Wednesday, February 29, 2012

STO's Early Game

Commander Green Armadillo is sitting at rank 26, cruising around the galaxy in the USS PVD-3, a Research Science Vessel.  This puts me nominally halfway through the game's level curve, primarily through the duty assignment system, with remarkably little intervention into the game's actual leveling content.

Choose your ride
 
One of the quirks to STO's modular "class" system is that players have relative flexibility to swap out their role in the game.  After ditching the introductory ship, I went with an "escort" class DPS ship, hoping for faster leveling.  These ships do indeed offer firepower, thanks to added weapon slots, bonus power to weapon systems, and slots for tactical bridge officers/consoles (both of which tend to add raw damage).  However, this ship felt squishy and I was not a fan. 

The science vessel I am currently piloting is more of a utility ship.  Science vessels have good shields, otherwise balanced stats, and a focus on special abilities (including buffs, debuffs, and some healing).  The ships come standard with special attacks allowing players to damage enemy shields, weapons, engines, or auxiliary systems.  It's still really early, but so far I'm a big fan.

That said, I would also like to try piloting a cruiser when I get my next promotion.  Cruisers are slower tank-like ships, but they are extremely tough, and tend to have iconic Enterprise appearances.  The "cost" of doing this type of experimentation is pretty trivial.  The one issue I run into is that, as a non-subscriber, I am still limited to a mere four bridge officer slots. 

A subscriber would have eight by this point, which would allow me to carry enough bridge officers to staff all these various ship types.  Almost all ships take one of each type of officer (tactical, science, and engineering), but the fourth (and later fifth) slots vary.  My cruiser wanted a second tactical officer, and I then needed to dismiss a tactical officer to make room for a second science officer in my current ship.  If I understand the system correctly, I will finally get a fifth slot at the Captain rank to house the excess engineer for the cruiser. 

(I'm also nearing enough Cryptic points to buy a pair of slots in the store, but I may opt to subscribe for a single month instead.  This is supposed to grant permanent access to all of the subscriber-only slots for inventory, bankspace, bridge officers, etc which is a pretty good deal for $15.) 

A slow start
One thing that's struck me about this game is that it got off to a very slow and underwhelming start.  The duty officer system that I've raved so much about does not unlock until level seven, which took me several gaming sessions to achieve.  The early levels of combat, especially in the introductory ship, are similarly underwhelming due to the highly limited number of weapon and ability slots at this low level. 

I also clearly did not help my cause by working on crafting early, as this requires travel to a specific out-of-the-way planet.  Using just materials harvested running missions, it will take a long time to get the materials to ever build anything, especially given that you must build schematics and other random stuff for skill points in the early going.  Again, it's only now that I have tons of crafting materials coming in from duty officer missions that I'm actually able to make all the stuff I need (especially as I gain levels much faster than I loot gear due to my extreme lack of actually playing the original game as intended.
Business model note: Speaking of crafting, for each rank tier, your gear can come in one of two "mark" qualities (in addition to the normal green, blue, and purple quality colors.  The odd numbered marks - e.g. mark 5 phasers for commanders - are built using only materials and schematics.  The even numbered marks - e.g. mark six phasers, also for commanders - require the use of "unreplicate-able" parts which are bought using dilithium ore.  Dilithium can only be earned through time-limited daily quests and duty missions, and can be freely converted into cash store Cryptic points.  In my view, these upgrades aren't worth the cost when you could be spending those points on other stuff, such as additional ships, or to save money in the cash shop.

Outlook
The good news to my less conventional approach to the game is that there is tons of content that I have yet to enjoy at my leisure.  Meanwhile, I've been surprisingly unhampered by the business model.  I don't really run into major issues with the limits on inventory as long as I actually use a bank every so often.  The bridge officer thing is mildly irritating, and I will probably pay for some additional duty officer slots (more because I enjoy the system and want more flexibility than because it's actually required). 

Depending on whether I prefer the Cruiser or the Science Vessel, I may want to purchase a ship at endgame.  (I have a free level 50 cruiser in my bank, courtesy of the anniversary event that got me started in the game in the first place.)  Even so, I'm on a path where I will probably spend between $15-30 on this game.  Given the value I've gotten out of it so far - it's not perfect, but it's definitely different and that counts for something - that's a fair price indeed. 

