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.

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Building Character: The Wrath of Raa’th

Well, that didn’t take long.  It’s like I’ve done all of this before….

Ready for war.

The first of my Delta Recruits in Star Trek Online has been plugging away, and he’s almost done with his tour of duty.  Captain Raa’th, my Gorn representative to the Klingon Empire, has gone through the Klingon content and crushed it beneath his clawed feet.  And he’s managed to have quite a time of it.  He’s gotten to level 54 and has just completed the Borg story arc, which leaves only the Breen arc before he completes the “Delta Recruit” objectives.  I can see the strong prospect of him reaching level 55 going into the Solonae Dyson Sphere arcs and into the Delta Quadrant.  I may put him on pause, however, to start up the other Delta Recruits being worked on.

I’ve been sort of surprised at the speed at which I’ve gone through the content here.  Part of it probably comes in where I’ve done this all before-in some missions, multiple times.  I might’ve gone a bit further if I could’ve skipped cut-scenes, but that’s the price of doing business.  No big loss.

Character details.  Raa’th has done pretty well as a Science captain, and for his endgame ship, I chose the Varanus class, the IKS Anor.  It’s at the really low end of tier-5, and a support ship besides, but it had two major features that attracted me.  First, it was a Sciences ship-and honestly, I haven’t played many of those ships.  And second, it was a Gorn ship for a Gorn character.  (Okay, there was a third thing:  it had been a free giveaway ship from Cryptic one year, and I was making a deliberate effort to use those ships.)  And I have to say, it has been a blast using that ship.  I never really appreciated some of the raw synergy that science bridge officers have with science abilities.  A combination of Tyken’s Rifts (which hoses power levels in the target ship) plus an Energy Siphon (which drains power from a target ship to apply to your ship) and a Target Shield Subsystem (which drains energy from the shield power level on a target ship) can open up nice gaps of time when the target has NO shields.  That window varies on types of ships (not so good with Borg Cubes-as in, a couple seconds), but it’s enough time to slam a high-yield torpedo into the target most of the time, and if one is lucky, a second regular torpedo shot.  My own power level configuration on that ship is also different than my usual, which involves “max weapons-always!”; I’ve gone more balanced, which gives my weapons less punch, but gives those science abilities substantially more.

On the ground, the character makes use of primarily Research powers on his kits.  A side rant:  it is unbelievably crazy how often I would get a kit reward, and it would be all but one slot in the kit set for Medical powers.  For a guy who was trying to avoid Medical for the most part, it was driving me bats.  I FINALLY got one that had only one Medical slot in it, and I felt like breaking out the good champagne.  It was that bad.  Moving on:  since I did manage to get to level 54, I was able to choose a captain specialization, and I figured that since I was doing all sorts of things that I hadn’t done before, I’d give him Commando specialization.  It’s a primarily ground related spec, but I wanted to see how it did.  Besides:  being able to cut down the time for cooldowns on abilities is always worth messing with.

Standard away team has been a Klingon Engineer, an Android Science officer, a Klingon Tactical officer, and a “rotating” slot that I default to a Borg-ified Klingon Engineer, but have also occasionally used an Orion Science or a Klingon Science depending on whim.  Uniforms for everyone pretty much uses the Bortasqu’ style outfit, with the exception being Raa’th himself-because a Star Trek captain has to go shirtless in a big fight!  (It was good enough for Kirk, it’s good enough for Raa’th!)

Click for bigger!

One more thing that kind of stood out to me was the increased information on the Iconians.  I know:  “Duh!  Delta Recruitment!”  But I’m not just talking about the little side objectives.  It could be that I’m not remembering clearly, but it seemed that the Iconian foreshadowing has been a lot more blatant than I remember it having been when I first did these missions.  As in, “slapped over the face repeatedly with the fact that the Iconians Are Coming!”  There have been other instances where the Delta Recruitment details needed a bit more refinement:  on the terrific episode “Colosseum”, I got informed by one of my bridge officers to look for Iconian tech-except for the minor detail that the whole point of that episode was that I hadn’t been able to get in contact with my ship.  And if I were a new player, I’m not sure I’d be able to follow the Iconian presence all that well with the way the Temporal Agent contact fed me info.  Trying to figure out the timeline was tricky at times-but hell, that’s time travel for you.

Once I go through the Breen episodes and wrap up the Delta Recruitment objectives, it’ll be time to return to Tau Dewa and see what kind of Iconian knowledge can be picked up from the Romulan point of view.

“Did We Go As Far As Voyager?”

  That question made me pause in Star Trek Online; my character was asking this of the Romulan mission commander in the Season 8’s main attraction, the Dyson Sphere in the Delta Quadrant.  Seems innocuous, right?  Surely, everyone in Starfleet knew of the the events in Star Trek: Voyager, even though it was 30-ish years ago in the timeline.

