Captain's Log Supplemental: Exploring the story of Star Trek Online: Delta Rising

Eliot Lefebvre
E. Lefebvre|10.09.14

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Captain's Log Supplemental: Exploring the story of Star Trek Online: Delta Rising
Two hundred passengers set sail that day for a three-year tour of duty.  (A three-year tour of duty.)
If you think about it, Star Trek: Voyager is basically a remake of Gilligan's Island. Ship goes out for a routine trip and gets stranded, and for the next several years the crew of that ship tries to get back home and repeatedly fails. I bring this up because I recently had a chance to to on a tour of Star Trek Online: Delta Rising, and I kept thinking that "going on a tour" was just the first step before being stranded in the quadrant myself.

Well, maybe not, but it's as good a segue as anything.

Lead Designer Al Rivera and Senior Producer Stephen Ricossa took me on a trip through all of the various systems of Delta Rising and several of the upcoming story elements. If you don't want to be spoiled on the expansion before it goes live, you might want to steer clear, but there are some fascinating developments awaiting otherwise. When players finally warp into the Delta Quadrant, they're going to be seeing familiar faces and facing some old problems -- very old, in one case.

I just noticed that our uniforms have snakes on them.  Coiled snakes ready to strike and kill.  Harbal, are we the baddies?Last chance to get out before possible spoilers. You have been warned.

The main story thrust of the episodes in the quadrant is the fight with the Vaadwaur, but it's not the only tale being told. Things start off with a trip to Neelix's final port of call, a Talaxian station that at once looks very true to life while at the same time being a bit more scuffed up than you might expect from Star Trek Online's usual polished surfaces. Ricossa stressed that pretty much everything in the expansion has been crafted anew for these environments rather than reused from elsewhere, giving a sense of novelty to the area.

Each of the major returning Voyager characters gets a distinct episode focusing on him or her alone, with different characters dealing with different factions in space. Seven of Nine, for example, is on the ground during a mission dealing with the Turei; they blame the Federation for releasing the Vaadwaur from their suspension, and Seven herself feels responsible for making that decision, which leads to a compounded sense of guilt not helped by the sheer amount of technological firepower the Vaadwaur have acquired.

Harry Kim, however, will be your main point of contact past a certain point of the storyline as you deal with a major revelation in the Kobali Adventure Zone. The zone itself is huge and incorporates a dynamic difficulty system, with the challenge of a given objective shifting as players arrive or depart from the area. At the heart of the conflict is the Kobali temple, the obvious main objective of the Vaadwaur and one of the bigger mysteries of the story, at least until you get inside and you realize that the Kobali live on a former Vaadwaur world -- a world with many more of the Vaadwaur stasis tubes, slowly decaying, slowly going offline.

The Kobali reproduce by overwriting the bodies of the dead. They aren't killing the Vaadwaur, but they're sitting and waiting until tubes shut down and then taking the opportunity. Considering Harry Kim's own history with the Kobali, this doesn't sit well with him, and needless to say it isn't meant to sit perfectly with the players either. It's a gray area, and it prompts some moral questions.

The tour also showed off some of the intelligence-style gameplay available in mission maps. While it's not clear how much freedom players will have to use these approaches elsewhere, it certainly was fun seeing a more stealth-oriented approach to the game's ground interactions. Instead of moving in as a fire team, you'll see an emphasis on careful movement, use of the environment, and dispatching Vaadwaur patrols via the environment rather than opening fire and raising an alarm.

I am going to shoot you until you fall down.  You will comply.
Last but not least, I got a look at the big finale of the storyline episodes, an assault on the Vaadwaur homeworld. The plotline culminates by pulling together all of the various factions in the quadrant for an assault, akin to the original defeat of the Vaadwaur. Each of the major characters from Voyager focuses on bringing in a different faction to help you, and your job becomes a strategic one, gauging the strengths and weaknesses of each force and trying to call them in at the right time as the overall task force moves closer to the homeworld.

You still might not want to trust the Kazon completely, though. You know how they operate.

The tour also covered mechanics and systems, some of which have been covered before and some of which haven't. The addition of the specialization trees is one of the reasons the expansion has only one new reputation added, as simply adding more reputations forever makes it harder and harder for players to catch up. Adding specializations and the new crafting systems makes it easier for players to specialize in different ways and without necessarily leading to a constant upward cascade of power levels.

Meanwhile, the threat of button bloat is why a large number of the specialization talents are passive rather than active. There are a handful of new click abilities, but by and large players won't have a huge array of new things to click on. It's about incentives for choices you can make; you'll choose how you want to unlock tricks and play your captain beyond the three main classes.

I also asked whether the reputation rewards from the old factions will be updated, and the answer was a welcome one: New and old reputations alike will reward mark XII items, as will most missions. Getting mark XIII and XIV is almost always a matter of upgrading.

Delta Rising is launching next week, and players can earn doubled experience for everything until the expansion goes live. Personally, I'm still very excited. Heck, the expansion had me at the promise of being able to do a barrel roll in my enormous spaceship. Could I get an animated gif of that?
If you want to put this on Tumblr with appropriate music, I think the developers would approve.
Ahh, good times.

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?
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