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

You could check Alienware promotion ( http://massively.joystiq.com/2012/01/24/cryptic-and-alienware-giving-away-free-star-trek-online-goodies/ ) if you leave in NA or EU. There's 10 days subscription plus some other bonuses - worked for me to get all that slots :)

Green Armadillo said...

Fair enough, but some catches - it's new accounts only, and the number of slots you get are tied to your rank. If you want all of the slots, you will have to rank up extremely quickly.

My plan has been to get to level 29 first, so that I can make a run at 50 by the end of the 30 days of subscription time. That said, as long as you get beyond level 10 it's certainly better than nothing.

Snickering Corpses said...

One option that's not new account only:

Buy an unopened STO box off of Amazon (or elsewhere, but make sure it's new and sealed, not used). Some of them are running cheaper than a month's subscription and come with a 30-day subscription code.

Warsyde said...

Are you sure subscribing unlocks all the officer/inventory slots automatically? I thought it simply enabled the unlocks as you level, which means you wouldn't get them for levels you'd already passed by. If that's not the case, I might have to resub for a month to unlock all the slots on my two F2P alts.

Tesh said...

@Warsyde, I've read that the unlocks are granted retroactively, at least for BOff slots and ship slots. I've not tested that, though. It is worth noting that the Amazon unopened boxes offer a Borg BOff, a pretty useful Engineer, and a Steam purchase grants a sweet Tactical console that's actually a little turret; it's perfect for plasma/tricobalt torpedo point defense. It does its thing automatically, leaving you to drive the ship and not worry about those silly projectiles. ...and yes, you can buy both and use the codes to get both, as well as 30 days of sub time for each purchase.

@GA, the beginning really is slow, but it oddly speeds up in the midgame and it's pretty fast even in the late levels. Not sure why they did it that way.

And yes, crafting is... dumb. The dilithium stuff is pointless, and overall, you level fast enough and get enough usable loot from drops that you really never need to craft. Beside that, crafting doesn't keep pace with the leveling curve. (Though WoW is worse on that, I'd say.) It's really only something I care about for the Aegis ship gear set, and even those three pieces are usually on the auction block for around 1 million EC apiece. (A fair chunk of change, but obtainable with a lucky BOff sale or canny play of the auction market game.)

As such, while I'm no expert with the game, from what I've seen (one capped character, another almost capped), you could completely ignore crafting and not really miss much of note. Even the Aegis set is outclassed by the "dungeon" gear that comes from endgame group content. Yesssss, there are some high end crafted ship weapons that are apparently "best in slot", but the difference between them and loot drop gear isn't enough to merit the dilithium cost, methinketh.

Oh, and Cruisers are decent. I'm partial to Science ship utility, but Cruisers are my second pick. Tactical ships are indeed too squishy for me. Cruisers are *slow* to turn, and usually act as tanky beam broadside boats, but that's fun in my book. I loved Sid Meier's Pirates game for its ship battles, and there's a little of that feel of "big battleships blasting broadsides" to Cruiser combat. (I do a bit of that with my Science ships, but since they are well-rounded, I tend to do a "hit 'em coming and going" sort of thing with them, where broadsides are good, but I can cause trouble from any angle.)

Helistar said...

I've been playing STO lately and I reached level 50 easily. I am an engineer/cruiser, so I tend to have a lot of survivability, average utility and average DPS. The good thing is that missions are level-scaled, so you can play them at any level without them being an automatic roflstomp of enemies (even if with Marc XI pink gear they tend to be quite a lot easier...)
I still find the player-authored missions to be vastly superior to the "original" ones.
BTW I always thought that the abilites are dependent on the player class, and not the ship, am I wrong? (I mean stuff like "Miracle Worker" being engineer-only).

Ardent Defender said...

I played STO at original launch 2 years ago and quickly got to Admiral max level at the time back then. Wasn't much content back then and had dropped sub after 2 months. Since then haven't played STO, though always loved Star Trek.

