DO: Cut Free

Ferengi prisons aren’t really all that impressive. I think the prisoners are just still here because they like to troll the Ferengi.

Entry Seventy-One

I’ve finally been able to try to get back to doing what I was doing before I got conscripted by the Klingons.  Wait, lemme make sure my encryption is on.

Good.  Hopefully, Imperial Intelligence can’t read this entry.  I’m not sure why I’m making it, but I need some record out there so I can refer back to this.

It’s been sort of a mixed blessing, wheeling and dealing with the Ferengi.  I managed to swipe a heap of latinum from the a Ferengi smuggler, and planned to donate most of it to the KDF-and keep a good chunk for personal use.  At least some of my crew were willing to assist, which is a good sign for the future.  Unfortunately, thanks to his associates, and his own inability to stay marooned where I left him, I got jumped at a neutral outpost and wound up killing him-and just in time for one of the Ferengi’s FCA friends coming in to arrest me.  Fortunately, they didn’t get my crew, which meant after I got through a sham of a trial, they were able to rescue me from a prison world-which wasn’t as hard as it sounds.  Ferengi prisons seem to have regular riots, and it wasn’t hard to incite one as cover to leave.

I had better luck at an auction for an old weapon, the last surviving Varon-T disruptor.  I was serving as an intermediary for a significant chunk of latinum-for a Ferengi, of course.  He tried to weasel out of things by including a clause in the fine print that forced me to be an assassin.  I didn’t actually kill the target-who was glad to hear I had no interest in killing a fellow Orion-and the Ferengi tried to get out of paying me.  Of course, he probably should have acquired the disruptor from me first before trying to scam me.  So now I’ve got feelers out to some of the other people who had attended the auction-who all ran when Starfleet showed up-and I’ll just take the best sounding offer.

Then I made my biggest mistake yet.  I went to First City to talk to some contacts about certain plans that are getting close to fruition-and the Varon-T may help here-and wound up being shuffled into a “Winter Wonderland” by a being calling itself Q.  I HATE Winter.  I got into space so I wouldn’t have to ever deal with Winter again.  And I wound up fighting for my life…I think…against a crazy Klingon legend called the Kramp’Ihri.  With a name like that, you’d figure it would tie into Klingon Hell-again-but it seems a bit less insane than that.  Only marginally.  Because you would think that a good disruptor would be the way to deal with this, but turns out that no weapons work in the Wonderland except packed balls of snow, a device that spews out hot sugary substances…and foam darts.  Even crazier…they work.

I miss the days when I wasn’t stuck commanding a bunch of Klingons and getting involved in the insanity they like to share.

Signing off.

How does this sort of thing keep happening to me?

The journey through the Foundry has begun for Dathiro’s adventure through Star Trek Online.  As previously mentioned, I’m avoiding the “common” episodic path through the game to avoid putting up awfully similar posts to what I’d done for Rick Masters’s run, and that means doing stuff like this.  I’m so happy with it so far that I might have to consider doing something similar with a Fed-aligned Romulan at some point so I can comment on Starfleet and Romulan side missions.  But for now, it’s all Klingon, so let’s take a peek at the offerings I’ve done lately.

First up, we have Raktajino in a Jar, by drogyn1701, a tale of treachery and backstabbing.  I was thrilled to see that we had a mission that suited a character of substantially lower moral value than your average Klingon-one might’ve gotten that impression of Dathiro from his logs.  The mission would’ve worked just as well for said average Klingons-you don’t have to scam latinum off the top, and you don’t have to maroon the Ferengi.  But, Dathiro sure did.  There’s a couple of spots where it’s good to just leave your bridge officers behind for story purposes; one of the Foundry’s weak points is that it has no ability to limit the number of bridge officers to travel with you, so unlike the episodes, you are always with your entire away team.  The trial is cleverly done, and I’m pretty sure that in spite of what may appear, there’s no way to avoid being sentenced to prison-the math doesn’t support it, and I’m sure if you enter in a larger number that you’ll be accused of lying and sent off anyway.  It was a pretty solid and enjoyable mission.

Next, we have The Honour of Profit, by Bazag, where you can indulge in the seedier side of life again by assisting a Ferengi in bidding in an auction.  The story was pretty solid and straightforward, but there were a couple of bugs I encountered that triggered some events early-not sure how it happened-like the Starfleet attack.  Fortunately, beaming out of the mission and restarting that segment reset everything, allowing things to get back on track.  Interactions with the bidders felt right, and the Ferengi’s attempt to stick it to the player character was exactly what I’d expect from a Ferengi.  It’s also perfectly possible the bugs came about with the recent patch; quite often during new season releases, the Foundry goes down and when it comes back up, sometimes things wind up broken-it’s one of the reasons why reviews are usually not turned on until a while after the Foundry is brought back up.  It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that’s what happened here.  And again, after I reset the mission segment, things went smoothly.

I got sidetracked hard by the Foundry being down, so I filled in some time by running lots and lots of duty officer missions.  They’ve helped the leveling experience quite a bit, but I expect another slowdown because the Winter Event has begun in STO, and due to the somewhat lengthier time it’ll be running, there’s actually a microscopic chance that I can earn up the grand prize for this Winter, the Breen Plesh Tral Heavy Raider.  It’s a Tier-6 ship, and acts like a Klingon Raider ship, and also has a Pilot specialization bridge officer seat, which makes this highly attractive as I keep getting spread among characters officers who can use those seats, but no ships that actually have them.  I don’t plan for Dathiro to take this ship, though-even though he’ll be the one putting the work into earning it.  I’ve already got too many plans for Dathiro’s future T6 ship.

Be peachy keen for a future character, though.

Now that the Foundry is up again, I’m hoping to run some more of those missions.  In between running the “Fastest Game on Ice” endless times over the next month….

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Return of the Chiss

An enemy at the feet of a former Imperial Agent. I wonder how this one’s going to end….

Usually, the Sith Empire tends to conquer or destroy worlds that aren’t under their control in Star Wars: The Old Republic.  But one species and government apparently chose, early on, to work with the Empire:  the Chiss Ascendancy.  The Chiss, for those not in the know, are the blue skinned/red eyed humanoid aliens, whose best representative is Grand Admiral Thrawn, the creation of Timothy Zahn, and recently “canon-ized” by the show Star Wars: Rebels.  They’d mostly been operating around Hoth, but kept a low profile (minus any players who made their characters Chiss).  But now they’re back in a big way in the new Flashpoint “Traitor Among the Chiss”.

