Anniversary Companions

Well, it’s been an entertaining week with the MMOs I play.  Both Star Wars: The Old Republic and Star Trek Online had significant publishes this week.

Let me look at SWTOR first.  One of the big deals with that publish is the release of a new raid boss.  (Okay, “Operations boss”.)  Since I don’t really do those, I can’t really speak for that sort of thing.  There’s a number of warzone patches, which I don’t really do much of unless I feel I have to.  I keep promising myself that I’ll at least run a bunch with my Smuggler and Agent mains, just so I can wrap up getting all the companions possible for those characters, but I never do.  I’m glad I didn’t make a New Year’s Resolution on that one, because it’d clearly have been busted by now.  There’s double xp rolling, which isn’t really a big deal for me, running until the end of the month.  This also applies to Command XP, though, so if you’re going for the upgraded gear stuff by getting those Command boxes, this would be a good time to start running dailies and the like.

The “Unhappy” part involves an old “friend”….

Oh, and there’s some returning companions.  There’s a couple of caveats, of course.  Firstly, these are literally returning companions:  if you didn’t have Risha, Corso, or Andronikos in your roster before, you aren’t getting them now.  There’s talk on the forums about making them available the same way you can get any companion who hasn’t returned back via the Odessen terminal in your quarters, but that isn’t the case at the moment.  Secondly, you have to have completed the Knights of the Eternal Throne expansion.  At that point, if you happen to be a Smuggler or Inquisitor, you’ll get a new Alliance Alert which results in the return of said companions.

The good news is that, unlike most Alerts, this is fully voiced-you don’t have that KotR interface that most Alliance Alerts do.  But…honestly, there isn’t much to these.  There’s moments if one of the companions were a romance during the original story, but for the most part, it’s “Oh, here they are!”  I get the impression that these missions were along the lines of “let’s just get this done so bloggers stop complaining about the rate of returns”.  That said, I imagine actual missions on the scale of other returnees would have meant we’d have gotten one companion back this publish-if at all.  At this point, being a couple years out from the loss of the companions in the first place, I’m all for this for companions who aren’t likely to be pushing forward the continuing story in the game-and the number of those prospects are awfully short.  I could see Lord Scourge as a big deal, for example, but Vector Hyllis, not so much.  If I were to make a guess, I’d say that we’ll see Alliance Alerts for non-Jedi, non-Sith, non-Mandalorian characters, while Jedi/Sith/Mandalorian ones will be incorporated into the ongoing story somehow.  (Given that I can only think of one outstanding Mandalorian, I’d be willing to bet that she could wind up as just an Alert, but Mandalorians are big deals, given the Eternal Alliance’s reliance on them.)

Still, this does at least bring the Smuggler-who I’d derided for so long as not getting any of their people back-generally in line with most of the other classes.  I note that all of his returnees, however, came from Alerts.  Just an observation.  In fact, there’s only one outstanding Smuggler companion now.  The Inquisitor companion brings that number to two outstanding.  Still the big loser:  the Jedi Consular, with a whopping one Companion still around.  If that class doesn’t have at least a couple coming up in the next wave of returnees, they’d be justified in going to Bioware and giving in to the Dark Side!!!!

Ahem.

Anyway, the companion thing for Smugglers and Inquisitors takes maybe 10 minutes if you don’t spacebar through conversations, at best.  No excuse for qualified characters to get their people back-and with a lot less hassle then most.

Two stations, a horde of starships, unexpected allies and enemies…just another day in Starfleet.

On to the second one:  Star Trek Online, which hits its eighth year anniversary.  The last week and a half has been spent giving stuff away, some of which was more impressive than others.  (And believe me, some of them were really unimpressive.)  We do have the usual festivities:  Omega particle hunting, a new anniversary ship (a Bajoran ship, interestingly enough-more on how that ties in momentarily), the Q-in-the-Box at the Academies, which includes a new type of anniversary popper device; at some point, I’m gonna grab four random poppers, equip them all, and run around Spacedock in a frenzy.  Well, maybe not.  Eight years is nothing to sneeze at, anyway:  no single Star Trek series has gone on so long, although you’d have a good argument that a series delivers at least as much entertainment.  It’s also remarkable for being a long runner in a genre that has seen many others pass away.  MMORPGs that make it this far have demonstrated serious staying power.  I don’t know if it’s the setting, the lockboxes, or what, because I wouldn’t have predicted this long a run when the game came out-hell, there were times when I thought things were as good as dead-but STO is still with us, and by all appearances, will be with us for at least another year or more.

