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.


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.

YOU get a protomatter bomb! YOU get a protomatter bomb!

On the hunt.

On the hunt.

The new season of Star Trek Online has landed, and with it, the 7th year anniversary-in other words, it’s lasted as long as the lifetimes of Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and of course, the Next Generation did on the television.  So, logically, that would indicate that the game is over.

Well, that’d be false logic, because STO seems like it’s still ready to continue forward.  You’d think that after concluding the Iconian War and the Temporal Cold War that we’d have mined out the possibilities of STO, and that’d be a mistake.  One of the quieter things that was introduced at the beginning of the Future Proof arc was a species known as the Lukari.  The Lukari have become a bit more central recently; with the last Season, the Lukari began flying a prototype starship with assistance from Starfleet/the KDF/the Romulan Republic (depending on which faction you play for), and have with this new episode constructed their first exploratory starship.  Last episode, you found a world hit by a protomatter event, plus the return of station K-13 from when it had its little temporal accident in the 23rd century, plus hints of Tzenkethi involvement.  This new one, “Reckoning”, brings the Tzenkethi to the forefront-and more protomatter bombs.  With the Lukari, you need to try to stop the latest attack-and begin to see the edges of just what is going on here.

As an episode, it’s not a bad one.  Leaves a lot of mystery as to what is prompting this recent spate of activity, and introduces the Tzenkethi as a ground and space threat.  To my surprise and pleasure, they weren’t introduced as a sack of health like certain other species (*coughcoughVaadwaurcoughcough*), but are using abilities to help assist each other in a fight-which is more interesting and theoretically takes some extra thought to deal with.  I say “theoretically”, because my first attempt through this mission had no real trouble dealing with them.  Granted, I was using my most advanced character, who I’ve had with me since day one of STO, so it’s probably not a fair test.  When I deal with this with my Romulan or 23rd century characters, I may have a better feel for its difficulty.  It was still a welcome change of pace from some of the past fights against superadvanced threats like Iconians and *ahem* others assisted by them.

There are two new queues added to the game, and as another surprise, both as space queues.  I honestly expected one to be a ground queue, but I’m guessing developers decided that nobody plays the ground queues.  (I’m theorizing with no basis on fact here.)  I’ve had a chance to do one of them-the Tzenkethi Front, which features your group blowing up enemy bases with their own protomatter bombs.  The bombs are, naturally, guarded by Tzenkethi ships, but once cleared, your ship can capture the bomb and fly it off to the spaceborne fortresses and introduce them to the receiving end of the bomb.  Not horribly complicated, but entertaining enough to satisfy for a while, anyway.  I’ll save the other queue-Gravity Kills-for another post.

Why am I speaking of doing another post on this?  Because the episode also introduced a new space Battlezone, and…well, it’s a bit of a mess at the moment.  By the time of this posting, it may well be fixed, but at the time I was examining all of this, it was broken.  The first issue was that the zone didn’t reset after a completion, which meant nobody could actually DO anything in the zone.  That got fixed with an emergency patch, but it seems that at least some of the sections in the zone are failing to advance properly, and from what I’ve read on the forums, this is something that was known to the testers on the test server-and it seems they got ignored and it got pushed live anyway.  Brilliant.  So I’ll comment on the zone and on the other queue at that time.

Needless to say, there is also a new reputation grind, and to get the marks to advance in it, you need to make use of the Battlezone and the queues.  No big deal, that.  This is pretty standard for a major new development in the storyline (eg. new episode arc).

This all coincides with the return of Q to celebrate those seven years, and the collection of Omega particles-and this time, the ship they can help bring out is the very ship that the Lukari have just completed-a Lukari science ship whose design is based on choices players made on the STO forums a little while back.  There’s a new party popper as well, for folks interested in candy fish (trust me on this), and the usual amusements at the various Academies chasing “mini-Qs” around.

The only disappointment for me is the distressing lack of references to the most notable protomatter event in Star Trek lore; isn’t somebody going to bring up Genesis?

AoY: Jingle Bells

Fear the power of HOT CARAMEL!

Fear the power of HOT CARAMEL!

