Episode three of Star Trek Online's featured episode series, The 2800, was released over the weekend, and developers at Cryptic Studios were able to give the players who enjoy flying small vessels their first new mission since The Vault in the Cloaked Intentions series.
So jump into your shuttle (or fighter or captain's yacht) and join me as we head toward the Gamma Quadrant.
At the end of episode two, we discovered that the captor of Deep Space Nine was the "lost" Jem'Hadar fleet that was surreptitiously diverted from its attack 30 years ago by The Prophets (known as Wormhole Aliens to non-Bajorans).
All 2800 Jen'Hadar vessels reappeared and easily overtook DS9 in accordance with their original, albeit a bit out-dated, orders from the Founders. While Starfleet and the Klingon Empire withdrew to Bajor to regroup and organize efforts to retake the space station, players discovered that the assailants themselves didn't realize they arrived 30 years too late and that the war is long over.
However, because Loriss, the commander of the fleet, is Vorta, she refuses to listen to any diplomatic entreaties from Starfleet or the Klingon Empire and will only speak to someone she can trust -- namely, another Vorta or a one of their gods: a Founder.
It is here where episode three picks up. The player is informed that attempts at making contact with The Dominion in the Gamma Quadrant need to be made. An elaborate plan is put together, and the plan is so elaborate I might even describe it as convoluted.
The plan consists of the player's taking out in a small craft (a shuttle, fighter or yacht of the player's choosing) to be piloted by in-game character Commander Winters. In an effort to divert the Jem'Hadar's attention from the small craft, Starfleet is sending in a hefty fleet to draw the Jem'Hadar away from DS9 so the player can shoot out a set of sensor relays before making a bee-line for the wormhole.
While I don't personally understand the need to take out sensors that by their very destruction notify the enemy of the player's presence, it ends up being a fun exercise that ropes in some tech that is used in the games strategic task force missions: the ability to fail and have to start over.
The fleet arrives and does exactly what it needs to do: It draws away the enemy, leaving the starbase clear for the player to fire away at the sensor clusters. The clusters must be destroyed in a certain order, and to complicate matters, once a cluster is obliterated, a small group of enemy fighters accompanied by healing drones called "work bees" begin to harass the player and heal the clusters that have already been deactivated. Work bees need to be taken out first before the fighters because if they're successful in repairing just one of the clusters, the entire process must be restarted.
While I was able to handle this process easily in my first attempt, during my second run at the mission I found it difficult to see a work bee because of my turn speed in my yacht. Because I missed seeing the little bugger, it was able to heal the second-to-the-last cluster and I was forced to begin again. Frustrating? Oh yes, but it was good to see the battle be challenging, especially for a vessel that has only two weapons.
While I was happy to see the cutscenes from inside the shuttle that showed the internal structure of the wormhole that is familiar from the television show, I have to say I was disappointed that the cutscenes in this episode appeared far too dark. While I know I don't have the best graphics card in the world, I've never really seemed to have a problem making out characters' faces before. However, both Winters and Eraun (who appears later) were hidden in shadow, and therefore, they appeared incredibly flat. With that said, again I was pleased with the length of the cutscenes in this episode as well as the voice work that was done.
Once the player makes it to the Gamma Quadrant, the contact can be found in the center of an asteroid. A few shots at the shield generator allow the player access to the asteroid, and he gets the pleasure of flying his shuttle through the crevices and into the rock in order to find his contact, a very ambitious female Ferengi.
She is willing to help, of course, but only for a price, which leads the player to take on a set of career-specific chores in order to elicit the Ferengi's cooperation.
Since my character is a tactician, she undertakes deactivating a series of four satellites and retrieving salvage that the Ferengi needs. I can only assume the chores that are required by those with engineering or science backgrounds are designed similarly. Each satellite must be deactivated using a two-step method. Thankfully, the developers saw fit to actually give the player the formula to the two-step process. The player doesn't know which formula he will need to use until after the satellite is scanned, and a small timer reflects the type (active satellite; active sensor or active enemy detection.)
With the formula the player has hopefully written down, these tasks are simple enough to do. However, if the task is not completed in a timely manner, the satellite explodes and can do some pretty hefty damage to the shuttle if it's not moved quickly. Eventually the satellite reappears in order for the player to complete the task.
Not surprisingly, the Ferengi decides to renege on her deal, and she bolts for an escape, setting a small horde of small drones out for the player to grapple with before pursuit can be undertaken. Once the player catches up with her, it becomes clear you probably never needed her to begin with.
The player discovers that the hapless Ferengi's ship is surrounded by Jem'Hadar vessels. It's clear she's in a whole heap of trouble.
Contact with the lead vessel is made, and the player comes face-to-face with the Vorta Eraun. Eraun's dead, you say? You killed him in the wormhole while trying to rescue the Rapier? Of course! I remember that -- and oddly so does Eraun. He is, of course, the clone of the Eraun who was killed earlier in the game. Why the Founders continually clone incompetent Vortas never ceases to amaze and amuse me.
In any event, the player is placed into a position of either blowing the Ferengi out of space or letting her slink away unharmed. Since my Admiral is about as Starfleet-straight-laced as they come, the Ferengi high-tails it out of there with her lobes intact.
Suffice it to say the Vorta is unhappy that the criminal has been set free, but he's got an ulterior motive too. Seems as though he's willing to help communicate with the faction that is holding DS9, but he has his own price, and that's the release of a Founder who has been in Starfleet custody as a prisoner of war.
Since it's not the player's decision to make as to whether this price is too high, the Vorta follows the player back to the Alpha Quadrant to talk with the powers that be. Still, I don't think anyone who plays this mission would trust Eraun or the Dominion, and I am personally wondering how he seemed to know what was going on at DS9 –- which is odd, seeing as though Loriss stated she tried to contact the Gamma Quadrant but was unsuccessful. Hmmmmmm.
Once again I enjoyed this mission very much. Once I got a hang of the formulas to the satellites in the asteroid field, I didn't feel quite as frustrated. Being in a small craft again was also a blast. I do love my captain's yacht.
As I wrote above, most of the cutscenes were very dark, which was disappointing as I really enjoy seeing detail in characters' faces however, I thought the voice-overs were decent. I personally did not run into any noticeable bugs. I played the mission twice in order to get both the deflector dish and the engine that are parts of the Jem'Hadar space sets. I'm especially fond of the purple impulse trail my shuttle made as it flew back to Bajor.
Episode four premieres next Saturday, March 3rd, at 1:00 p.m. EST. Until then, live long and prosper!
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