What? You don't believe me? It's true! My character went from academy graduate to captain of a Starfleet vessel in a matter of minutes! Oh wait, I guess that's not so surprising; even Captain James T. Kirk did it in an alternate universe.
The fact of the matter is there's no easy way, story-wise, to get a new player's character into the command chair in a completely convincing manner. I'll be explaining how it all happens, so if you want to remain surprised about anything in the new Star Trek Online Starfleet tutorial, avert your eyes for the remaining portion of this away mission. But do me a favor and scroll down anyway, look at the pictures, and pretend to read it. It'll make me feel better. The rest of you are with me. Engage.
In the previous incarnation of the Federation faction tutorial, players were already low-level officers on a ship assisting other vessels during an encounter with the Borg. While the story might have been more believable as far as character promotions are concerned, it left out a crucial and beautiful piece of work created for the game that until now hadn't been well-utilized. I speak, of course, of Starfleet Academy.
Based in San Francisco (OK, it's really more like Sausalito, but just stick with me here), the Starfleet Academy class of 2409 is scurrying around trying to finish up some last-minute details before its members receive their first assignments. Luckily for the player, Captain Taggart has him pegged for his ship, but the captain needs to see the results of a phaser competency test first.
This new opening adds a great way for the "overhead" voice to explain many of the basic movement skills and UI functions that are so necessary for new MMO players. Mock me if you will, but I know there are many new MMO players every day, and they have no idea that WASD will be their new way of life. The beginning of the new tutorial will serve them, at least basically, very well.
So the player is off to the holodeck to prove to the captain he's got the skills necessary to warrant assignment to Taggart's ship. It was actually nice to see the holodeck effects in this segment. Once the player begins the test, the surroundings change to that of a Klingon warship and the officer is forced to fight several members of the enemy faction. (It was actually more believable to see my character being trained to fight the faction's most current enemy at the academy than it was to see my character fighting impotent Borg in the corridors of a ship as newbies did before.)
In any event, the player proves that he is worthy of Captain Taggart's praise -- so worthy, in fact, that Captain Taggart makes him his new first officer. Wow, that's a nice gig really -- shoot a few holographic Klingons, and he gets the XO position? Yikes.
Taggart's faith in the player pays off when the ship sets out from Earth Spacedock. Not too far from home, they receive a distress call from a Ferengi vessel, appropriately named the S.S. Break Even. However, communication with the vessel breaks down almost immediately, and Taggart questions the player for his opinion about how to proceed next. It's a nice touch in the new tutorial; the player is offered several different ways in which to respond to the captain, from overly cautious to downright reckless.
Eventually the pair agrees that the situation isn't likely what it seems to be, and with antennae raised, the ship moves in to assist the Ferengi craft. Not too surprisingly, the ship is set upon by an enormous Klingon battle cruiser, which has de-cloaked and attacked, and Klingons have begun to board the vessel. Under orders from the captain, the player leaves the bridge to engage the intruders and to attempt to get a distress signal out to other Starfleet vessels in the area. By the time those tasks are handled, the player returns to the bridge only to witness his captain being spirited away by the Klingons, and the Klingon vessel quickly re-cloaks, making it impossible to tell exactly where it is.
Now the senior officer on board the ship, the player is quickly summoned by the enemy, who demands surrender of the vessel in return for the captain's life. The defiant captain tells the player to lock on and target his combadge as a means to locate and take down the Klingon ship. The player has no choice, and as he targets his captain's combadge, he witnesses his CO's murder at the hands of the Klingons.
The battle with the Klingons continues and ultimately ends when a distress call is finally sent and summons additional help in the form of the U.S.S. Renown. The CO of the Renown grants the player a temporary field promotion to lieutenant so that his orders over the other ensigns are a bit more legitimate.
The moment the Klingons are handed a defeat and the player thinks he gets to go back to spacedock to recuperate and land another assignment, he receives orders from the captain of the other vessel to help him track down another ship in the area they have not heard from. Fearing that his fellow fleet comrades might have been the victims of another Klingon attack, the player moves closer to another system, where they actually find the missing vessel intact.
Communications are once again being interfered with, and the officers decide that it would be most efficient if an in-depth scan of the area were undertaken by all three ships, so the player gets to learn how to scan items using his ship. Unfortunately, the readings lead everyone to suspect the Borg, and before anyone say the word, a transwarp gate opens up and the Borg start flowing through. It's determined that many of them will make a local colony their first target, so it's up to the player to warn the colonists.
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down
Unfortunately for most of the colonists and the colony itself, the Borg's new assimilation technology easily obliterates it, but not before the player and his new team of bridge officers can save quite a few people, including the colony's governor.
Another space battle ensues with Borg probes, and ultimately, a Borg cube. Starfleet receives word about the invasion and begins to send waves of ships, but the player is ordered to return to Earth with his shipload of colony survivors. It's there he meets Admiral Quinn, who sees the same potential in the player that Captain Taggart had, and the player's temporary field promotion is made permanent and he is granted the command of the vessel.
The story of the new tutorial isn't bad if you consider the hurdles it needed to jump to get the newly graduated player into the command chair. However, because I wasn't willing to overlook a ship full of cadets in the 2009 J.J. Abrams' film Star Trek, I'm not willing to overlook it in Star Trek Online either.
The fact is, the devs wanted to use the academy art and wanted to integrate it into the game's tutorial, which must ultimately end with the player becoming the commanding officer of a Starfleet vessel. Considering the elements that needed to be met, I do think the team at Cryptic did a fairly good job.
I was especially happy with the holodeck training program at the Academy, and the ground play in the new version of the Vega colony is exceptional compared to the game's previous version. I was glad to see that the visuals matched even those of the new Romulan tutorial.
I was also OK with the new, more personal interactions with the player's bridge officers. While the new First Officer BOff is a bit more chatty and flippant than I care for, I had to realize she's just a recent academy grad, and she's got a distinct personality. I might have to find a "shut up Number One" command for her if she doesn't start to mature after we go hunting for the S.S. Azure next week.
All in all, it was a fun new tutorial that definitely flows better and is more engaging that the original. Even the way Cryptic was able to salvage a few of Zachary Quinto's voice-overs as the EMH of the U.S.S. Khitomer was cleverly done. I recommend it to all those who haven't seen it yet! The new tutorial is only available to those to create a new Federation character. Until next week, live long and prosper!
Incoming communique from Starfleet Headquarters: Captain's Log is now transmitting direct from Terilynn Shull every Monday, providing news, rumors, and dev interviews about Star Trek Online. Beam communications to firstname.lastname@example.org.