Expansions are Life

Okay, it’s been a while.  Let’s get to it.

So, let’s try to guess who all the blacked out characters are…

Today’s topic:  “Victory is Life”, the new expansion announced for June from the developers for Star Trek Online.  We knew it was coming, didn’t we?  Ever since they sneaked in that little stinger in one of their “new season” videos, and only further confirmed with the last episode “Scylla and Charybdis”, where we not only got to fight it out around Deep Space Nine and Bajor with the newest “big bad”, but we also saw the return of one of the major characters of DS9.  And now, we have the official announcement.

Of course, being an announcement, it’s sort of light on details.  Here’s what is known.

It will feature about six episodes for a new faction…er, let’s say subfaction, shall we?  While it hasn’t been official, it’s basically been basic operating procedure since the Romulans showed up.  What I find interesting, however, is that it’s going to be the Jem’Hadar.  I’d have figured on something a little more wide ranging, such as “The Dominion”, which would imply the Jem’Hadar plus the Vorta and possibly the Cardassians (they’ve got history), and perhaps a couple other Gamma Quadrant species.  But, nope.  The Jem’Hadar.  This makes it literally the most restrictive faction-er, subfaction-in the game.  According to some of what I’ve been reading online, they also won’t be a level 1 experience.  They’re be starting at level 60, and will have some “important unlocks” already taken care of-possibly advances in some reputations?  Specializations?  Dunno.  This feels less like a faction-er, subfaction-and more like a “hero class” similar to how World of Warcraft handled Death Knights.

Due to that, as well as the minor detail that the level cap is rising to 65 (no “tier-7” ships are coming with the expansion…yet.  Expect it to happen at some point, though, because the denial was specifically worded…), those six unique episodes are probably not restricted to the Jem’Hadar, but are for the ongoing storyline in STO.  For a new expansion, that seems horribly inadequate.  A new queue is on deck-related to the new Big Bad, one can expect.  New “progression systems”…I got nothing on this one.  New Gamma Quadrant reputation, maybe?  New Gamma Quadrant fleet holding?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Speaking of level caps rising…is that going to mean anything other than a new specialization point and a change in number?  The thing I really had hoped to see-a new exploration system-doesn’t sound like it’s happening.  Instead, we’re getting a new “sector battlezone”, which will probably be on the other side of the Bajoran Wormhole.

For fans of the DS9 series, we are supposedly getting ten returning characters from the series, fully voiced.  They’ve announced Odo, Quark, and Kira Nerys, and General Martok is back in the mix as well.  I’d not be surprised to see Worf back involved, and gee, we’ve seen Nog in a prior mission, so I’d not be shocked if he were there too.  According to other sources, we can also expect to see Garak and Julian Bashir pop in.  That would leave room for two more characters.  Sadly, I have a feeling that we will not be seeing the long-promised return of Benjamin Sisko; of course, he did have a child on the way before the end of the series, and this would sure be a good time to introduce a new Sisko to the game….

So, we could be seeing some good stuff, some iffy stuff.  It’s kind of hard to make definitive statements when we just had an announcement.  More details will be incoming, though, and I’ll be happy to pick them apart as they start coming through.


Emerging from the Far Side of the Galaxy

Well, well, well.  Isn’t THIS interesting?

Star Trek Online recently unveiled its next season, “Emergence”, and dropped some intriguing information along with it.  Here’s the trailer, in case it’s been missed:

Got some very interesting things in it.  First and foremost, we have the first main character from the Star Trek: The Next Generation series to lend his voice to the game show up:  LeVar Burton, aka Geordi LaForge.  (He’s not the first major name in the game, though; that’d probably have to go to Tim Russ from Star Trek: Voyager.  Yes, there were other voice actors from episodes in the assorted Trek series, but Russ was the first from a main cast.)  At this point, we’ve had main cast appearances from the Original Series, the Next Generation, and Voyager; okay, I can stretch a point and include Deep Space Nine with Michael Dorn, but I always considered him more with TNG than DS9.  So, if you stretch that point, we’re looking at only Enterprise as a series lacking voice representation from a main cast member.  That would probably require time travel hijinks, though.  Let’s probably hold off on that.