  Thing is:  the person asking that question so instinctively was my Klingon.  While I’m sure that the Klingon Empire was more than aware of that event, it seemed odd that this would’ve been the first reaction of a Klingon.  I could’ve bought him asking “Is the Borg anywhere nearby?” or something along those lines, but the trip of a vessel of an enemy power?  Now, I just shrugged this off at the time, but it did start me thinking about the problems that STO has with the Klingons-or, to be more honest about it, multiple factions in general.

  Cryptic’s first game was City of Heroes, as readers will recall remains near and dear to my heart.  (Almost one year ago, too.  I’ll reflect on that around that time.)  It was a pretty simple premise:  you make superheroes.  They fight bad guys.  Just that simple.  But later, they put together a stand-alone expansion sort of thing:  City of Villains.  The intent was to have them separate except for a very specific meeting area which was neutral ground, or in PvP areas where the heroes and villains could do what heroes and villains do best:  beat each other up.

  But even at its launch, it seemed that the villains didn’t have as much content as the heroes, for a stand alone game.  Part of this is probably because of the very significant head start that the heroes got-CoH had been out for quite a while and had a number of publishes fleshing them out further.  One would have assumed that once the villains had a number of publishes under their belt, they’d be on a par with the heroes.  But that ignores a central reality:  the same development team worked on both CoH and CoV.  They couldn’t exactly completely ignore CoH to bring CoV to an equal status.  So as time went on, the developers worked on content that benefited both sides.  For systems, it wasn’t bad.  For lore, well….  Truth is, a common complaint from those who swore by villainy was that their characters were too often being put in “save the world” situations.  Sure, it’s in their best interests-can’t rule the world or do villainous sorts of things if the world is conquered by someone else or simply demolished.  But the reality was that they were being forced into situations where they’d have to act heroic-and there were never situations where the heroes would have to act…well, unheroic.  Eventually, this changed a little with the morality missions and the like, but all that came after Cryptic headed off and left CoH to NCSoft.  (And in full disclosure, the development of the joint content was pretty much after Cryptic left, too-on the other hand, they had been formerly with Cryptic, so the general mindset is probably still valid.)

  The next game rolled out by Cryptic was Champions Online.  It’s probably important to note that there is no “villain side” there.  And given the lack of attention in CO, it probably wouldn’t happen even if they were inclined to do so.

  That brings us back to STO.  It’s pretty clear to me that the KDF faction was an afterthought.  Maybe the intent was to have it as “monster play” like seen in Lord of the Rings Online, but the supporters of the game during beta kept pushing hard for a KDF faction.  Eventually, Cryptic announced it would happen-but the leveling process of the Klingons would be through PvP, not through the usual traditional methods.  All the story work and PvE stuff was focused on Starfleet.  This was so much of an issue that when the game launched, you couldn’t have more than a few characters in total (a couple more if you were a Lifetime Sub), and you couldn’t roll up a Klingon faction character unless you’d gotten to level six with a Starfleet character and/or finished a certain mission.

  So the Klingons were crippled on day one as far as potential population goes.  Sure, a PvP only faction sounds like a PvPers dream, but that really doesn’t work in practice if the other side could care less.  There was the interfaction PvP, but that really didn’t do it for them.  And for people who liked Klingons, but didn’t like PvP, it was just-and I really hate to use the phrase, but it fits-a slap in the face.  They got a limited amount of PvE put in with Empire Defense missions, but the surest way to advance was still PvP missions.

  By the time STO went freemium, the KDF had gotten some PvE missions.  Mostly by virtue of the Feature Episode series, but they did get some minor Klingon arcs-no more than two or three missions per arc, and there were three or four of those.  Still nowhere near parity with Starfleet.  And when the game did go freemium…the whole rules on how to roll a Klingon changed; the devs recognized there wasn’t enough content for a leveling experience from 1-50 (or 6-50, as the case may be) and put the Klingons as characters who started at level 21.  This effectively removed the lower level ships from the game at that point.  It wasn’t until the game got to Legacy of Romulus when the Klingons were finally given a leveling path from 1 to 50; the late game for them was pretty much identical to Starfleet’s, except with Klingon spin in the dialogue.  (To be fair, it was pretty similar to the Romulans as well, introduced at that time.)

  Cryptic seems to have issues with two faction games; I’m not entirely sure why.  Other game companies seem to do a reasonably good job of it.  WoW is obviously the leader here, but then, they’ve got oodles of cash to throw at the game.  Star Wars Galaxies (and later The Old Republic) didn’t seem to have huge problems in that arena-although as a sandbox, SWG didn’t really NEED heavy factional content until the NGE made it less sandboxy.  EVE Online has four different factions-or heaps, if you include the player alliances; still, most of the ships in the game are supplied by the four empires, so you could look at it in that way.  Clearly, it is not impossible to develop a game with two points of view.  But Cryptic never really seemed committed to that, and it shows-even in minor bits of dialogue like this post’s title.

