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).
|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.
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.