The Vault

After a few months off for the release of season 3 and the Christmas holidays, Star Trek Online’s featured episodes have returned for a new five-part story set in the Romulan sector.

Borrowing from the prequel comics to the latest Star Trek movie, this first installment revolves around the mysterious Romulan space station, The Vault.  A station famous for housing many of the Romulans’ weapon development programmes, including the Borg technology used to refit Nero’s mining vessel, the Narada.  Sensors have detected a mysterious energy reading coming from the station, leaving them to suspect its been reactivated and someone may be after whatever technology still lurks within.

The featured episodes have always been about more than just giving the users new storylines to enjoy in STO.  They also provide the developers with an opportunity to develop new technologies for the game, and showcase them through these missions.  In the past we’ve had elements such as the slingshot mechanics from the previous Devidian series or simple effects like the new bridge officer popups.

The Valt brings an entirely new style of gameplay to Star Trek Online.  That of shuttles.  Previously in the game, Runabouts could be purchased from Deep Space Nine, however it didn’t really serve much use in the game beyond being a vanity ship you could choose to collect anomalies or run diplomatic missions in.  Flying it into combat soon resulted in your death.

With the release of the Delta Flyer for the first anniversary, a new tier of shuttles was introduced, and with this mission you gain the ability to requistion a free Mark 8 shuttle if you have not previously purchased a Runabout (energy credits) or Delta Flyer (C-Store) and these shuttles come into their own in this mission.  The Valt is massive by normal space station standards, so rather than being a typical ground map, once you manage to avoid the tachyon detection grid surrounding it (a nice little part of the mission with class-specific objectives, another mechanic brought in during the previous series), instead you find yourself flying around the station’s interior in your shuttle.

Visually, its breathtaking.  The scale of the station has been excellently realised by the graphics team both in its exterior on approach, or internally as you explore the station’s interior.  While the actual gameplay elements of the mission are fairly straight forward, and you can fly through the mission pretty quickly once you know what you’re doing, the fun here is in just appreciating the scale of what’s been developed.

There’s also been some development with voice overs in the game.  Previously they’re only something that’s appeared sparingly, in the tutorial, or with Leonard Nimoy congratulating you on promotion or introducing a new sector.  The STFs featured some voice over (the boss in Infected is particularly effective), and the Devidian series featured one of the most memorable voice-overs in the game with the scary malfunctioning hologram.

This mission continues to add them into the new content, with Admiral T’Nae speaking for the first time, and the mission’s villain (a Reman called Obisek) enjoying spoken dialogue.  Its a nice addition that really adds to the immersion factor of a mission and I’m pleased to see the developers trying to make them more of a feature in the game.

Outside of the mission, I’m pleased to see the developers focusing on the Romulans with this series.  The Romulan Empire underwent a lot of upheaval with the destruction of Romulus, and given some of the dangling plot threads from the existing missions in the game, there’s obviously a lot of ground to be explored.   I’m happy to see that this is now being developed and this particular storyline being moved forward. Also its always nice to see events from the new movie being used in the game, especially as they represent the most recent “canon” of the Prime Star Trek universe, and the previous series focused more heavily on classic Trek.

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