Star Trek Musings: Picard’s Premiere, Discovery Season Two, and STO

Despite years of feeling like my Trek fandom has been left behind, I find myself quite steeped in Star Trek lately. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get to it.

Picard:

The official logo for Star Trek: Picard.Let’s start with what everyone is talking about: Picard.

As someone who grew up with TNG, it’s hard to remember the last time any piece of media felt as much like an event as this does. I’ve been filled with enormous hope, but also great worry that they’ll screw it up. Truthfully, I just didn’t know what to expect.

The first episode hasn’t done a whole lot to clarify my feelings, honestly.

There is a lot to love. There absolutely is. It goes without saying that Patrick Stewart is absolutely flawless. He always has been, and even if everything else was bad, the show could possibly be worth it for him alone.

Thankfully, he’s not the only thing Picard has going for it.

For one thing, this is quite possibly the most beautiful, aesthetically masterful piece of television I’ve ever seen. Picard has the sumptuous production values of Discovery, but rather than being flashy and extravagant, it feels lived in and homey. Every shot feels like a work of art, and the soundtrack is stunningly beautiful.

Picard is amazingly rooted in what’s come before. As a fan of Nemesis, I feared it might be somewhat swept under the rug, being an unpopular film, but Picard is almost entirely a direct sequel to it. Even beyond that, this series is a love-letter to the fans through and through. Subtle callbacks and easter eggs abound, but even the major plot points are the sort of things that you need to have watched a lot of Star Trek to understand.

Jean-Luc Picard and Dahj in Star Trek: Picard.This could be a double-edged sword. Right now I’d rate the appeal of Picard for anyone who’s not a hardcore Trekkie to be pretty much zero. But on the other hand, it’s wonderful from the perspective of someone who does know and love that source material.

One small thing that maybe shouldn’t matter but which I really appreciated is that every single alien we’ve seen so far, even extras, are from pre-established species. Romulan, Tellarite, Xahean. It makes the Trek universe feel more like a real place, something Picard is already doing an excellent job across the board.

It’s not all good news, though. I do still see some cause for concern.

The first half or so of Picard’s premiere is pretty much perfect, but after that things start to slip a bit. It slides a bit more towards the kind of cheap shocks and sensationalism that have dogged Discovery. It’s nowhere near as bad as Discovery yet, but it does leave me worried.

Ultimately, this is a show that’s clearly playing the long game with its story. You can’t really rate the first episode individually. It’s just the first part of a much bigger picture. Future developments could justify what seem like missteps now… or just make them worse.

All things considered, Picard’s first episode does an admirable job of living up to the mountainous expectations placed on it, but my worries are not entirely erased. There’s still lots of room for this to go badly wrong, and modern Star Trek doesn’t have a great track record for quality.

Agnes in Star Trek: Picard.Speaking of modern Star Trek…

Discovery: Season two

I pretty much gave up on Discovery after what I will generously call a rough first season. However, I heard from enough people that season two was better that I eventually caved and decided to give it another shot. I finished up just in time for Picard to start.

In some ways, season two of Discovery is a lot like the first. But in other ways — in just enough ways — it’s quite different.

The main thing that Discovery’s second season shares with the first is that they are both — to put it bluntly — really, really stupid. Season two’s meta plot is crushingly convoluted and riddled with enormous plot holes, and it completely falls apart under any kind of inspection.

Season one was dumb, too, and worse still it wasn’t even an enjoyable story. It was a dull, lifeless slog full of cheap shock value and terrible, occasionally offensive story choices.

At times, season two slips back into that. The most egregious example is what they’ve done with the character of Saru. Once a highlight of the show, season two manages to nullify pretty much everything that made him compelling as a character.

Doug Jones as Commander Saru in Star Trek: DiscoverySaru was introduced as a member of a prey species who live in constant, instinctual fear. It was a really unique concept for an alien race, and as someone who suffers from chronic anxiety, I identified with Saru in a way I rarely can with fictional characters.

Season two reveals that Saru’s species are not the prey but in fact apex predators once they reach a certain age. Firstly, this completely sabotages what made his race different. Now they’re just Klingons with better manners.

Secondly, the idea that chronic anxiety is something you can just grow out of is breathtakingly tone-deaf and downright offensive. It’s akin to writing a story where a gay person realizes they were straight all along once they meet the “right” person. It’s awful.