Things are still hopping at Alliance HQ, after the Alliance Traitor burned our heroes.  (I’m still keeping the traitor’s identity under wraps for now; one day I’ll put up a statue of limitations on spoilers on this blog….)  Fortunately, the Alliance has gotten a lead as to where the traitor is now:  the Chiss world of Copero.  The Chiss tend to be a little iffy about outsiders, but fortunately, one of them is willing to look the other way in return for making sure you take care of the Chiss who helped the traitor.  The traitor’s got plans, too-there’s a reason that this shadowy individual has come to Copero, and it’s not good news for the Republic.  Yet there are subtle indications that perhaps things are not as cut and dried as one might suspect.

If there’s one thing I want to stress for people who haven’t done this yet:  be sure to READ THE INSTRUCTIONS.  A certain blogger who will remain nameless but is typing this post failed to do so:  when the mission objective says to do the Solo Flashpoint, don’t chose the logically named Story Flashpoint!  It must be Solo!!  Otherwise, you go through the bloody thing twice before realizing that you’ve really screwed up and have to do it a third time on the proper version!  Hint:  if you don’t get a cutscene when you first enter the Flashpoint, you’ve done the wrong one to continue the storyline.  On the bright side, said blogger did manage to net a fair chunk of Copero-inspired decorations for his strongholds.  I’m gleefully putting the fountains of water on my Tatooine stronghold.  I just adore taunting the binary suns.

As one may guess from the pic above, I decided to forgo my usual order of having my Smuggler do the new content first in favor of my Imperial Agent.  After all, he’s got history with the characters, including the return of the now-Lieutenant, Raina Temple.  I HIGHLY recommend using her in a healing role through the Flashpoint, because the bosses are huge sacks of health dealing out a fair chunk of damage (but see below).  The first boss seems like Makeb surplus, reminding me of the dino-droids there; I was tempted to see if it dropped Isotope-5.  Nothing fancy there, and if your healing is up to snuff, it’s probably better to ignore most of the adds and just blow the droid to bits.  (I do recommend killing off the non-Tank Droids, though, just to reduce the DPS incoming a bit.)

The second is a three dimensional sort of fight, where the Chiss agent will fight you on ground levels and second levels.  I especially liked the snipers on the second level taking shots-that’s smart tactics.  Didn’t save them, but smart.  You can run up ramps to get to the second level, or use a grapple at target points to jump up there; I’m guessing Jedi and Sith might not need the grapples, but as I haven’t run it through with them, can’t say for sure (there’s wouldn’t be any mechanical differences, anyway).  I did run into one irritating bug when the enemy returned to the ground, and something didn’t sync right between the server and my computer, because I was getting the “too far to reach” message when I tried to stab her…and I was standing right next to her!  Thank heavens for ranged weapons.

The final boss is a Force-user, and can be a pain due to an ability which drops him into stealth, but still able to hit you (technically, it’s “snowblindness”, but really…).  He’s also got an absorption field that cuts your damage down until it wears off.  This makes the guy more durable than he might appear, but again, as long as you have your companion healing, you should be able to make it through.

While the bosses are huge sacks of health, my viewpoint may have been colored by two facts.  One, because certain bloggers DIDN’T READ THE INSTRUCTIONS, I was running through the FP in Story Mode my first couple of times, which might have impacted the numbers-and my perception thereof-just a bit.  And two, my Smuggler-who I also ran through the FP-had a far easier time of things, possibly because his weaponry was using 230-rated weapons/gear, while my Agent has a bit of a mishmash.  I really should go to the Fleet and go to that vendor that sells gear for Command Tokens, because I’ve been accumulating those tokens via various means, and it’s silly to sit on the currency not to spend it-especially given Bioware’s fetish for flushing a currency down the toilet for new currency, with lousy conversion rates.

There are other bits that kind of fell a bit flat for me.  There’s a trio of “tests” to continue on the Flashpoint, but they’re…unimpressive.  The first is a “feed the monster” sort of thing, which is not hard to figure out-you’re flat out told you should get it to trust you.  The second is a “test of logic”, but there really wasn’t any logic I could see other than “don’t open those doors”.  The last involved a “test of strategy”, in avoiding lasers similar to what you may have seen on Iokath; there’s a way to turn them off, but again, if you have a healing companion rolling, you can really ignore them and just run through them (beware a couple droids that can stun you-but it’s still not enough to cause real harm).  If you’re going to have these “tests”, you need to put them somewhere in the middle of all of these:  not incredibly obvious (hello fruit!), actually use logic (hello “which door do I open”, and actually have some strategy (hello lasers that can’t actually kill me fast enough so I can run through).  Of course, it’s possible that our Chiss friends have less advantages than our Heroes, with all that good gear and healing companions and the like; they’d get through the first two tests, but the lasers might cook them.

There are, of course, achievements in the missions (and completing a few of them will unlock a Copero advertising poster for your strongholds-you have to actually go into your Achievements and look for it under “Flashpoints”), and I understand there’s a couple of bonus achievements that aren’t obvious-and are substantially more difficult to achieve.  Mileage, of course, varies depending on builds and gear.

While there’s a couple other things that landed with the new publish, most of which I don’t really get involved with (New Galactic Starfighter map!  New Operations Boss!), and there’s been a revamp to the group finder that I haven’t looked at yet.  Plus some class changes, which I try very hard not to read much into so that my blood pressure remains at a healthy state.  The biggest addition (for me, at least) is the arrival of Darth Hexid for the folks who did the three PvP Warzones or three random Group Finder Flashpoints.  I’m not sure what I was expecting in personality; I guess I was using the example of Master Ranos from the Dark vs. Light event, where we had a very uncommon Jedi-someone who’d probably be a roguish sort of Jedi in happier times.  So maybe I thought this Sith would be less…Sithy.  Oh, no-this was better:  she’s Sith through and through, and is self-centered to the core-although she recognizes that you’re definitely a star to hitch her legend to.  Chatting with her in the Alliance Base is definitely amusing.  One key detail:  unlike Master Ranos, Hexid will not become available for standard recruitment until you finish the Eternal Throne expansion.  Fortunately-also like Ranos-you get a holocom item to bring her into your crew the moment you get access to a mailbox.  And, of course, much like pretty much all companions other than the core group, don’t expect more story out of her.  The companions are pretty much appearance-based gear outside of core companions (which I take to mean “class companions for your particular class, and the important characters to the storyline post-Ziost”).

