Season 4: Crossfire

Better late than never, I thought I’d better maintain the tradition, and talk about the big season update that came out for Star Trek Online a month or so back: Crossfire.  Unlike a lot of other MMOs, this doesn’t include new mission content, since Star Trek Online has its Featured Episodes to cover that.  Instead their current direction is for seasons to bring in changes to the technology of the game, that the content will then build on.

So what did they change for season 4?  well, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes.  New texture compression technology has increased the detail in the game for no extra hardware requirements, while micro-patching cuts down on the need to download massive game updates.  Instead the game will only patch files as they’re needed.

All of which may not sound as immediately exciting as a swanky new plot arc, but the quality of life it brings to the game is immediately noticeable.

However, the season is called Crossfire, and that’s because of its main event: a complete revamp to the ground combat system in the game.  Values have been tweaked to make the combat faster paced, control responsiveness has been improved and weapons have been redesigned.

And then there’s the new shooter mode.  The traditional ground combat has been retained, and now dubbed the RPG mode, however the devs have implemented a whole alternative combat mode, which gives an FPS style to the game.   Switching to shooter mode allows you to select targets via a targetting cursor on the fly, rather than locking onto a target as is normal in RPG mode.  This allows you to spread out your fire across multiple targets, throw grenades into an area (rather than to a specific target) and brings a more intense experience to the combat.

Ground combat has long been taken as one of the weaker aspects of the game, so to see it receive such a massive overhaul has been a big thing for the game.  It really can’t be understated just how much faster and more immediate ground combat feels, whether you’re playing in shooter mode or not.

It doesn’t end there however.  At the same time as ground combat has been upgraded, so have the Borg.  In preparation for a Borg event, due to start later in the month, the Borg have been brought more in line with the capabilities of their onscreen incarnation.  No longer can you continue to fire at them blindly, as the Borg will now adapt to your weapon after a few shots.  They also now have had their assimilation ability boosted.  Whereas before this simply worked as a hold and slow debuff, now players can be properly assimilated.  If the Borg get their nanoprobes on you, then if you’re not cured quickly by a healer on your away team, then you’ll find yourself assimilated, turning into a drone and attacking your teammates for a short while before being allowed to respawn.

All these changes have made the Borg a much bigger threat than before.  From your ship, you can (and must if you want to survive) replicate a remodulator device that you can use to reset your weapons to make them usable against the Borg once again, and by equipping a second, different weapon type in your second weapon slot, you do give yourself a few more shots before remodulation becomes a must, but if you’re remodulating, that means your weapons won’t work for about 10 seconds (not that they were getting past those Borg shields anyway).  The end result is that the Borg are not only closer to their onscreen abilities, but they’re also a heck of a lot tougher and scarier to face.  Very appropriate for the baddies that take centre stage for the end game content.

The last major change worth talking about, is the Klingon homeworld.  Following the updating of Earth Space Dock back with season 3, Quo’noS has long been in the frame for a similar revamp, and to be honest, it needed it much more than the Starfleet home base.  The previous council chambers frequently felt like wide open rooms, and finding your way around was frequently a pain until you learned where everything was.  For me, the worst part was the high council chamber.  A necessary stop for each major rank, it was a cavernous hall with just a few Klingons standing around.  And that was only after you realised you had to go upstairs to find it.

With season 4, that’s all gone, to be replaced by the First City.  Gone are the empty chambers, and instead there’s now a bustling city for the Klingons to base themselves out of.

Here, the revamped texture compression really shines.  The city is incredibly detailed, and the devs have done a great job making it feel alive.  It perhaps still retains the old issues, of it being a bit tricky to find your way around, however there’s a quest to introduce you to the map, and if you run through that, it shows you where everything is, and since doing it, I’ve found I’ve not struggled nearly as much as I did in the old Qo’noS when it comes to finding stuff.

Its all about the nice little touches in the new map.  I love the street signs, which are in Klingon, but flick to English as you approach them.  A nice combination of usability, while still making it all feel Klingon.  The bank, is a building being run by Ferengi, which I loved, and when you go in, you can look down onto the massive warehouse floor where presumably everyone’s stuff is actually being kept.  The High Council’s chamber finally seems a lot more appropriate too, with its reduced scale and moody lighting.

To be honest, while the Klingon players were jealous of the Earth Spacedock revamp, I now think the Federation player have something to be jealous about.  The developers are just improving things all the time, and while Earth Spacedock is a brilliant base map, the new First City just shows how much the devs keep improving with the tools behind this game.

But, they weren’t just finished with the first city.  Of course, the crowning jewel of Earth Spacedock was its revamped ship requisitions area, and now the Klingons have one of their own.   If you return to the transporter room in the city, you also get an option to beam to the orbital shipyards.

Once there, you see the devs took a leaf out of Earth Spacedock, to give the Klingons their own equivalent.  While it might be a bit of a pain that you need to beam up to it, rather than it being housed in the same area, there’s no doubt that visually, its worth it.  Once you arrive in the shipyard, all the usual NPCs are available for you to buy, equip and customise your ships, however its all about the view.  If you head over to the windows, you get a brilliant view of some Birds of Prey currently docked at the shipyards.   Like the view of the Galaxy Class in Earth Spacedock, its brilliant to see these ships from this perspective, and its really something you need to check out for yourself to see just how good those ships look.

As a final nice touch, as the shipyards are orbital, once you zone into Qo’noS space in your ship, you can ignore the planet, and just fly straight to the ship yards.   A really nice touch.

Of course, all this is just the start of season 4, with lots still to come.  The revamped Borg will be getting highlighted in the upcoming Borg invasion event, as well as the remastered STFs.  And then we’ve got not only the return of the Featured Episodes, but the introduction of the new Duty Officer System, which promises to be a game within itself, and something I’m really looking forward to.  As always, the game is coming forward in leaps and bounds.

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