Personal Log, Stardate 94584.77

About fifty years ago-that’s a ballpark number, I can’t be bothered to look it up right now-the U.S.S. Enterprise, the 1701-D model, began its maiden voyage, and ran into a being that called itself “Q”.  And things haven’t been the same since.

Q isn’t the only “omnipotent” being that Starfleet’s encountered.  I can point to a couple others that seemed like they had roughly the same power level.  Trelane.  The Metrons.  The Organians.  The big difference is that Q likes to meddle a lot more, and has a sense of humor.  And there’s more than one Q, all of which are called Q.

And he’s decided to throw a winter party-and invited just about everyone in the galaxy along.

That’s how I found myself in a strange winter wonderland, like something you’d read about in fairy tales.  Except the snowmen have been assimilated by the Borg, gingerbread people are being attacked by gigantic snowmen and defended by what I can only describe as a living snow-cone, and Klingons line up to test their honor against fish made of some kind of gummy substance.  Oh, and phasers don’t help at all against these things-instead, they’re harmed by snowballs.

Snowballs.  Or gummy drops.  Or in my case, a hot caramel blaster.  That one at least made sense to me-hot melts ice, right?

As crazy as it is, though, and as oddly dangerous as it sounds, Q doesn’t seem to mean any harm in all of this.  I’ve been frozen solid, which should have killed me, but I thaw out and ready to fight the assimilated snowmen again.  After the first few times, I found myself actually enjoying myself.  It’s crazier than any holodeck simulation, and I shrug and go along with it.

Let the galaxy wait just a while.  The dangers ahead will still be there.  But for a brief bit of time, I can stop being a temporal agent, stop being on the front lines of just about every major problem the galaxy wants to throw at em.  For a brief bit of time, I can just punch a gummy-fish and turn into a snowman myself and shoot caramel at snowmen.  Just for a brief bit of time, I can put it all behind me-and just live for the moment.

End Log.

When Snow-Cones Attack!

When Snow-Cones Attack!

The holiday season tends to reduce my blog posting considerably-this may have been noticed already-but I didn’t want to close out the year with the Delta Quadrant, when the winter event in Star Trek Online was rolling.  It had been a couple of years since the last time I bothered doing anything with it, and I felt with Delta Rising in the rear view mirror, I could pause and go for some amusement.

And amusement was there.  The skating race-both versions-are still there, as well as the invasion of the Borg-ified snowmen, and the animation of all the snowmen in the region to attack everyone.  The instance to defend the gingerbread men was also still there.  What I hadn’t done before was non-instanced gingerbread village defense, which includes animating a giant snow-cone, and new this year was Klingon Ice Fishing.  (This may or may not be legitimate; Q is known for an odd sense of humor.)

I had lots of holiday tokens left over from the past, so I was able to equip Rick with a hot-caramel blaster, as I wanted something different than what I’d equipped on other past characters.  I didn’t bother getting any of the winter gear for him-who knows how much play he’ll get once I’ve completed his journey?-although if he gets enough ornaments on his own, I may spring for something.  As usual, I’m not even bothering attempting to go for the Breen starship; my time availability wasn’t enough in the past, and it’s even less available now.

Merry Christmas to All (or holiday of your preference), and have a Happy New Year!

The Role of Duct Tape in Space

Last month, EVE Online went free to play.  Well, honestly, it’s more like it went into a Freemium model-on the one hand, you have the Omega Clones, which are basically the folks who have been playing EVE prior to the change-some with subscription fees, some with the use of PLEX pilot licenses, which are basically 1 month subs that can be purchased as an in-game item and sold on the market for usually heaps of ISK, the in-game currency.  The other hand holds the Alpha Clones, who have a number of substantial limitations on them-but the counterbalance is that they don’t have to pay a dime.

In many ways, not so different than Star Wars: The Old Republic.

But of course, EVE is a much different game than SWTOR.  Folks unfamiliar with the game might be surprised to learn that your avatar isn’t so much the body you craft when you create the character, but rather, the ship that character flies.  There is only one server (unless you’re in China, where you have a separate one), which means your character will never escape the reputation he builds-probably.  And despite the fact that all star systems have a security rating that impacts the ability to get away with murder, other players can and will blow your ship up if they can get away with it.  In a very real way, EVE is about knowing who to trust.

