Building…Other Stuff

Things have gone pretty well lately for my primary characters in Star Trek Online.  Since the last Building Character post, both my Romulan and my Starfleet mains have reached top level, and the Romulan finished the Delta Rising episode arc.  The Starfleet main has a couple of missions to go before wrapping; if I’m not done with him this weekend, I’ll be surprised.  It’ll be just in time to run through the new episode that’s coming very, very soon, and as will be the case going forward, it’ll be KDF first, Romulan second, and Starfleet third.

As the characters reach their individual apex, though, I look at a bigger goal now.

As mentioned a couple of times in the past, the characters (well, not the Klingon) are in a Fleet, and the Fleet has a couple of Fleet Holdings that have advanced to something resembling something.  It has a tier-2 Starbase, and a tier-1 Embassy.  The Starbase has been my primary bit of work and I let it wind down after getting to tier-2 (with help, admittedly).  Another Fleet member was the primary driver on getting the Embassy to tier 1 (with some help, admittedly-including a bit from me).  But the idea of getting the Starbase to tier-3 is one that’s been in the back of my head for a while.

Why?  Well, first and foremost…vanity.  The appearance of the Starbase changes with the tier it’s in, and a tier-3 base looks more impressive than tier-2.  Second, also of note, is the availability of a special Tailor in the Starbase, which unlocks new uniform variants for members of the Fleet.  It’d be nice to have that available.  And thirdly, by getting to tier-3, it requires getting to tier-2 in a couple other sub-branches (eg. Tactical, Engineering, Science) which opens up some more neat stuff like fleet equipment-and of course, one of those branches will need to go to tier-3 as well (Tactical being the leading contender, but we’ll see).

The downside is:  it’s not exactly easy.  It either requires a big investment in common duty officers or a big investment in Dilithium just to get to the point where you can start the upgrade projects.  And there’s a heap of an investment in those upgrade projects-it took forever to get the Embassy to Tier-1 on that upgrade project alone.

All that said:  these challenges are not insurmountable.  It just takes time.  I do have a fair number of alts in the Fleet, including a pair of Romulan Republic characters-this helps me get past the duty officer issues in a way, since each of them can run recruitment duty officer missions; heck, the Romulan ones can run twice as many since they have the Romulan versions of the missions as well as the Starfleet versions.  The various materials only cost energy credits, and I’ve got reserves as far as that goes.  Even Fleet Marks needed may not be horrible-as I’ve completed various reputation grinds, I’ve started taking Fleet Marks instead of assorted Reputation Marks if given the choice.  Finally, the recent Crystalline Catastrophe event allowed me to have a number of characters get 50K Dilithium each, to a grand total of 200K; in the past, I’ve used the event to get the real vanity special projects, where it added decor to assorted holdings.  This time…I’m holding onto it for the big upgrade projects, which require a heap of Dilithium.  Conservatively speaking, we’re talking nearly 1.2 million Dilithium.  Good thing I won’t need this all at once; it would take 148 days to refine Dilithium rewards on a single character to get that much.  It’s also a good thing that the plan is to spread mass gains like from the Catastrophe across multiple characters.  And heck, some of those spare marks from the Reputation grind can be turned in for Dilithium….

Clearly, this is not a goal that’s going to happen overnight.  Thanks to a couple other built-in limits (like how often I can run recruitment missions), it’ll take some months to do.  But you know, I’m not going anywhere-and heck, depending on how things go with Delta Recruitment, I may or may not have a new character to feed stuff into the grinder.  That’s sort of iffy, though, since I’m probably building a KDF guy for it.  On the other hand, I am an altoholic….

As a closing note, I’m not the only one who messes with the possibilities of expanding holdings; at least two others in the Fleet have looked at stuff to upgrade; one did the work to upgrade the Embassy to Tier-1, while the other is presently putting effort into getting the Dilithium Mine to Tier-1.  All of the holdings are uphill tasks for my Fleet, but we’re in no hurry.  We’ll get there.

In The Grim Darkness of the 25th Century, There Is Only War

There’s a reasonably popular wargame out there called Warhammer 40K.  The basic concept is that the future is a grim, dark place, and humanity is in a never-ending war against…well, almost everything out there.  You would have to crawl up a substantial way to be called “bleak” there.  There are no friends out in the darkness of space-only beings that want to kill you.  There is only war.

The future of Star Trek Online isn’t quite that bad, but one could be forgiven if one decided that yes, it’s becoming its own brand of grim-dark.  The very beginnings of the game were rooted in war-a war between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire (the Organians must be shaking their heads on that one; the two may have been destined to be fast friends, but man, the road’s been rocky).  As time passed, the Federation’s found itself also fighting the remnants of the Romulan Star Empire, a faction of the Cardassian Union with Dominion allies, the Borg, and the Undine.  Then they get sucked into another war over in the Delta Quadrant.

It isn’t all bad news; it’s not much of a spoiler now to say that the Klingons and Starfleet have, at least, a temporary truce while they focus on the alien beings that have been working on wrecking the Alpha/Beta Quadrants so successfully:  the Iconians.  And it seems that Cryptic is about ready to start pushing this story to a climax:  next month, a big push is on for something they’re calling “Delta Recruitment”, in which each faction has a representative from the future come to newly created characters and gives them special objectives during their normal leveling process that will-in theory-prepare them for the war against the Iconians-who, by all appearances, are the ultimate foe.  This will include theoretical special rewards (the nature of which remains mostly unrevealed).  This could, of course, be problematic.

