STO Chimera Class
It's not very often that the devs at Star Trek Online manages to completely surprise the playerbase with something unanticipated. This week Star Trek Online Community Manager Brandon Felczer posted a list of patch notes for the Tribble test server as well as a new screenshot for the Friday gallery, stating that the screenshot was from the upcoming "Season 8.5" patch.

The patch notes contained a lot of changes that none of us was truly expecting, most of which (but not all, of course) are being generally well-received. The biggest shock is that the patch will include the first new PvP arena in years. Also included in the notes was the announcement that the devs have been busy revamping several of the low-level Starfleet missions to improve their look as well as their pacing.

I've had the opportunity to jump on the Tribble test server to check out some of the revamped missions. Of the 12 missions on the list, I've played four: Stranded in Space, Kuvah'Magh, Researcher Rescue, and The Ultimate Klingon. Many of the screenshots are from the updated missions, so beware -- there be spoilers ahead!


Cameleopardalis
Stranded in Space

Every player who has started a Federation character should be readily familiar with Stranded in Space. It truly is the very first mission the player is able to undertake once she completes the tutorial. Essentially, a Bolian freighter captain has not reported in, which is very unlike her. The player is asked to head towards a local asteroid belt to search for the S.S. Azura to determine what might have happened to the freighter.

This was the first mission in the list of revamped missions I undertook, and I have to admit, I was hard-pressed to find anything that might have been changed. This mission has been revamped once already about a year ago, and several cutscenes and new career-specific deeds were implemented at that time. The mission played very smoothly even then. It's possible certain superfluous material was removed, although for the life of me I can't determine what that material might have been.

STO Kuvah'Magh
Kuvah'Magh

Unlike Stranded in Space, Kuvah'Magh gave me no trouble in figuring out what had changed. For those who might not know or recall, Kuvah'Magh is the low-level mission where the player initially meets the Starfleet Lieutenant Miral Paris, daughter of B'ellana Torres and Tom Paris from the television series Star Trek: Voyager. She is a participant at a diplomatic summit between the Federation and the Klingons, and a Klingon rival, General B'Vat, disrupts the conference using force and several strategically placed bombs.

The old version of this mission was spread out across a wide and sterile map and always felt a bit tedious. The new changes are great. A new map eliminates a good chunk of land space between the buildings at issue. The number of mobs has been reduced, allowing the player to concentrate on her goal of disarming four bombs that were actively being placed by Klingon warriors.

STO UI Kuvah'Magh
In an effort to disarm those bombs, the player no longer simply clicks on them. Instead, a very simple and quick minigame has been implemented. It requires the player to "cut" the appropriate wires when directed. While the new game isn't difficult at all, it certainly adds a bit more weight to the objective.

The mission still finishes with a rescue of four detained diplomats inside the Embassy (which has a completely new look as shown above) and includes not one but two Klingon Dahar Masters as bosses. While in beta I had a bit of difficulty in this area as my NPC bridge officers weren't pathing correctly, I still found the pacing of this revamped arena far superior to the original.

STO Researcher Rescue
Researcher Rescue

Without a doubt, the mission Researcher Rescue needed an overhaul the most, and the devs did a spectacular job. You may remember this multi-map mission as the one that requires a player to find and rescue several Federation scientists who are studying a planet that the Gorn are now claiming was a part of their historical settlements. The Gorn have captured the scientists at two locations: a space station laboratory and a dig site planetside.

I think players will be very happy to see that the rescue mission in the station lab has been trimmed down significantly. At least two entire rooms have been removed from the map. While the player is still required to extinguish fires throughout the facility using the fire suppressant tool available on the wall, there are now only four scientists that require rescuing. Also, the mission now requires the player to put out only six of the fires, but she still receives a deed if she snuffs all of them out.

STO Researcher Rescue
Once the lab is secure, the player moves on to another planet in order to check up on the researchers at the dig site. This is where the majority of new changes have been implemented. The previous mission's map was very expansive and tedious, and the swampy area was crawling with Gorn mobs. The new maps are far more detailed; the swamp actually looks and sounds as a swamp should, and the area has been filled with lush plants and trees. The seemingly endless mobs of Gorn are also gone, leaving only keys mobs protecting the shield generator stations surrounding the central dig site dome. The player and her team move directly to the dome when the shield generators have been destroyed to take on the Gorn boss, who has been given a formal name and is far more challenging than his predecessor. As in the previous version of this mission, don't forget to scan the body of the dead researcher (which is now located outside of the compound) in order to receive a deed.

STO Researcher Rescue
The Ultimate Klingon

Finally, I decided to undertake the revamped version of The Ultimate Klingon. It was never really one of my favorites, chiefly because it seemed a bit long and involved two lab facilities, the second of which was overly dark and annoying for fighting augmented Gorn.

I think players will be very happy with the new changes. The mission still requires visits to two separate labs to determine what the Gorn and Klingons are trying to do, but they've both been tightened up as far as battle-play is concerned. A few cutscenes have also been added to great effect.

There are a few other changes that players will likely notice, the first being that the snow-ridden planet where Amar Singh's lab is located now has an icy surface that's very slippery. Expect the traction a player experiences during the Winter Event -- it's actually possible to slide right by a target if you're not careful!

STO The Ultimate Klingon
Also, there are now multiple options on how the player chooses to deal with Dr. Singh. As shown in the dialogue box above, the player can choose to bluff the scientist, trap him, or (the option I chose) stroke his bloated ego enough to get close to him. The player who chooses this option will be given a fresh set of dialogue responses to deal with Singh. Since this was the path I chose, I can say that I was not forced to fight the two enormous augmented Gorn being held in stasis near Dr. Singh. I can only assume that other options might lead to that battle.

Another noticeable change comes with the augmented Gorn themselves. They now actually look as if they're augmented! They seem taller, skinnier, and far more aggressive than the Gorn in the previous version of the mission. Also, much to my delight, Amar Singh's lab itself is now brighter and easier to navigate.

STO Researcher Rescue
What's this? A new PvP map?!

The patch notes also lists numerous other, small, technical, and UI to the game, including (shock!) a new small craft arena for PvP! You read that right: There's actually a new PvP map. I found myself reading the post three or four times before I actually allowed myself to believe it. Does it signify the potential for other new PvP content? One never knows, but I don't think there are too many PvPers who are going to look this gift horse in the mouth.

If the remaining revamped missions on the list are retooled as well as the few I've been able to try on the test server, I think the new patch is going to be a very welcome addition to the game. 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 terilynn@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.