Emergence is promising a new Fleet Holding.  Guess I’m going to need to start hording supplies again to help my fleet get to a tier-1 there.  The holding is going to be located on a new homeworld for the Lukari and Kentari, and it seems like moving up tiers will probably add structures to the holding, which is something we haven’t seen a lot of since the original holding, the Starbase-which you can see being constructed as it goes up in tiers.  Figure on it being a new Dilithium sink in the game.  Also of interest:  a new specialization path, simply called “Miracle Worker”.  I’m absolutely SURE it couldn’t POSSIBLY have anything to do with engineering in any way, shape, or form, right?  </sarcasm>  That said, it could be a very interesting spec path, and I’ll be looking forward to hearing more about it.

Of course, the season couldn’t be a season without a new feature episode, and it will feature Burton along with the ongoing arc with the Tzenkethi and the Lukari.  Could we start seeing some answers forthcoming about the Tzenkethi’s drive to wreck certain worlds?  Let’s hope-a title called “Emergence” is a hopeful sign there.

And now, for the elephant that comes crashing into the room at the tail end of that trailer.  You DID watch that trailer before reading this, right?

That elephant represents what is quite possibly the next STO expansion:  there’s a whole lot of Dominion ships rolling out of the Bajoran Wormhole, and I can’t believe we’d be doing an effective repeat of yet another DS9 invasion.  If it is an expansion, it leads one to wonder what can we see here.  Could we finally be seeing the devs open up the Gamma Quadrant beyond the wormhole?  Could we see a new faction-er, let’s call a spade a spade and call it more of a subfaction, because that seems to be loads easier for the devs to handle.  THAT could explain the rather slow pace of content recently.  Or could we be seeing something that’s been long awaited (at least on my side of the screen):  a new exploration system?  The Gamma Quadrant would be ripe for that sort of thing.

We’ve had a good chunk of content over the last few years that have hit all the eras of Star Trek.  The Iconian War has strong ties to the Next Generation’s era, and one can argue that the Legacy of Romulus is tied to that sort of storytelling as well; the Delta Rising arc drew hard on Voyager’s day, while the Temporal arcs leaned hard on the days of Enterprise-and brought in the Agents of Yesterday that took us back to the Original series era.  DS9 has been off to the side for a long time, with its biggest representation being that old feature episode series, and it’s about time that we have something big attached to that series.  And hey, I recall reading in the forums that half the reason that the DS9 interior never really got revamped was because there wasn’t content to hook it to.  An expansion could well herald a new revamp of DS9.  The only question is whether it would try to tie even tighter to the TV appearance, or go the Earth Spacedock route and do a 2410 remodel.  (Or they could go really crazy and go the same route as the novel series, and blow up the station entirely and replace it with a brand spanking new station.  That’s probably TOO crazy-DS9 is too iconic to go that route.)

But since we’re looking at 2018, it’ll be a long wait.  That’s okay, though-because the Lukari and Tzenkethi issues still need resolution, and that’s a story that’s still unfolding.  Still, I’m looking very much forward to the future, as DS9 was always my second favorite of the Trek series.  (Hey…you don’t think we could see the return of the Sisko, do you…?)

The Back Half of the 2800

  It’s a bit late, but since it’s still in-game, it’s still fodder for my posts.  What is “it”?  Well, it’s closer to “what are they?”

  I’ve posted my thoughts on the first three episodes of the Featured Series “The 2800” for Star Trek Online.  Well, it’s time for me to comment on the last pair of episodes-and my thoughts on the series as a whole.

  Picking up where we left off was a trip to the super secret high security Federation prison called “Facility 4028”.  As a concept, it makes sense; you have to keep your prisoners somewhere, although this appears to be the kind of “fire and forget” kind of place that Section 31-a shadowy and somewhat-less-than-moral organization working within Starfleet-would put together and sanction.  (And judging from one of the dev blogs posted when this was released, 31 is well aware of what goes on here….)  It features a new map-the aforementioned Facility.  And it really doesn’t spoil much when I say that your character is on hand when the inevitable happens.

This is what it looks like before you have a riot.

  One of the neat ideas behind the Facility was how it was staffed:  by photonics, such as the Doctor from Voyager.  Of course, this meant that when the computers go down, things go to hell fast.  Fortunately, your captain is on hand.  Unfortunately, not all the prisoners are rounded up in the end….  That detail is something I hope gets followed up upon in future content-but given the “speed” that content comes out in the game, we can only wonder when we’ll see those seeds sprout.