Why?  Because STO, while having a heap of character slots, is not the most alt-friendly game out there.  This wasn’t always true, but the amount of grinding that has to be done by any character these days has gone pretty far; reputation grinds, Dilithium grinds, and the grind after level 50 (and technically beyond 60 if you want to ever max out your Captain Specializations); and getting top-of-the-line gear is rougher, too; I imagine that fully equipping your ship with purple (very rare) gear is much more of a pain than it was in past days.  My Starfleet captain, for example, is purpled out (although not with the top gear anymore, thanks to the tier jump), while my Romulan one is still using plenty of greens (uncommon).  Now, there’s a caveat here:  doing the alt thing is not so horrible if you don’t actually care about maxing out a character’s abilities or gear.  And fortunately, I don’t-at least, not beyond “main” characters.

But I’m not exactly representative of the average gamer.  The average gamer isn’t likely to want to do the Delta Recruitment grind for a whole new character from scratch, and ignore their primary “main” characters.  Not unless the theoretical rewards will benefit their main characters in some way.  Details are still hazy, but it does seem that there will be at least one reward that benefits all characters on the account.  Whether or not it’s actually worthwhile is still an open question.

Delta Recruitment is only one part of the big changes coming to STO in the near future.  Sector Space, long organized into many blocks, is about to undergo a massive revamp.  Loading screens between sector blocks are about to become mostly extinct, as they are being consolidated into Quadrants:  Alpha, Beta, and Delta.  (The Gamma Quadrant remains mostly unexplored in STO, outside of a mission set there; DS9 will get its turn again someday…)  In a way, it’ll still be like sector blocks-except they’re much bigger now, and only a couple of load-screen boundaries exist.  How that’ll affect the Diplomacy reward of being able to go into opposite-faction home territory is iffy, but I suspect that reward is about to become obsolete.  (Outside of getting an opposite faction bridge officer, there’s not much point to maxing Diplomacy now, honestly.)

Also upcoming-as in, next week-is a new feature episode which sounds like it’ll kick off the Iconian conflict in earnest.  The STO web site indicates that this has been five years in the making; it’s time to see the payoff.

And heck, maybe at the end, we’ll actually see some exploration back in the game.  “Does anyone remember when we were explorers?” Captain Picard told us in Star Trek: Insurrection.  We can only hope.

Building Character: Final Frontiers

I’ve meant to do this for a long time, but things never seemed to fall into place for one reason or another.  But now, I figure it’s about time I do so.

I’ve done posts on my characters for Star Wars: The Old Republic.  I’ve done posts on the ones in Champions Online.  Heck, go back enough and you’ll find the posts on characters from City of Heroes before its passing.  But somehow, for some reason, I’ve never really gone into any detail on the characters I’ve put together in Star Trek Online.

As any good protagonist says to the antagonist near the climax of a story:  “This ends now!”

Of course, as a rabid altoholic, I have more characters than I can shake a stick at (although not nearly as many as I had in CoH…yet).  Unlike Champions Online, getting a character to max level doesn’t unlock a character slot, so no worries of unlimited characters.  I did manage to pick up a few a number of years ago, though (okay, more than a few) during some good sales when I was younger and less cynical.  But for this post, I think I’ll just center on the three characters that I consider my “main” characters; each represents a major faction in the Alpha Quadrant.

Captain Frost-using captain colors from the TOS and TNG eras to good use.

The first character is Walter “Walt” Frost, a character loosely based on a sci-fi concept I’d had many many years ago.  This character turned out way different in almost every way from that concept, but the name was cool enough (okay, no pun was really intended there) that I finally felt compelled to break it out and give it a shine.  A Starfleet captain, he’s pretty much the most developed character I have.  He’s got a number of looks, thanks to saved uniforms, his equipment is all Mark 12 purple (very rare) gear-admittedly, not the best in the game at this point, but the best requires more grind than I’m willing to tolerate- his bridge officers equipped the same way, and his ship-while not using any set bonus equipment-is decked out to wreak enough havoc consistently against opposition.

The character himself is a Tactical oriented captain, and he flies an Odyssey Tactical Cruiser-the USS Frontiersman.  He’s maxed out all his reputations, something none of my other characters have matched, maxed out his duty officer ranks, and thanks to using him as my primary character, he, his ship, and his crew are the best equipped of my characters.  Strangely, he is not my highest level character as of the Delta Rising expansion; he’s still at level 59.  And amusingly, a very large portion of those levels came from nothing more than excessive use of the duty officer system.  I did have him run the Delta Rising content up to the Kobali adventure zone, mainly because I wanted him to run the new feature episode that came out with the recent anniversary and have it make sense for him to run it.  The recent Captain Specializations that have been made available for post-50 characters have allowed me to hone in on what I considered Walt’s strongest trait:  his intelligence; accordingly, he has all of his specialization points in “Intelligence Officer”.  Walt’s kind of fallen a bit by the wayside lately, since the removal of exploration clusters from the game; given that the character’s basic backstory involved a love of exploration, that removal felt like it gutted him.  So I figured, if the game’s going to no longer support a style that a Starfleet Captain would prefer, I might just spend more time on a character the game seemed to favor.

Come at me if you think you’re hard enough!

Bringing us to Kelleth vestai-Amerex, the captain of the IKS Paromar, a Bortasqu’ War Cruiser.  As with most MMOs, if there’s more than one faction, I want to see what life is like as that faction, and Kelleth (whose name was strongly inspired by the novel “The Final Reflection”) was to be my representative there.  Unlike Walt, he is at max level (and most of those levels came long before the Klingons got an actual leveling path, starting at level 6), but he and his crew aren’t quite as well equipped.  He’s done all right, though-his orientation is Engineering, and his ship takes advantage of that.  Unfortunately, the ship also moves like a half-dead moose-which is why his specialization points have gone to a “secondary specialization”, which is piloting.  That gives his ship a lot more agility than it deserves…and it’s still not great.  But then, since my Starfleet main flew cruisers, I was used to a beam-weapon approach more than the head-on style that most Klingon ships encourage.  As far as his reputations go, he’s maxed out a fair number of reputations, but I think he still has one or two to go.  He hasn’t maxed out all of his duty officer tiers, but he does have a good portion of them done.