And about following the old maxim there, “Never fly what you can’t afford to lose”.  Which really should be rewritten to say “Never fly what you can’t afford to easily replace”.

Despite this, the game’s been popular enough to last for longer than I’ve been playing MMOs.  And with the new Alpha Clone release, I decided to reopen an old account I’d quietly created during a fit of insanity when the devs at CCP had a two for one account sale sort of thing.  I killed the existing characters there-I hadn’t really done much with them, and they didn’t even have enough ISK to bother preserving-and made a brand spanking new one.  While I could’ve gone back to my primary account, I didn’t really want to revisit the old characters as they would be shells of what they could fly, due to the Alpha restrictions.

You talkin' 'bout me?

You talkin’ ’bout me?

I chose to mess with a new faction.  The characters on my old account had been Gallente, and I felt that I’d done that to death during my previous sting in New Eden, the setting of the game.  Instead, I decided to go with the Minmatar.  The reputation of this faction is basically “ships put together with duct tape and scrap metal”, and my sense of humor demanded that I go that route.

So, let’s talk about restrictions.  Firstly, an Alpha is limited to-with two notable exceptions-ships of their own faction.  So my character is limited to flying Minmatar ships; he can’t even train the skills to learn to fly a Gallente ship, or a pirate faction ship.  The exceptions are the ORE Venture (which is a frigate-level dedicated mining ship) and the Gnosis battlecruiser, which was apparently given out to all active players at the 10th anniversary of the game; I’m not entirely sure if it was one to an account, or one to each character on the account, but based on what I’d seen during my previous run, I’m guessing the former.  As you may guess from this comment, I wasn’t active at the anniversary, so no Gnosis for me.  That said, I’d probably never fly it; one-of-a-kind in a game like EVE is just asking for heartbreak.

Speaking of training skills, many skills are either limited to how far you can train, or to being trainable at all.  At this time, the highest class of ship that can be trained for is the cruisers, which is basically two steps up from the frigates.  (Destroyers are the tier between.)  No battlecruisers, battleships, or capital ships for Alphas.  Alphas may also fly the lowest class of industrial ship, so they can at least haul modest amount (like say, a couple frigates) from one system to another.  The higher tiers of mining vessel are not available-and that’s to the relief of a lot of pilots, who already have issues with bot-controlled mining fleets.  The skill limits also include the upper reaches of specialization skills, so Alphas are not likely to be the biggest crafters, nor the best explorers, nor the best trade lords.

All of that said, it is possible to live in the margins.  You may not be the best explorer, but you can still explore sites and find modest riches there.  You may not be the best miner, but you can still get at asteroids and refine out minerals to use or sell.  You may not rule a mercantile empire, but you can still trade on the margins and make a modest profit.  And while you may not fly the ships that dwarf cities, you can still make a difference in a fight-either in corporations and alliances in their wars, or simply running missions for Agents in stations.

In simpler terms, an Alpha Clone state allows you to experience the breadth of EVE, but not necessarily the depth.  You have the capability of doing a lot of things, but not become a master of any of those things.

The other little limitation is training time.  Skills are not learned by doing, as it was in the pre-NGE days of Star Wars Galaxies, nor are they granted by leveling experience points.  Rather, they are learned by time.  You start out with a fairly good amount of skills-enough to allow you to do the basics and not embarrass yourself first thing out-and you either improve skills by training a new level of skill, in which there are five per skill, although the Alpha limits may reduce just how far you can train, even as far as only the first level of that skill; or you gain new skills by purchasing/acquiring a skill book which can allow you to start training that skill.  Again, Alpha limits apply-many skills just aren’t going to be allowable.  The big limit is the actual time taken.  While Omega Clones can train “twice as fast”, the reality is that the Omegas aren’t training any faster or slower than they’d been-it’s the Alphas who are training at half-speed.  (Use of the Neocom app on my phone helped confirm this.)  That’d probably be a bigger deal if Alphas could train more skills that require months to get to.

