Crossroads

It’s no surprise that it’s been almost a month since my last update on the blog. It’s not for a lack of trying, but every single time that I’ve sat down to write something I’ve immediately lost my motivation. I’ll get this great idea for my blog, then just as I’m about to start typing everything goes blank. After a few minutes of blankly staring at the screen I just decide to do something else.

Is it writer’s block? I’m not sure. Usually I’ll rationalize my decisions to not update my blog with the notion that whatever I would have written would have been tripe and uninspired. That might be the root cause for the lack of updates over the past month. I just haven’t been inspired enough to sit down and share my thoughts.

Now before either of us goes into a panic, this thing happens to me a lot and at some point I just get over it. It has happened many, many times in the past and I’m positive it’ll continue to be a problem that plagues this blog for the years to come. Oh noes! Not to worry, I always get over it and suddenly my blog springs to life once more.

It’s just the natural ebb and flow of my blogging that is frighteningly  similar to that of my gaming habits. For instance, this hiatus has been caused from the lack of gaming that I’ve felt inspired to write about. What have I been playing this past month? Mostly Torchlight, a couple of PS3 demos and I’ve recently decided to try LOTRO, (free trial of course).

As great as Torchlight is, it isn’t a great game to blog about. I mean, it’s Diablo, what more need be said about it? Sure I could blog about the trials and tribulations of my melee alchemist, but would any of you care? It’s solely a single player game and the end-game is a randomized dungeon-crawler. At some point I may decide to post an entry or two about the unusual builds that I’m playing, but right now I’m not feeling it as a necessary blog update.

Anyhoo, I have also decided to give Lord of the Rings Online a try since I am a fan of the Tolkien world, but the game hasn’t struck a chord with me and there’s little hope that it will. My lack of interest in LOTRO is cemented in the fact that I’ve dedicated 5 years of my gaming life to WoW and every single time I play LOTRO, I’d rather just reactivate my WoW account. Everything just feels clunky in LOTRO where as everything in WoW feels just right. That isn’t to say that LOTRO doesn’t do anything well as it is most certainly a very competent game, it’s just that WoW has spoiled me as an MMO gamer.

Has WoW ruined every other MMO for me? That is my biggest worry about going into Final Fantasy XIV later this year. I’m hopeful that FFXIV will rekindle that love I had for Final Fantasy XI, but after playing WoW for so long, I’m worried I’ll fall into the same trap of rather-be-playing-WoW.

At this point I think the only way I could conceivably give any other MMO a fair shot is if I find myself in a strong community. If it hadn’t of been for the fact that Star Trek Online was released way too early, I might actually still be playing it. Cryptic failed to deliver on a true Star Trek experience and the community has fled from the game.

Many of the STO podcasts I was listening to have disappeared, or are having issues with feeling inspired to keep podcasting about STO. I’ve stopped following news regarding STO and at this point I could care less about it. Between my forth-coming inner-turmoil between WoW and FFXIV, there’s just no room for a poor MMO. I would say shame on Cryptic for STO, but after City of Heroes and Champions Online, it’s shame on me for putting my faith in them one more time.

Well, I think I’ve rambled on long enough about the MMO crossroads that I’m at. I’ll try to keep my inspiration and motivation going for slightly more frequent updates, but I think I’m going to have to go with smaller updates. More stream-of-consciousness stuff without so much emphasis on trying to write something great. I might even share a couple thoughts on what’s going on with WoW, but no promises. ^^;

Annuality

“Hi March! I believe we’ve met many times before. I’m doing well, and you? Oh? You’re thinking it’s time for another break from online gaming? I was thinking the same thing considering how incredibly behind on my console gaming I am. You’re right, I have effectively given Blizzard $30 for logging into WoW a handful of times during the past 2 months. Again, you’re right (as usual) … taking some time off will also give STO some time to rectify the many faults it has. Okay, take care! I’ll see you again next year.”

As you can probably surmise from my humorous and imaginative conversation with the month of March, it’s time for my seemingly annual break from online gaming. Breaks help me avoid from completely burning out and gives me the opportunity to catch up with my consoles. It also has the added benefit of giving the finances a small break as well. At least, that is, if I don’t go out on gaming benders and pick up a ton of games. ^^;

What does this break mean for my blog? Well, if you’ve been following my blog over the past 5’sh years you’re familiar with this annual ritual and know what to expect. If you’re a newer follower of my blog here’s the run-down: chances are that WoW/STO related entries will disappear for awhile, but I will continue to blog about my console gaming exploits during my online hiatus.