Final note:  since Star Trek Online’s Foundry is still curled up and sobbing (okay, technically it’s just down, but leave me my metaphors!), I’ve been working a bit more on one of my outstanding SWTOR characters to get through the Eternal Throne expansion, and should finish this week; I expect to have a Cast List post of him later this week, too.  That’ll leave me with one more primary character to run through, plus the two Dark vs. Light characters I’d run through (because they deserve to see this through to the end).  Once they’re all done, I can start considering a new run with a new character whose adventure will be posted here-the only givens here is that it won’t repeat the Inquisitor or Jedi Knight stories, because that’d be boring and repetitive for this blog.  Random determination will be a factor!  But I don’t expect that before the new year.  And heck, maybe the Foundry will get off its butt and go Live again.  And then there’s the Winter Event in STO-land….

Emergent Gameplay

So you’re trying to hide from the Tzenkethi and you brought the crystals they’re looking for here? ARE YOU ALL IDIOTS!?

Season 14 for Star Trek Online has landed!  So let’s take a peek at where things are at with the latest release.

This season, with the moniker of “Emergence”, is appropriate in so many ways.  The most obvious one is that we finally get to see what’s behind the maniacal quest of the Tzenkethi to wipe out planets with protomatter weapons.  Obviously, some kind of crystals are involved, based on the events of previous Episodes, but in the new feature “Melting Pot”, secrets are laid bare.  Partially because the new colony of the Kentari and Lukari decided to examine some odd crystals from the moon of their new colony world.  Which, of course, matched the composition of the ones that are being targeted by the Tzenkethi.  You get warned that the scientists are eccentric, but man, does THIS take the cake.

Fortunately, you aren’t alone.  As indicated in the last episode released, Geordi La Forge is here, along with the Lukari Captain Kuumaarke.  Like proud parents, they’re happy to show off the colony that they hope will be the new home for a reunited Kentari and Lukari species.  Enjoy the tour while you can.  Not only is it going to become ground zero, but it’s also the last time you’ll see it so pretty unless you’re in a large active fleet.  This colony is also the new Fleet Holding, which is more on the scale of the Starbases than others like the Mining Asteroid or Romulan Embassy.  I’ll hold off on any long term judgments as to how doable even getting tier 1 is, but I’ve not heard encouraging things.  (Small, mostly inactive fleets like, say, the one I’m in is probably right out.)  Also like the Starbases, you will see the colony go from a skeletal framework to something to be proud of as it advances in tiers.  One of the more interesting aspects of this holding is being able to trigger a Tzenkethi invasion where up to ten captains can try to repel.  This requires access to tokens gained via fleet projects.  How well this would work out for small fleets, I’m not entirely sure.

This was sadly predictable.  I admire La Forge’s ability to remain cool with things blowing up all around him.

The episode itself is another one that has a feel of the Next Generation series, although it still has more of those “phaser everything!” moments that you don’t expect from the series.  Maybe from the films….  If it weren’t for the revelations that take place during the episode, I would’ve said this was just to taunt players with what the colony world holding will look like when it’s fully built.  It’s probably mildly spoiler-ish, but I’ll also say that it is also refreshing to find a rational Tzenkethi who does something crazy and actually TALKS to you.  (This is a good thing.  Because maybe those Tzenkethi actually have a good reason for going nuts with protomatter weapons….)

Of course, there’s a little bit more with the new Season than just a fleet holding and an episode.  There’s a new specialization geared towards the Engineering branch:  Miracle Worker.  Guess you can’t guess who inspired that name.  I haven’t had any characters put points into it yet (I may have Dathiro go into it, should I take him that far), but from what I can tell from looking at the tree, it feels like a very defensive sort of tree that will see best expression on a ship that can do lots of healing and take lots of damage.  In other words, cruisers and the like.  I haven’t looked at the kits available for this specialization yet, so can’t speak to that-but the fact that it does have a ground component is a welcome sign.  Likewise, I haven’t seen a ship with Miracle Worker bridge slots yet, but you can be sure it’s coming soon.  There’s also a new pair of queues:  the Dranuur Beach Assault, which is a ground scenario where ten captains can push the Tzenkethi off planet (this is double the usual number for a ground queue) for level 50+ characters, and the Dranuur Gauntlet, a battle in space to stop the invading fleet from an assault before defenses can push them back, for level 60 characters.  Finally, there’s a new Red Alert available where the Tzenkethi are out to protomatter bomb more planets out of existence-so your ship is called upon to help repel the attacks, for level 50+ characters.  I will probably at some point detail my thoughts on each of those as I put a character or two through them.

So there’s a lot going on with the new Season under the belt.  The major storylines that have been building have started to converge here, and it’ll be interesting to see where things lead from here.

A further note:  “Beyond the Nexus” has apparently been placed, of all places, prior to “Temporal Ambassador” for all factions.  This seems to me to be one of the dumber places they can put this mission.  In the first case, 2409 is a year prior to when the Nexus was supposed to be back in the neighborhood again, and the kickover to 2410 tends to be during the Delta Rising stuff, if memory serves.  I suppose there could be some wiggle room to work with, though, particularly in light of the fact that we never really know how late into 2409 the game starts, or the exact timing of the Nexus’s last visit (was it near the beginning or end of its trip through the area at that time?).  Secondly, while the devs managed to remove comments on the Lukari/Kentari (which by this time haven’t been met yet), he mentions having met you again-I’m not sure when the first time was.  His ship did appear in a previous mission, but unless that mission got updated to include comments from La Forge, I’m not sure that really qualifies.  Have to make a note to replay that one and see if something happens.

Visiting Energy Ribbons

New framework, but not the most impressive episode for it.