In my mind, Kelleth is a direct rival to Walt; I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they’re each other’s nemeses, but in my head they’ve clashed a few times, and worked together a few times too; how the recent truce concluding the Federation/Empire war might have affected their relationship is something I haven’t put much thought into.  As far as his look goes, I very much started at a base the look of the TOS Klingons; I couldn’t do the smooth foreheads, but the general look was very much in its spirit-something that had gotten him compliments early in the game’s life.  As he’s leveled up, he’s gotten one of those big sash-like things to wear, and I liked the look well enough to make it his default.  Like Walt, however, he’s got a variety of looks, including a couple that give him the “badass longcoat” for special occasions.

Some folks are born to greatness; others get pushed.

When the Legacy of Romulus came out and brought us characters for the Romulan POV, I knew I’d have to make a Romulan captain as well.  Commander Ailar became my Romulan main (barely beating out a Reman character).  And as the third member of my little triumvirate, she became a Science oriented captain, and flies the RRW Hobus, a Tulwar-class dreadnought.  Ailar has the disadvantage of not being as well equipped as the other two-after all, the other two were around since pretty much the first week of STO’s life.  On the other hand, her ship is in pretty good shape, having not just one item set, but two-both from the Romulan Reputation, which she’s maxed out.  It’s the personal equipment for ground use that she and her crew are a little light on.  She’s also maxed out her Delta Rep, and she’s sitting at level 59 as well.  Unlike Walt, she got that level 59 honestly-most of it through painful grind.  She’s been putting her specialization points into the new Command specialization, making her a solid team player.

Ailar’s got a few looks as well, but this one is a favorite one-the one she took up upon officially joining the Romulan Republic.  I’ve taken the game’s backstory for the character to heart, where she was originally just a colonist on a Romulan colony world using her science expertise to help settle the world-and got caught up in the whole storyline which eventually propelled her to the command of one of the most dangerous vessels in the Republic.  How she’d interact with Kelleth and Walt’s a good question; she’s nominally aligned with the Federation (as the Romulans are able to pick which of the two big factions to help-nothing like playing both ends against the middle, right?), but represents the Romulan POV over the Federation’s.  I keep thinking to do a story along those lines one day, but it’s just a thought.

Those are the three main characters of mine in STO, and it’s no accident that both are the three highest-leveled characters in my roster.  At some future point, I’ll probably detail a few other characters; one of whom is a Borg, one of whom is a Reman, and one of whom is an alien unseen before.

And it’s worth mentioning:  there’s a big push coming next month called “Delta Recruitment” which, among other things, will be awarding all players a new character slot.  There is no escape from altitis….

Building Character: Walkers, Wasps, and Rangers

Been a while since I put up a post on character progression, so I’ll shine my light on my Champions Online characters and give them some cred.

Since the last time I’d looked, I’ve pushed no less than three characters to top level (level 40).  This isn’t as impressive as it sounds; all of them were at least level 20 at that point, and there’s been some double-xp stuff that went around, which does wonders for leveling.  And most importantly for me, very little of it was done with the Alert system, the PvE queues for CO.  I think I’ve used exactly three split up among all these characters.

Delivering beatings for justice!

The first was Shadewalker.  I might have mentioned him in a couple of previous posts.  I sort of built him around the martial arts expert concept, and grabbed the Night Avenger sort of stuff to give him that stealth/first-strike capability.  He was sort of a balanced sort of character in that he relied hard on his Dex score to give him dodge and crit capability, but used his block (Parry, technically) to help survive the nasty hits.  His passive was the Night Avenger, which gave him the ability to sneak and land a massive strike from stealth-shades of City of Heroes Stalkers!-and also gave a minor buff to one of his other powers.  Most of those powers were the standards; Thundering Kicks for bread-and-butter damage, a spin-kick sort of thing for close range area-of-effect (and it was fun to watch, although charging it for maximum effect was rare for me), and a number of other close in combat moves.  To help round him out with some distance, I grabbed a couple powers from the Gadgets framework, so he had an arc of exploding boomerangs (which did bonus damage from stealth, which REALLY helped clean out henchmen) and a set of bolas to help him with crowd control-although single target only.

The character had some rough spots, until I managed to get him an active defense power to boost his dodge for fights that got nasty fast.  He remained somewhat squishy, but he did a creditable job on getting through the content.

No, I’ve never made a character who looked like this before….

The next character had been long neglected-especially since his face is on the banner above.  I finally made the push to get my Far Ranger character-who shares that striking resemblence to all those other rangers-up to 40.  Shockingly, he was an archer character, and all of his offense came from shooting long pointed objects.  Some of them exploded, though.  The sonic arrow was my bread-and-butter for this character, even above the standard snap-shot arrows, as the stun that could come out of the sonic’s use was often far more beneficial-and was an AOE besides-than the single target snap-shots, and the exploding arrows never really did much except to mix things up.  A close runner up was the arrow storm power, which did exactly what it sounds like-rain arrows to blot out the sun.  I could usually drop all a group’s henchmen, and a fair portion of the health of stronger opposition with the storm.  However, heavy hitters (eg. master villains and better) could give this Ranger a hard time.  Active defenses and liberal use of a power to jump backward and boost dodge rating became critical-and eventually I broke down and added a chance-for-stealth advantage to that jump-back primarily to wipe threat if he wound up in a scary situation.

The Ranger was a classic blaster guy; hit hard, and get hit hard.  He was one of the characters who actually did a couple Alerts, and the opponents in those alerts knocked his health down hard; fortunately, by that time I grabbed that stealthing advantage, and I credit it with keeping the Ranger alive through those Alerts.

Those look like they’d hurt going in….