However since I heard the game gone FTP I started playing for free. Since then releveled up my Tactical Admiral back to the new level cap. Leveled up a Science officer I had sitting at lvl 23 to Vice Admiral. Had some fun, so decided to lvl up a Engineer I had sitting at lvl 1 for forever also. So far the Engineer is at lvl 37. He'll probably make 50 over the weekend.

Now as far as I know is if you played STO before it went FTP back in the beginning and had left the game then when you logged in you got all your back Doffs retroactively like I did at character login. I had so much stuff flash announcing on screen had no idea what it was all for. But some of that was getting all my Doff sets since hadn't logged in almost 2 years.

As well I'm not aware of any limited slots for BO's for non subscribers or Doffs for character. If that's the case then I clearly haven't noticed as my Admiral has 10 BO' active and another 12 or so I was issued and can't exactly use or make active exactly.

Much has changed in the 2 years since I originally subscribed. You can level fairly fast I STO and that hasn't changed. It's probably gotten much faster and easier to level.

Missions scale with your level or for missions taken when issued. 2-3 missions complete at your level is a ding and it's more like barely 2 missions at that. Patrol missions still one the fastest way to level visiting random systems for patrol missions and those are not really highlighted in game anymore as compared to how I remembered it back in the beginning. But random visit to almost any sector system gives you a system patrol mission different from the standard ones. And the are fairly easy and quick to do as well level on.

Missions do get more fun as you level up or some get more interesting like "Doomsday Device". Yeah can agree in mid 20's about that they start ramping up just a bit inore fun.

Fairly easy though to level in STO, so you can easily get to 50. As well if you check the daily hourly Events the "FED Mirror" event is a great time Tobruk the event to play and level as it's a whopping lit of XP gain for killing ships in the event for the hour event that happens daily at it's scheduled time.

You definitely don't have to craft to play the game or levelup. My character never did crafting 2 years ago at launch and still hasn't done any 2 years later picking the game up again. And got 2 Vice Admirals and a 3rd probably likely this weekend.

Yeah the ships are fun, I fly Cruisers mostly whether Tactical, Engineer and Science captain, that's just how I roll.

Ardent Defender said...

Forgot to add now what I haven't checked and not sure why is what's exactly available or different in a STO sub vs playing for Free. May have to look sometime soon just to see if anything is indeed different.

Blue Kae said...

The first 10 levels where you're stuck in the Miranda-class have always been slow. I had hoped when Cryptic revamped the level curve for F2P they would address that, but it doens't seem like they have. Ironically, the duty officer system can yield large amounts of skill points, so the mid to end game is much faster now than it used to be. Too fast in my opinion. I'd love to see an option to turn off officer skill point rewards from assignments or have them converted to bridge officer points (which is what happens when you hit level cap). As it stands now, for my alts I try to be careful about how many assignments I seen my crew out on.

You can get boxed copies of STO from Amazon for under $10 right now, but I can't vouch for how the retroactive unlocking works.

Crafting... yeah, I would recommend avoiding crafting early on. Generally you'll get equipment that is as good from mission rewards, plus you level so fast that you're better hanging on to dilithium and waiting until you get to the level cap to buy or craft stuff. The Aegis set is pretty good btw, and requires much less grinding than what you'd need to do to get any of the set pieces from STF's.

Stina said...

Hmmm reading your blog has me considering playing STO. Which is weird for me, as I've always thought of myself as a bigger Star Wars fan then Star Trek, yet I have no desire to play SWTOR... like at all; the Star Trek universe just feels more appealing to me for some reason or another.

I didn't notice anything on their website but is there any sort of referrals such as in Rift or WoW that if you send someone an email and invite them and they subscribe you get stuff? If there is, let me know as I'd love to give it a try and help someone out as a bonus.

Green Armadillo said...

@Ardent: I've got a retail box coming, I'll let you know in a month and a half or so what happens to the one-and-done crowd. According to Cryptic forums posts, it sounds like you do not ever lose bridge, inventory, bank, or other slots.

@Stina: Thanks for thinking of me, the forums say the RAF program is down for redesign post-relaunch. If you are willing to give Dell your personal info, try the link the anonymous commenter gave up above for some promotional stuff.