Quiet as a mouse, a new episode landed in Star Trek Online last week.  It snuck in when I wasn’t looking.

The episode was mathematically inevitable.  According to Trek lore, the energy ribbon known as the Nexus manages to cruise its way around this region of the galaxy every 39 years or thereabouts.  The last time it managed to blow up a planet-or it would have, if not for the efforts of Enterprise captains Jean Luc Picard and James T. Kirk.  39 years after that?

2410.  Or, in other words, the time and setting of the back portion of the Star Trek Online storyline.  A story concerning the Nexus was inevitable-especially in light of the 30th anniversary of the Star Trek: The Next Generation series.

For all of that, the newly released episode-Beyond the Nexus-isn’t exactly the most impressive episode written.  It’s another episode that feels like filler, taking away from the still-developing Lukari/Tzenkethi storyline (although that story does get name-checked, which means this episode will likely be slotted in the Lukari arc when it ends its feature run).  There’s nothing inherently wrong with fillers; but there didn’t really seem to be much effort put into the development of the story and mechanics of the episode.  The art was nice, but for the most part, there was little “wow” factor to be found here.

In some ways, you can’t do much with the Nexus.  How are you going to replicate paradise for your character?  Everyone has a different conception of what their character’s idea of paradise would be.  You could go into someone else’s version, of course-like Picard did with Kirk’s-but Picard still had to resist his first.  So a trip into the Nexus proper probably was never in the cards.  Then again, this episode turns the idea on its ear a bit:  someone who saw the Nexus as a prison wants out.  And let’s face it:  an ideal prison is the kind the prisoner doesn’t want to escape.  That’s food for thought as to the purpose of the Nexus, hm?  (That’s just me rambling; no evidence that more than one person sees it that way in the game, but it’s an interesting thing to consider.)

The plot for this episode is pretty straightforward:  ship researching the Nexus stopped communicating after encountering a ship that had previously been lost to the Nexus.  Your ship is sent to investigate.  Expect exchanges of fire between ships and their crews after being boarded.  It’s not quite as monotonous as the old exploration missions of “find 5 of this, kill 5 of that”, but it’s definitely a step down in quality.  I hope this is because the devs are putting their A-game on next year’s probable Dominion-themed expansion (which I don’t believe has technically been confirmed yet).  Despite this, the resolution of the episode is very much in the spirit of ST:TNG (did I mention an anniversary?  I think I must have), and could possibly lead to a follow-up at some point in the future.  I can’t believe this will be the only time we get the Nexus referenced in 2410.  And I will admit, too, that there’s a section in the episode that put a smile on my face that involves one of the most infamous purveyors of holodeck content in Star Trek lore; the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Oh, there is one more thing that makes the episode stand out a bit more than some; it features the second voiced appearance from a member of the Enterprise-D/E crew, Geordi La Forge.  (The first, of course, was Worf, and we also had a silent, not-confirmed-but-heavily-implied appearance from Geordi’s closest friend.)  There’s a strong implication that we’ll be seeing a lot more of him in the ongoing story arc, and very likely beyond; I did mention an anniversary, didn’t I?  We still are missing a number of the big names doing voice-overs, but I don’t believe it impossible at this point; after all, they managed to get most of the crew of Voyager in the game.  Surely they can pull off a few more.  I doubt they could get Picard in, but I could see Troi, Crusher (either one), and maybe even Riker to make appearances here.

We can hope, anyway.  In the meantime, we still have a new Season that’s coming up in October, which will have another episode which is likely going to be more involved than this one, plus a new major fleet holding (something more on the scale of the fleet starbases than the other holdings), which should make life interesting on the final frontier.  And as I recall, we can expect something in another week or two.  Something to do with an anniversary….

The Great Train Robbery

Are you sure this is the sort of thing an Alliance Commander really needs to be doing?

You know, missioning in an MMORPG can be a fairly dull affair.  Go to this location, and do this thing.  Kill the guys trying to kill you.  Get the MacGuffin.  If it’s instanced, it’s always within the bounds of four walls.  If it’s “outdoors”, well, that has its own problems.  So you really have to lean hard on the story to make a mission feel meaningful.  Except…there are ways to make it feel more interesting, and it doesn’t require dumb mechanics like jumping puzzles.  Sometimes, all it takes is a change of scenery-and give it motion.  Relatively recently, for example, when playing Champions Online, I extolled the virtues of a Queen City mission where you board a moving riverboat.  It’s still got all the constraints you’d expect from a regular mission, but the illusion of movement and activity make it stand out.

Star Wars: The Old Republic, has done this as well; they have at least one Heroic which combines this with one of my least favorite mechanics (the aforementioned jumping game)-but at least it’s a catchy situation hopping from moving air-car to air-car.  But with their latest patch, we’ve got a new Flashpoint:  Crisis on Umbara, which can be done traditionally or in a solo-story mode (and the traditional method-as in, grouped-has its own mechanics and assorted difficulty levels).  The FP continues on a thread taken from the Iokath storyline, where someone in your Alliance is trying to bring it down.  Well, thanks to the work of Theron and Lana, your primary advisers, the traitor has been located on board a train on Umbara, looking to acquire Adegan crystals-last seen when the late Darth Malgus tried to usurp the Sith Empire with his stealth armada.  So before you can say “Snakes on a Train”, you, Theron, and Lana are off to Umbara to snag the traitor before any real damage is done.

I won’t spoil the traitor’s identity here.  It’s not hard to find out on the ‘net, but I’ll sit on it until the next bit of content rolls in that builds on it, because I’m sure that we’re looking at the familiar trope of “Late Arrival Spoiler“.  Until then, though, let’s let the traitor’s name remain hidden.  Suffice it to say, however, that the traitor will be back to plague our heroes, and we get another indicator of just what is truly behind this all.  Besides, it’s not the traitor that interests me today.  Well, it is, but I was talking about the setting.  It’s a freaking moving high-speed train!  Of course, it’s a Star Wars train, so figure it’s not using anything resembling wheels and more along the lines of your average landspeeder.  Not anything resembling tracks on the ground, but hovering vertical rings.  And much like action sequences in most movies with trains as a setting, you will be fighting not just the local Umbarans (who, apparently, don’t like uninvited guests), but also the faction you didn’t choose to support at Iokath, who are a little irritated about the things that happened to either Acina or Malcom, depending on your actions.