The last character was Sea Wasp, and the primary reason I’d built her was because of the Lemurian Invasion event (before it got rotated into the Alert rotations).  The lead-in to the event included an unlock for an “ancient lemurian helmet” costume part, and I’d wanted to make use of it.  And during the big fight with the Bleak Harbinger itself, I managed to get the vehicle drop for the event, so I had this Lemurian tank-thing to play with.  So I figured I wanted to make an undersea sort of character-so I made Sea Wasp.  To fit in with that name, I made her a Claws fighter, making her one of the nastier fighters in my roster.  She was even more Dex based than Shadewalker, and I went hard on the Dodge related stats.  Her passive was Lightning Reflexes, and her Block was Fluidity.  Now, there’s just a tiny problem with Dodge-based characters:  if you dodge, you take x percent less damage, based on your Avoidance score (related to Dex, but separate from it).  If you don’t dodge…well, you eat all of that yummy damage.  This is a bad thing.  Like Shadewalker, she made use of the dodge active defense, and a couple other non-claw powers, primarily the leg sweep which was her way of dealing with more than one opponent.  Claws have a number of charge-up attacks, which isn’t as fast and as fluid as one might hope.  She tended to use her combo-hit power against the henchmen and saved the charge-ups against tougher opponents.  She did suck at range, but that was intentional-besides, if she was outdoors, she had this flying tank thing….

With these three characters down, most of my first page of heroes on the select screen have hit level 40.  And by an amusing bit of coincidence, this has unlocked most of the character slots on the second page of heroes (and a few have characters waiting for my attention).  The next couple on my list are heading to the high-technology side of things.  I’ll close this post with the names of those characters-and later down the line, give peeks at just who these people are:  Overload and Mechacharge.

Next time, we’ll see how things have been going on the Trek side of the fence.

Holding Patterns

Once in a while (well, it seems more frequently of late), I reach a point where I don’t have much to comment on.

It happens for a variety of reasons.  For Star Trek Online, it has to do with the fact that their business model (or perhaps more accurate to say how they implement it) continues to irritate me.  The whole introduction of the tier-6 starship thing probably was one of the things that really killed my enthusiasm for that game.  I did the Delta Rising thing, and the story was pretty good, and it allowed me to let my primary Klingon character shine; but I haven’t been motivated enough to really finish the story with my primary Starfleet or Romulan characters.  A new executive producer’s been named, but enough of the old names are still in positions (readers of this blog will know of one, at least, who continues to keep my contempt and still has his job) that make me figure that things aren’t going to get better.  This fetish they have of removing old content and putting in less to do so is another of those irritations that makes me throw my hands up in frustration.

Star Wars: The Old Republic has a different issue.  With the completion of the eight class stories in the game, I find my motivation to log in has dwindled substantially.  Certainly, I could go ahead and work on getting all the companion stories done by trying to buy up lots of gifts to increase their affection, but that’s eight times five plus one companions to deal with.  (Admittedly, some are already maxed out due to game play, but I don’t have the info with me right now.)  And there’s always unlocking the remaining rooms in the Coruscant and Kaas strongholds.  The big issue, of course, is that I’ve pretty much deliberately ignored the new content because of the way the Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion was treated, and have chosen to wait and see if Bioware/EA does the same thing with Shadow of Revan.

Champions Online has a different issue than either of the above.  As it holds barely above maintenance mode (it still gets lockboxes, and the occasional bit of content…each year…), one would think there’s not much to do.  And there’s a certain truth to that.  Of course, given what happens in their sister game of STO, one could make an argument that less development means less chance to royally screw over the players of CO.  But what CO does still have over the other two is the vast amounts of customization.

This is not to say that STO or TOR have no customization.  But getting real here.  TOR has eight classes, each of which has two advanced classes, and each of those advanced classes have three “disciplines” (which used to be more complex, but the devs trashed it for “simpler”).  That’s not a bad bit of complexity to work with, right?  Even with that simplification, there’s enough difference in gameplay to make three smugglers different from each other, for example.  And STO?  It started with three professions, and three styles of ship (although the style of ship depended greatly on the faction; Starfleet got science ships, while the Klingons got the Birds of Prey raiders), and customization came by the way of use of kits, which gave the captain assorted ground abilities.  Lately, though, things have improved there.  (That’s right-I won’t ignore giving credit where it’s due.)  Kits, formerly just a set of abilities, are now containers for separate abilities which can be slotted into it.  This opens things up a whole lot, allowing a different “kit spec” to suit a situation.  Delta Rising also brought “captain specializations” which tend to be a post-50 sort of deal (although I’m not 100 percent sure; this is the problem with using high level characters instead of new ones.  I should experiment sometime…).  That’s still in its infancy, but we’ve already got Command and Intelligence specialties, plus a couple of secondary specialties.

The point is, though, that CO puts both in the shade.  You’ve got your basic classes in STO and TOR, and they can be tweaked to play different from others, but CO-at least for a subscription or a purchased freeform slot-allows characters who can literally do anything.  Want a weapon master who uses guns, bows, swords, and unarmed attacks?  You can do that.  Want a character who uses fire and ice?  You can do that.  Want a super-strong gadgeteer?  You can do that.  STO and TOR have pretty impressive options to work with, but CO has far, far more.  It’s a pity that PWE/Cryptic hasn’t put more into that game, particularly with how big super-heroes are these days in the mainstream.  (Of course, I could say the same about another company and another super-heroic property laid to rest, too…those idiots….)

That’s probably why I’ve spent more time in the last month in CO than in the other two games.  And it’s probably why I still look back fondly at games like City of Heroes (multiple archetypes with multiple powersets with multiple choices within those powersets) and Star Wars Galaxies (well, pre-CU, where you could skill-train anything up to a limit of max points; and changing them was as simple as unlearning skills and playing the game with new ones).  Having that wide variety of choices…that helps keep me interested.