I definitely won’t be at a loss for gaming to blog about for at least a couple weeks; I’m currently working on Mass Effect 2 and Final Fantasy XIII comes out next week. Then there’s my backlog … mostly of PS2 games, oids. Persona 3, Rogue Galaxy, Magna Carta, Grandia III & Xtreme, Dragon Quest VIII … ugh, the list goes on. I’ve started most of them, but somewhere along the line, WoW got in the way I never finished them up.

I guess I'm going on a vacation in the Gamma quadrant?

There will probably be one last STO entry since my subscription is active until the 4th. I would like to reach Commander, pick up my shiny new cruiser and give it a go around the galaxy. There should also be the occasional WoW/STO entry as warranted by breaking news even though I’ve not been one to blog my reactions/opinions to the news; not, at least, unless it is a MEGATON piece of news that I can’t help but blog about.

So fear not, the blog will continue to live on as it always has. Ciao!

Failure

I had been planning on updating my blog for the past couple of days, but things got in the way as they usually do. Those pesky things! Ce la vie. I suppose my failure to update the blog is fitting considering the subject matter that this entry will mainly cover, failure. Don’t worry this won’t be an entry full of QQ, it’s just that things haven’t gone quite the way I had imagined for the past week.

What else has failed you or have you failed to do?

I had aspirations to get my toon in STO promoted to Commander but I came up wildly short. I did manage to make it Lt.Commander 8th grade, but between finishing Darksiders and then proceeding to pick up Mass Effect 2, my motivation to log in to STO disappeared. Before I move on, I first must give Vigil games a big Thank You!” for satisfying my craving for a Zelda’esque game. Darksiders was an incredible game and I am really looking forward to what Vigil puts out in the future, especially Darksiders 2.

Wait, when did I beam down to Zangarmarsh?

However that wasn’t all that kept me away from STO this past week. There was plenty of beer consumption while watching the Olympics in HD. You may wonder why I decided to qualify the watching of the Olympics in high definition, so let me explain. Up until about a week ago I had plenty of HD programming available to me, but after a visit from a Comcast tech to diagnose my HSI issues, he switched the connections at the house to give my cable modem a better signal. In the process the signal strength to my television in the living room dropped to where I couldn’t get NBC in HD anymore.

Fortunately this was only a temporary problem because he also put in a request to pull a new line to the house from the street to eliminate approximately 120 ft of coaxial cable to greatly reduce the signal degradation. For some strange reason the cable connections were on the opposite side of the house from the circuit box which meant running a cable along the exterior of the house to ground it at the circuit box and then back again. Once the new line was finally hooked up to the house all was good.

But let’s move onto something you might actually care about …

I did sneak some STO time in during the past week as I’ve hinted at by mentioning my level progression. I’m in a strange place with STO, part of me really wants to keep going to get bigger and badder ships but I’m getting really sick of ground missions. Yes it might be QQ and I sound like a broken record, but I’m at the point where I just want /quit every time I’m prompted to select my away team. There just isn’t enough substance in ground combat to make it interesting and with the sheer amount of enemies you have to kill, I just don’t have enough patience to grind through it.

Oops! But I survived! Barely ^^;

While the majority of space missions are similar kill-taculars, there are interesting encounters scattered throughout to keep things from getting too stale. It also helps a ton that space combat is actually FUN which makes killing 245082 ships during a mission not a chore. Okay, there are times where it does feel somewhat like a chore, but satisfying chore nonetheless. When I faced off against the Doomsday Device I had an absolute blast.

Protip: Don’t try shooting more than one Hargh’Peng torpedo after the thing fires. You’ll just waste the second. If you do waste too many torpedos you can refill/recharge them at the destroyed planet’s core.

Contrasting the awesomeness of the Doomsday Device encounter is the Crystalline Entity. Yes, I trekked back in to snap pictures and hope to not be grouped with epic-fail captains. I’ll be blunt about this encounter, it fucking blows. The mechanics are simple enough, kite the shards until phase 2 (~30%)  and then avoid the large shards like the plague during phase 2. Inevitably someone always get hit by large shards and from what I’m to understand everyone then needs to burn down the small shards that spawn before they get back to the entity, healing it for a substantial amount.

An encounter full of epic-fail, usually.

Unfortunately these small shards still have a sizable amount of health, so taking them down quickly is nearly impossible unless people pay attention and switch their focus as soon as they spawn. So as inevitable as it is for someone to get hit by a large shard, the small shards go unhindered and suddenly the entity goes from ~28% to 40%, then 50%, 60% and occasionally back up to full if the group is particularly full of epic-fail.

