(s) in game, as they’ve been mostly been quiet, although some folks appear here and there occasionally. The expansion may have helped a bit with that recently. Admittedly, I also haven’t really been looking to join any of the active guilds around, either-in part because I tend to muck with different games, which means my focus is constantly divided. That’s a theme going forward here. I did take advantage of a Cartel Market sale, though, to properly rename the Republic side guild to “Hyperspace Outlaws”. I’d been meaning to get around to that for a long time.

The transition from wartime to peacetime begins.

The transition from wartime to peacetime begins.

The next on the list is Star Trek Online, which has had a roaring comeback after last year’s Delta Rising debacle. The entire year just about was a grand finale of all the story content that had been released up to that point, culminating in the Iconian War, and while there were minor missteps, for the most part it delivered on wrapping up most of the loose ends hanging around as a result of Iconian meddling. (That said, there’s one prominent Iconinian still out there with one hell of a grudge…) There have been the usual number of queues released, but for a number of months, we could expect one feature episode per month for the duration of the War, and that was a relief-because unlike a good chunk of the Delta Rising missions, none of those missions were basic filler. Speaking of Delta Rising, it seems that there has been some adjusting of level requirements as well, which means it’s not as painful to actually get that content done now. The year closed out with the Admiralty system with the coming of a “New Dawn”, which so far has involved what could be a reopening of a temporal cold war-or perhaps its origins. (This is why time travel makes my head ache.)

Despite this flourishing of content, I found that I didn’t spend all that much time in the game. I seem to be mostly one for short periods, especially once KotFE for TOR was released. Earlier in the year, though, the Corps of Discovery performed a hard push between its few active players to get our starbase up to tier-3 status, and after blowing through a large amount of energy credits and dilithium, we succeeded. My own credit reserves are still recovering from that push. We also managed to get the dilithium mine up to tier-1, and we’re eyeballing the research facility as the next tier-1 target. There had been some thought that we’d benefit from being in one of the new fleet armadas (basically a tiered coalition of fleets), but that never really panned out. Activity levels matter, and that includes mine. I suspect time will balance again once I’ve managed to get through the KotFE content with my “eight mains”-which isn’t as far away as it sounds.

There had to be a loser here somewhere.

There had to be a loser here somewhere.

Champions Online, sadly, was the victim of all this content. I didn’t really work on any of my heroes there much at all, and haven’t had the craving to do so over the last year. Despite this, CO actually managed two bits of content worth noting. The first was a new tutorial, which I honestly still shake my head over. It wasn’t actually so much a “new” tutorial as a shell around the tutorial. The bigger deal was the Onslaught content, which basically allows you to transform into one of the big villains of the franchise and wreak havoc (and potentially have your havoc wreaked) on both the law and other heroes. It’s a PvP sort of thing, because heroes can attack you, and you can attack them if they attack you first-but in my brief bit doing it, it was sort of fun. Of course, since it is PvP, I didn’t spend much time with it-and ultimately, other games were calling, so that was that.

For most of the years I’ve been playing MMOs, I’ve always managed to find time to write my own bit of fan fiction based on my characters in assorted games. Last year was a milestone in that I didn’t write anything. I’d flirted with a concept I’d been nursing for a while for my spy character from SWG, and I keep wanting to find a reason to get back to my STO characters, but for the first time in ages, none of the characters in my head have been demanding my attention. We’ll see if the next year brings out any creativity to shake loose.  The year got punctuated with the passing of the long-running guild host, GuildPortal, which closed up its doors at the end of the year-I sincerely hope people managed to save the content they wanted to save from any guild sites there.

My fears of burning out last year seem to have been unfounded, and while I’ve yet to join up with any active guilds in any of these games, I’ve at least found enough going on that I haven’t felt the need to wrap things up in the genre. So the odds are high that I’ll be here again next year writing up something for “Twelve Years In”.