I do expect at some point, though-and probably not too far ahead-that I’ll gravitate back to STO or TOR and spend more time there, and CO will fade to the background just as the others have for now.  The variety of choice applies to games themselves, too.

Next time, I’ll probably remark on just what kind of characters in CO I’ve been working on lately.

Ten Years In

I had to pause when I typed that title in.

Ten.

Years.

One decade of semi-regularly posting my thoughts on MMORPGs, from my early “gee-wow” phase of starting playing the games to my significantly more jaded self today. And the blog’s covered the bases. Some posts have been simple peeks at “here’s what I’m doing this week” (back when I was a lot more regular). Some posts have been about deeper thoughts on MMORPGs in general, and some in specific. Some have praised assorted developers, and some have…well, let’s go with the opposite of “praised”.

There have been bumps in the road, of course. A few times I’ve pondered just saying “Game Over” to the MMO scene, usually during times of big transition, but something always managed to keep me at least poking my nose in. And of course, RL has occasionally gotten in the way of playing, much less putting up posts about things. At one point, I even bit the bullet and made the big jump from the GuildPortal blogging host to WordPress.

I’ve played quite a few games over the years.  Star Wars Galaxies was the gateway drug, and when I started playing that I honestly felt I’d not need to play any other MMOs.  If the New Game Enhancements had any positive impact on me, it was that it kicked me out of the comfort zone and allowed me to look at other MMOs.  And the list goes on:  from games where I only dabbled such as Lord of the Rings Online, EVE Online, and DC Universe Online; to the games where I truly spent a significant amount of time with, such as World of Warcraft (hasn’t everybody?), Star Trek Online, Champions Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and of course, the one that took the top place in amount of time spent, City of Heroes.

Well, we’ve had a lot going on this year, so let’s set the wayback machine and take it for a spin.

A pair of stories reach their conclusions

In Star Wars: The Old Republic, I finally managed to complete my long-term goal of getting through the class stories for all eight classes.  I wrapped up my Bounty Hunter relatively early in the year.  My Jedi Counselor took a bit more time, thanks to the appearance of the Galactic Strongholds expansion, which brought player housing of a sort to the game.  Unfortunately, what they didn’t tell you was that in order to open up all those nice rooms, you’d have to shell out Cartel Coins (the real money equivalent) or lots and lots of credits.  I did eventually blow some of my accumulated coins to open up my Nar Shadda rooms (I got a fair amount of them for free, being a subscriber), and a whole lot of credits.  With all the rooms opened, I took a short break in order to recuperate from the grind burnout, before pushing onward with my Counselor and completing the last class story.

But of course, that turned out not to be the end of the story, because the Shadow of Revan expansion hit before year’s end, and as I understand it, there are mini-class stories in that.  Unfortunately, Bioware/EA decided to make it a paid expansion, which put me in mind of what happened with the Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion-namely, the fact that it became free for subscribers less than six months after it was released.  I’m all for eventually releasing expansions for free, but the turnaround for that seemed like dirty pool to me-and so I’ve decided not to fall into that trap again, and will wait until the inevitable happens with Shadow of Revan.

Guildwise, not much goes on there.  I had originally hoped that I might be able to pull off a purchase of a fleet flagship there, but the price for the ship is so disgustingly high-and given that I’m more or less solo in that game these days-and the benefits are iffy in that case anyway, that I figured that it’s something we could live without.  A guild stronghold was established on Coruscant, but I don’t anticipate opening any rooms there for a long time; I have enough work to do opening up my own Coruscant and Dromund Kaas rooms as it is.

I’m reminded of being shaken down by a bully….

Star Trek Online has long been a source of…well, let’s call it discontent.  For me, at least.  I’m good with their story content, but their business practices continue to make me sick.  (Okay, that’s a bit too extreme-let’s say “extremely unhappy”.)  The first blow was the removal of the Exploration clusters, removing what could well be considered one of the primary pillars of Star Trek in general.  Then came the new tier-6 ships, rendering the tier-5 ships-virtually all of which were paid for with Zen, the real money equivalent for Perfect World games-obsolete.  Or, if you wanted to be really insulting, you could upgrade some of those tier-5 ships to be almost-but-not-quite as good as tier-6 ships for more Zen.  In fact, it seems that it’s now about fleecing customers; the crafting system is designed to take forever to max out in any branch, unless you spend a large chunk of dilithium-and given you can only refine 8000 dilithium per day, you’re looking at being forced to purchase dilithium off the exchange, which requires-you guessed it-Zen.  The announcement that bridge officer training is about to go down the same track is one that continues to bring me closer to abandoning the game entirely; as it is, I spend less and less time in the game.

Which is a pity, because the devs can do some good things.  The story advanced to bring an uneasy peace between the Klingons and the Federation at last, thanks to a bigger threat uniting them in the form of the Iconians.  This included a revamp of Earth Spacedock (again), which is an extremely beautiful bit of work.  Also of interest was the release of Delta Rising, the new expansion taking place in the Delta Quadrant; while what story is there is pretty good, it’s also somewhat lacking in comparison with the Legacy of Romulus expansion.  Comparing the two isn’t a real comparison:  Legacy beat the tar out of Delta in terms of sheer content.  Accordingly, while I enjoyed the Delta stories, it didn’t enthuse me as much as the Legacy expansion-and I’m not that big a fan of Romulans.

The Corps of Discovery fleet still continues to exist, although the active folks tend to be on when I’m not on (and there aren’t many of them as it is).  One of the members managed to get the fleet embassy up to tier-1 through sheer determination and will (not to mention dilithium and fleet marks), so the fleet’s now got a tier-1 embassy to go along with its tier-2 starbase.  I’ve entertained the thought of pushing a tier-1 dilithium mine, but at this stage, I think everyone’s burned enough out on that particular grind.

