Captain's Log: Fleet actions, the Crystalline Entity and you

Ahoy, ensigns and admirals! Welcome back to Captain's Log, our weekly dose of Star Trek Online news, tips and unfounded personal opinions straight from the final frontier. After Friday's look at the ups and downs of Season One, today's Captain's Log assumes its regular Thursday stardate. At least until his masters at Massively make good on their threat to reassign your humble captain to Q-tip quality control. On Ferenginar.

This week, let's take a look at Fleet Actions. Some are a rewarding change of pace from the often solitary grind of patrol and exploration. And some -- well, okay, just one -- is the bane of Starfleet's existence. We'll get to that in a minute.
Roughly equivalent to Warhammer Online's Public Quests or open-world raids in World of Warcraft, fleet actions are large-scale quests open to all comers. As players progress through Star Trek Online, Admiral Grigori Yanishev assigns a new fleet action every few levels. Involving either space or ground combat, these quests generally pit groups of players against massive hordes of enemies. These are threats too great for even a handful of Starfleet or Klingon officers to handle on their own.

Cryptic introduced a few changes to fleet actions in
Season One: Common Ground. To recap:

  • They're now level banded, so players enter instances with others of similar levels, and enemies are tuned appropriately. Now rear admirals can enjoy a challenge in formerly low-level fleet actions instead of one-shotting everything. This means that friends and fleet members of widely different levels can no longer tackle objectives together, but overall the change seems positive.
  • Last week's super patch gave Klingons access to several fleet actions. Instead of just blowing up other people, our imperial counterparts can partake of some large-scale PvE goodness. It's an important addition of content on the Klingon side.
  • Season One offered two shiny new fleet actions, the Big Dig and DS9 Under Siege.
In other words, it's a good time to get into the fleet action game. So I thought we'd cover one of these mondo quests, the Crystalline Entity, in a little more depth.

'Crystalline Catastrophe' is right
Though not the earliest fleet action in the game, the Crystalline Entity is likely the first you hear about, whether you know it or not. During my first 15 or so levels, I often noticed other players deriding "CE" in deep space zone chat. Mentions of this CE weren't as ubiquitous as questions about Sulu's location on Earth Spacedock, but they were close. I had no idea what this CE was (the STO collector's edition maybe?), or why everyone seemed so angry about it.

Then I hit Lieutenant Commander 6. Admiral Yanishev ordered me to pitch in with the fleet. And I learned what all the fuss was about.



Background

The Crystalline Entity is a pretty cool bit of fan service. Classified as a cosmozoan life form, the creature appeared in a couple of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes. According to Memory Alpha, the Entity resembled an enormous crystal snowflake and wandered the universe, sucking the life out of planets and starships. Needing constant power, the thing converted organic matter into energy and left ravaged, uninhabitable planets in its wake. Sort of like a Swarovski-designed Galactus.

The crew of the USS Enterprise-D encountered the Entity twice. First Data's evil brother, Lore, convinced it to try to eat the crew. A few years later, the Entity decided to snack on a planet that the Enterprise crew happened to be visiting. Captain Picard and company pursued the creature, hoping to communicate using graviton pulses. Long story short, they accidentally destroyed it instead.

Now the Entity has returned, looking less like a snowflake than a giant piece of pink rock candy. Turns out Starfleet neglected to plan for the creature's reappearance, and players are tasked with shooting it until dead. (I suppose communication is out of the question.)

When and Where
At Lieutenant Commander 6, or level 16, Starfleet assigns the quest Crystalline Catastrophe. To find the creature, head to the Teneebia Sector in Alpha Centauri Sector Space. It floats around the sector and can usually be found near the Elvren and Demil systems. Fly on up and say hi to join the fight.

The Basics
The Entity does two things: shoots beams and creates fragments. The beam acts like any normal phaser, hitting the target's shields. The fragments, on the other hand, come in three varieties:

  • Crystalline Fragments
  • Large Crystalline Fragments
  • Small Crystalline Fragments
The first two types chase players like heat-seeking missiles. If they catch their target, they explode for 5,000 to 6,000 points of AoE damage. Damage that ignores shields and goes right for the hull. Two or three hits are enough to take out a starship.

If a large fragment hits a ship or a mine, it explodes into three small fragments. Those small fragments then head straight for the Entity. Each small fragment that reaches the creature heals it for 1 percent of its total health. Once the fight really gets going, easily dozens of large fragments are flying around at any given time. If the fight isn't handled properly, the Entity can heal from almost no health to 100 percent in seconds.

Oh, and as an added bonus, the Entity takes one-quarter damage from all attacks. So there's that.

Strategy
Ask how to beat the Entity in deep space zone chat and you're likely to receive a slew of responses. Ideas of how to beat this fleet action are about as plentiful as pimply brow ridges at a Klingon Bar mitzvah. The creature used to be insanely vulnerable to the Ramming Speed skill, but Cryptic squashed that bug fast.

The STO Wiki provides a handy strategy roundup for the three-stage battle, complete with suggested buffs, debuffs and weapons. If you have any notion of taking on the Entity, read that guide. Seriously.

In brief, here's what you do:

  • Orbit the Entity so as to evade fragments while attacking the boss.
  • Stay at least 5 kilometers away from the Entity, especially as it spawns large fragments.
  • Destroy any small fragments before they reach the Entity.

Handy though it is, the guide leaves out a few vital points.

  • Speed - The Wiki suggests setting weapon and engine power to 75 percent. To do that, check out the central panel of the default starship interface, just to the right of the shields indicator. This panel shows power levels to different systems. If you click on the little icon that looks like a stack of rectangles, three numbered boxes appear. Each corresponds to a separate setup. Click the box numbered 3. Now you can drag the weapon power level (all the way on the left) to 75 percent and hit the small lock icon. Then adjust the engine power level (third from the left) the same way. I tried out the Entity with those settings on my Tier 2 science vessel and had little trouble avoiding fragments. But I had a few close calls, and word is that cruisers might have more trouble. Cruiser captains might want to set engines to 100-percent power instead. Shields are worthless against fragments anyway.
  • Torpedoes - Opinions differ on the ideal choice of weapons against the entity. Mines are almost entirely verboten, and the Wiki guide recommends disruptors for their chance to debuff damage resistance. But others suggest only sticking to torpedoes. Spamming beam weapons can create insane numbers of fragments, they say, and the Entity's damage reduction renders non-torpedo attacks laughably weak.
  • Coordination - This is the real key to defeating the Entity. One or two ships flying too slowly or dropping mines once the boss starts spamming large fragments can ruin the fight for the other 18 people in the instance. Tackling the Entity with guild members or a knowledgeable premade group is pretty much vital to victory.

Final Thoughts
Invulnerable the Crystalline Entity is not. Besting the epic beast is an awesome accomplishment in STO. Or so I imagine. My every serious attempt has failed, thanks to that last point. Teamwork can be hard to come by in any fleet action, but it isn't utterly crucial to most others. Part of the problem is that players aren't automatically put into groups or a raid when they enter a fleet action. It's a strange oversight for such a heavily instanced MMO, especially considering patrol missions auto-group players. Fixing that wouldn't guarantee coordination, but it would make communicating a lot easier than endless zone chat spam full of conflicting instructions.

So get some friends together and try out the Crystalline Entity. Sure, there's nothing worse than spending a few hours shooting a giant pink space rock, only to watch its health shoot from 25 percent to 100 percent over and over again. But beating the Entity is a heck of a thing. If you do, feel free to brag about it as often as possible. I know I will ... someday.
This article was originally published on Massively.