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Captain's Log: Difficulty settings and the injury system

Ryan Greene

Ahoy, fellow officers! I trust you all enjoyed your long weekend of shore leave and sightseeing. And I hope those of you not morally opposed to microtransactions took advantage of the C-Store sale -- I'm still waiting for Cryptic Studios to add playable Catullans, complete with space grooviness.

So, with spirits and warp cores recharged, it's time again for Captain's Log, Massively's weekly voyage into the far reaches of Star Trek Online. Last week, we learned about selecting your first starship. This week, let's talk about what happens when you get that ship blown to smithereens. Brace yourself, because we're about to explore the exciting world of difficulty sliders and death penalties!

When STO launched in February, it was easy, man. Like, easy pleasey lemon squeezy. You could charge headlong into a group of Klingon ships or Romulan soldiers with little or no fear -- you'd almost certainly kill them all, and if not, you'd respawn seconds later with nary a consequence in sight. Special Task Force missions, introduced later, boasted some fair difficulty. But those were merely a few end-game missions, and Cryptic was set on introducing some game-wide changes toot sweet. At the tail end of April, they did just that.

Enter Season 1.1 and two of its most important additions: difficulty settings and the injury system. What do they do? Are they successful? Let's find out.

The Difficulty Slider

STO needed this badly. The game was often boringly easy, but a sudden, across-the-board hike in difficulty would have been jarring and unrealistic. Cryptic's solution -- a series of three difficulty settings -- was just what the emergency medical hologram ordered.

You can adjust mission difficulty on the Episodes tab of the Communications Log. Hit "J" to open the Episodes menu, then look at the bottom of the pane. In the middle you'll notice a dropdown menu, which should say Normal if you've never messed with the difficulty settings. This is where you can select one of three levels.

  • Normal: The default combat settings prior to this update with no injuries as a result of defeat.
  • Advanced: Increases combat difficulty and introduces injuries as a result of defeat.
  • Elite: Significantly increases combat difficulty with an increased chance of injury as a result of defeat.

Increased difficulty levels offer increased drop rates and higher-quality drops. But they include some conditions.

  • If you're in a group, the Team Leader's difficulty setting prior to entering the system determines the difficulty of the mission.
  • Difficulty settings don't apply to Fleet Actions, PVP, Social Maps, Deepspace Encounters or any other non-instance map.
  • You cannot change difficulty once you have entered a mission map. If you want to change the difficulty of a mission after you've started it, all players must exit the mission and wait 15 minutes before you can apply new difficulty settings.

Does It Work?

When Season 1.1 hit, I tried out difficulty settings on one mission, The Badlands, in which you head into combat against Cardassian ships. It wasn't long before I found my first enemies: a Galor and an orbital weapons platform. Both were two levels below mine, so usually they would be easy pickings.

At Elite difficulty, they made mincemeat of my Cruiser in seconds. On a second attempt, I lasted long enough to beat up the Galor some. But it was a losing proposition all the way, and he obliterated me before I could drop him to even half health.

So I left, dropped the mission and hailed Starfleet to accept it again (no way was I waiting 15 minutes). This time, I set the difficulty to Advanced. My pal, the Galor, was still there, but he wasn't nearly so tough this time. It took a bit of effort, but I stomped him and the orbital weapons platform, even with the injuries my ship had sustained in Elite mode (more on that later).

The next two groups of enemies, six Jem'Hadar attack ships in all, offered little resistance. But the next Galor, backed up by a heavy orbital weapons platform, flattened me.

That should give you an idea of the difficulty slider's effect on STO. On Advanced, you can still solo, just a little more carefully. Particularly easy prey, such as the Jem'Hadar escorts in the Badlands, are still gratifyingly steamroll-ready, while tougher enemies pack a hearty punch compared to Normal difficulty. Instead of mindlessly flying into any ol' cluster of ships with phasers blazing, Advanced mode forced me to tread cautiously, at least sometimes. Which is what Cryptic was going for when they decided to address the game's faceroll easy mode.

On the next page, I'll provide a handy overview of the injury system.

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