A new hope

Low development effort never looked so good

Despite my exit from Champions Online last year, I went back again.  I guess I needed to get my superhero on, and it beat DC Universe Online in my book, so there it is.  (I do play Marvel Heroes as well, but honestly, they don’t let me make my own creations.  That’s painful for a creative sort.)  I spent some time getting a number of my stable of characters to the max level 40, and began a few new characters-one of whom also made it to level 40.

One of those characters came about because of something truly unusual for CO:  new content.  While lockboxes have been the primary push in patches in the game, some actual new missions were put in-and for a change, they weren’t limited time deals, but permanent additions to the game, featuring the crazed robot, Mechanon.  All things considered, I’d call that a successful bit of work for the devs there, given that the game continues to be barely above maintenance mode.  On the other hand, given the activities in STO, I’ve decided that this isn’t a bad thing for CO.  That means that there’s less chance of the game being poisoned by the devs to the point where this one makes me ill as well.

I spent some time playing EVE Online again this last year; I didn’t do a whole lot, but I did manage to get a couple of personal goals complete.  First, I managed to get my character standings high enough to install jump clones at a Sisters of Eve station, and second, I managed to finally delve a shot bit into wormhole space-and nullsec space, which ended rather predictably.  (But I didn’t get pod-killed!)  Juggling a fourth game is asking a bit much, though, so I let the account go dormant again-but I’m reasonably sure that at some point, I’ll have the urge to go back; after all, I’ve still got my eye on one of the exploration ships that the Sisters sell….

My MMO fictional work was limited this year, for a couple of reasons.  The first is that in this year, I’ve not been really attached to any guilds that could be called active; I did make a short attempt to join an RP fleet in STO, but it didn’t really work out-mostly because I just didn’t feel it worked for me there.  So I’ve been doing the solo thing mostly, which has allowed me to spend relatively equal time in the assorted games, but it does tend to get boring without people.  We’ll see how things go next year.  The other reason is that the one story I did do, “Unending”, was another one of my overly-long works, which closed out my City of Heroes stories with a ribbon to tie up my remaining loose ends.  Where I go from here is still up in the air.

The year’s been a somewhat rough one, all told.  While the games I played continue to have their positive points, actions taken by their assorted developers have managed to put a big spike in the enthusiasm.  It could be that I’ve become jaded by my ten years now and have become more cynical in attitude towards the developers.  Or maybe it’s just short-term burnout.  But there’s still a couple of games on the horizon that could displace any one of my current games-so it’s a wait and see situation.  Until then, we’ll see what Year Eleven will hold.

At Last, The End Of The Line (Wait-Isn’t There An Expansion?)

Well, it took a few years to do it-ironically at the time of the 3rd anniversary celebrations-but I’ve finally done it.  Last night, I completed the Jedi Counselor storyline missions, completing Chapter 3 and thus, completing the last of the eight class stories of Star Wars: The Old Republic.

The Last Story Ends

Things got a bit dicey at the end of the road, primarily because of the changes to the former skill builds (now “disciplines”).  My character was a Balance Sage, and before the change, I had a pretty good handle on him; after the change, I was starting to get my butt handed to me by Strong opponents.  This required a bit of learning new tactics until I got to the point where I could curbstomp Elite opponents.  (I’ll say this for the Counselor; I never had the same problems with Elites that I had with my Agent.)

In the process, the character got to level 52, which is about where I average out when completing class stories.  One made it to 53, if I recall-I’d made liberal use of xp boosters I get from completing certain missions-and a couple only made it to 50, although to be fair, that was before Makeb raised the level cap from 50 to 55.

Of course, the readers-in-the-know realize that technically, I haven’t finished the class stories; with the expansion of “Shadow of Revan”, there is at least a mini-class story available that continues the stories of these characters at an individual level (as opposed to the generalist level like Ilum, Oricon, and the other assorted content released post-launch).  But I won’t be doing those until Bioware/EA releases the expansion free to subs like they did with Makeb (I figure that puts it around May or June if past history is a guide).

In the meantime, I’ll probably make use of the time to relearn how to do some of these characters again now that their skill trees have been blown away and turned into disciplines.  If nothing else, I need to relearn my Agent and Smuggler characters, and see how they perform.  And maybe I’ll run some of these characters through Makeb and max out their levels-I have remarkably few characters who are actually at the former level cap, and while I doubt any can get to 60 without the expansion, they might at least get pretty close.  Plus, now that training costs have been eliminated (which is worthy of a different post), I can preserve more credits for which I can possibly unlock more rooms for my Kaas and Coruscant strongholds.  (Tatooine is STILL not on the radar, and don’t get me started on flagships.)

I admit I haven’t said much about the storyline for the Counselor; I try not to offer major spoilers.  I failed in the respect that I had planned to take the character seriously Dark Side, though-there wasn’t anything that I felt really that offered an obvious “breaking point” for him.  He isn’t anywhere as Light Side as my Knight, though-I did make a number of DS choices that seemed rational at the time that usually didn’t involve mass casualties.  In the end, though, he made what I would consider the “right” choice, and puts the character in a more positive place than I’d been planning.  Unfortunately (for me), this means that absolutely none of my characters have managed to max out DS points, which would unlock a Legacy power for all the characters on the Legacy.  Even my nastiest character-my Inquisitor-was occasionally tainted by LS choices because of his stance on slavery.  Of course, he’s also one of the characters who haven’t done Makeb yet.  And there’s always the expansion, in time.