After reaching phase 2 three different times within one encounter I gave up. This is just not an encounter that the majority of players are going to get on board with. Hell, it only takes a few special snowflakes to make this encounter nearly impossible. As such I don’t think I’m ever going to attempt it again, at least not until Cryptic gives us the ability to join the encounter as a fleet-raid. It’s just not fun fighting with other players on how to kill the damned thing; I got my fill of that in Alterfail Valley.

So as I stated, I’m starting to wane on STO. There’s still so much potential with the game that I haven’t completely lost hope yet, but I may stop playing for some time and give Cryptic a chance to remedy some of the issues that I have with the game … namely ground combat. They really need to give us diplomatic missions and one-off episodes that take place in the interior of your ship once they put ship interiors into the game. Even in a time of war there needs to be diplomacy and it needs to be weaved through the entirety of the leveling process.

At least the devs are listening to the player-base so there’s hope. I just hope that they’re listening but keeping true to their vision and the ideals of the Star Trek universe.

Grinding

Perhaps you’re concerned that all of this Star Trek blogging means that my Warcraft days are behind me, or maybe you aren’t. Fear not, there will still be plenty of WoW-related blog entries in the future. I seem to be taking my annual break from WoW and recharging my batteries. Cataclysm will breathe new life into the game for me, and the recent 3.3.3 news is tempting me to cut my hiatus short. So yes, there will be more WoW for me, especially since the wifey still plays on occasion, but for now I’m trekking out.

For some reason I was reminded of FFXI.

Or at least I should say that I’m forcing myself to stay away from WoW to give STO a fair shake. There are many times where STO annoys me, but I forgive those annoyances considering that the game is still so new. I remember back to when I made the transition from Final Fantasy XI to World of Warcraft and the difficulties I experienced in the process. That is, however, to not imply that I will be transitioning from WoW to STO, but rather that I’m being a little more forgiving of STO’s plentiful faults.

Okay, so I’ve rambled on long enough, let’s get onto to STO for really reals now …

It's a harp-shaped time portal, really.

Last night I hit Lieutenant Commander 6th grade and managed to get almost halfway to 7th grade thanks to completing the Guardian of Time quest-line twice. First time through I “skipped” half of the quest-line by flying directly to the Gateway system. After saving Miral Paris I proceeded on to JFS 47 and discovered that I was heading back to Gateway, to do the same stuff I had already done. *groan* I can’t complain too much though, the rewards and “experience” were well worth the effort. In fact, I’m almost thinking of completing the quest-line again given how lucrative it was.

While I’m on the subject of this quest-line, I would be remiss to not mention the voice-over work present. The Guardian’s VO work was humorous, but rather lackluster as was Spock’s VO when you travel back to 2270. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to participate in a quest-line that had VOs where my cruiser had to rescue the Enterprise from Klingon time-interlopers. It’s just that overall the structure of the mission wasn’t engaging, especially since you can jump into it half-way in and not know it.

Perhaps I should have rolled a Klingon?

If anything, the portion of the quest-line where I boarded the Klingon ship made me want to pilot my own bird-of-prey. If it weren’t for my desire to continue progressing as quickly as possible, I’d probably succumb to my desire to roll a Klingon. I’m already distracted enough with thoughts of playing Mass Effect (2) that rolling a Klingon would stunt my STO “development.” Then again, maybe playing a Klingon is exactly what I should do in order to give every aspect of STO a spin.

Ground combat is still giving me fits; I’m coming close to absolutely despising ground missions. They’re poorly designed, take too long, and are an absolute chore to get through. Even with having a Mk III kit allowing me to lay down a cover shield, health regen-unit, and phaser turret (II) I’m still wanting to claw my eyeballs out when trudging through combat. At least a fellow fleeter (Did I mention that I joined the Ctrl Alt Trek fleet?) posted a little tip that has made ground combat slightly more bearable: exploiting exposed enemies.

Huh? What does that mean?

Many weapons have a secondary attack that may be listed as an Expose attack or an Exploit attack. Expose attacks will occasionally expose/debuff a target which will cause the next exploit attack to critically hit. Well, a critical hit is a slight understatement … more like expose them to being instantly disintegrated. I currently have my toon equipped with weapons that have an exploit attack and an expose attack which in theory sounds good.

Providing additional (unnecessary) utility.

If weapon swapping felt a little more fluid and responsive it would work out great, but I’m considering giving my away team expose weapons and keeping an AoE exploit weapon equipped for my toon. I could go with two exploit weapons since the cooldowns on the secondary attacks of each weapon are not shared, but the expose debuff doesn’t occur enough to where having two exploit weapons would be ideal.

Having each weapon type still gives me the option to expose enemies and exploit them on my own, which would be greatly beneficial during ground fleet actions. Not that I would voluntarily join another another ground fleet action. At least the next time I do end up in a ground fleet action I’ll be able to provide more utility to the team.

