Night of the Comet

The second series of weekly Star Trek Online episodes reach their climax, as Section 31 decide that the best solution to the Devidian problem is for you to travel back to the 23rd century once again and destroy the comet there that’s emitting the radiation allowing the Devidians to phase through to our world.

Straight away, again we see the devs attempting to bring in new gameplay variations, when Drake announces the secret he’s been keeping.  A system with a star that’s suitable for a time-travel slingshot attempt (as seen in Star Trek IV).  In the game, this is given as a series of navigation points, highlights as rings you must fly through in order, on a timer in order to successfully complete the slingshot.   However to make things trickier, as you go through each ring, your ship picks up speed as it gets closer to the velocity needed for time travel.

As always, I’ll praise the devs for attempting to bring more variation into the game, but I think its also fair to say, this particular mechanic wasn’t entirely a success.  While its a great idea, and the use of the slingshot within the plot also a brilliant surprise, many players found hitting all five of the rings too difficult and frustrating.  I know myself, I had about five failed attempts at it, before I noticed some people discussing it on one of the chat channels (TTS – a test server related channel that’s frequented by the devs).   On that channel, someone else was having similar problems, and it was recommended that they switched to steering the ship using the mouse, by holding down both buttons at once, rather than the usual keyboard control.

I immediately thought I’d give it a go, and got through on my second attempt.   Switching to mouse control definitely makes it a bit easier, but its still a segment that left a lot of players frustrated.  Especially as its right at the start of the mission which they’ve been building towards for five weeks.  However the good news is the developers are aware of the issues, and are looking into a compromise mechanic to help people out (I believe some sort of autopilot assist that kicks in after so many failed attempts).

However, once you get past that part, you travel back in time, and you’re immediately treated to a sight we missed last week: Drozana Station’s exterior in its prime.  Having become fairly familiar with the run down state of the station over the last few weeks (including one of the sections almost hanging off), it was really nice to see this revamped exterior.  Its still a recognisable variation on Deep Space K7, but its still a fresh, new space station exterior we hadn’t really seen before in the game, and it helped reinforce the idea that you’d travelled back in time.

Of course, one thing I’ve missed is the other nice detail.  To help hide your presence and protect the timeline, Drake had your ship outfitted with a holo-emitter system, so that your ship appears as an old Klingon D7 cruiser (amusingly this also happens if you’re playing on the Klingon side, in one of the D7-like cruisers 🙂 ).  Sadly, he also appears to have equipped you with the worst disguise possible, since you’re immediately attacked by a Federation constitution class ship for attacking a colony, and at the end of the mission, some Klingons appear, none too happy that your ship is from the House of Duras.  Its a great little visual trick though, disguising your ship like this, and while I’ve not really played with the holo-emitters you can get from playing Dabo much, they work well when integrated into the plot like this (similar to the flashlight temporary power from a few weeks ago).

Onboard the station, clearing out the attacking Devidians becomes the name of the game, and for the first time in several weeks, the mission becomes straight-forward combat.  Even in a segment where you’ve to break up a barfight, this is done by just stunning everyone involved, which I found a little jarring after all the alternative options offered in the last few quests (given the urgency of matters though, its understandable that you’d take the “stun them and sort it out later” approach).

With the Station cleared out, the immediate threat is not dealt with, as the rising Triolic radiation from the comet is endangering the crew.  There’s only one engineer that can help adjust the station’s shields to filter it out in time, so its a good thing Scotty’s there on shore leave 😀

I was really positive on the appearance of Doctor McCoy in the previous mission, and so I was very pleased to see Scotty appear here (fingers crossed at somepoint we get to team up with Captain Kirk).   As with McCoy there’s been a nice attempt to make the character look and “sound” like Scotty, and as I said in the previous mission, bumping into these important characters really helps reinforce the feeling that this is Star Trek you’re running around in (I feel similarly about Lord of the Rings Online when you run around the Shire or see a Nazgul).   There’s a familiar type of puzzle in this section, where the woman who can supply the part you need is still in shock after the Devidian attack, so you need to help get the right drink to calm her down (of course, when it comes to drink, Scotty’s the man to talk too).  Talking to Scotty gives you hints about what she likes in a drink, and then you get the barman to mix it up for you.

Its a curious part to the mission.  To be honest, I enjoyed it, as I’ve enjoyed all these “read the information and figure out the answer” puzzles, but to suddenly find yourself mixing a drink seems like an odd break in the action after the fact (and indeed, on writing it down here, I can see how out of place it seems).  To be honest though, I think this plays into a larger thought on the mission I’ll get back to later.

With the drink mixed, the part obtained, and Scotty having worked his magic to save the station, its finally time to get to the route of the problem, and take out the comet itself.  And again, this is unfortunately a part of the mission that gathered some complaints from the players.

