STF Review + Feedback: Infected
This is intended to be a fairly detailed review of the Infected STF.
This review will contain details about the whole STF, and as such contains spoilers.
Overall Infected is one of my preferred STFs, mainly because it can be finished in a timely fashion. That said, I think there is still room for improvements. I'm listing out my own thoughts here, so expect to see a lot of personal opinion. :D
Stopping the Flow
The initial 'kill Borg near space station' goal is a nice starter. It eases the group into coordinated play and gives a buffer for latecomers to join in.
I find the activation of the transwarp gate being tied to the mission popup dialogue jarring. It makes for a known exploit that feels very meta-gamer. If the intent is that people can get into position to nuke the gate, have the gate shield go down as soon as the initial borg are destroyed and have it remain down until X seconds after the first player fires on either the gate or the probes. This way a smart group can flank the gate (avoiding the probes) and launch a strike on the gate without having to play with pop-ups in what feels like a very exploit-y way.
The number of Borg ships that need to be cleared after each strike on the gate can make this drag a bit. That said, reducing the number of borg would make the challenge understandably easier. Less health/resistances but retained damage values and special abilities would make the clearing faster while keeping the borg ships a viable threat.
I'd suggest having a loot drop (purple item) on the defeat of the tac cube regardless of the state of the three transformers, and having a second loot drop if the transformers are all intact when the gate itself is destroyed. I'd also suggest having an accolade for defeating the tac cube with all three transformers intact, so players are aware that is a stretch goal for this section.
Starbase 82 in the background could do with some more borg-assimilation clues on the outside.
At this point the only real story is 'look, Borg!'. Some side elements that help describe how the Borg were able to get their transwarp gate up so quickly would be neat, or even some little constructor-Borg ships that you can blast to buy yourself some more shield-down time would give it more of a 'the Borg just got here' feel.
Fact or Fiction
The initial borg swarm should be triggered on a player moving into the room, rather than a player talking to the security officer, and have the security officer goal come up once the initial Borg attack wave are dealt with. This is because a player who does want to read the text will end up doing so while the rest of the group are shooting Borg. The group waiting on a player before moving on at their own pace is less direct stress on someone who hasn't read the story content before.
I'd have the first two interlink nodes in completely plain sight from quite a distance away - not around corners or peeking out from behind furniture. I think the idea of having nodes that are a little bit concealed is great - but should be saved for further in. At the moment we have hidden nodes early on and blatantly obvious nodes later.
Some of the later two-node or three-node rooms provide a nice change of pace, but there are a few interim rooms which just feel like repeats of the previous section. Losing one of these wouldn't make the STF easier, just shorter (although I completely understand that'd represent a lot of actual work). I think about three interlink groups could just be lifted entirely from this without realistically changing the difficulty.
The patrols are a nice touch, and require a team to consider them in their plans. I'd probably not have the patrol come so close to the second interlink node so it can be cleared in relative safety, but from the third and onward the added complexity of patrols is good. If I were designing the level, I'd probably have gone as far as to tie the patrols to interlink nodes themselves...
Captain Ogen as a boss fight is an okay fight. I'd prefer him to spawn in smaller numbers of borg more frequently rather than having just one mega-spawn-in all at once, but that's just me.
The final press-three-buttons puzzle is a great lead-in to the final boss section in the next stage.
Overall I quite like the art for the interior of SB82. The slow transition from Federation to Borg is nifty. I'd love to see a borg-fish in the fishtank, but that is so much just icing.
Having a few more story elements presented in the form of survivors, consoles that can be examined and other touches would be nice. Journals or reports of people who were in the Starbase as they came under attack and were defeated could add a nice System-Shock-esque feel, without compromising or even changing the gameplay. This could be used to develop a bit more player attachment to the characters of Ogen and Simmons : perhaps Ogen was a bit slow and was blocking Simmons' actions to try and get people to safety with an over-inflated sense of his own abilities? Maybe it was the other way around?
Deeper Into Mystery
The entire borg section of this is just more of what we've already seen. Almost every group I run with these days get past this using the sprint method, rather than actually fighting, because grinding through borg is just dull.
Something to mix this section up a bit could be nice: simple forcefields that require destruction of power nodes to shut down, or survivors that have trapped themselves in side rooms which need rescuing as a stretch goal (again accolades!).
I'd probably just lift the patrol from the very final corridor before the big boss, mainly to create a nice break between the generic-borg section and the finale. That or have the forcefield entrance be up initially, with an interaction required to bring it down.
The final Simmons fight is fun. I enjoy the jumping section (many don't) and the use of LoS breakers for the very final stage.
I do think that Simmons herself needs more exposition for her big kill-team attack, both in the form of taunting dialogue and more obvious visual FX. I've also noticed she doesn't tend to move into the game-space all the time in an effective way.
The final room plasma graphics are known to cause issues with some users from a hardware perspective. I've also noticed Simmons herself has acquired a big blue square around herself which is a relatively recent addition - it looks like a SFX texture rendering with the wrong shader.
Simmons herself could benefit from being a bit more visually impressive. Something to explain how it is she flies around would be neat. Having her more directly visible on entering the room would also be nice, rather than having her off to one side. This could, of course, be resolved with a cutscene treatment on approaching the first room.
The final section does not feel very mysterious. The bulk of people I know refer to Simmons as the 'Borg Queen' simply because she's female and she files around. More presentation of her as a character (both pre and post borg) could be done in a similar way to last time.
Clues about her LoS-based lightning attack could be presented earlier in the form of research notes or survivor dialogue about some kind of energy research that was being done on-station. This could even be extended by a hazard-room that uses the same kind of mechanic which the players have to time their way across - running when the machine is charging, breaking LoS from each other when it is zapping. That is, of course, a massive and significant change... so a puzzle like that may work better in a later STF.
The technology has changed dramatically since these STFs were introduced, as has both the game's design focus and the palette of tools available to the mission designers. Many of the comments or criticisms I've made are things that may well couldn't have been addressed in earlier iterations of the tech when these were made, and I'm fully aware of how much effort it takes to put one of these things together.
A polish pass on the STFs is entirely a wish feature. Improving them means more players will walk away with a positive experience (ideally even on failing), but I certainly won't be dismayed if the production direction is to put more focus into the Feature Episodes than the STFs.
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