You can also catch a quick glimpse of Season Eight's material by watching the official Season Eight trailer that Massively revealed last week. As you can imagine, this column will be chock-full of spoilers!
Those who have played the most recent featured episode called Sphere of Influence will recall that the mission ended when a newly revealed Iconian gate in Romulan Republic space began causing a great deal of concern. Federation representatives, as they had in the past, wanted to destroy the gate to prevent enemy incursions into Romulan (and presumably Federation) space. The Romulans saw the gate as an opportunity, much like the Bajoran wormhole. And because it was it was a way to remain adversarial with the Federation, the Klingon Empire chose to back the Romulans.
The Federation's hesitation was quickly snuffed out when the captain of the Enterprise was informed that his ship's computer screens had all shut down and been replaced with large omega symbols. Suddenly enemy incursions were no longer the real problem: An Omega particle had been detected through the gate. It became clear that not only must the gate stay open but all those in the Alpha and Beta quadrants need to work together to protect the entire galaxy.
Once it is clear that the gate leads to a newly discovered Dyson sphere, we learn that the Federation, Klingon, and Romulan forces weren't the only species to discern that Omega particles are present. An extremely technologically advanced species in the Delta Quadrant called the Voth have also moved into the sphere, and what they intend to do with the Omega particles is vastly different from the intentions of the Alpha and Beta Quadrant allies.
A new allied command zone has been constructed on the interior of the sphere in order to combat the Voth. Members of all three factions will have their hands full as they undertake an assortment of ground and space missions in both a queued format and persistent battle zones to earn reputation, skills, and gear with the Joint Command.
The system will be extremely similar to the reputation factions that already exist in STO. A player will earn marks and other items and donate them to projects in the reputation tab of the character window. As the character increases in grade, new story-based missions, gear, and skills will be unlocked.
One of the ways a player will be able to earn marks with the Joint Command will be to participate in the new persistent ground battle zone. The new zone boasts a new territory control feature that has never been seen in STO before. Teams must wrest at least 18 of 21 areas away from the Voth, and when they do so, they trigger three separates bosses to spawn. If teams can bring down one of the bosses, the zone enters into a 40-minute cooldown, and then the territory battles begin once again.
Space battle hasn't been ignored in the new patch. The upcoming Solonae space adventure zones are actually made up of two enormous maps: the Allied Zone and the Contested Zone. Each zone consists of "neighborhoods"; each neighborhood has a dedicated mission-giver who will grant the player a single randomly selected mission from a pool of available missions. Other smaller missions or larger events will also randomly appear as the player explores the area. The contested zone also contains a mission requiring the player to control strategically important spires in order to control the sphere's power grid.
As in the ground zone, players will be rewarded with Dyson marks and commendations to use with the Dyson Joint Command reputation. Players will also have the chance to earn accolades and find rare or very rare duty officers that, according to the Tribble release notes will, "further tell the story of the sphere, its builders, and their mysterious disappearance."
Season Eight will also include several new queued missions for players to try. A new five-captain mission called The Breach will have players testing their mettle against a Voth Fortress ship in an attempt to enter the massive ship's outer hull and into the ship's interior in an effort to destroy the power core. Another five-captain mission called Storming the Spire will challenge the team to prevent Voth from stealing technology from a Dyson sphere spire.
Finally, a new change on the Tribble test server reveals that there will also be a new penalty assessed against players who "AFK" during queued events. The penalty, as it currently appears on Tribble, will void all potential rewards of a player who enters a queued mission but does not actively participate. A two-hour cooldown on all queued events will also be invoked. This should come as welcome news to those of us who have been left in the lurch by a player who leeches rewards without any effort.
As is usually the norm after a large patch like Season Eight, STO's user-generated content tool, the Foundry, will be taken offline while the system re-publishes the players' missions. In the past, the down-time has taken anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months. However, it sounds as if most of the changes are well under control this time and the tool should be up and running on the shorter end of that range.
While new Voth enemy groups have been added to the tool's asset library, one new addition has made many Foundry users very happy. When the system is reopened, a player who finishes a Foundry mission will see a new menu of options to help categorize the mission and make it easier for future players to search for and find it. While the tool, oddly, will not allow the mission's author to decide how to categorize his work, it is still something for which many have clamored. Although the final categories have not been finalized, I understand that it will now be possible for a player to identify a mission as battle-heavy, diplomatic, ground, space, and a few others. Hopefully as players begin to categorize missions, it will be easier for others to find the kinds of Foundry missions they prefer to play.
Season Eight will also see the implementation of a new Federation tutorial. Available only to those who roll a new Federation character, the story will begin at Starfleet Academy and will draw new players into the game with the same detail and depth that has been given to the Romulan and Klingon factions. While I have not had the opportunity to test the new material myself, testers seem very happy with the new tutorial and the more personal tale it brings to the game.
Last but not least, there are a lot of new visual updates to the existing game. Many computer panels for the Federation will now have colored LCARS interfaces. Ship interiors will now look more "Trek-like," and a new Federation bridge interior will be introduced. All in all, there's quite a bit to look forward to when Season Eight launches.
Finally, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish a very happy Veteran's Day and a hearty thank you to all of the men and women who have served in the U.S. Military. Until next week, live long and prosper!
Incoming communique from Starfleet Headquarters: Captain's Log is now transmitting direct from Terilynn Shull every Monday, providing news, rumors, and dev interviews about Star Trek Online. Beam communications to firstname.lastname@example.org.