By the way, I will take a moment for a minor spoiler here, so that readers do not do what I did.  You will find a point where there are two very large “Champion” level turrets.  Don’t bother trying to engage them; don’t bother trying to go around them.  Pay attention to the hole in the roof well before then instead.  Go that way.  Don’t be like me and try THREE TIMES to find a way to deal with those damned guns and get blown to bits by them.  Yes, I completely embarrassed myself by missing that hole in the roof and went on a futile quest to blow up those guns.  LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES!

There’s another big trope (well, it SHOULD be, even if I can’t find it) that you can associate with action sequences on trains.  It’s probably not hard to guess at what it might be.  Suffice it to say, it involves the traitor and your response to that, which consumes roughly the latter half of the Flashpoint.

There are a few boss battles on the way, and possibly another that I bypassed completely when I realized I didn’t have to fight it (but see below).  One involves a stealth-assassin and a tech who pops down automated turrets that upgrade fast.  I find that killing the tech first is the best way to maintain sanity in that fight, because those turrets can get out of hand.  Setting your companion to healing is probably a good move if you aren’t already a heal-spec character.  The next one involves a critter-it’s amazing how many large creatures exist on settled planets, right?  The final one involves a rather large battle-droid, who is ringed conveniently by a bunch of highly explosive containers.  Targeting said containers can be a bit tricky, though, since the hit box of the droid is so bloody large that half the time you’ll still wind up targeting it.  Each of these battles have their own special mechanics-I fully recommend using Dulfy’s site for details.

Much like the Flashpoints that led up to the Shadow of Revan expansion, there is a new currency drop available from the bosses (including, incidentally, the one I bypassed.  Oops).  This can be used to gather, among other things, a new armor set, a new mount…and a new Stronghold:  which, as I understand it, is one of Umbara’s trains.  Yes, you’re looking at a mobile Stronghold here.  Nobody’s actually seen it yet, though, because there is a cap on how many of the new currency you can get on a character (and it’s bound, big shock)-and the cost for the Stronghold is ten more than you can gain in a week.  The more cynical part of me wonders if that’s because the devs actually are still finishing the work on it; the more realistic part of me figures that a week is an awfully specific amount of time to estimate being done by, so that’s probably not the reason.  More likely that they didn’t want the content locusts to finish running the FP in less than a week.

I’ve run the mission through with my two “main” characters, my Smuggler and my Agent, and both have their opinions about the events of this FP, spoken and unspoken.  My Agent, in particular, has his own theories, based on his own experiences as Cipher Nine.  It may make for some interesting moments, should the writers of the story arcs choose to include that.  We’ll see.  In the meantime, I rather enjoyed running the FP, although I don’t know that I’ll bother trying for the new Stronghold; after all, 1) I still only recently acquired the Tatooine one, 2) SWTOR only recently released the Manaan Stronghold which I haven’t touched-and at this point, may not, 3) I’ d have to run this FP about a dozen times on a single character to unlock it, and even with my willingness to repeat content, that might be pushing it, and finally 4) I don’t have the heaps of credits required to unlock rooms, much less do a full useful decoration of the place.  I’m still in the middle of unlocking Tatooine rooms, never mind outfitting the place appropriately.

The Reports of His Death Were Highly Exaggerated

Despite appearances, everything is going exactly according to plan…

Star Trek Online has released a new episode in its ongoing arc concerning the Lukari and the Tzenkethi, and it features a bit of a sidetrack.  The Lukari are nowhere to be seen in this one, and the Tzenkethi are less important to this mission than Klingon politics.  The episode, “Brushfire” features, in fact, a Klingon warrior long thought dead:  former Chancellor Martok.  One has to credit the devs on this much:  they have done an amazing job on recruiting the voice acting of the original actors of many characters for this game.  This episode features no less than three.

It features a mission to sneak into a prison operated by the disgraced House of Torg, a name recognizable by the players of the Klingon faction.  General Rodek (remember him?) has been ordered by the current Chancellor to headline a rescue mission, with the muscle represented by the player character and crew.  However, it does involve a modicum of stealth.  Fortunately, the definition of stealth for a Klingon means “blow up the ships guarding the place before they can get a signal off”.  Did I mention this takes place in the Briar Patch, a region of space known for explosive gas clouds?  And did I also mention that there is a new group of aliens-new to STO, that is, not to the franchise-that is known to operate in this area that make their debut here?

Once past the defenses in space, it’s time to infiltrate the station as prisoners.  If all goes right, you will escape with the former Chancellor and flaming wreckage in your wake, and into a final conflict with the House of Torg (well, as final as anything ever is in Klingon politics).  And as if the Klingons and the aforementioned other species wasn’t enough…the Tzenkethi are also on hand because they want a piece of “the Butcher”.  (Hint: that isn’t you.)

As far as missions go, it’s not what you’d call deep.  It does feature a potentially life-changing moment for Rodek, who is given cause to question a number of things he has always(?) believed, and it brings a very potent political force back into the mix for the Klingon Empire, even if that force denies it.  But it doesn’t do much to advance the current quest line in the episode arc.  That’s actually okay-we got breather episodes in the Star Trek series that focused on story arcs; it’s not unreasonable to have one here.  And the Klingons deserve a spotlight once in a while, too-although I do think that it would be more interesting at some point to see a Gorn, Orion, Nausicaan, or Lethean oriented episode at some point; be nice to see some of the cultures that make up the Klingon faction these days.  But that’s sidetracking myself.

A couple other things landed with the patch.  Naturally, new lockbox, centered on the aforementioned newly arriving species.  Big shock there, right?  Another thing introduced is an “Endeavor system”.  This tends to be a limited time achievement-based event, where you do something x amount of times in y amount of time.  The one I saw first was a Borg related one, where one had to blow up 15 Borg ships.  Being on a team apparently does not help on the count; I was in a Borg Red Alert on a team, and got credit for exactly four kills.  That said, I may have failed to read the instructions clearly enough-I thought it said 15 ships, but it may have said “15 Cubes”.  That would make a big difference, as it wasn’t only cubes being blown up.  The rewards didn’t seem like much to me, but I’m going to hold off on judgment until I actually run a couple of these and see what shakes out.  For those who enjoy doing the Admiralty thing, there is a new campaign that features the Ferengi, and offers gold-pressed latinum amongst its rewards-as well as Dilithium, which apparently a focus in this path.  (This should do all kinds of amusing things to the Dilithium Exchange if true.)  Finally, as is habitual for new episodes, there is a weekly reward offered in addition to a choice of either a specialization point or an equipment tech upgrade item.

