After a long year's wait and hot on the heels of another controversial release of in-game revenue-generating lock boxes, Star Trek Online finally saw the debut of playable story-based content. The first of five scheduled episodes in the series titled The 2800: Second Wave was launched on Saturday morning while crowds gathered in the Beta Ursae sector and waited with bated breath.
When the mission opened, the server was filled almost immediately, and by the time I was able to log in, there was already a queue that exceeded 1300 players. Luckily, I have a lifetime sub, so my entrance was prioritized, and I immediately logged into my Vice Admiral tactical character and had her hail Starfleet Command.
She was told that she was selected to attend a conference being held at Deep Space Nine (DS9) and that representatives from the Klingon Empire, Defera, Cardassia and the UFP would be attempting to come to an accord in order to face the growing Borg threat. But what happened when she got there had nothing to do with the Borg...
In the words of David Frost above, the player's diplomatic prowess (or patience, depending on her tolerance for such non-combat endeavors) is quickly put to the test. The player arrives at DS9 and all seems normal. The promenade is busy, and the vendors are selling their wares as always.
The player reports as ordered to the Ops level of the station and is greeted by Commander Andrews, a woman with an oddly thick Scottish accent, who informs her that Captain Kurland, the man who was supposed to greet her, has been detained with another matter and the conference will be delayed. The Commander also informs her that while she would normally send a grunt to inform the other delegates of the delay, she felt it would be a good way for the player to meet the delegates before being forced to sit across the table from them.
Before my admiral heads out to meet the delegates, however, she runs into the command office, just so she can admire the baseball that stoically remains on the desk, waiting for its master to return to retrieve it.
Respects paid, she's off to meet the diplomats.
She soon finds out that there's a bit more to diplomacy than merely talking about war. Clearly each ambassador has his own little test for the new kid, and it results in a set of optional-yet-connected assignments.
First, she meets the Cardassian representative, who drones on about how the Cardassian military was deconstructed after the Dominion War and now only has a force for planetary defense, which has been constantly harangued by the True Way, the band of former Cardassian Military bent on its return to power. Oddly, though, he mentions that he'd like to bring home a delicacy for his mentor: a bottle of Bajoran distilled kanar.
Wanting to make sure all the guests are made as comfortable as possible, my admiral happily agrees to locate a bottle of the spirit for him. What she doesn't foresee, however, is that this one little effort eventually reveals a well-written homage to a couple of DS9 television episodes (Progress as well as Treachery, Faith and the Great River) that involve a web of interconnected trading deals.
Ultimately, I was happily surprised to see that the trades weren't too tedious. As a matter of fact, one of them (the series of trades that require the player to find a buyer for self-sealing stem bolts) actually introduces the Duty Officer system as an integrated feature of the playable mission. The UFP delegate needs work on his Defiant class ship, and if the player happens to be using the DOff system and has the officers available, three very short DOff missions can be initiated. The rewards associated with them are separate from the overall mission rewards.
After the player completes the small trading tasks, it's finally time to gather the diplomats into the conference room to talk turkey.
The player is treated with a long and well-made cutscene that introduces all of the representatives and their worlds' stances on joining forces to repel the Borg threat. The player is then given the opportunity to talk with each representative.
Using tech that was already in place in the game, a player who has earned diplomacy experience can use such experience to her advantage; a series of diplomacy responses are made available to her, making it much easier to sway the representatives to join forces. However, if a player does not have that much experience in diplomacy, those replies are not available, so it is possible to fail in those endeavors, especially when trying to sway the opinion of a certain Gorn representative of the Klingon Empire.
Fortunately, my admiral is a very persuasive diplomat and was able to easily (maybe even too easily) convince the attendees that working together would benefit the quadrant on the whole. But just when a break in the talk occurs, a comm signal alerts those in the room that there is a large energy spike emitting from the wormhole outside the station.
Phaser fire erupts, and it's immediately clear that the station is under attack...
Jem'Hadar ships start pouring through the wormhole at an alarming rate. Jem'Hadar soldiers begin beaming onto the station. It's clear the player must escape and protect the diplomats as well.
My character, a tactical officer, is able to retrieve another gun from a soldier she took down as she led the team from the conference room, and she hands it off to the station commander, Captain Kurland. Kurland provides additional support while the Gorn officer, who fears nothing, simply runs in and eviscerates the Jem'Hadar he comes across on the way to the player's ship in the docking ring.
The ground fight is fun (ground always was my favorite part of this game!). I liked the fact that the Jem'Hadar attacked from both the promenade level and the level above, making for a multi-dimensional battle.
Upon reaching the docking ring and taking down the final blocking intruders, the player moves into her ship and immediately heads into a thundering space battle -- one that is doubtlessly fruitless.
It takes a good amount of effort to deal with the first small wave of ships that buzzes around the station; even with fleet support, it becomes very clear that the station will be a loss and that the player's priority is to assist other ships and help the waves of escape shuttles get to safety.
The space battle here is very challenging, especially if the player makes the mistake I did by not reading the mission objectives and stays near DS9 in an effort to stave off the next waves of Jem'Hadar ships. It's impossible, and it's meant to be that way. A few respawns later, I finally figured out that there was a small avenue for escape and that other ships needed me to provide cover while they fled.
The mission ends ominously: Commander Andrews, the Scottish woman the player meets at the beginning of the mission, is killed by a massive Jem'Hadar officer who clears the Ops level of the station to make way for its new Commander, a Vorta who coldly informs you that the Dominion has returned.
I have to say, I was actually very nervous about how this mission would be received after such a long period of time since the last featured episode was released. I was pleasantly surprised.
The voice-over work was pretty good, but there was a noticeable sound quality differential between many of them. The cutscenes were great and informative, and the map-work that made DS9 an individual instance in which you undertake the trading assignments was very well done.
The rewards were intriguing. I received a Jem'Hadar ground weapon and (strangely) a few vials of ketracel white, the drug used to manipulate Jem'Hadar, as drops.
I am especially fond of the integration of the duty officer system into the mission itself.
All in all I had a lot of fun, and that's something I haven't been able to say about this game in a long time. I am very much looking forward to next week's episode, which launches on Saturday, February 18th at 1:00 p.m. EST. Until then, live long and prosper!
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