The message came in via encrypted channel, only two days out of space dock. Trajan took all of the appropriate security measures, plus a few extras that he considered necessary — the sound-canceling devices hidden throughout the Cardassian’s ready room weren’t mandated per se, but in this day and age one could never be too certain.
“I trust the shakedown cruise is going well?” Admiral T’Nae inquired, her cold tone belying this opening pleasantry. Even for a Vulcan, her voice was particularly frigid. Trajan replied with a warm smile. “My crew and I thought we were done flying historical reenactments, but the Meridian is slowly growing on me.”
“However,” he added smoothly, “I doubt you called to just ask me that.”
“No, I did not. Are you aware of ‘the Vault’, commander?”
As an MMO gamer, I seem to always be out of lockstep with my fellow bloggers. They all jump back into STO to play the Featured Episodes? I ignore the missions for weeks. I start trying to play STO again? They’re all gone off to RIFT. But you know what — despite the fleet roster being all but dead for the past week, I’ve been having a blast in the game.
It isn’t that I’m antisocial. I’d love to see my old friends playing alongside me. But when I’m playing with a fleet or a guild, I always feel under pressure to do something — I call it “get-invited-to-a-mission-but-then-wait-someone-needs-to-go-buy-a-new-ship”-itis. And no, that’s never happened to me, and yes, that makes me sound much more antisocial than I really am. I actually like hanging out and chatting with fleetmates — but I also like to do my own thing, at my own speed. So an empty fleet has given me the chance to plod along at impulse speed, smelling the data samples and generally puttering around being an idiot.
However, there is one specific part of STO that required timely action — acquiring the limited-time Reman science officer before today’s patch removed him. So last night, I buckled down and went through the entire “Cloaked Intentions” series.
The titular Vault was the subject of the first featured episode. A moon-sized starbase built by the Romulans to study and reverse engineer Borg technology, the Vault has been dormant for nearly thirty years; apparently, the station’s automated defenses have been enough to keep out the various warring Romulan successor states.
Until today. The Vault is coming back on line, and for some God-awful reason, my crew of misfits is assigned the task of investigating.
But there is where “The Vault” is set apart from other episodes — for fear of attracting unwanted attention, we can’t use our main ship to investigate the Vault. So I and a lucky bridge officer of my choice get to head into an abandoned weapons research facility filled with stuff that will turn us into mindless drones, or desiccate our still-breathing bodies — in a shuttle. Fortunately, my 400-day Veteran’s Captain’s Yacht had just kicked in, so I got to travel to my certain death in-style.
Many other, much better writers — West Karana, Blue Kae, Scott at Pumping Irony, and GeeCee — have discussed the qualities of this rather unique mission: the different ways to get into the Vault, the station’s impressive size and the mission’s success at implementing a sense of scale, the voice acting. I want to talk about something else: the fight at the end.
When you leave the Vault, your immediate priority is to rendezvous with the the U.S.S. Lhasa, a Galaxy-class vessel hiding within a micronebula only a few kilometers away. Unfortunately, a Romulan warbird decloaks and opens fire, spoiling the homecoming. My rinky-dink
shuttle Captain’s Yacht was tasked with running interference for the Lhasa, targeting the plasma torpedoes and Scorpion fighters launched by the Romulans. This minute-long fight is one of my favorite fights in STO to date. Cryptic did a fantastic job capturing the scale of the warships compared to my yacht; I felt like a bug between two dueling titans. The entire experience seemed to draw very positively on the Deep Space Nine episode “The Jem’hadar” — I’m just glad that my Galaxy didn’t end up exploding!
The next mission — “Mine Enemy” — was memorable in a different way: the return of the Horta! For reasons unknown, the Reman rebels encountered in the previous episode appear to be targeting a planet in the Hfihar system. The planet in question was a mining world staffed by Romulan refugees and run by a greedy Ferengi who I came this close to killing. That sort of sums up my experience with this mission: many instances of failed diplomacy.
“Now if you’ll excuse me,” Madran whined, “I have to go talk a hundred Romulans into–”
Trajan stood, his broad chest blocking the path of the shorter, rotund Ferengi. “No, you’re not excused. Sit back down.” The words came out as a snarl, betraying the Cardassian’s growing anger.
Madran sputtered and tried to squeak out a reply. Trajan shoved him back into his chair. “Let me put this in words that you can understand. I’m presenting you with a non-negotiable contract. You will start treating your ’employees’ better, and I’m here to… incentive that.”
“A Starfleet officer, threatening…” Madran gasped out, only to trail off as he watched the Cardassian unclip his Starfleet combadge and place it on the table. Trajan let silence fill the room, the implication of his action slowly sinking through the Ferengi’s thick skull.
People died who didn’t need to — the Romulan miner, Commander Janek — and the people who deserved to die got away.
The other three missions — the well voice-acted “Frozen”, the unequaled “Coliseum”, and the concluding “Cutting the Cord” — were all good in their own way. Rather than waste more internet electrons when others have already done a good job summing these — Karana unlocked the ‘Incarcerator’ achievement in the first; GeeCee wrote a very nice piece on the second; I already posted some about the last mission — I wanted to list my opinions about the entire series.
Playing all five of the missions back-to-back was a very enjoyable experience, and I felt that each mission was a Star Trek episode in a larger season arc. Unlike earlier, crappier mission (I’m looking at you, “Researcher Rescue“), the missions weren’t evenly divided between space and ground — you were on one or the other for most, if not all, of the time. Without being able to resort to the “now let’s go destroy X guys/spaceships, them beam out and do the opposite” I believe this allowed for a more solid and cohesive narrative. Personally, I also feel this reflects the Star Trek mythos better. Yes, episodes are often divided between A- and B-track plots, with one focusing on ground events and one in space — but characters rarely move back and forth between each storyline. If “Coliseum” were actually a Star Trek episode, we’d have scenes of my loyal bridge crew trying to figure out where I went. But from my, the player’s point-of-view, the lack of movement perfectly incapsulated how a television episode feels.
In that same vein, I’m glad that I was routinely restricted to what bridge officers I could bring along. This also felt very Star Trek-like, and it went a long way toward making the missions seem simultaneously both more heroic and more personal. I got to imagine my Captain in his shuttle with my former Borg engineer going into the Vault, or the Vulcan science officer look on as Trajan lost his cool watching the abused Romulan refugees.
This was a memorable playing experience for me, one of a few I’ve collected while playing STO. I was really impressed by the quality of not only the writing, but also the voice acting (I want Obisek to narrate my captain’s log!) and the visual improvements. I can’t wait for the next Feature Series — I guess Foundry-made missions will have to tide me over till then!