Obviously, I ran my primary Klingon character through “Brushfire” first, and the screenshot reflects that.  Still working on a decent framework design for the images, and it’s likely that I’ll wind up having a separate one for Klingons and one for Starfleet.  (Don’t get me started on Romulans-I’m not sure I’ll bother, but it could happen.)  Clearly, I’m no graphic designer, but it has most of the elements I’d look for.  Just need to figure out a border design for the edges that fits for a Klingon-oriented look.  I’ve made strides in my Starfleet design, but it’s not ready for primetime yet.

Riding the Escalator

Transporting to the wrong side of the tracks.

Last week, Star Trek Online hit us with a new Feature episode:  Escalation.  First, though, I’m going to touch on a couple highlights of other stuff in the patch.

One thing I won’t touch on this time, though, are the new “war game competitive queues”; I’m undecided as to whether or not I want to bother with that.  I’m okay with cooperative team-ups, but I don’t have the same thrill on competitive ones as I might’ve in younger days.  That said, I didn’t absolutely hate doing STO PvP back in the day when it was really the only decent way to level up a Klingon, so the jury is still out on it.  It’s a significant part of the latest patch here, so I’d feel remiss if I ignored it completely.  We’ll see what happens.  There’s a Reputation associated with these queues, too, making them one of the few Reputations I likely one have maxed out on at least one character.

There have been space combat balance changes.  So far, I’m not noticing major differences, but let’s face it:  I’m not one of the high-end players either, who tune their captains and ships to be death-dealing machines.  I do okay-but that’s about it.  So others more knowledgeable will have to comment on the impact those changes have had.  I’m not horribly helpful today, am I?

How’s this for good news?  The Delta Rising missions have undergone some mutation.  The Kobali Adventure Zone has mutated in the mission logs; originally, they were independent of the episodes, then they were incorporated into the Delta Mission arc, but that was causing issues, too-so now, they’re set within three missions that contain the adventure zone missions.  I don’t know if that’s a big improvement or not, but it at least reduces the perception of having to come back every level to the planet to do stuff.  Heaven help you, though, if your character had already done some of the missions but not all of the ones in an arc; plus, judging from some of the dialogue windows, someone needs to go through and make sure that they aren’t missing the first half of sentences.  Just saying.  Speaking of levels, the experience curve of 50-60 isn’t as harsh anymore, and-best of all-the patrol missions for the Delta arc have been removed from the episodic path (although you can still likely patrol them if you want to-both of which may make the Delta arc feel less like a slog, which is a big deal as far as I’m concerned.

You know, I’m not sure this has been completely thought through….

Bringing us to the new Feature Episode, the eponymous Escalation.  In the current episodic arc in STO, your captain has been assisting the first exploratory vessel of the Lukari in its first steps to reach out to the wider universe.  In doing so, you’ve learned a bit more about the Lukari as well, like how they were driven off of their original homeworld in a…disagreement with their parent species, the Kentari.  In fact, you even stumbled upon the abandoned Kentari homeworld, which was a bit of a mess.  Unfortunately, in your seeking out strange new worlds, etc, you’ve also come upon another mystery-the alien Tzenkethi have been exploding protomatter weapons on worlds with strange crystals upon them-and they don’t care much if the world is inhabited or not.  How bad are protomatter weapons?  Remember Genesis?  Just when you thought the devs had opened up a massive can of worms with time travel, they’ve opened another one just as big with reviving the technologies that brought us a weapon of mass destruction like no other.  As Doctor McCoy once said in response to Spock’s comment that it is easier to destroy than it is to create:  “Not anymore; now we can do both at the same time! According to myth, the Earth was created in six days. Now, watch out! Here comes Genesis! We’ll do it for you in six minutes!”

Which brings us to the present.  A mysterious world has been discovered nestled in a nebula, and the Lukari have asked your assistance in making first contact.  The results are…perhaps not surprising, given the episode arc thus far; the world is a ravaged mess, in the grips of ecological disaster.  Worse, the natives are factionalized in the usual fashion-some of them are happy for any help you can deliver; others trust you about as far as they can throw your starship.  And just when you manage to get things going, the Tzenkethi show up….  And things go nuts from there.

The mystery of the Tzenkethi motives remains just that; but don’t think that there wasn’t any forward momentum in this episode.  The natives are likely going to be a key part of at least another episode, I suspect, before this is all over.  The uses of protomatter as a help and a weapon continue to be front and center-perhaps showing that technology is indeed neither good nor evil, but simply neutral.  It is the hand that uses the tool that determines its usefulness.  Star Trek-the television series-didn’t shy away from these themes, and STO seems to be willing to continue in the same vein.

The episode does feel like it was written harder for the Starfleet POV than the Klingon, though; it’s hard to imagine the Klingon captain being polite-at least, not the Next Generation/DS9 and beyond Klingons.  I could see the Original Series ones being that way….  But the dialogue options are pretty much identical for Empire players as they are for Starfleet ones.  Is it REALLY that difficult to represent the points of view and the admittedly generic attitudes of the Romulans and Klingons?

As usual, playing through the mission in the opening weeks will make new rewards available for completing the mission (encouraging replay), and the first run of the week will give one character the choice of a tech upgrade or a specialization point for each week that the episode is featured.  Choose your characters wisely.

So, we’ve got a decent episode, and a lot of updates to the combat system in the void of space, and a new set of queues in which to test yourself against other captains in a new way.  STO’s continuing to move forward with no end in sight.

(As a final aside:  it seems that the previous feature episode, Survivor, has been put into the latest episodic arc.  Not entirely shocking, I guess; there weren’t many other places it would work.)

An Eternal Alliance Versus Gods

It’s been a while since we looked in on Star Wars: The Old Republic, hasn’t it?