There’s also a hint that the training queue has changed, too.  Back in the day, you could only put skills in the training queue that started within 24 hours, but stuff I’ve seen seems to imply that this limit has been altered for Omegas; I haven’t read up carefully on that, so I’m not sure where things stand there, but for Alphas, it’s pretty much as I remembered, so it didn’t bother me.

That’s the big picture.  Now I’m focusing in on the smaller one.  I haven’t had the time to do whole heaps in EVE-the Knights of the Eternal Throne in SWTOR has occupied me a bit, and I still need to get to finishing the Delta Rising arc in Star Trek Online.  But I’ve managed to find some time to run the introductory Agent missions for industry, military, mining, production, and exploration.  Those missions are well worth doing, simply for the money and the free equipment-including a number of frigates and a couple of industrials-and a destroyer at the tail end of the advanced military.  I’ve managed to fit out a Thrasher destroyer, although I’m still working on a build for it-it’s not an ideal fit-and managed to scrape enough together to pick up a mobile tractor unit, which makes salvaging the ships I blow up in missions a lot easier.  Travel time’s a pain-although it’s mitigated a lot by use of micro-warp drives, which apparently can now be used in mission areas; back in the day, I had to fall back on afterburners.  Afterburners still have a place in EVE, since the MWDs tend to increase your targeting signature dramatically-and if you’re a small ship that expects to survive based on size and speed, you do NOT want to be easier to target!

Cruisers are a way off for me-I think I’ll want to get my standings high enough to start doing the level 2 missions first, which will hopefully allow a bit more earnings.  That is, if my ship can handle the abuse.  The level 4 missions are out of reach for Alphas, I think-those require use of battleships or really, REALLY well-fit cruisers or battlecruisers.  But I’m hopeful that I can at least get to the point where farming level 2’s are feasible.  The best part of being an Alpha is that you don’t need billions to do what you want to do.  If you’re happy flying smaller ships, it’s not hard to earn enough to make sure you can afford to lose those ships on a regular basis.  And, after all, that’s the name of the game.

This looks like a nice place.  Shame I'm gonna blow it up.

This looks like a nice place. Shame I’m gonna blow it up.

A Night of Eternal Thrones

It began a year ago with Knights of the Fallen Empire in Star Wars: The Old Republic.  The conclusion of that story is here, with the Knights of the Eternal Throne expansion.  I figure I’ll put up my thoughts on the expansion as a whole instead of doing it piecemeal, chapter by chapter.  But before I get to the spoilery stuff (watch for Vaylin below, she’ll tell you when the spoilers start), let’s take a look at some of the things that came along with it that requires no spoilage.

First up:  those folks who worked on the Light Vs. Dark event get their spoils now.  For my part, that included a speeder, some armor, a pet, and Master Ranos, the winning contender of Light Vs Dark, a Jedi companion who is considered a bit of a maverick among the Order.  (Or at least, she was when the Order was intact before Zakuul.)  As with Nico Okarr, players can use a device to get a hold of her before the Fallen Empire storyline.  Also worth noting is that the subscriber rewards for the last couple months have also come in:  a recon walker, and Shae Vizla, the Mandalorian; and just like Nico and Ranos, you’ll get a device with her.  Worth noting:  unlike Nico, Ranos can be fully customized with gear, like a regular companion, not like the ones gained via KotFE.  Shae, on the other hand, can not (although a bug is allowing it for now, but it won’t last).  Shae does get a few appearance options, hailing back to her “classic” look from the days of Shadow of Revan.  Or maybe from the trailers for the game prior to release-I haven’t really done a hard compare.

There are also game changes.  The classes took a revamp-I’ll probably go into this later on, but at least on my Smuggler, I’m irritated to lose my single melee attack, as well as my Dirty Kick (which have been set to Scoundrels Only).  The weak stun replacement doesn’t replace what was lost in any way, shape, or form.  That said, it didn’t really slow me down.  Other classes have undergone similar mutations.  The level cap raised, and at least this time we didn’t lose abilities (beyond the revamp, of course) that we already had.  Of course, since I’ve only really messed with my Smuggler so far, I could well be wrong on this.  And the specialization trees have again mutated, causing a reset of points.

