Now that the NDA of the Star Trek Online has been lifted, I’ve had a fair few people ask me some questions about it, and decided it would probably be good to summarize some hints and tips, as well as giving an overview of the general mechanics of the game. The tips and suggestions will include mainly the low level stuff, as you should be able to make your own conclusions after playing for a while.
A slight disclaimer should note that the views expressed here are my own opinions based on roaming around in beta, and only that, opinions. Also, this will be a lot of text, the TL;DR version should be at the bottom. :)
First off, the general setting is – as the name implies – the Star Trek Universe, where you’re roaming around captaining your starship, or leading your away team to boldly go wherever you want! Undertaking missions involving combat and/or exploration for the benefit of the Federation or the Klingon Empire.
The actual game is divided into two different sections, ground and space. When you’re on ground missions, you run around as your avatar, with a squad of 4 others, either your NPC officers or other players. While the space section has you captaining a spaceship roaming around in space.
Probably the most anticipated and fun part of the game is the space part of the game. A typical fight would involve maneuvering around trying to destroy the other ship with phasers and torpedos, making sure to have them in your firing arcs, while at the same time trying to deflect as much damage as possible into your shield, balancing out the shield to the area where you are receiving damage.
The shield mechanic is based on there being 4 different sections on your ship each covered by a portion of your total shield energy, then as attacks come in, your shield will absorb a fair amount of the damage, depleting the energy in that section. At that point you should use skills to channel energy from the other sections over to the damaged one, or simply try to maneuver away so the damaged section is no longer facing the enemy.
The weapons mechanic consists of there being front and rear weapon slots, with each weapon having a different firing arc. The main types of weapons are energy weapons, torpedoes and to a certain extent mines – the energy weapons are usually quick to fire and are relatively decent at sorting out shield, while the torpedoes generally have a longer reload and have extreme amounts of damage to hull when the shield is down.
The choice of weapons determine how you’re going to maneuver around in combat, typically the smaller arc gives the most damage, while the 240degree arc does medium damage, and the 360 arc does less damage. As an example, if you were extremely forward focused, you could put cannons (45degree) and torpedoes (90degree) in your forward slots, and turrets (360degree) in rear slots. If you go with such a setup, you need to adjust your playstyle to ensure that you almost always face the target, while a more balanced setup with 240degree phasers front and rear would have a more flexible setup, being able to deal damage while performing evasive actions.
As an example, the standard setup is forward and rear 240degree phaser beam weapons, and front torpedoes in the second weaponslot. I’d keep the phasers on autofire and try to broadside the other ship, while switching sides or adjusting shield power to compensate for their damage output, until their shields are failing, at which point I try to get them in the frontal view to launch torpedoes for the massive hull damage.
In addition to this, you also have control over where you want to put your power. There are 4 systems in need of power, namely weapons, shields, engines and auxiliary. Increasing power to weapons or auxiliary will increase damage from energy weapons or effectiveness of various utility skills respectively, while increasing power to shields will improve shield regen rates, and engines will increase movement speed. In a typical combat situation, I found it generally preferable to set full power to weapons, remainder to shields and minimal to engines/auxiliary due to the ships usually not being strong enough to break through my shields before I could destroy them.
Another tip when it comes to surviving against stronger ships especially, is that you should quickly identify if they have a ton of torpedoes and/or cannons at their forward arc, typically escorts will have these, if so – try to avoid being in their really strong arc, as that could easily the difference between a destroyed ship and taking minimal damage.
Furthermore, the outcome of battle will be influenced by the use of skills, these are coming either from your character, your ship(type) or your bridge officers.
Bridge Officers and Ships
Bridge Officers are NPCs you recruit or gain as rewards throughout the game with their own special abilities. As you progress in the game, you can also train and promote your own bridge officers, advancing them in rank just like yourself, with the slight exception of them needing to stay at least one rank below you. For each rank they gain, they gain access to another skill.
The different ships available have a set amount of Bridge Officers you can use at the same time, and different grades as well. As an example, the first science vessel you can access (when you reach rank Lt. Commander) has room for two science, one tactical and one engineering officer, however only one of those two science officers can be ranked as Lieutenant (Rank 1, Ensign being Rank 0), while the other has to be ranked as an Ensign still. As a result of this, only one of those officers can use their rank 1 skill, while the other one will have this disabled.
The different ships you can use are divided into three types, Science Vessels (Science Bridge Officers), Cruisers (Engineering Bridge Officers) and Escorts (Tactical Bridge Officers). Cryptic has stated that they’re aiming to fill three different roles in combat with these, and want the Cruisers to fulfill a tanking role, Escorts to perform a damage role and Science Vessels to represent the utility. The main attractions of the different ships are that Escorts are able to mount cannons, are agile and have an extra forward weapon slot, cruisers are slow, have an extra weapon slot and have a ton of hitpoints, while science vessels possess more shields than the rest and have the ability to target subsections of the enemy vessels.
As far as endgame goes, the current final tier ships will allow you to have one Commander (Rank 3) and one Lt. Commander (Rank 2) of the main ship career active, while having a Lieutenant and Ensign of a second career active, and a Lieutenant of a third career active – which career the latter two relate to will depend on which subtype you choose for the final tier ship.
What does this mean? This should be one of the main things to consider when deciding on a ship class. In addition to the special effects for its given class, you will only have Lt Commander and Commander Bridge Officer skills available for the given career for your shiptype available.
Careers and Progression
As mentioned before, there are three different classes or careers in the game, namely Tactical, Science and Engineering. The real impact these careers have on the game is narrowed down to what kind of ground abilities (kits) they can use/equip, and to a certain degree what kind of special skills they receive for use in space.