If I never see another throne as long as I live, it’ll be too soon.

From a playing standpoint, going through the legion of alts, I’m just about to have my Sith Inquisitor go through Nathema, after slaughtering everyone who’s irritated him up to now; it’s going to be very interesting when he gets to the end of the Knights of the Eternal Throne story, with the body count he’s racked up.  Once he’s done, I think the next on my list will be my Trooper-but that’s got a ways to go, given my current Champions Online focus.  Well, that, plus the point of this post.

It’s the first chunk of content released since the Eternal Throne fell to the Alliance (is it really that much of a spoiler that the PCs are victorious?).  And it seems that the Sith Empire and the Galactic Republic are already positioning themselves to kick off their own war again.  However, the force that is the Alliance is the pivot, the determining factor that both sides see as important.

So naturally, the first thing they do is piss off the Alliance by going to Iokath, a world introduced in KotET, and a presumed super-weapon located there.  It’s no coincidence that the Alliance, the Empire, and the Republic all converge at this same location at this same time.  Something’s up here, and it’s up to the Alliance Commander-that’s you, just as a reminder-to unravel what’s going on, and secure the super-weapon before it falls into the wrong hands.

One problem to be encountered early is:  whose are the right hands?  Early on, you are approached by representatives of the Republic and the Empire, urging you to side with them.  Players of Sith Warrior and Trooper characters will immediately recognize these reps.  That choice declares the Alliance irrevocably to one side or the other.  (Sadly, there is no option for “A pox on both your houses!”  Admittedly, the Alliance has their biggest sticks negated for story reasons for most of your time here, but still.)  While there’s a feature that will allow you to switch factional support on a regular basis, the initial choice here is what locks in the character story as to whose side the Alliance is ultimately on.

The true miracle is that they aren’t trying to kill each other.

Because your character is Destiny’s Chew Toy, the Commander will get a chance to say hello to another familiar faction-or what’s left of it-after they were more or less completely sidelined during KotET (some help they were…), and discover that the gods of Zakuul have a basis in fact.  By the time you’re done, that choice you made as to what government to support will have very permanent consequences-and opens the door to the raid content that the developers promised the players.  (Full disclosure-I’m unlikely to bother on those; I’m notoriously unwilling to bother with raids more complicated than the City of Heroes trials.)

Despite the fact that there are two companions returning in this chapter, you’ll only get one of them per character (although if you’re a Trooper or a Sith Warrior, you could conceivably pull off both by use of the Companion terminal back on Odessen; I haven’t tried this, so can’t confirm if it is possible).  There’s an issue with getting said companions, though; posts on the official forums indicate that some folks aren’t getting a companion out of this; I’m one of them, at least on my Smuggler.  My Agent had no issues there, with the companion showing up after the primary storyline was complete.  It’s not obvious, though-there’s very little fanfare in comparison with even the Alliance Alert companions.   The devs have indicated they are aware of this, so hopefully a fix is going in.  I don’t know if there is more fanfare for characters who have previously romanced those companions, though, so I don’t know if there’s more dialogue involved-be wary about going through this with Troopers or Warriors until the bug is fixed, just in case.

The quest line here does include participation in a raid, but that isn’t a requirement to get the companion or to finish the storyline-which, incidentally, will continue; there is a dangerous loose end here on Iokath that could spell the beginning of the end of the Alliance-or maybe just you.  Valkorion did say that there were people who meant you harm way back in Knights of the Fallen Empire….  Given the nature of that threat, players of the Imperial Agent will feel right at home.  (“Another conspiracy?  How novel.”)

In addition to the story and raid, there are daily missions here, and if you found the structure similar to Oricon, you wouldn’t be far off.  After all, Oricon had a storyline, leading to a raid, and had a heap of daily missions.  I haven’t noticed any Heroic dailies, but I haven’t looked hard at it.  There’s a new Reputation, based upon the side you choose for your Alliance, and a new vendor with stuff to use.  There’s also a new currency that is used to purchase the equipment (along with credits), although that currency can also be used to purchase special buffs with which to take on the dangers on Iokath.

Play-wise, it’s not incredibly difficult, although there are a couple of mechanics in big battles that might cause issues, particularly to DPS-focused characters; having a high-influence healing companion out may not be the worst thing you can do for those fights, particularly one early one.  Be aware that they may not necessarily be simple “survive and shoot them down”-paying attention to the environment will help defeat those encounters.  Expect another trip in a walker, too.  (Golden quote from the Republic side:  “Eh.  I’ve seen bigger.”  Iokath really spoiled my characters as far as the size of walkers…)

All in all, it’s not a horrible update; it’s got its bugs, and it’s not as in-depth as the missions we’ve seen in the last couple of years.  But it is more significant than an Alliance Alert, and it does include the return of companions for the Trooper and Sith Warrior (if that doesn’t glitch out on you), so it’s at least progress on my pet peeve.

Once More Into The Breach

So, Star Trek Online pulled it for a while, and then put it back.  But is it better or worse or just different?

“It” is the PvE queue “The Breach”, where a group of five player ships invade one of the huge Voth starships and disable it from within.  There’s an event tied to this return, which is the usual “do this fourteen times in the next three or four weeks and get a bunch of marks/dilithium/free item/etc” sort of deal.  Time being at a premium these days, plus me not having a great desire for the latest Voth thingamajig, I’ve only been running it with one character (my Fed main; maybe the next event I’ll bring out Rick Masters again so he can have some time in the sun again.  He could use the extra gear, anyway).

The opening phase isn’t too different.  As before, you’re doing a trench run, and blowing up stuff.  However, the “course” through the ship is different, and shorter; it’s also a lot harder to achieve the bonus objective of blowing up a certain number of objects (and now that I think of it, it wasn’t a bonus before-you needed to do it before you could actually open the titular breach.  In fact, based on one run I did, I’m not sure you even have to blow up the shielded thingies anymore-some ships just blew right through all of it and didn’t bother stopping.

Stay on target….

