At a massive price
The loss of exploration clusters is probably a good thing overall. They were weird. They were silly. They were the opposite of polished. About the nicest thing that I can say about them is that, well, I really liked them, even if they boiled down to buggier versions of City of Heroes door missions with more reused assets. Why? Because they felt appropriate.
Oh, sure, every single one of them featured randomly generated aliens to shoot at in space or on land without any real reason for doing so other than the objectives. They weren't good. But they were the framing stories. They were functionally the episodes in which the real focus was on something strange happening with the crew, and in the background the ship has to deal with some angry group of aliens who are there only to be a vague threat hovering in the background. You know the sort.
For all that, they weren't very good. Considering the amount of work that's been put into other activities, I totally understand why the powers that be would decide that the exploration missions don't represent what Star Trek Online is supposed to be at this point. That does not, however, make me any less sad to see them go, nor does their removal and the shifting of dilithium rewards patch over the biggest problem of their removal.
As it stands, Star Trek Online is a pretty relentlessly linear game as you level up. Having exploration missions gave you an alternative to that, even if it was not exactly a polished alternative. Now, though, the option is gone. It's the established episode order or nothing, and you had better hope you like it because there are no other variants.
I understand the why behind this removal, and I understand saying "these were hanging around for the old crafting system, and we no longer need them." But it comes at a big price for the game as a whole, and I can only hope that season 10 will include content to address this loss. However outdated that content was, its loss is still felt.
Making a craft relevant
To get back to the heart of the issue, as Teri wrote in that column back at the beginning of the year, the real problem facing any sort of crafting overhaul for the game was a simple one. Obviously, a rebuilt crafting system would need to be useful. It also needed to be not strictly better than those options while not being strictly worse, either.
Fortunately for the designers, STO has a pretty low power cap. So the new crafts have basically gone the route of "unique bonuses that you may or may not want." It trims the problem up nicely. The Aegis set has gone from being one of the joke-level intro sets to being worth nabbing, whilst the other crafts have mods and special items that will be of more use to specific builds. Beam builds get a boost, for example.
Tying some of the rarer materials to queues is something I'm torn about. On the one hand, this is a good thing because it encourages people to try out new stuff that would otherwise fall by the wayside. I couldn't tell you the last time that I queued up for an Undine event that wasn't Viscous Cycle, so pushing people to sometimes head for ground queues is a good thing. On the other hand... well, the reason I don't do ground queues is I don't like ground queues. Seriously, ground combat in this game is what you have to do in order to get back to the space combat; don't force me to go down there!
New traits benefit from the revamp to the trait system, although some of them seem a bit more potent than they ought to be. Deft Cannoneer, for example, seems as if it would grow to be a staple of pretty much any Escort build, especially if you're making ample use of volley and rapid fire. By contrast, Inelastic Collisions is useful only with a firm tank on the front lines due to its short duration, since otherwise you'll just have a second of shield resistance followed by watching them fall again. Not to mention that you're by definition healing after the damage, not before...
Overall, it's probably the best sort of crafting revamp that we could have hoped for. It's not a whole lot more involved than the old system, but it frees us up from stuff like Memory Alpha, gives plenty of reasons to try it out without making itself mandatory, and ties into what you're already doing. Hopefully next month I can do more than just brush up against it. I've got a couple captains who really need to be making stuff.
As always, you can leave feedback down below or send it along to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next month, barring some unexpected news, I want to take a look at what having a Xindi lockbox implies, what the sudden focus on this race might mean, and what that expansion later this year is supposed to be.
Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Massively, as recorded monthly in Captain's Log by Eliot Lefebvre. Its continuing mission -- to explore strange new game systems in Star Trek Online. To seek out new content and new experiences. To boldly go where many captains may or may not already be going, but they seem to be having fun, right?