Still, despite my intentions, the storyline was enjoyable, and different enough from the others to make it so.  In many ways, it was a more political story than the others, which suits the Counselor perfectly.  After all, the Counselor is a diplomat of sorts, as well as a seeker of knowledge; and both got a workout on his storyline.  He didn’t face the Ultimate Bad Guy of TOR, but he did get to face a danger just as great in its way-and came out with flying colors.  (Well, after being one-shot at one point in that final battle.  I’ll spoil this much:  if you see a power charging up that says “collapsing ceiling”, you REALLY want to use an interrupt.)

I may do another post at one point with my thoughts on the storylines of TOR.  I figure it’s worth remarking upon.

Building Character (AKA “What I’ve been doing in the last month”)

Life’s kept me a bit busy lately, but I have some time to take a look at where things are these days.

I managed to complete the Delta Rising expansion’s story in Star Trek Online with my Klingon character, and as of later today, he’ll have maxed out his Delta Reputation, which means that when I eventually do it for my primary Starfleet and Romulan characters, they’ll have an easier time of it; this is because of the ability to “sponsor” an alt by spending reputation marks to create a token that-when used by the alt-will double the reputation xp of each project.  This effectively means that they can get through that reputation at twice the speed, at roughly half the cost.  That’s a good thing.

My Romulan character is next on the list to go through the expansion, and I’ve actually finished the mission with Neelix already (I got a head start).  Another minor project is something I’d been putting off for too long:  my Borg-ified Starfleet captain, once upon a time, was one I’d planned to have a crew that had almost no humans.  Over time, I managed to get an away team that consisted of all partial-or-fully mechanical characters:  three liberated Borg, one hologram, and one android.  But there was one feather I wanted in my cap as well:  I wanted to finish the Diplomacy path with the game’s duty officers, so I could requisition a KDF alien to include on the crew.  I’m tentatively thinking Gorn, because who doesn’t love a massive lizard-man towering around on the ship.  Not sure what branch of specialization he’ll be; I’ll have to look over my current list of bridge officers before making that call.  I’m hoping to pull that off by the end of the week-I’m close enough to hitting that final Diplomacy tier.

In Champion Online, I’ve not done much lately.  I spent a little time working on a martial-artist sort of character, and despite some rather unpleasant growing pains (or maybe it’s more accurate to say “multiple compound fractures”), he’s actually turning out pretty decently.  I’ve also put in a little bit of time with a bald, green-trenchcoat-wearing, archer guy who would probably look familiar to certain folks.

I’m also looking at my “Reawakened Automaton” character, who I keep meaning to start pushing forward-if only to unlock the special powersets for freeform characters.  I know there are some other ways to do it that don’t take as much work, but heck, it’s about playing the game, right?

Star Wars: The Old Republic also just released its Shadows of Revan expansion-at least for the preordered folks.  I’ve already chosen to just wait until it’s given away to subs in about six months or so, especially since I’m still working on finishing my Jedi Counselor (currently on Voss) to complete my last class story (well, not counting whatever is in the expansion).  I haven’t had a chance to mess with some changes that apply to everyone-the new Discipline system which replaces the original “talent tree” builds.  My gut instinct is not to like ‘em at all, but on the other hand, it’d be wrong to belittle it if I haven’t tried it, so I may have something to say on the subject next time.

Once I have the Counselor done, it’ll be time to do some minor work on the assortment of characters; while the class stories are done, not all of those characters have done Makeb-and certainly not all of them have reached the previous maximum level.  I’m not sure how many levels-if any-I can gain now that the level cap is 60; it may be restricted to people with the expansion (I haven’t really looked into it).  Of course, that’s self limiting by its nature-you get enough levels, and even level 55 bad guys won’t get you anything in the way of XP.  To get to 60, you really do need the expansion.  But I think I’ve demonstrated over the years that I don’t lose much sleep over not being maximum level and doing the endgame stuff.  I may very well decide to start my future project of doing another eight characters to cover the other advanced classes in the game-and maybe even unlock some more species to do some interesting characters.

That said, real life things like the holidays might be its own limiting factor.

Aftermath

Last time around, I spoke of Cryptic/PWE screwups with Star Trek Online.  A bit has happened since then.

After presumed soul-searching, the devs investigated the claims made by some folks who said they lost specialization points that were honestly gained (as opposed to the ones who went grinding for exploits), and eventually made an interesting decision:  they would restore all the points taken, regardless of origin.  The dilithium part of the equation is still gone, and it should be-but the folks who got wronged from all this will have things made right, or at least, that’s what is being said.

But the rioting that went on in the aftermath of the mess before getting to this point seems to have gotten attention-and is causing action to be taken.

One of the major complaints was about the difficulty of the PvE queues, and how they’ve gone way up.  A dev has posted that adjustments are coming; these missions on Advanced and Elite difficulties should not be 100 percent success rates for people, but neither should they have as low a percentage of people succeeding, either.  On the same vein, that same dev has acknowledged the fact that the time taken to do these things are no longer worth the rewards given out; this is also going to be addressed.  Another dev has posted concerning the difficulty of the opposition these days (those massive sacks of health points, for example).  This is being adjusted, too.  (Of course, that one’s coming from a dev whose credibility is a tad suspect, but hell, let’s give him benefit of the doubt-for now.)  Finally, another dev is addressing something that I hadn’t honestly noticed-probably because I haven’t mucked with them-Starship Mastery tiers, which are available on Tier 6 or Tier 5U ships; apparently, the grind for those may be seeing a bit of a drop too.

That’s a lot of positive sounding changes-and a lot of posts with advance notice, too.  I can’t help but wonder if we’d have seen anything like this, though, if the forums hadn’t pretty much melted down in the interim.  It’s also somewhat disturbing to think that it took that riot to hammer it into their heads that players were finding the new expansion-and the stuff that came out of it-decidedly not fun, which is something that leads to people leaving games.

