One aspect of the game which I finally completed the other week, and is also due for a revamp in the near future, are the three Borg STFs (Special Task Forces). These form a large portion of the endgame content for players who make it to Rear and Vice Admiral, presenting a harder challenge than the normal gameplay. These are missions targeting the organised players and require a full team of five to complete, with all five people needing to have some idea of what they’re doing, and the ability to listen to orders from those in the team who know their way around the missions. Having decent high-end gear is also pretty much a requirement, especially once you get past the initial STF, Infected. But, as these missions will shortly be getting a make over, I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at them as they stand. What I liked, and what I disliked. And then compare this review with the new versions once they come out.
I’ll start with the first of the STFs, Infected.
To be honest, my first few attempts at Infected weren’t overly favourable. I found it took too long to get through, and the final boss room, which requires platform game style jumping in order to access various force field controls (miss and you fall into instant-death plasma and you’ll have to restart the entire room if the team can’t rez you), just caused a lot of frustration.
That said when broken into parts and done over a couple of nights I found it was much better, and it comes back to what I said about needing to know what you’re doing. Once my fleet had a few successful runs under their belts, strategies were figured out and now we can run Infected at around an hour and its a lot of fun. I think Infected is probably a great introduction to the STFs in that regard. It’s by far the shortest and also has much simpler puzzles. It gets players used to working together in an organised fashion, and gets you used to the idea that these missions are going to require more patience and thought (and failed runs to figure things out). The mission splits nicely into different parts, with a fun, but not overly difficult space battle to start things out, before beaming down to a Starfleet base under siege by the Borg. You then have to work your way down into the bowels of the station, fighting through assimilated bosses, before coming face to face with the Borg’s new Locutus-style spokesperson. When nicely dealt with in stages, this mission becomes a lot of fun, as an expanded version of the kinds of missions you’ve been used to dealing with solo in the game already.
The second STF however, The Cure, remains one of my least favourite missions in the game. I really hate running this STF.
Unlike Infected it doesn’t break down as well into sections and for the most part is one giant ground map with no breaks. I just find it overly long and repetitive with no real fun to be had. Sadly however you need to complete it if you want to play Khitomer Accord.
Most of the action takes place around a series of gates that are controlled by various generators, which must be powered up in sequence, with each generator requiring about 30 seconds to power up, before the next can be triggered. In the meantime Borg spawns will appear who will attempt to deactivate the generators, and bring with them various tougher Tactical drones who, if they spot you, will cause you no end of grief as you try and stop the worker drones switching off your precious generators.
While I definitely appreciated the attempt to bring a puzzle with a high level of strategy into the game, it just becomes annoying. The number of failed attempts I ran through in order to try and get past the first few gates really got tiring after a while, and with the length of the whole mission, you need to ensure you’ve put aside about 3 hours to do this all in. The constant grind of managing to get a couple of the generators activated, only to draw agro from the tactical drones, or fail to kill the workers fast enough can easily become wearing.
The mission also seems to lack the polish of the other STFs, specifically in terms of nice touches like voice overs (which in fairness were rare in the game when these were developed, but did add to the feeling you were running special high-end missions). In Infected for example you get Manus of Borg taunting you as you work your way through the levels of the station, or there are various computer announcements that tie into the puzzles in Khitomer Accord. The Cure comes across much less involving in comparison.
Out of all the Borg STFs this is the one most clearly needing the upcoming revamp, and I can’t wait to see what Gozer (the developer in charge of the STFs) has done to it. I have no real problem with these endgame missions being longer, or trickier, but when they just get repetitive and frustrating I lose interest, and only the promise of the Khitomer Accord, and all the good things I’d heard about it, along with the support of my fleet who managed to get a few successful runs done, kept me going with this mission other than just giving up on it entirely.
The final STF, Khitomer Accord, is without a doubt the most complex. Again, its a very long mission, requiring several hours to complete, and contains several tricky puzzles that require you to have an organised team and good equipment. However, unlike The Cure, I found all this fun rather than dull and frustrating. Like Infected, Khitomer Accord has a much better split between space and ground combat with neither element outstaying its welcome. And like Infected, if things are dragging on, there’s a few good points where you can all agree to stop, and resume the mission the next evening.
This STF probably also benefits from having the strongest story. While a danger of any team mission is that dialogues get quickly skipped to keep things moving (a reason I tend to prefer to solo the featured episodes first), I still managed to pick up the gist of what was going on, with you intercepting another Borg attempt to alter the past, which leads to the discovery of a massive deactivated Borg base that the present-day Borg attempt to bring back online. This also gives you the fun of having the two different types of Borg in the mission, the current Cryptic-design Borg, and the more familiar TV/Movie era design. The time-travel shenanigans in the mission also relate directly to the events in the tutorial, which found you facing off against these old Borg, who were all underpowered, with no proper link to the Collective, and many of their ships disabled. After the events of the Khitomer Accord, you get no prizes for guessing who it turns out was responsible for the Borg’s poor state of repair in the tutorial 😉
Variety and a strong storyline are without a doubt the key to Khitomer Accord’s success. While some of the puzzles are tricky (specifically a puzzle which involves one of your team dropping forcefields surrounding various generators to give you only the briefest of windows in which to destroy them), there’s a clear feeling of progression. You may get stuck on one of the generators, but once its destroyed, its done. No need to reset the room and do it all again because you got stuck. None of the elements in the mission outstay their welcome, instead just moving you along to the next confrontation.
While there’s no doubt in my mind that the Cure isn’t a great mission, if you can get a good team together to get you through it, its worth it to play the Khitomer Accord. And of course, as you complete each of the Borg STFs, you get a new piece of the Borg equipment for your ship, which gives your ship a great distinctive look, as well as supplying various bonuses which are well worth the work.
That’s just a quick glimpse at some of my thoughts on the STFs as they stand. Obviously its going to be very interesting to see how they develop over the next couple of months. The revamped ground combat, and Borg adapting will have had an immediate impact on how easy these are to run, but shortly we should start seeing Gozer’s redesigned versions of these missions appearing. Some of the teases he’s posted on Twitter look very interesting, with him obviously paying a lot of attention to the areas of the missions that have drawn the most criticism or feedback generally (such as Infected’s platform jumping), and the way he’s also making use of the difficulty levels (which weren’t present when these were first designed) to change things at higher difficulty looks very interesting. I can’t wait to see what they’re like 🙂