I’d like to just note that there are people thinking that a certain career means you will be locked to a certain type of ship, which isn’t true at all. As it stands, certain career abilities will favor some ships more than others, but you could also argue that those abilities will complement the other ship classes as well, so it’s really up to personal choice. Note that I’m not 100% sure what the abilities for the different player careers are, as I couldn’t find a list of them, and they seem to appear at random levels.
The progression is a simple leveling system, sort of tucked into the Starfleet ranks. From Lieutenant to Admiral basically involves 50 levels, with a rank up and new ship possibilities every 10 levels.
Each time you complete a mission or defeat some of the higher ranked enemies in the game, you receive an amount of skillpoints. These skillpoints can be used at any time to increase your skills in the skill list. A note here should be that all of the skills are either ground or space skills, and you don’t gain any powers directly from the skills you select, in fact, most of the advanced skills are simply enhancing other skills used by yourself or your bridge officers.
Currency and Missions
The currency in the game is divided into two. First you have the “replicator credit” which you get from “selling” items you find. This will let you “buy” various items from most merchants ingame. Secondly you have merit points, which are awarded at the end of missions and could be seen as faction credits to be spent on various faction perks from Starfleet. In addition to these two, you have a fair amount of commodities you can either buy or trade for, some of which are required to complete certain missions. As an example, to progress in a quest at Deep Space Nine, you need 10 Entertainment Provisions, which are traded for by a nearby merchant, who requires something like 6 Provisions to trade for one Entertainment Provision. The regular provisions are replicated and sold at Starfleet commodity brokers, so you would need to first buy 60 of those provisions, trade them with the shady merchant, and then turn them in to the person who has the quest.
In addition to currency, Cryptic declared that crafting was in-game, which is true according to their definition I suppose. As you travel through the universe, you come across anomalies, which upon examination rewards you with some sort of artifact or other item. Gathering these and giving them, along with an item to a merchant will reward you with an upgraded version of the item, I can’t say it’s quite SWG-crafting, but then again, nothing is. :)
The various missions you can perform are relatively diverse at first, ranging from exploration quests, kill quests, and fairly mixed content. Furthermore, all missions and encounters are scaled to your group size, so you can group up and still receive challenging content, as the game will just spawn more ships or harder enemies for you.
In addition to these you have missions in the form of Fleet Actions which are similar to public quests in Warhammer Online, where a ton of people group up and perform a shared goal. These also seem to mix a bit of space and ground as well, establishing groups as you beam down to perform ground combat.
Ground combat is exactly what it sounds like, where you run around like most other mmos today, except you have a relatively limited amount of skills on your character. The mechanics are slightly different than what’s “standard” compared to the other mmos out there is that you have an expose/set-up-for-damage system and flanking damage. You want to initially perform an expose attack to render the target immobilized and open for massive damage, almost similar to dropping shields of a starship, and follow up with a damage attack to deal added damage. Furthermore, attacking from the side or the back will deal extra damage, so positioning is key to do the tactical approaches here.
Now, the reason I don’t write too much about ground combat is that I really don’t have too much positive to say about it, I dislike the controls, combat feels very unnatural and there’s an insane amount of latency compared to space combat – I assume the latter one will be fixed soon though. However, after the first few ground combat missions, I just sat there with a sour taste in my mouth whenever I saw these appear, and just wanted to get back into space as quickly as possible. The solution to ground missions was for me to just run into the midst of the enemy and hopefully get killed, then go do something else for a few minutes, while my trusty Bridge Officers killed the remaining enemies and helped me get back up.
Another “flaw” in both the ground and space combat, but much more visible in ground combat, is the utter lack of any death penalty. One of my missions bugged at one point, rendering the level of the boss I was going to kill much much higher than it should be, pretty much unbeatable in a fair fight. However, when he decided to follow me back to my respawn point, things started looking up – except I don’t think the “graveyard zerg” tactic should be one of the more viable ones for defeating tough opponents. Yet, with no death penalty whatsoever, this is unfortunately not only a viable tactic, but a fairly efficient one as well.
Klingon Gameplay and PvP
A separate section is needed here, as the above is mostly generic, but all based on the Starfleet side of the universe. Once you reach Lt. Grade 5 or 6, you receive the option to create a Klingon character. This character will start at Lt. Grade 6 as a member of the Klingon Empire and roam around with his stealthy little Bird of Prey.
I have to admit I didn’t spend a lot of time on my Klingon character, so I can’t go into details on this, but from the little I played, I can tell you there’s a lot of fun to be had with a cloaked ship!
The Klingon progression has been flagged as being very PvP-centric, and I suspect it became quite apparent when one of the first missions I received was to die 25 times in PvP combat.
All the different scenarios were something I didn’t get around to testing, but from what I could see, there’s a wide variety of scenarios and “battlegrounds” to participate in, and the ones I did try were quite a bit of fun, despite me figuring out the hard way how cloaked doesn’t really mean undetectable as I managed to get too close to one of the enemy ships, and received a very timely torpedo barrage before I was able to remove my cloak and raise my shields.
All in all though, I feel the game as a whole comes off strong despite its flaws. The space combat is quite refreshing, and as you progress to the stages where you gain new ships and more skills, the combat really turns hectic, and it’s increasingly difficult to keep track of all the different angles you need to maintain for weapons, shield values, power balance, positioning to minimize damage and various skills to use.
The concerns are present especially regarding ground combat with away missions, but also in the sense that I feel they may have a case of the diversity and potential for longevity in the game not really showing until you’re quite a while into the game, and as such, it might scare off some people.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep petitioning for Star Trek Online to follow the Starfleet directive prohibiting captains to participate in away missions …
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