The original “blow up interior hangars” phase is gone now, as is the “blow up the dreadnought inside the ship” phase.  Now you go directly to the “shell game” of blowing up the subspace core, and once you get past that phase, you get the last portion of blowing the primary core crystal and getting out of Dodge.  This leads to a faster queue, but less opportunity to get loot drops.  Which, of course, may or may not matter to most players-the better equipment these days is Reputation related.

I’m not sure if I’d call the new version better, but I’d be hard pressed to call it worse.  Certainly, if I were doing this with multiple characters, I’d be all for it, since shorter versions mean more characters can run through in a gaming night.  And I might be forced to admit that I won’t miss that dreadnought all that much, as it was a big sack of health and shields, and if things didn’t go quite right (and/or you didn’t have a group with some abilities or gear), that could turn out to be a huge slog.  The “closing the hangars” phase is a bit of a loss, though, since it wasn’t tied to huge sacks of health-just swarms of reinforcing ships until the hangars were closed up by a member of the team.

So, my verdict is, “just different”.  While I often lament the devs removing stuff from the game, at least this time it feels more like a scalpel instead of a shovel.  I’ll add the caveat that I tend to always restrict myself to the “normal” version of the queues instead of the Advanced or Elite options-mainly because I don’t consider my skills or gear as elite, and the Advanced versions would probably need me to be more aware/coordinated/faster/better, and if I’m just looking to enjoy myself without pressure, why would I do that to myself?  But because of that, there may be little changes in those higher versions that I remain unaware of; other more dedicated folks will have to be a better guide to such things.

One more note before closing out this post:  there’s changes in the wind to the mechanics of the game.  It’s not like changing the game engine, but a mass tuning of both ground and space combat.  I’m a tad skeptical-it’s not all that long ago that they just did a massive skill revamp, after all-but I expect that when it lands, I’ll have plenty to say.  I’ll say this in advance, though:  I’ve rarely found a revamp that actually made most of the players happy.  Maybe this will be one of those rare ducks.  Either way…it’s coming.

Singularity

A black hole:  a hungry devourer from which nothing can escape, not even light.  Also:  the ultimate destination of most money paid to MMOs.

A black hole: a hungry devourer from which nothing can escape, not even light. Also: the ultimate destination of most money paid to MMOs.

I promised I’d get back to the new Tzenkethi stuff in Star Trek Online, didn’t I?

The last time, I’d mentioned issues with the new Tzenkethi battlezone.  Well, those issues appear to be fixed-at least the technical ones.  You could make a case for other issues existing, but…let’s get to that, shall we?

The Tzenkethi battlezone is similar in concept to the pre-existing ones in the game such as the Badlands, Solonae and Undine battlezones.  There’s a map-and this is all in space, so no worries about ground terrain-divided up into sectors, and they have one of three possible minigames that you have to complete to turn that sector “blue”-in other words, under allied control.  Of course, there are opponents who are trying to stop you-Tzenkethi warships.  One you have all zones under allied control, you take on a trio of their dreadnoughts, each protected by a special shield that you have to disable before you can destroy the individual dreadnought.  If you manage to get all three of them down in the time period given, you achieve total victory-well, until the zone resets and it begins again.  Also worth mentioning:  if you leave an allied zone alone for long enough, the Tzenkethi will come and take it back-and you’ll have to do it all over again in that zone.

A never-ending war for control-which has worked pretty well in other battlezones.  This one, though…it irks me a little.  At least one of the minigames is on a timer which requires you and other players to take down ships hard and fast before it makes you start it all over again.  That’s a hell of a slog to fight the timer and the Tzenkethi.  That shouldn’t be as big a deal as it feels, but there it is.  The locations in the zone are also pretty spread out-it’s very difficult to nail down all the zones unless everyone in the zone is working together.  Let’s look at the odds of that happening in this game.  If you said “unlikely”, you’d be a winner.  Fleets making runs with members will have an easier time of it, but unaligned pilots, not so much.  In this respect, the Tzenkethi zone is rougher than the Solonae zone (which is on ground, admittedly) and the Undine zone (which is space).  I honestly can’t compare it with the Badlands zone, since I’m not sure I ever bothered to run that one-although I might have at the time; I got my Terran Empire marks from somewhere…but it might’ve been through Crystalline Catastrophe runs a ways back.

Unless you’ve got a lot of cooperation going on in the Tzenkethi zone, I wouldn’t recommend it for gathering Lukari marks for the new reputation.  The only thing it has over queues is the fact that it doesn’t have a cooldown like the queues.  The queues, on the other hand, are a lot more doable, leading me to the second of the Tzenkethi queues in this new Season:  Gravity Kills.  The Tzenkethi in this queue are setting up shop here to assist in the creation of protomatter, the substance of choice for mass destruction.  In order to do this, they need particles that are produced in a distorted area of space-so they generated a black hole.  A relatively small one, but enough of one to do the job-and to cause a ship crossing the event horizon a very very bad day.  Your job:  collect exotic particles to supply to an allied ship so that it can destroy the stations-protected, of course, by Tzenkethi ships-by hurling them into the singularity.  As you get closer to the singularity yourself, you’ll see images of your own ship almost echoing, which is a good sign that you’re getting too close!  Did I mention that there is a pull to the black hole?

This queue is pretty fun; the tactics are pretty similar to other queues, but the environment makes all the difference.  Fighting ships around a singularity?  Watching stations and other ships make the mistake of crossing the event horizon and getting crushed down to the diameter of a dust mote?  My initial run here was longer than I expected to take in the queue, but nonetheless, pretty fun.  I can’t say I have any arguments with either of the two queues introduced in this Season; I’m more likely to harvest my marks through them than through the battlezone.

From a personal point of view, I’m doing well on my attempt to get that Lukari anniversary ship; I don’t think I’ll have any problem having that done well before the anniversary event ends.  I’ve not been bothering with the Academy catch-the-Q mission; I’ve done that more than enough times in the past.  I also haven’t encountered any unwelcome bugs this year with the Omega particle collection; I recall last year when some particles spawned in locations inaccessible to players, which was incredibly frustrating, at the beginning of the event.  No such issues this year!  Also of note:  my fleet (thanks to largely to the efforts of the two people still active in it) managed to get our K-13 station to Tier 1, which happened a lot faster than I expected it would.  So our fleet now again has all holdings at Tier 1 or better, which is always worth smiling about.