Sometimes, I find this sort of thing really causes me headaches.

Another interesting update involves the advanced classes no longer being held off until level 10 (or the end of the starter worlds, whichever comes first), but rather, you start in those classes immediately.  I’ll possibly have more to comment on such if I run a full campaign again like I did with Sorshan and Anthrandos.  (And it will probably happen at some point.  My altoholism is well known to readers of this blog by now, I’d think.)

Commendations-er, make that “data crystals”-have also gone away, being cashed out for credits.  The big thing with gear purchases are now mods, as I understand it.  Again, I haven’t really noticed that much-I really should do a full leveling experience again to see how that impacts leveling.  Most of the rewards through KotET were inferior to what I’d managed to accumulate up to now.  All that grinding paid off!  That said:  better gear is available via a new level 70+ concept called Galactic Command.  Simply put, if you take out gold elites, or do any number of things like run dailies specified by the window, or flashpoints, or operations, or any of that-you gain Command Experience, which eventually gets you Command Crates, which have (presumably) raid level gear in them.  If you’re lucky, you should get at least a few from finishing KotET.  You get more of this experience from doing the group content, with the biggest batches coming from Operations.  Good thing I was never big on the raid-or-die philosophy; that means I don’t really need the uber gear.

If you’re looking for your old companions…keep waiting.  None of them are making a reappearance.  There are a couple new ones, but half of them is the aforementioned Dark Vs Light reward.

Okay-that’s the commentary on the game updates.  Ahead lies spoilers (although I’ll try to be light on them) for the grand finale of the current SWTOR storyline-after the break!

"I said NO PICTURES!!!!"

“I said NO PICTURES!!!!”

Continue reading

AoY: The Reason One Becomes a Temporal Agent

It's nice to see that occasionally, the temporal agent gets his hands dirty.

It’s nice to see that occasionally, the temporal agent gets his hands dirty.

Personal Log, Stardate…does it really matter now?

How can I put in a Stardate when I’m bouncing up and down the timestream, and into other quantum realities?

I have to put this into a log somewhere.  I know Daniels told me to try not to leave evidence of my origins-the real one-anywhere, but I feel like I’m betraying my oaths as a Starfleet Officer if I don’t at least have a record of what I’ve done somewhere.  Someday, history will need to know what happened.  So this tricorder from the good old days will have to do-it’s already holding enough data to get me in serious trouble if its security is breached.

Back when we’d defeated B’vat’s plans to mess with time via the Guardian of Forever, Daniels contacted me to stop the Romulans of the past from using another of those Doomsday Weapons; how many of those things were there!?  They were getting help from the Na’kuhl, and their leader, someone called the Envoy.  He almost punched our tickets, revealing who we were when we investigated this alliance.  Fortunately, the Romulans were convinced not to help the Na’kuhl, and the weapon…well, the weapon destroyed Galorndon Core, along with itself.  Then, later on, we got caught up with the Vorgons trying to acquire something called a Tox Uthat; we managed to get to it finally, by going into the vaults at Starfleet Command-during an attack on Earth by the Breen during the Dominion War.  The Envoy was involved around the edges on that one, too.  And finally, not content to stick with issues in our own timeline, Daniels had us go into the past of a parallel quantum reality-where we found the Sphere Builders that the original Enterprise had encountered trying to create a new Expanse-again, with some help from the Envoy.  That mission was particularly painful for me.  We boarded this reality’s version of the Yorktown, and was under the command of Admiral Garrett.  It was an odd feeling to see my old commanding officer from the 23rd there-and even stranger to have him recognize me as a cadet.

I didn’t realize until then how much I missed my old life.

But I’m a Starfleet Officer.  This is the job, and I’ll do it.  We stopped the Sphere Builders in that reality, but it seems that this Envoy is getting around.  Daniels, by contrast, is being affected by some time shifts, and they aren’t leaving him in good condition.  I wonder if the next one will wipe him from existence.  If that happens…what happens to us?  What happens to time?