  On the brighter side, for people who felt there wasn’t enough action going on in the previous episodes in this series-well, this one is for the ground pounders.  While you got a minor bit of ground combat in Bajor’s holodecks, you haven’t gone toe-to-toe with anyone since the opening episode.  Fighting your way through a prison riot to resecure the prison is a good way to get back in practice!  On another hand, though-at least during my run through-this episode had absolutely no accolades to celebrate any special achievements or choices.  Given the possibilities in this episode, that had been disappointing.  This has been corrected since, but I haven’t done the mission since that time, so I can’t comment.  I can say, though, that it was a misstep to miss this in the initial release.

  The episode finale is where you get your resolution-the episode where you help retake the station.  Despite your earlier work, though, some of the bad guys just don’t want to give up the game; Kurland, DS9’s CO, remarked, “Tell me you haven’t run into a problem.”  “We have a problem,” you reply.  Kurland must be at least a little genre savvy….  So you have to get into the station the hard way.

  The REALLY hard way.

Er, no, I really am supposed to be out here. Really. Please don’t shoot me?

  This is a first for STO, and was a great move in my opinion.  In order to get to Ops and kick out the bad guy, you can’t beam aboard, you can’t take a shuttle-so you spacewalk your way across the station’s structure from the outside.  Naturally, it’s not quite that easy-there’s a few obstacles that need to be overcome before you can get inside.  (Oh, and thank you, Klingon Empire, for making a simple spacewalk more complicated by jumping the gun!  I’d ask for that captain’s execution if he hadn’t gotten himself killed in the act.)  Once inside, it’s time to find a way into Ops and deal with the threat once and for all.  Alone.  Fortunately, you have a few ways of evening the odds.  But even that won’t stop the trouble outside, and you’ll get your chance to fight alongside two legendary Starfleet vessels.  Well, one legendary, and one-about-to-be.

  So how did the 2800 measure up to the previous features?

  In terms of content, pretty well.  It gave us a whole new persistent zone, which almost matches the coming of the Orellius Sector Block and Defera way back in the Deferi series.  A new shuttle-only mission, similar to the Vault back in the Romulan series.  The cutscenes were decent; the voice over work was a bit iffy, but I may have been spoiled by some great work in the previous group of series.  For the Trekkie in me, I got a thrill out of fighting through DS9 not just once, but twice; walking on the structure of the station was a big deal, and while I wish we could have gotten a whole new sector block out of the Gamma Quadrant, at least I got to go see what was on the other side.  And the best part was that we got little bits and hints about what may come in the future (maybe).

  All the same, I didn’t have the same “wow” factor I had gotten from previous series.  It wasn’t until the final two episodes that I felt greatly impressed; while the Bajoran hub is great, the episode’s content didn’t give me that wow factor.  I got it in the prison, though, and I got it during the spacewalk, and that’s the kind of thing I want out of my feature episodes:  the kind of things that emphasize what makes these missions stand out from the rest of the leveling content in the game.

  But all things end, and so did the 2800.  Sadly, we may only see one more Feature Series this year, which is a pity (and honestly, there had better be good stuff on the way between then and now, and I don’t mean just C-Store junk; and it had best involve getting the Klingons to a point where they can level starting from 1 to 50).  The features are really the best examples of what STO can be, outside of some player-created missions in the Foundry.  STO’s calendar indicates there’s a few things scheduled for April; hopefully, it will be the beginning of a trend.

Triple Feature: Thoughts on the 2800

  I’d been meaning to put up thoughts behind Star Trek Online’s latest feature episodes for a bit, but wanted to get at least to the halfway point before expressing them.  But since the third of five episodes was just released on Saturday, it feels like a good time to give my initial verdict.

They’re back-and they’re not happy.

  Watchers of the Trek series Deep Space Nine know all about the Jem’Hadar and the Dominion, the folks who have their own interstellar civilization on the other side of the Bajoran Wormhole; the latter half of that series featured a hot war against the Dominion, and it was a startling counterpoint to the ideals shown in the Next Generation series; yes, humanity has gotten it right, and they’re doing the utopian thing-but the galaxy isn’t filled with beings that feel the same way, and when backed into a corner, humanity was still able to fight dirty to come out on top.  DS9 was not the first Trek to show difficult moral decisions…but it may have been the first to acknowledge that sometimes the choices weren’t about right and wrong, but about two wrongs.