This is the sequence mentioned earlier whereby you get attacked by the Klingons (led by another familiar face, albeit a recurring ingame character this time, rather than someone from the TV show, but its still really nice to see the game building its own continuity like this).  Essentially they attack you, as you’re trying to get rid of the pesky comet, however you’re warned of the dangers of changing the timeline.  And as you shatter each stage of the comet, more ships warp in, so its really not long before you can find yourself utterly swamped.

As I learned by my second run through of the mission, there’s a particular strategy to this section.  First time through, I’d assumed the best thing was to completely avoid the Klingon ships as much as possible.  However, this just results in them killing you, a lot.  Instead, it turns out that you can disable the Klingons (however I still avoided engaging the lead ship to be safe).  Done this way, it actually leads to a fun, challenging encounter.  At each stage, you disable the 2 Klingon D7s that appear, while dodging the lead ship (I’d occassionally use Jam Sensors or the like to get it off my back for a few seconds without damaging it), then blow up the stage of the comet, leading to new fragments or shards appearing, along with another 2 D7s.  Rinse and repeat for each stage of the comet (undamaged, fragments and shards).  As an added wrinkle, the D7s will eventually get back online, so you still need to move quickly before they all reactivate, but you get enough time that you should be able to clear everything up and head Back To The Future (!) without it being a complete nightmare.  As I say, quite a fun combat, however whether the way the ingame text is worded or something, I’m not sure, but it wasn’t clear at all this was the way to do things on my first attempt, and it became a mess.    Its definitely another section (like the slingshot sequence) that perhaps needs a little tweaking (and is being looked at by the devs).

If there’s one thing though that’s a bit off about the mission, its the structure.  And it never really dawned on me until I read someone commenting on it in the forums and I agree with them completely.  It feels like things are happening in the wrong order, when you look at the narrative of the mission.  You warp in, deal with all the stuff on the station, and only then do you tackle the route of the problem itself, the comet.    It perhaps would’ve made more sense to remove the encounter with the Federation ship, and instead start with the Klingons and the Comet itself, so you come out of time warp, and immediately nip that problem in the bud.  Then once it was destroyed, it would’ve been simple for your bridge officers to alert you to the lingering Devidians and dangerous radiation levels on the station, and have you beam aboard to deal with them.

The only issue with that though, is the Klingon/Comet encounter does make for a big finale to the mission.  So I do understand the devs presenting the mission this way.  The “mix a drink” section still sticks out, however I don’t want to take away from that section too much, as I did find it quite fun, with the background of the drink providing an amusing spin on a familiar type of puzzle.

As the final mission of the series though, the rewards are plentiful and a lot of fun.  The exclusive reward, that’ll vanish from the mission after a set amount of time is a nifty Devidian staff that you can use to drain life from your enemies as the Devidians have spent 5 weeks doing to you.  As a neat bonus, when used in conjunction with the pattern enhancer reward, it turns into a snake, just like the one in the TV show.

The other rewards though, its fair to say are the ones people have been hoping for.  Classic Trek weapons 😀

After seeing them in action in the previous mission (where the security teams could cut you to shreds with them), everyone had their fingers crossed that the classic Trek Type 2 phaser would be part of the series reward.  As a surprise though, its not the reward that’ll vanish, and will be a permanent reward for completing the series.  graphically, its spot on, looking just like the TV show, complete with blue phaser effects.   The sound effects as well, are captured well from the TV show.  Being a weekly reward, like the other items (such as the classic ship phasers, proton gun and breen weapons) it levels along with you, so its a great weapon to keep handy throughout the game (indeed, having recently been working on my Science Officer, I’m finding the various weekly mission rewards a massive help in the game).

If you’re of the Klingon persuasion, or just a big fun of disruptors, what’s great is they actually give you the choice of weapons as well, so you can forego the type 2 phaser in favour of a disruptor pistol with equivalent stats.

However, the classic treats don’t stop there.  As also included is the original classic Trek phaser rifle, again carefully modelled on what was in the TV show and instantly recognisable.

So overall, I’d definitely say this was another successful set of weekly missions and I still love the excitement they bring to the game.  On one hand however, I would say they were let down slightly by some of the bugs in Everything Old Is New Again, and the problems with some of the gameplay elements in Night of the Comet (although once you know the tricks, its a fun mission).  However, to be fair to the Devidian series, it also came across as the more experimental of the two series, with more attempt to broaden the types of puzzles and action we might encounter, which is definitely to be applauded and encouraged.  What Lies Beneath remains one of the strongest missions in the whole game, and those issues I have mentioned with the other missions are already on the dev’s radar and either fixed, or in the process of being fixed, so any new players will be able to enjoy them hassle-free 🙂

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