The Business Model
I did end up ordering a cheap retail box online to subscribe for one month, in order to unlock various perks for my character, including inventory, bank, and bridge officer slots. I also picked up some Cryptic points so that I could purchase an upgrade of 100 slots to my duty officer roster. (Note on this: I was credited 400 Cryptic points as a subscriber, but not until a day or so after I entered my retail key. I'd be more irked about this, except that my total investment in the game so far stands at $11.40.) How much these upgrades matter is open to debate.
It's possible to run the duty officer system at the basic 100 slots, but you will have to ditch low quality officers, and may not have the slots to keep a full contingent - i.e. there will likely missions you cannot do for lack of versatility. This factor is at least somewhat intentional to the system's design. A recent free patch add a bunch of Deep Space Nine related missions which tend to require new traits found on new duty officers. The line between more of a good thing and expansion for the sake of selling more slots (and more random officer packs to the so-inclined) is thin, and will undoubtedly be tested under the free to play business model.
The inventory slots are a bit more optional. I like to have more of them because I'm currently carrying around thirty six slots worth of crafting materials (which I keep on my person because I can't remember what each tier is called otherwise) and commodities. My need for both of these things is tied closely to the amount of duty officer missions I run (way more than the "normal" gameplay), as these missions tend to either generate or require items.
As to the bridge officer slots, I definitely have more than the minimum that I would need (currently 10 and counting), and a player who wants to fly a single specific ship can definitely get by with the free number. The main thing you get for having more slots is versatility, if you want to run more than one kind of ship, or have spare officers to swap out on a mission-by-mission basis.
On paper, STO does not have a ton of versatility in character class - there are only three "classes", and many of your abilities are derived from your bridge crew. That said, there is more depth to the system than may first appear.
Each ship type limits not only the class of officers (i.e. tactical, science, or engineering) but also the rank of abilities they can use. If my ship has a slot for a Commander Rank engineer, I might want an officer with Rank 3 Directed Energy Modulation as their top rank ability, and that officer would not want to waste their Lieutenant skill slot on Rank 1 of the same skill. By contrast, if I hop into an escort class ship where the only engineering slot is capped at lieutenant, I may want a separate officer with the rank 1 skill, so that I have the skill available if I want it.
|The not yet fully equipped USS PVD-5|
The other dilemma I faced was what ship to choose with my level 40 selection. Level 50 ships are upgrades over these, but not spectacularly so, and most of these ships are cash-store exclusive. My first choice would otherwise have been a cruiser, but I have a free level 50 cruiser waiting in my bank from the second anniversary event. Given how quickly I'm leveling, it made more sense to snag either a science or a tactical vessel since I could continue to use that at endgame if I wanted to.
I ended up picking the Fleet Escort tactical vessel. This unpaid ship comes with bridge slots for two tactical officers, two engineering officers, and one science officer. By contrast, the paid ships in the store tend to carry three tactical slots, which is more damage than you need at the expense of versatility. By comparison, if I actually decide to run with a science vessel it will be because I want to have maximum scientific utility options (debuffs, unique attacks, etc), in which case it might make sense to pay for a store ship (which has three science officer slots but only one each for tactical and engineering).
Pacing the content
I've heard complaints previously that leveling is "too fast" in the upper levels. On the one hand, I can see where they are coming from - I have a number of missions left in the very first Klingon War episode arc, and will likely hit 50 before I complete them. In particular, I think I only did a single mission that actually involved flying my ship during the entire level 40 range - a span where your three options are highly iconic variants of the ships from TNG, DS9, and Voyager.
That said, this also means that I will have significant amounts of new (to me, not to the game) story content available to do beyond the game's level cap. Is this approach harmful to my longterm enjoyment of the game? No idea. As of now, though, this game has been my primary game for over a month running and I've got plenty of stuff left to do. That's not a bad mark compared to many MMO's out there these days.