Also of note:  a new Feature episode, with appearances from Captain Kurn, General Martok, Geordi La Forge, and…well, let’s just call it a surprise appearance, shall we?  I wouldn’t spoil things.  The Tzenkethi are upping their game, about to go after multiple worlds to with protomatter torpedoes, and your crew is called upon to stop them.  The good news is, you do get help.  The bad news is, one of those worlds is Bajor.  (My conscience is clear in noting that; the presence of an anniversary ship tied to Bajor with the notes about it talking about its use in the defense of Bajor has already spilled those beans.)  The attack on Bajor seems to be a catalyst, however, because just when you think you’ve gotten the Tzenkethi under control…all Hell breaks loose.  Expect a battle royale in space with multiple factions getting involved, a return of an old adversary (sort of), and ramifications that are guaranteed to lead to the theoretical expansion this year (as far as I’m concerned, it remains theoretical until we get more than a segment of a trailer video).  I’ll admit to being impressed with the episode; it did a great job in ramping up the threats.  You’d think a worldkilling fleet would be the climax of an episode, but they’re just the appetizer.  Every time a battle ends, something kicks up the stakes another notch.  Klingons in particular should be overjoyed by this episode.

Starting up year nine in STO promises to be exciting.  I better get cracking on Dathiro, because I have a feeling that I’m going to be very busy later this year.

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Emergent Gameplay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Singularity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Reckoning on Tzenkethi

The next Season publish for Star Trek Online is coming in just a couple of weeks (less than that, technically), and it seems that there’s a fair amount coming along with it.  Let’s take a look at it, shall we?

The Season-entitled “Reckoning”-features the coming of a species referred to but never seen in Trek before:  the Tzenkethi.  They were mentioned as a major factor in the previous episode, and now they’ll take center stage with new ships to fight (and, undoubtedly, new lockbox bait) and new aliens to actually confront on the ground.  Their look is interesting, to say the least.

We're coming for you!  Leave US out of your alliance, will you?

We’re coming for you! Leave US out of your alliance, will you?

Of course, out in forum land, there are a faction of folks who insist that they should’ve looked like they were described in the Trek novels, which have had the Tzenkethi as a part of an opposing alliance called the Tython Pact.  What some of these people are forgetting is that the novels aren’t canon-despite the fact that STO has taken choice bits from it (such as the existence of Mackenzie Calhoun and the Vesta class starship).  The developers chose to go with an appearance that seems to have been put forward by the creator of the episode where they were mentioned in Star Trek.  One possibility the devs apparently tossed around was making them a “femme fatale” species.  I’m sort of glad they didn’t; we already had something that loosely had that appearance (in the form of Iconians), and for that matter, the Orions pretty much fill that space.  (Yes, I know there are male Orions; let’s see how the gender breakdown between male and female goes with KDF Orion captains….)

The ships are pretty…hefty?  One person out there said it was like it took Trek design and had a baby with an EVE Online battlecruiser.  They’re not wrong, at least on a couple of the ships.  I’m hearing that the ships will be “difficult to fight at first”, but will get easier when you learn how to deal with them.  Let’s hope that it doesn’t involve insane amounts of health, like the Vaadwaur.  I’m for interesting, but not “let’s see how much damage we can soak with THIS species!”

Separated at birth?

Separated at birth?

It should be obvious that all this work on a species means we’re seeing some content featuring them.  Reckoning will feature a new Episode in the current arc-and it’s a safe bet that remainder of the arc will involve the Tzenkethi as well.  We’re getting a new Reputation-well, no big shock there.  The method of improving the rep is coming in a new Battlezone, which is always fun to play around in-well, at least as long as other players are around.  (I’ve noticed that Battlezones get rougher when everyone has moved on to the new shiny.)

It’s also worth a mention that it’ll be the seven year anniversary for Star Trek Online in just under a month.  I’m not sure if we’ll be seeing another episode rolling around for it, but traditionally, one can expect Q to show up and have interesting prizes and activities rolling around, so stay tuned for my thoughts on that as information begins to come our way.