However, offensive stupid like that is thankfully the exception in Discovery’s second season. The whole arc is dumb, but most of the time it’s fun dumb. There are worse sins for a story to commit than to be dumb. Discovery’s first season was stupid and boring. Its second season is stupid and entertaining.

As always, Discovery knocks it out of the park visually, with state of the art special effects, spectacular art design, and lots of battle scenes filled with eye candy.

But what really makes the second season work where the first didn’t is that it has heart. There are many moments where the characters risk life and limb to do the right thing, with no real motivation beyond the fact that it is the right thing. That’s what Star Trek is all about, and though Discovery gets so much else wrong, that’s the one thing it really needs to get right. The first season didn’t, but the second does.

Michael Burnham in Star Trek: DiscoveryAs of now, I would consider myself converted to Discovery. It’s still a long, long way from my favourite Trek series, and there’s still a lot wrong with it, but it does now feel at least worth my time, with occasional flashes of true greatness.

STO update

And while I’m rambling about Star Trek, I might as well give an update on my continued adventures in Star Trek Online (beyond what was already said in my recent column).

I continue to mostly enjoy my time there, somewhat to my own surprise. I’ve said before it’s a very rough game, and it’s not getting any less rough the farther into it I get.

I played through the starter stories for both other major factions — oddly, the Starfleet content is shockingly brief, and Klingons don’t fare much better — and returned to playing my Rommie full time. She’s now at level cap and delving into the faction-agnostic story arcs.

Turns out this game has a pretty sharp difficulty spike at max level. I’ve gone from waltzing over enemies to struggling to stay alive on nearly every fight. This might bother me more, except there doesn’t seem to be an real death penalty in this game (as it should be, IMO). That makes the difficulty less frustrating and more a problem to be solved.

I am hoping to upgrade my gear some. To my dismay, the main source of endgame progression in STO seems to be reputation grinds, which I consider the very lowest form of MMO content, but on the plus side the lower tiers of reputation aren’t too hard to unlock. It could be far worse.

Space station Deep Space Nine in Star Trek Online.I’m also still playing my Starfleet character, an Andorian science officer, here and there. I switch over to her for story arcs that feel more appropriate for a Starfleet officer, like helping out the Bajorans. One thing that’s really nice about STO is that you can play through the missions in any order, and everything has level-scaling, so I can hop between the two characters at will without repeating any story or worrying about falling behind. This is an extremely alt-friendly game.

I still half expect myself to drop this game at any moment, but for now it’s still keeping my attention, if only because I’ve got Trek on the brain these days.

On top of everything else, one of my friends is now forming plans for a Star Trek tabletop RPG one-shot…

Gaming Round-Up: Torchlight II, Star Trek Online, Anthem, and More

Time for another quick round-up of some of the gaming I’ve done in recent weeks. This month I got a free month of Origin Access (somehow…), which allowed me to check out a bunch of games for free.

The Icetide season in Anthem.Torchlight II

The main coup of the free month of Access is that it let me play through Torchlight II, which means I’m now caught up and ready for Frontiers.

TL2 is an upgrade over the original in virtually every way. It’s still kind of a by the numbers ARPG, and not a lot about it is terribly original, but there’s a lot more variety of enemies and environments than the original, and it’s fun.

I can’t put my finger on why, but something about this game reminded me of the original Dungeon Siege. Strange to feel so nostalgic playing a game that’s new (at least to me).

The highlight of the game for me was my class, the Outlander. It may as well have been built for me. Bows, dark magic, support abilities, pets… it’s everything I ever wanted all rolled into one.

TL2 is still a little repetitive, and the last few areas in particular turned into a bit of a slog. There was never a lot of story in the game, but in the latter half it feels like the writers gave up altogether. The Alchemist started out as a relatively nuanced villain with a sympathetic motivation, but that just flew out the window after a while with no explanation as to why.

My Outlander in Torchlight II.My other major complaint is that the skill system is pretty awful. I’m not a big fan of traditional skill trees at the best of times, and this one embodies all of the worst sins of the concepts. You don’t just spend points to unlock skills but have to constantly dump more into them to keep leveling them up. Everything is massively level-gated.

And worst of all the respec only lets you change the last three points you spent. I wound up with a bunch of points sunk into skills that I only took because I had no better option at the time (thanks, level-gating) and no way to reclaim them and put them into abilities I was actually using.

Frostpunk, They Are Billions, and Diluvion

These are some other games I tried via Access, but I didn’t stick with any of them long.

