Ahem. So anyway, Star Trek Online's very first series of weekly episodes wrapped up this past Saturday. We covered the introduction of weekly episodes a few weeks ago, and I promised we'd get back to them in due time. So did the Breen win? What can we expect from the next series of episodes? And are STO's weekly episodes all they're cracked up to be?
Cryptic Studios released the first featured episode on August 28th. The developers billed these episodes as one of the most exciting features of Season 2, even though it hit servers more than a month behind the rest of the patch.
Executive Producer Daniel Stahl explained in July that weekly episodes are meant to replicate the fun of the various television series by offering short story arcs. Each story arc will span about five episodes, and so far, those arcs are based around a special enemy force.
Series 1 introduced the Breen, a cold-loving, helmet-wearing alien race infamous for joining up with the Jem'Hadar in the Dominion War. In the first episode, Cold Call, the Breen suddenly appeared on the planet Defera, harassing the neutral Deferi people and exhibiting an alarming preoccupation with the mysteries of the Preservers.
I thought the first episode was more fun and exciting than your average mission, without really breaking new gameplay ground. I've just played episodes two through five, so it's time to pass judgment on the rest of STO's first series of weeklies.
Returning to the Deferi Sector, located in the Orellius Sector Block, the U.S.S. Ziggy once again finds Ambassador Surah looking for help. The Deferi are super high-maintenance, even though they've only let the Federation get, like, halfway to second base.
The ambassador sends my crew and me to the lovingly named VZA-4001 system to rustle up two missing Deferi transports. I suspect Breen skullduggery. And I'm right -- firefight! And then another firefight! And another. Nothing new there, but damn if this isn't a beautiful battlefield.
With the two transports safe and sound, the Deferi direct me to the Zaria system, where I hope to strike back at the Breen slavers. Oh boy, I have to beat four more enemy squadrons -- but in another lovely, lovely zone. The devs really outdid themselves designing the Deferi sector.
Next, I beam down to a dilithium mine for some detestable ground combat and some Deferi-saving. Wuh oh! Thot Trel, who seems to be in charge of the Breen, isn't too pleased with my activities. He sends down a boss with a wicked freezy cone attack, and I kill the boss to complete the mission.
Fun Factor: 3 out of 5
Innovation Factor: 1 out of 5
Verdict: The mission is fun overall but nothing special, considering it does little to advance the story beyond the fact that the Breen are messing with the Deferi. Still, it earns points for introducing the big bad and some truly beautiful scenery.
The next episode sends me after a crippled freighter in the Raveh system. Hey, cool -- instead of having to blow someone up right away, I beam aboard the Deferi ship and tend to some wounded crew members. Finally, my science officer does some good with science!
Each patient requires me to figure out the proper medication, which I load into a hypospray and administer. I even get to (verbally) interrogate some Breen prisoners! Too bad I failed the first time because I didn't pay enough attention. Make sure you're super nice to Tran!
Evidently, the Breen attacked the freighter as part of a scheme to retrieve information from Deferi citizens' memories. Information about something called the Preserver Archive. Fascinating, doctor. We also learn that not all Breen are heartless butchers, which is nice.
Fun Factor: 4 out of 5
Innovation Factor: 3.5 out of 5
Verdict: A non-combat mission, how glorious! Also, the mission is all about advancing the storyline. What's all this about a Preserver Archive?
Episode IV: Cold Case
Curious. Apparently some sort of star chart is hidden amid the ancient Preserver ruins on the planet Defera. This is where I fought the boss of the first episode a few weeks ago.
Well I'll be -- it's a puzzle! The trick is to arrange bridge officers, using their individual rally-point buttons (located to the left of each officer's portrait), on three of the five glowing circles to make an arrow. First your arrow must point east, then south, then southeast. Placing your officers correctly will light up a panel to activate each time. My crude picture below should help you decode the puzzle. I just whipped that up at 4:50 in the a.m. -- so if you think it's ugly, go take a hike!
Oh, brother. This latest map fragment sends you to the Manek system next. I guess this is sort of like exploring? This is getting a little ri-ding-dong-diculous if you ask me. (I'm not sure anyone did.) But we're not done yet! Because after I destroy three fleeing Breen ships to recover another fragment, I have to hightail to Raveh to stop more Breen! I'm not even earning frequent-flyer miles for this.
I hit a tricky spot on Raveh where I need to destroy a wall blocking a cave. Because of some frankly awful design, actually finding a spot from which I can blast the cave wall takes several minutes. The screenshot below shows my captain in the proper spot, while my ever-so-useful bridge officers dance try to scale the thing, for whatever reason.
Fun Factor: 2.5 out of 5
Innovation Factor: 4 out of 5
Verdict: The mystery of the star chart, the race against the Breen and the honest-to-goodness puzzle combine to make this one of the game's more original missions -- at least by STO standards. Still, all the system-hopping gets old.
Episode V: Cold Storage
This is it! This one's for all the space marbles, people. With the star chart assembled, the U.S.S. Ziggy rushes to the Lae'nas system, hoping to beat the Breen to the Preserver Archive.
Fun Factor: 2 out of 5
Innovation Factor: 2 out of 5
Final Verdict: What, you didn't think I'd give away the final episode, did you? It has enough interesting moments that I'd hate to spoil the surprise. But at the same time, the last episode seems the least fun -- the gameplay consists of little more than killing wave after wave after wave after wave (seriously, a lot) of Breen. When you dislike STO's ground combat as much as I do, that does not add up to fun.
Even so, the non-combat portion of the mission is satisfying, even for a non-lore-nerd like me. And the final rewards -- a Breen bridge officer and a rare freeze-ray weapon -- are suitably, er, rewarding.
STO's first season of weekly episodes is a mixed bag of old and new gameplay, and not all of it delivers. But the developers' attempt to infuse a little more thought and excitement into missions absolutely shines through. If they can build on the foundation of those first five episodes, then I see the featured story arcs easily becoming many players' favorite aspect of STO.
For Series 2, the folks at Cryptic will serve up a story arc involving the Devidians, a mysterious race of predators that use the chaos of war and suffering to mask their killing sprees. Also, they glow and time travel. Sounds delightful! But you'll have to wait until October 16th, when the devs plan to release the first of five new episodes.
Less trustworthy than a Ferengi loan shark and more useless than a neutered Tribble, Ryan Greene beams Captain's Log straight into your mind every Thursday, filling your brainhole with news, opinions and reckless speculation about Star Trek Online. If you have comments, suggestions for the column or insults too creative for Massively's commenting policy, send a transmission to firstname.lastname@example.org.