  Because of this, DS9 tends to be looked upon poorly by some TNG fans.  For myself, I loved it.  It took Trek to a darker place, certainly, but it made the light of Trek shine that much more brightly.  Plus, it gave us some great characters-and not all of them were the main cast.  DS9 holds in my heart the second most enjoyable Trek.  (For those who are wondering, the Original Series still owns top honors; it’s hard to compete with Kirk, McCoy, Spock and the rest.)  And because of this fact, the new feature episode series has a hard standard to live up to.

  It’s even harder because of the previous featured series in STO.  The Deferi arc had begun it all, introducing a new world, species, sector block, repeatable missions-and tapped into some TOS lore to boot.  (We didn’t know it at the time, but it was also creating a target for one of the biggest bads in Trek.)  The Devidian arc came next, which brought us back to the era of the Original Series, meet a couple of legends of that time, and included one of the best episodes in STO (“What Lies Beneath”).  Finally, the third series featured the Romulans and Remans, a revolution in the making, and not only advanced the plot of what may be the biggest bads in STO, but also featured arguably the best episode in STO, period (that’d be “Coliseum”).

Shot through a wormhole!

  So does the new series, called “The 2800”, measure up?  The answer is “yes and no”.  As usual, I’m not going to delve into spoiler territory, but I’m going to talk about some of the details in generalities.

  The first episode sets the stage-thanks to the recent Borg activity, as exemplified by the Special Task Forces, the “Red Alerts” all through the sector blocks, and the invasion on Defera-some of the big powers have gotten some reps to discuss the situation at Deep Space Nine.  As this by definition includes luminaries from Cardassia, the Federation, the Klingon Empire, and Defera, things can be a bit…tense.  The Romulans apparently don’t get an invite-but then, thanks to the Romulan/Reman arc and the problems their empire has suffered pre-launch, they have enough problems as it is.  Things get derailed fairly quickly when a new threat comes out through the wormhole.  This episode is very conversation heavy, and includes some new mission completion logic:  random individuals may have what you want, and may not be the same for every run-through.  The voice acting seems a bit weak, though, particularly with the Vorta; then again, Vorta have been known to ham it up in the DS9 series.  Captain Kurland’s voice doesn’t scream “Starfleet Captain” to me either, although his XO does have a memorable appearance and good voice work.

  The second features a new social zone:  a city on the planet Bajor.  The episode features a bunch of missions in that zone, too; but it also has access to mail, the Exchange, and the banks, and is the new location for the diplomatic mission Standoff, which had originally started in Bajor orbit.  Also worth noting is the use of what I could call branching missions:  a choice of what mission to do if you want to advance the larger episode.  With options for each class, plus a pair representing your faction, you can go through this episode in several ways.  Also worth noting was a holodeck simulation against a Changeling, making you realize just how dangerous these aliens really are; it also included a terrific shuttlebay map which I hope we see again.

  The third and latest features an all-too-brief entry into the Gamma Quadrant through the wormhole.  As far as innovations go, there wasn’t much to comment on.  There is a space map that requires some fancy flying-fortunately, you are restricted to shuttlecraft for the mission, much like “The Vault” last year.  It also felt relatively short, compared to the other missions.  Then again, I can’t hold it against them; there were similarly short episodes in other feature series.  They can’t all be “Coliseum”, after all.

  So far, the 2800 is proving to be an enjoyable ride; if it’s not the shoot-em-all style that many of STO’s missions consist of, it’s still closer to the feeling of Trek where not all your issues can be solved by using a phaser.  There are 2800 ships involved, after all.  Solving a situation diplomatically is very much in keeping with Starfleet ideals.  (Less so for the Klingons, but their interest involves getting up-close-and-personal intel on Starfleet and the Federation.  Federation fools….)  And there’s still a pair of episodes left-plenty of time for diplomacy to go to hell in a handbasket.  And with the final episode’s title evoking the “Charge of the Light Brigade“, well…expect things to go just that way.