To their credit, none of the posts have said anything like “You’ll end up liking our changes, you’ll see!”  (Not like certain other devs who managed to kill their game and smear their own reps in a somewhat permanent manner.)  The STO devs aren’t sticking with a losing hand; they’re moving to the next hand, and working to improve it.  And that’s a fairly admirable thing to do.  Seeing a mistake and acting to correct it-that matters.

Now, the cynical part of me reminds me that for now, these are just words, and player interpretation of those words usually ends up somewhere north of where things will actually end up.  This may calm things down a bit on the forums, although they’ll never be completely satisfied-and some will still be unimpressed until they see the proof.  As for me, I’ve been more than happy to roast them over the fire for the bad they’ve done; so it seems fair to acknowledge when they’re doing something right.  Following through on this will definitely fit the latter case.

“Oops! We !#%$@ up!”

I debated even posting on the subject, since it’s quite possible that within 24 hours of the post, all might magically be made right.  (You laugh, but it wouldn’t be the first time…)  But I felt that there was enough here to post on it anyway.

It involves Star Trek Online, the Delta Rising expansion, and the concept of consequences.

I’ve remarked in my last post about the issue involving leveling from 50-60; specifically how the new content didn’t actually technically offer the skill points needed to advance a level, how you would have to grind other stuff to make up the difference.  I remarked that this wasn’t so different than how it used to be in the early days of the game, but was effectively displaced by the “1 episode/1 level” idea that seemed to creep into the design philosophy of the game-and how this return was a jarring one.

So, surprise, surprise, people were going to find a way around this.  The best way to experience the content smoothly, they felt, was to power-level.  This involved taking teams of ships on the Elite setting, finding the best xp per level of effort ratio, and grinding that mission repeatedly until they got to level 60, and then playing the content without interruption.  On the face of it, I don’t really have issues with that-and despite what some forum goers are saying, I don’t really believe Cryptic/PWE cared about that side of it.

But, there’s a bit more to the story.  You see, one of the things that the expansion introduced was “Captain Specializations”; you could unlock abilities every time you leveled (or something along those lines-I’m not 100 percent sure exactly how that works out).  There were more abilities to unlock than there were levels left, but you could still unlock them even at max level-skill points you would have gotten to advance a level got applied to the progress needed to unlock a new ability.  But eventually, after presumably a long, long time, you could unlock all the abilities.

And that’s where Cryptic/PWE made their mistake.  After you unlocked all the abilities, instead of getting a new ability point, you would get Dilithium.  The same Dilithium that is used to purchase/create the high-end gear…or exchange for Zen, the PWE cash-shop currency.

So it’s not hard to figure out why, a couple of days ago, the sector block where the mission was located (that effort/skill point ratio I mentioned earlier) mysteriously was locked up, without a word as to why.  People just couldn’t go into the sector block.  (God help the folks who were just trying to run missions as low level Romulans….)  That was when word of the exploit started spreading.  But nobody commented upon it until yesterday, after a patch went in which turned off the Dilithium gain mentioned above, and apparently also nerfing the skill point rewards at assorted difficulty levels.

The official post goes something like this.

The development team became aware of a potential leveling exploit on Wednesday morning, and after initial investigation decided to shut down access to the maps that were being used by the exploiters in order to perform a deeper investigation.

We uncovered some bugs in the game that were definitely not intentional and that could be used to level at a rate significantly faster than anywhere else in the game. Fixes to these bugs are going live today that should remove the exploit. Details of the changes can be found in the release notes.

While many players participated a little in the exploited maps, very few really took advantage of it to excessively level characters. We identified this small number of players, and we have removed the excess levels from these characters.

We apologize for the inconvenience of closed maps during the investigation and for the bugs that led to the scramble around those maps.

~LaughingTrendy

Now, it’s hard to have sympathy for the “small number of players” who ruthlessly took advantage.  It’s one thing to level up to the point where you can play the new content without having to stop and get interrupted by grinding.  But it’s another thing to max everything out and start cashing in the Dilithium-and potentially wrecking the Dilithium economy.  Particularly since Cryptic/PWE rely upon that sort of thing for their own profits.  There was no way they were going to let that go on for long.  They way they dealt with this was heavy handed, though-locking the entire sector block instead of shutting off missions.  Maybe that’s as granular as they could get-maybe that was the only way they could stop it.  Maybe.

Of course, things don’t end there.  It seems that a whole lot of people are now reporting having lost specialization points-significantly more than this “small number of players”.  It seems that if you were even in Tau Dewa at all, you were a suspect-and got stripped of points if you happened to be at level 60 and had an excess of those points.  I imagine that the intent was to slam the folks who had maxed everything out-but there was plenty of space for folks who had legitimately gotten a number of skill points beyond level 60.  And they got slammed too.

Granted:  there’s every possibility that a lot of the people protesting this are exaggerating.  I know-the idea that a forum goer may offer information with no proof that it actually happened?  Inconceivable!  But…even if they are protesting innocence too loudly, that’s still a larger volume than a “small number of players”.  And if that’s the case, the devs have gotten really heavy-handed with their hammer.

There is no way to know, of course, if something harsher hit those small number (like, say, bans), but I imagine we’ll never hear about it.  What is apparent is that Cryptic/PWE handled this very badly-especially if some of the claims on the forums are true that this exploit existed and was reported on the test server-and allowed to go live anyway.  And given their actions over recent months, the lack of player trust in their word has become more and more apparent-and incidents like this isn’t going to help.

Full disclosure:  this event didn’t impact me one bit.  I’d seen things in zone chat about groups going to the mission involved here, but hadn’t put it together as being power-leveling; I remember thinking that it was odd that there’d be a full team looking to do that one specific mission.  Makes sense in hindsight.  My path to filling in the blank spots in the leveling path doesn’t give me heaps of skill points-and I’ve never been so glad that I tend to take my time on these things.  It’s not hard for me to imagine being in the same boat as others hit with the hammer.