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With the release of Season 9.5, the Star Trek Online team is continuing with our commitment to improve the overall quality of the game for all players, this time by focusing on Exploration Clusters. When they were created, we envisioned Exploration Clusters to fill the “explore strange new worlds” part of the Star Trek mantra. These missions used automated tools to facilitate creating large quantities of widely varied content. But then because of the systems, environment and character art needs of our game, these missions had to all take place at a limited array of locations (the dozen or so Exploration Clusters seen across the galaxy map) and with a limited suite of alien species (each Exploration Cluster has a handful of potential enemy and friendly races you interact with). The end results are thousands of simple missions that all play the same with similar alien groups across a small number of locations – nothing close to what we originally planned.
With the steadily improving quality of mission content available throughout STO as well as our recent efforts to explore more distant parts of the galaxy, Exploration Clusters have become something we’re reluctant to steer new players towards because they are not up to our current standards. But one of the main reasons they’ve stayed in the game as long as they have, is that Exploration Clusters remain a major source of crafting materials. As has been mentioned in other developer blogs, Season 9.5 marks a re-launching of our Research and Development system. This also comes with an update to how crafting materials are earned (most notably by adding them to PvE queue rewards). As a result, we’ve been able to reexamine the inclusion of Exploration Clusters in STO and found them not to be up to the quality of experience we want our players to have.
Removing Exploration Clusters means that players will no longer be able to enter the sector map that corresponds to each of these areas of space. Players that logged out in these maps will be warped to the appropriate area of the neighboring sector.
Duty officer assignments that previous took place inside these Exploration Cluster sector maps can now be accessed from a landmark in the neighboring sector. For example, Delta Volanis colonization missions can now be obtained from a Delta Volanis Exploration Cluster interactive object in the Vulcan sector of the Sirius sector block.
The transwarp powers available on the Tuffli Freighter and Suliban Cell Ship, that took you to these locations, will now take you to within sensor range of these interactive objects in the neighboring sector.
Accolades that previously tracked completing missions inside each Exploration Cluster will now track completion of duty officer assignments unique to those Exploration Clusters.
The daily missions to explore these Exploration Clusters have been removed, including the Explore Strange New Worlds and We Need Breathing Room daily missions. In order to replace these sources of Dilithium, we are looking at ways to add more Dilithium to rewards throughout the game, with a focus on adding it to rewards for single player content.
For those who will miss the opportunity to explore these particular locations, we will be adding doors to the Foundry so that player-created missions can make use of these settings. The limitless nature of the potential missions that can be created using the Foundry as well as the high quality of content that Foundry authors continue to deliver are both exactly in line with the original goals of Exploration Clusters.
While we are removing part of the game, we hope that this improves the overall quality of STO. In the end we aim to make Star Trek Online something you’re excited to be playing every week.
Lead Content Designer
Star Trek Online