Infection (or “What is a Raid?”)

Had the chance (finally) to run the Infected Special Task Force in STO on the weekend.

I’d actually hoped to do it last Tuesday, but my internet-not to mention my cable television-decided to curl up and die, so that killed any chance of getting on sooner.

I did it with a nearly all-Corps run, which meant that I was on Ventrilo with the team, and that made a big impact; being able to communicate ideas swiftly was a lifesaver-particularly in a couple of instances where we should have been reduced to greasy stains.  At no point did we have a complete wipe-which isn’t to say that we didn’t have casualties on occasion.  The run ended successfully, and without the use of any exotic exploits.  Took a little under two hours.  It was the first time for at least two, perhaps three members of the Task Force.  (Of course, coming very very soon, a patch is going in to presumably make it tougher-but I’ve no issue with that.)

Infected is the first STF for Star Trek Online, and it’s been mentioned that on a scale of 1-10, it rates at about 2 compared to what’s coming down the pipe; a planned STF involving the Borg Queen is at the end of the chain at 10, while others between will scale up.  In a way, it’s like you’d expect from a raid progression, except possibly without the gear (then again, the whole “marks of valor” store will be coming online at some point, and that’ll start making a big impact, in theory).  And of course, raids are generally accepted as an MMO’s “end-game” content.

But…what is a raid?

Well, the obvious qualifier to start with is size.  In WoW, prior to Burning Crusade, the big raids were 20 to 40 man affairs.  I understand they’ve gotten away from that a bit, looking at smaller numbers, but that still seems to be the measuring stick for what exactly a raid is.  Infected, on the other hand, is a five man affair, which is the max team size in the game.  The closest comparison that comes to mind immediately is another former Cryptic property, City of Heroes and their task forces, which use standard team sizes; on the other hand, CoH also has the Hamidon and Mothership raids…although they might be better seen as similar to the fleet actions of STO (something Cryptic should consider when gaming endgame possibilities-both those raids remain popular in CoH).

What else?  Well, there’s time.  A raid is no short term affair.  Those huge raids in WoW I mentioned?  Could take a LOT of hours to complete.  The good news is that they didn’t necessarily have to be in one-day chunks (if I remember right), but there was a time limit before everything reset.  CoH Task Forces are also pretty long; ask any player about the Positron TF.  Better yet: watch the reaction to a suggested Shadow Shard TF…any one of them.  Again, these didn’t have to be done in one day-but you’d be hard pressed to get folks to be willing to hold onto the TFs long enough to do a multi-day affair.  As I mentioned above, Infected was a bit less than two hours, although-again-on that scale of difficulty the devs tossed off, it’s on the low end; but this feels more like the instance runs in WoW-the many 5 man instanced dungeons that permeate that game, or the regular contact missions for CoH.

Raids have a story behind them, although I would imagine a lot of folks miss that.  WoW raids had quests within the raids, or quests that could only be completed via those raids.  The CoH TFs have a story behind them, but if anyone besides the person leading the TF reads them, it would be a remarkable surprise.  Infected also is kicked off by a contact, but I didn’t get a chance to read through everything-the danger of teaming content.  People will often want to move along, and swiftly.  I’ll have to take some more time next time around to read some of the dialogue trees.  Again, the instance runs of WoW and contact missions of CoH easily fit into this niche as well-not to mention anything out there regarding quests.

Raids are complicated.  They require strategies to deal with the obstacles, which are not always simply “blow everything up”.  The later TFs in CoH are closer to this than the early ones:  the Imperious TF requires you to figure out how to defeat Romulus by separating him from the Nictus that heals him, while the Reichsman TF requires considerable strategy just to damage him properly.  WoW’s raids are famous for this, where the big bosses will do things that will wipe out an entire raid if they don’t react properly.  Infected is a step in the direction, with the need to figure out how to bring down the shield generators in the final room-and work with the team to do so without getting slaughtered by the Borg inside.  This usually isn’t an issue in CoH contact missions, but certainly still exists in the instance dungeons of WoW.

So, in the end, is Infected a raid?  To me, it seems more like the instances of WoW than a raid.  I don’t necessarily consider this a bad thing; you need to start somewhere, and it makes more sense to me to start slowly with something like Infected than to start out with Molten Core.  Make it too hard, and people will scream their heads off asking for a nerf; too easy, and people will start complaining about the content within hours.  Unsurprisingly, Infected has brought out BOTH reactions-I love our playerbase….

I believe I’ll likely be running Infected again-and possibly on a semi-regular basis.  I’m not big on the 10 hour raids that could come out of WoW, and that was one of the reasons I burned out on it; but running dungeons regularly?  Yeah, I can see myself doing that.  And with the Season One around the corner, with the promised “banding” of fleet actions, I can see spending an evening doing one of those regularly too.  Ultimately, the end-game is repeatable content, and that’s been true in any MMO.  The key is to make a variety of repeatable content, so you don’t feel as if you are doing the exact same thing every day.  In my opinion, they’ve made a good start with Infected, and when Season One rolls out those fleet actions in addition to their next STF, The Cure…that’s more progress.  For a game getting to the end of its second month, that isn’t bad at all.

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