Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Tale of Two Captains

Narilya, my Klingon Defense Force captain in Star Trek Online, hit level 50 today.  Given how I've spent my time in game, I've taken to joking about how impressed I am with the cosmetic ships and the ship/ground combat minigames attached to the vessel that I use to fly my duty officers around the galaxy looking for missions.  (The joke is that said "minigames" are actually the entire game of Star Trek Online as it existed prior to the most recent patch.) 


That said, as I've spent more time with the system, its flaws are beginning to show through.  Much as I enjoy it and find it unique, comparing the progress of these two characters has made me feel like my main is not getting all that much for a vastly greater time investment.   

The Federation Main
Vice Admiral Green Armadillo has made a lot of progress though the duty ranks, with a minimum of rank two in every commendation category, one rank 3 complete, and half a dozen more closing on that number.  I have completed around 2/3 of the assignment chains in the game (21 chains complete, 13 in various stages of progress, and only one chain that I'm aware of but have yet to encounter).  

In order to reach this this plateau, the Faydwer routinely makes 2-3 circuits around the Galaxy daily, in search of the best missions its crew can complete.  Earlier on, this process would take around 30-40 minutes, though it has started to take less time now that I have improved travel options and less need to travel to destinations where I've already completed the main missions.  Typically, my priorities are:
  • Missions that advance assignment chains.   
  • Missions that recruit more duty officers.  Sometimes I'll pass on one if I'm really close to hitting a milestone somewhere else, but in general these are the longterm investment that keeps the quality of the crew expanding.  
  • Missions that award better than normal commendation advancement.  Typically these occur less frequently, require additional/more specific officers, or in some cases cash/commodity items to begin.  
  • Other priorities, which vary.  If there's a sector reset looming, I might take the shortest missions available so they will be complete and out of my log when the new missions come up.  If I'm close to the next rank in a commendation category, I might focus on that.  Earlier in the leveling curve, I made an effort to advance crafting, while now I'm more likely to use excess slots on Gamma quadrant commodities (which tend to be used in the better-than-average and/or story missions).  
As a result of all these efforts, the DOFF crew of the USS Faydwer includes 180 officers (including the active duty folks - I paid 580 Cryptic points to boost the cap on this character by 100 from the default 100).   Of these, 14 are "very rare", 27 are "rare", and over 100 are "uncommon" (33 are "common" and I wasn't bored enough to count the greens).  I have 2-4 of most specializations, with larger numbers in some of the more frequently used callings (for example, 11 security officers, only one of which is common quality). With this contingent is pretty rare that I'm NOT able to put together an assignment team with at least a 75% chance of success. 


Stats on the crew of the Faydwer - note that you can temporarily have more than 20 assignments due to injured crew in sickbay, which appear on your "in progress" list and award some medical commendation xp but do not count as real assignments. 


The Klingon Alt
As a Klingon faction character, Lieutenant General Narilya started out at level 20, but my Federation main actually had the far greater head start because he had several weeks to collect duty officers while earning the required 25 levels to unlock Klingon play.  Additionally, as an alt, this character was always a lower priority. 

For the majority of her career, Narilya's ships never went more than a lightyear away from the Klingon homeworld of Qo'nos.  I simply logged in with her for maybe 5-10 minutes to accept any missions her more limited crew was able to complete.  This often meant low quality missions with less impressive rewards, and higher failure chances due to a lower quality crew. 

With fewer trips to the locations where missions occur, this character has never completed an assignment chain, or even gotten more than two steps into one.  Her commendation ranks sit at mostly 1's and 2's (though a few of the 2's are surprisingly far along because those mission types were more common on the Klingon side). 

(The IKS Kunark, which is capped at 100 reserve officers plus the 10 active slots, currently has a contingent of 97.  This includes only one "very rare" officer, from the DS9 questline and 7 rare officers, though the majority of the crew - 60-some - are uncommon quality.  It may be worth noting that the Klingons offer frequent and profitable rewards for executing white quality officers, which definitely helps with staying under the cap.) 

The Smaller Gap
Despite this massive different in time investment, the rewards weren't as different as one might expect.  The way the duty exp curve is set up does not award anywhere near the premium that one might expect for lengthy missions.  A common mission that takes 20 hours may only award as much exp as an uncommon mission that takes two hours. 

By logging in and taking a bunch of short duration missions, Narilya sometimes completed more missions in an individual day than Green Armadillo could, with most of his slots tied up in 20 hour story missions.  In her five minute session, Narilya would pick up 10 missions, while her Federation counterpart might spend 30 minutes looking for the most profitable use of his last two slots. 

Meanwhile, the dramatic difference in the size and quality of the respective crew is mitigated by the cap on active assignments.  Any given task requires from 1-5 duty officers, and you are limited to 20 no matter how large your crew is.  The Faydwer generally has 50 or so out doing stuff, while the Kunark generally has 30-40 officers on assignment, and generally cannot take multiple copies of lucrative missions, such as military offensives, for lack of personnel, but both ultimately cap out at the same number of assignments. 