Well that’s all I have for now. I’m hoping to get promoted to Commander this weekend so I can pick up a larger cruiser. Hopefully I don’t end up running the Guardian of Time quest-line 23 times to get there. ^^;

Persistence

I think I recall stating that I was hoping to blog a little more frequently about my STO exploits. I also recall stating that I would give a ground fleet action another go. Well, what do you know … I’m about to kill two birds with one stone. ^^;

Yesterday I had an opportunity to participate in a couple of fleet actions. Fresh out-of-the-gate I stumbled into the Crystalline Entity fleet action. Unfortunately I forgot to snap some screenshots, but I’ll be making a return visit to snap some pictures and hopefully join a group that knows what they’re doing. Well to be fair I had no clue what I was doing, but the general banter in the zone was eerily reminiscent of battleground chat in WoW.

Needless to say there was zero direction and zero cooperation. We’d get the entity down to 96% or so and then magically it would heal back up to 100% and so went the vicious cycle until I decided to abandon the mission and try my luck later. I’ll have to look up some leet strats for tackling the entity and then hope the next group is a little more receptive to implementing the strategy.

After the fail-fleet at the Crystalline Entity I licked my wounds and ventured off to tackle some standard missions and make my way out to the Pi Canis sector block to take care of a mission I had out there. When I finally arrived at the Laurention system I discovered that I the mission I had in my log was a space fleet mission. Sweet!

The calm before the storm.

I forget what the name of the mission was exactly, but it dealt with stopping a Klingon scouting fleet in the Laurention system. As usual with most missions in the game, there were a number of objectives to accomplish in sequence which culminated in an epic battle against a Klingon flagship and its escorts which were a +3 con to me.

I almost bought the farm twice, but I managed to keep myself up and provided plenty of assistance during the battle. At the conclusion of the encounter I managed to place 5th on the damage meters and scored a Quantum Torpedo Launcher Mk III [CrtD] from one of escorts.

After I swapped out my fore photon torpedo launcher I quickly came to one conclusion: quantum torpedoes are freaking amazing! They travel faster, hit slightly harder than photon torpedoes and just look cooler. I’ve since replaced my aft photon torpedoes with quantum torpedoes and don’t foresee myself going back, ever.

As I previously stated, I said that I’d give another ground fleet action a try and hope for better results. Fortunately the Laurention system offered a ground fleet action mission in addition to the space mission, so I decided to give it a go …

Ice Mining?! Again?

I’m not sure how, but I managed to jump into the Ice Mining mission again. I’m pretty sure my first go at the mission came in the Eta Eridani sector block, but maybe this particular mission can be undertaken from multiple systems. Despite strong desires to immediately abandon the mission I conceded that I would give a ground fleet action another shot, so in I went and hoped for the best.

Initially things were chaotic, but eventually I managed to “group up” with a small group of captains and we managed to limp through the first two objectives to the brick-wall I had previously encountered a couple nights prior. After a complete wipe, the small group I was running with encountered another small group of captains and together we formed a small army.

Teamwork is a requirement for ground fleet actions.

As with all fleet actions in STO, when everyone groups up and works together objectives are accomplished relatively painlessly. Our small army cut through the waves of Klingons with little resistance. What few casualties we suffered were remedied by other captains resuscitating the fallen; teamwork at its finest.

It still took a long time to clear the outer-ring and disable 20 consoles, but we accomplished the third objective to only be met with a fourth.  Fortunately the fourth objective only required killing 100 Klingons (/wrists). In the end we proved victories and we raised our blood-wine in celebration of being free to do something else … anything else.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever voluntarily join another ground fleet action after my first two experiences with the mission type. Ice Mining is a horribly designed and executed mission which bored me to tears with how long it took. I am thankful that my second foray with the mission proved successful, but if I encounter another ground fleet action similar to Ice Mining, someone at Cryptic is going to pay.

Oh how they’ll pay …

Tedium

There are moments where STO is extremely enjoyable and I find myself thinking that I’ll be in for the long haul. Then there are moments where STO falls apart for me and I struggle to keep going and find the motivation to log back in. But I am committed to giving STO a fair shake, so until something happens that is utterly game breaking for me, I’m all in … at least for another month.

So I’ll start with the bad and work my way towards the good.

I had my first taste of a ground fleet action (Ice Mining) which at first seemed like a lot of fun. It was great to run around with other captains without fear of poor AI pulling groups accidentally and being able to exercise crude strategies against the plethora of AI controlled Klingon enemies. Achieving the first and second mission objectives was easy enough, but by the time we faced a third objective things started to fall apart and I decided that I had enough.