I can’t figure out the answers.  And I’ve been thinking about this too much.  We’ve got our assignment to investigate the Delta Quadrant in earnest after the end of the Klingon War-that’ll be a nice change from temporal insanity.

I hope.

End Log.

Now with added lens flare!

Now with added lens flare!

My long awaited commentary on the Yesterday’s War arc in Star Trek Online is finally here!  And what a trip it is.

Unlike most of the story arcs in STO, Yesterday’s War is actually broken up into stand-alones that take place between the other story arcs.  It’s also what I consider “essential playing” for people who have characters that are already well beyond the Solanae arc, because the mysterious Envoy and the different factions of the post-Iconian content are more or less introduced here.  (I hadn’t realized that when I had done the final episodes to date that closes off that arc; so I was wondering where some of this stuff was coming from, and certain surprises were a sort of “duh” moment for me.)

Things kicked off with “The Core of the Matter”, where the crew is sent back in time back to the 23rd century, probably not long after the “Doomsday Machine” episode; this is because the Na’kuhl have found another one, and have managed to find a way to control it.  Your mission is to top the alliance and-just as importantly-stop the Doomsday Machine.  It becomes apparent that the Tal Shiar are around in this era as well, and you get to take advantage of that.  The big ground battle is a bit tricky-there is a whole lot of aggro going on-but it can be manageable with the right tactics-and perhaps the right bridge officer abilities.  Kudos to the devs for recalling that the Romulans were also using Klingon battlecruisers of that era, with extra paint to show that they were definitely Romulan and not Klingons helping their nominal allies.

“Vorgon Conclusions” introduces the Vorgons and that MacGuffin, the Tox Uthat.  Trying to follow the timeline of that thing is challenging, isn’t it?  Chronologically for new characters, this will be the first encounter with the Vorgons and the Tox Uthat, while older characters doing this mission for the first time will likely go “not again!”  The time travel component takes you to all over the place-the future, where the Uthat is built; the past, during an altercation between Archer’s Enterprise and the Tholians; and the more recent past, during the Breen attack on Earth during the Dominion War, where you need to recover the device from Starfleet’s vaults-where, naturally, the Vorgons are attempting to get their hands on it.  I particularly appreciated the fact that searching for the device could have you find all sorts of other interesting artifacts from Trek lore-and as I understand it, those artifacts are randomly selected from a fairly large pool, so replays with other characters or the same one may show different ones each time.  Also worth noting:  this mission illustrates the issues I have with the devs ability to figure out what happened when.  My new captain got told this was the same device I hid on Risa for Picard to later blow up, except that the mission referred to won’t happen until after the Iconian War!  I’m willing to chalk it up to the temporal deterioration that Daniels is having throughout this arc-he’s probably losing track of what happened when (like the devs?).  That’s not really an excuse for my character to go along with that, though.

The final mission is the big one.  “Terminal Expanse” features the Sphere Builders from Star Trek: Enterprise, and it’s pretty much confirmed that your character helped-accidentally-in wiping out most of their species during the Iconian War.  Of course, at this point in the episode chain, your character hasn’t actually done that yet, so it’s a bit interesting to see them accuse the character of being a mass murderer; I sort of wish there was a response that said, “What the heck are you talking about?”  Missed opportunity there!  But that’s not the big deal here; the big deal is that it takes place in the Kelvin Timeline, the setting of the current Star Trek movies (and more important, in that timeframe as well, as opposed to 2409 of that Timeline).  This features the ONE instance where a character acknowledges a 23rd century captain, as the commander of the ship is your old commander from the tutorial.

Overall, the missions are pretty solid additions.  They do the job of setting up the post-Iconian stuff, although it will be some time before the character gets to that in the normal advancement of storylines (Delta Rising isn’t exactly short, thanks to the various patrol missions and the Kobali front).  Given how back and forth things go with the timeline during the arc, it’s shocking that it holds together as well as it does.  Admittedly, one of the arcs takes place in a parallel universe, so can’t do much damage there.  Next up is the rather lengthy Delta Rising arc.  My character is not yet to level 60, but the minimum requirements for the missions dropped down, too, so we’ll see if any grinding is needed before the end of the line.