There is definitely a difference in rate of advancement -  both characters have been able to advance at a rate of nearly a level per day if I really focused on running missions for regular exp, while Narilya's cruise control approach netted more like a level every 2-3 days.  My main also has way more money - around 20 million energy credits - due to obtaining stuff that he can sell on the exchange, along with higher quality officers for his active duty slots and more transwarp teleports earned through diplomacy.  It just seems that the difference isn't that satisfying given the vastly different effort I'm investing on one character over the other.

Looking forward
One thing that will be very interesting to watch is whether Cryptic adds the ability to obtain additional assignment slots to the store.  This would be a popular seller, as it's an oft-requested feature and it would allow more dedicated players to leverage their larger and more skilled crew (and, in turn, encourage players to pay to get a larger crew).  However, it also poses a challenge to the rate of advancement - already players are arguing, for better or worse, that this system awards too much exp too quickly (especially if you actually combine it with playing the traditional game).   

Meanwhile, some of the changes they are making seem to further diminish the value of focusing on the Duty system, by increasing the variety of missions available to the five minute captain.  A patch last week added mission NPC's to the interior of player ships.  The NPC's now always offer certain basic missions (which no longer take up slots on the exterior mission list), and can also provide extra options for the captain who does want to duck in for five minutes, fill up their log, and not think about the system again for a while.  At the moment, the bad news is that this requires zoning into each deck of your ship and running around, but this will soon be moved to an "intercom" button on the department head UI. 

Overall, as they flesh the system out more and make it more accessible, it's beginning to feel more like a minigame than a game in itself.  In some ways, this is a good thing, to the extent that it encourages focus on what they still view as the core game. 

That said, I was focusing on getting the second character to level 50 while the one month of subscription time I paid for was live, to take advantage of subscriber unlocks.  The issue for Cryptic is that I probably won't turn around and spend the excess time playing STO's regular missions.  Instead, I'll log in to my main for the requisite 10 minutes every day or two and then go play something else that rewards me more proportionally for my time investment. 

2 comments:

Helistar said...

Interesting post, my approach if quite different as I focused more on the "space-endgame", i.e. the STF missions. The Duty Officer minigame is nice, but I never tried deliberately to maximize my success %, or to search for specific missions. As a result, I'm behind you in advancement, expecially when it comes to the assignment chains. BTW one of the things I dislike is how the assignments show up randomly, so I really liked the last patch, where the added specific NPCs. Now if I want to focus on recruitment I can just camp the academy and chain-start the recruitment assignments (even if the hidden cd thing is annoying).

Just like you I have two characters, and the Klingon one was mostly leveled using Duty Officers, using the "log in / add random assignments / log out" approach, which is actually very efficient as you level up.

I plan to abuse the system a bit more and take advantage of the subscribed month to buy myself extra character slots, so as to have one character per class on both factions.

[continued]

Helistar said...

[split from previous since it's a different subject]

I agree with you that while the game is nice "first contact" as you dig deeper the flaws show up. As I run STF over STF, apart from the repetition (there are only 3 space missions, each with two difficulties), the class/spec imbalances become evident. I started with an engineer/cruiser to do some tanking, but unfortunately it turns out that:
- tanking is a mess, and it's quite inefficient
- optional objectives are DPS races
- you can tank with a DPS for long enough to get out of range, so you can just ping-pong aggro.
- the DPS difference between tank and dps is enormous: my level 45 tac officer/escort (Klingon) with random blue/green gear can outdps by almost a factor of two my tank, who is actually badly specced for a tank (I have too much DPS player skills) and who has half slots which are mark XII purple gear. I don't dare imagine what DPS I'll able to dish out with a level 50 fully geared tac officer/escort. I'm leveling a fed-side one just to see :)

The player skills (=talents) + Bridge officer combination is very interesting, but I think it's interesting only because:
- there is no easy way to test your DPS. I wrote myself a log analyzer, but, being used to WoW, I find the combat log to be VERY lacking.
- there is no DPS dummy where you can do tests.
- the player population is low.
- as a result there is no hard data anywhere and the forums are full of outdated/wrong/anecdotal information. The "cookie cutter" spec does not exist, simply because noone has found it, and even those who optimize have no hard data to support their claims (and there ARE players who have optimized, in my random groups I've encoutered people who out-dps everyone by so much that it's definitely not random chance).

In any case I'm having fun, and I like running player-created content (the 3-part "episode" starting with Dereliction Duty is really good, I had a look at the foundry and I cannot even understand how the author managed to create it.....).
And when you have fun playing, there's nothing more to ask :)

If you ever want to run STFs let me know, we can arrange to play together. One big advantage of STO over WoW is that there's only one server :)