Probably the largest issue that faced me was the endurance to tackle each tedious task after another. It wouldn’t have been as bad if the respawn rate of the Klingon AI mobs been a bit slower. It wasn’t so bad in the beginning because the first objective targets were close to your spawn location, but once you made it to the third objective this became a brick-wall. Any death at that point pretty much meant re-clearing all of the mobs to get back to where you were.

So yes, to say that I did not enjoy my first ground fleet action would be somewhat of an understatement. I’ll have to give another ground fleet action a chance, but I don’t have much faith that any ground fleet action will be able to sway my opinion on them.

Another oddity that I discovered that gave me pause came in a deep space encounter I joined in the Regulus sector. I don’t think I meant to join the encounter, (I was four beers in and just travelling to Memory Alpha, I think) but when I first joined, the Gorn ships were a -5 con to me. “I’ll cut through these guys like a hot knife through butter” I thought to myself until I saw an escort fly into a group and get vaporized.

At first I thought this escort was vaporized because of his stupidity for flying directly into a group without his big cruiser buddy to get that initial volley of disruptors and torpedoes. I thought this as I nonchalantly flew in and proceeded to get vaporized as well. WTF?

After I respawned I was able to ascertain what had occurred; I flew into a group of Gorn that were a +27 con to me. I’m not sure how it happened, but the deep space encounter had gone from a -5 con to +27. The only thing I can think of was that a Federation admiral had joined the encounter and caused the enemy ships to adjust accordingly.

I’m hoping the enemy level change was merely a bug and not a design decision on Cryptic’s part. Having enemies go from level 7 (I’m Lt.Commander 2nd grade) to level 39 in a beginning sector deep space encounter on account of a level 40+ player joining is a horrible idea. I really hope it was bug. I really really hope it was.

While there are still plenty of bugs in STO, there is one thing Cryptic put into the game that I am having a hard time understanding the implementation of. I am of course speaking of the Exchange, or in other words, the auction house. Simply put the Exchange is a disaster. Why in the world did Cryptic think it would be okay to implement an auction house without allowing you to sort the items based on price, quantity or name? I’m sorry Cryptic, but you need to improve the Exchange as soon as possible. Sure it might be functional, but it is a nightmare to use effectively.

The beginning of a 20 min epic battle.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten my gripes out of the way, let me move onto a moment I had that gave much pleasure: epic space battles.

Let me set this up …

It was your standard deep space encounter with 4 other captains; a mix of cruisers and escorts. We were cutting swathes through the enemies as a group until the fateful moment where an escort and I zigged where everyone else zagged.

As usual, the escort felt cocky and flew into a group ahead of me which consisted of a battleship, a couple of cruisers and a handful of frigates. Needless to say the escort didn’t stand much of a chance and was swatted down in a matter of seconds. My attempt to save said escort obviously proved fruitless, but I did manage to gain the attention of the group and thusly began my own epic encounter.

It wouldn’t have been quite as epic had I not mistakenly flown close enough to another group of ships with a similar composition. When I noticed what had happened, it was already too late and I began burning cold-downs just to stay up and pray for help.

Unfortunately that help did not come until I managed to aggro a third group. I somehow managed to limp away from the epic 20 minute fight-for-my-life battle with my hull sitting at a precarious 4% integrity. I managed to take down a number of smaller ships, but it wasn’t until the cavalry arrived that the larger ships started to fall.

So let this be a lesson: always be aware of your surroundings so that you don’t accidentally flee into another group. Taking on multiple groups of ships can be very hazardous to the well-being of your crew ^^;

I’ll conclude with the admission that I’ve been meaning to blog more frequently about my STO exploits. Between continuing Comcast HSI issues and real life responsibilities opportunities to blog have been few and far between. Hopefully I’ll get more opportunities to blog more frequently, but at the very least I’ll try to blog once a week.

Until next time.

Podcasted

Just a quick and dirty update for no other reason than shameless self-promotion. Recently I’ve appeared on two podcasts talking about Star Trek Online. Last week I was a special guest on The Addicted (episode #28) to talk about my experiences in the open beta and the headstart program. Hypknotoad and Cypher are great guys and if you haven’t already checked out their podcast, I’d highly advise you to do so.

Then today I sat in with Aprillian, Vrishna, and Bouvi for episode #3 of Ctrl Alt Trek which should be available later this week. We talked about our in-game exploits and gave a few tips for fellow noobs since we’re still discovering the game as well. If you’re familiar with Ctrl Alt Wow you’ll know what to expect from Ctrl Alt Trek. I might be making return appearances, so stay tuned.