  And it goes beyond simply story.  There is still a huge disparity between ships in the C-store for Starfleet and the Klingons.  Looking at STO Wiki, when I peek at the number of ships Starfleet has at the Vice Admiral level (not including Fleet ships) compared to what the Klingons get, the numbers are depressing:  20 for Starfleet…7 for the Klingons.  Hell, even the Romulans have 10.  The developers hem and haw, saying nobody buys Klingon ships.

  Gosh.  I wonder why.  I suppose hamstringing a faction for years couldn’t possibly have anything to do with that.  And by ignoring the problem hoping it will go away…yeah.  That works well.  The Romulan players will be getting into the act too, once the shine starts to wear off and they realize that they aren’t the favored child either-particulary since their ability to use an allied faction’s ships ends at tier 4; the tier 5 vessels must be of their own faction (something that actually makes sense, lore-wise, but is going to cause issues in gameplay eventually).

  The devs do have the point that you don’t need special ships from the store (and I’m not even looking at the lockbox ships, usable by either faction-I consider that a wash) to play the game.  You can do every mission with the ships in the game that aren’t even C-store ships.  But as long as they keep making shiny good stuff for Starfleet and leave scraps for the Klingons (and soon, the Romulans); as long as the story in the game keeps assuming Starfleet characters even if they aren’t members of Starfleet; as long as the non-Starfleet faction keeps being pushed to the side, there will continue to be a perception of a major disparity.

  Oh, and it’s worth noting:  Cryptic’s latest game, Neverwinter?  Only one faction, to my knowledge.  The trend continues.

Factional Issues

  One of the longest running issues with Star Trek Online is a fairly fundamental one:  the Klingon faction.

  Full disclosure:  I prefer playing Federation.  I’m more into the “boldly go where no one has gone before” than I am with “and conquer them”.  But I also hate to deny myself portions of the game worth playing, so I have as many max level Klingon characters as I do Federation ones.

  In an ideal world, these factions would be somewhat equal.  But it’s apparent through the lifetime of STO that the Klingons are the red-headed stepchildren.  The Feature Episodes are primarily written with the Federation in mind; sure, the Klingons can play, but it always seems to jive with the Federation viewpoint more than the Klingons.  It gets worse with the joint missions; these two factions are at war, but apparently they can drop all that for “bigger problems”.  Admittedly, those bigger problems include Borg and Undine and others, so that’s an excuse.  On New Romulus, though, the Klingons would be more likely to try to conquer it than help them become strong.

  It’s even worse than this story bias, though.  The Federation gets the lion’s share of C-Store offerings; new ships regularly appear on the store for Starfleet.  In the last year, there has been exactly one ship class released for the Klingons; seven for the Federation.  (Actually, I tell a lie; I went back to the 2012 anniversary to count-otherwise, the Klingons wouldn’t have any.) 

This is the face of Not Happiness.

  The developers would tell you that Klingons just don’t sell well.  And there may be a point to that-they have the spreadsheets, after all.  But the deck is stacked:  you buy the game (well, now just download it.  I’m a dinosaur…), and you can immediately create a Federation character.  You can’t create a Klingon, though-not until you get a Federation character to level 24.  At which point you can make a Klingon at level 21.  Why is this?  Because there isn’t enough Klingon content in comparison with Federation to create a solid leveling path from level 1 to 50.  And this was actually an improvement:  originally when the game came out, KDF started at level 6, and had even less content than they do now.

  The Klingon players have been fighting for equality in STO practically from open beta.  Which brings us to this.

  Looks like something big is coming in May-and information is a little over two weeks away.  And it’s obviously Romulan.  Now, it shouldn’t be too surprising to hear that there is a group of players who are chomping at the bit for a Romulan faction to enter the game.  Which means this teaser is going to end up potentially angering someone.

  The would-be Romulan players would want something at least similar to what the Klingons have now; of course, they’d prefer a full faction storyline similar to what the Federation has.  If either happens, the Klingon players are likely to be infuriated; after all, that’s content development time that should have been spent bringing the Klingons up to snuff.  On the other hand, it could just be an announcement of the culmination of the story developing since the early days of STO where certain big bads finally make their official debut after being teased in episodes and missions-which would annoy the would-be Romulan players, since so many seem to be pinning their hopes on this teaser.  I’m kind of leaning towards the former than the latter, though; the developers of STO have hinted that what’s coming is “bigger than a Season”, which is their usual name for major publishes, and they are talking about revamping the character creator-which, honestly, doesn’t need it.  Unless it’s being set up for a new faction.

  If that’s the case, I expect the Klingons to go to full warfare mode.  I’m dubious that there are more Romulan fans than Klingon fans, and I’m fairly sure that this could well be the last straw for many of the Klingon players.  The lead producer has frequently said that his goal is to complete a fully fledged Klingon faction in the game-but here we are, three years into STO’s lifetime, and the Klingon Players have a long list of promises made over that time which have yet to see fruition.  I predict that the moderators of the STO forums will be working overtime in a little over two weeks, because I believe there will be a lot of venom-laced posts if things go the way I think they will.