They Are Billions sounded really fun in theory — zombie horde mode RTS is something I’m all for — but there’s little to no story, and it’s just not that fun. It takes so long to build up your base and get your economy going. It’s tedious.

Frostpunk is another one that sounded cool (hurr hurr) but didn’t deliver. It’s brutally punishing, to the point it feels impossible to ever get ahead. It’s just one crisis after another.

My city in Frostpunk.Beyond that, it’s just not that fun. You spend the vast majority of the game just watching your town run itself. You can speed up the game speed to hasten things along, but it constantly resets itself to the default speed, which is painfully sluggish. Bafflingly, this is intended behaviour and not a bug.

Diluvion is something I tried on a whim when I was scrolling through vault games. A post-apocalyptic steampunk submarine RPG sounded interesting, but there’s no voice acting, and the controls are terrible. I don’t think I lasted fifteen minutes.

Anthem

I haven’t been playing a lot of Anthem lately, but I have dabbled a bit to check out the new Icetide season. While it is a bit disappointing to not see more new gameplay (just a new Freeplay event and the time trials), I am nonetheless surprised there isn’t more buzz around the fact Anthem literally reskinned the entire game world to reflect a real world season. Has any other game ever done that before? I’ve never heard of it.

It’s gorgeous, too. I always like winter zones, but even for me this is a cut above. The light dusting of snow paired with the vivid red leaves is so striking.

It seems a lot of art design work for what is otherwise a fairly small update, and that has conspiracy theories spawning in my head. Given the rumours of a reboot, I wonder if the snow environment is something they were working on for the reboot that they realized they could port into the base game…

The Icetide season in Anthem.Time will tell, I guess.

Star Trek Online

The real surprise lately is that I’ve suddenly started playing Star Trek Online again. I didn’t really see that coming, but between getting caught up on Discovery and the hype for the upcoming Picard series, I guess I’ve had Trek on the brain, and I wanted a fix.

It’s been a long time since I played last, and I didn’t get that far before, so I started over with a new character, though still a Romulan. Only real difference is this one’s an engineer rather than a tactical officer.

The one big change from when I played last — at least in my view — is the addition of scaling tier 6 ships, which allow you to just stick with one ship throughout instead of changing every ten levels or so. If you ask me that’s how the game should always have worked. Changing ships constantly never felt right to me.

The scaling ships are mainly a microtransaction thing of course, which isn’t ideal, but I can live with it. I bought myself a D’deridex warbird (or more accurately bought the T6 equivalent and reskinned it as a D’deridex) and named it the Tomalak, which is all I ever wanted.

My D'deridex warbird in Star Trek Online.I’m choosing ships purely based on aesthetics and nostalgia, so I had no idea what the stats of a D’deridex were like until I started playing it. Turns out it has all the cornering ability of a brick lodged in half-frozen mud.

On the plus side, though, it seems very tanky. I can just shrug off most threats like they’re nothing. That plus a powerful but very short range AoE DoT make this ship very much a bruiser, but I’m enjoying it. Using my cloak to get in close and then popping my DoT can get pretty hilarious.

Otherwise my view of the game remains much the same as it always has. It’s super janky and full of bugs and clunky, over-complicated systems.

But it does capture the look and feel of Star Trek very well, and for now, that’s enough for me. I just wanted a decent Trek fix, and STO is giving it to me.

Also, I was jonesing for a new MMO to play. I’ve mostly played single-player and “not-so-massively” games this year, and I’ve had a great time with that, but it did feel time to sink my teeth into a meaty new (or new to me) MMO.

I will say this game is a bit like crack to a fashionista like me. So many options for both my character and my bridge officers. It feels like I’ve spent half my time in-game so far just tinkering with outfits. It’s a shame you can’t save multiple outfits for your officers the way you can for your own toon…

My Romulan engineer and her bridge crew in Star Trek Online.I did pick a good time to pick up the game, what with all the holiday sales on. When I got my D’deridex, I got a package with tickets for three T6 ships for barely more than the cost of a single ship. I still haven’t decided what to spend the remaining two tickets on. I’m considering Akira class, Galaxy class, and Valdore class (or again their T6 equivalents, which I would then reskin), but I’m also tempted to try something that launches fighters. Carrier has arrived and all.

There’s also alts to consider, as well. I’m not sure if I want to stick with my Romulan or branch out. If any STO players are reading this, do you think alts are worth it as a story fan? Would I get a lot of different content playing Federation or Klingon, or would it just be the same stuff as my Romulan past the tutorial?