An Admiral’s Job

The recent season in Star Trek Online has been a bit light on the story content; at this writing, exactly two episodes have been pushed out (well, not counting the revamped Cardassian arc, and I’ll have something to say about all of them down the line, but I kind of want a few more in the can first).  But it has brought a new system into the game, designed for Admiral level characters (specifically level 53 and up).  That description headlines its name nicely:  the Admiralty system.

Time to put all those ships to good use.

Early on, it was looking like duty officers by another name, and there is some truth to that.  Like the duty officer system, you are filling slots for assignments on up to two campaigns at present:  the Klingon front and the Federation front.  Each of these fronts have ten levels of growth, each with a special reward at the end, and each also has littered in with the assignments a “tour of duty” assignment, where ten of these will rewards their own special rewards (for Klingons, it’s dilithium; for Starfleet, it’s a pair of specialization points).  And just to be clear, your faction doesn’t matter here:  your Federation character can do the Klingon assignments just as easily as the Starfleet ones.  (Presumably, one figures that for new characters, by the time they get to Admiral the two factions might have at least an uneasy truce thanks to their mutual alliances with the Romulan Republic.)

Where it differs from the duty officer system is in what fills the slots.  Instead of a group of duty officers…you have starships.  Yours, to be precise-all the ships that you have on your roster.  When the system becomes available, every ship on your roster generates a “ship card” representing that class of ship.  These are the ships you can begin to do the system with, and each ship has its advantages.  Each has a value towards the three branches of advancement similar to how your captain advanced:  sciences, engineering, tactical.  Each mission has a value that must be achieved in each of the three branches, and you can assign up to three ships to a mission-important since many of these will be difficult to complete with a single ship.

You don’t have to get your numbers to exceed the target numbers for the mission; but the further you are from meeting those numbers, the chance of success drops accordingly.  If you’re willing to slap a ship in that will only have a 50 percent chance of success, you can.

Once the mission is complete, the ships involved go into “maintenance”, which is the big time-gate on the system.  Some ships can cut that down, but for the most part, it’ll be quite some time before they can resume activity.  I don’t believe I’ve seen any that exceed a day, though, so if you just do this daily, then you’ll rarely notice the maintenance problems.  That said, the missions often do not take that long, so you’ll have a disproportionate amount of active-to-maintenance times for the ships.

This seems to give a great deal of advantage to folks who have over time accumulated ships beyond just the ones received as you rank up.  C-Store ships are available, as are the special promotion ones such as Winter Event or Anniversary ships, and of course those lockbox ships are available too.  If you have more ships than you have roster space, there’s a solution to that too-discharge any ship you are able to get back (C-Store or account unlock store, or even vet ships), get the other ships you have available at the shipyard, and you will receive a card for that class of ship-and you can rinse and repeat until you’ve covered all of your ships.  At that point, just get the original ones back.

Even if you haven’t, though, you aren’t doomed to forever be limited to your promotion ships.  Some of those missions will award one-time use of another ship card.  These can often be pretty significant, better than many of the lower level ships, and can rival the big boys.  And those rewards I mentioned for doing ten levels of the system for Klingons and Federation?  Those would be high-quality ship cards that aren’t one-time use.  (You don’t get an actual ship for those, though.)

The rewards of the missions themselves vary, but tend to be more significant than what you get from the duty officer system-possibly to balance out the fact that you can do the duty officers a lot more frequently.  Between a fair heap of dilithium, very rare crafting materials, those aforementioned ship cards, and even energy credits in the tens of thousands, you can certainly get a fair amount of stuff for your time.  Even if you max out your levels in the campaigns, you can still do the missions-and the tour of duty missions will repeat after you do ten of those, so you can keep building towards those dilithium and specialization point rewards as you choose.

It’s not a hard stretch to imagine that new campaigns will eventually become available.  If nothing else, you got to figure there should be one featuring the Romulans at some point.

It’s not a bad system, but if you weren’t fond of the Duty Officers, then you’re not likely to be enthralled by the Admiralty system, either.  It’s as close are you’re going to get to actually being an Admiral in STO, though-at least as far as running multiple ships around with their own captains.