But in Star Trek Online, the game's mounts -- its ships -- are far more than just a means of getting from one area of sector space to another. They are the player's second character, a complementary entity that engages in battle in a very different way than the characters created at the beginning of the game.
In this installment of my series of tips for new players, I will begin to address the ships of Star Trek Online, specifically the Federation ships available to the first three ranks in the game.
In STO, every player will receive a new vessel to command with every new rank through Rear Admiral. This means that over the course of leveling, the player will eventually receive five new vessels until she reaches the rank of Vice Admiral. Vice Admirals do not automatically get a new vessel and are required to purchase a higher-tier vessel either from the ZEN Store or with in-game currency, called dilithium. There are also numerous ships available for purchase for every rank in the ZEN Store. I will not be touching on any of those ships in this column as I will be focusing on the ships that are available in the game only.
Each new vessel comes equipped with better hull strength, improved weapon slots, and expanded bridge officer capabilities than its predecessor. A player will gain a ship token from the Admiral Quinn at Earth Spacedock after she reaches the next rank, and the token can be taken to the Shipyard, where a new ship can be selected for use for the next 10 levels.
Once she's achieved a rank, the officer has the choice of using the improved vessel or any ship previously obtained. A player is never forced into using a new ship. While I wouldn't recommend using a Lieutenant-level ship as a Rear Admiral, I do know a lot of players (including me) who use the Rear Admiral-level ship at the rank of Vice Admiral. Sometimes players find giving up the expanded capabilities easy to bypass if they're comfortable with the ship they've used before and are comfortable with.
The moment a player passes the game's tutorial, he is promoted from Ensign to Lieutenant and is given the command of the vessel that he flew during the tutorial. However, he can also go to the shipyard and alter the look of that vessel from a selection of three basic models: the Miranda, the Centaur, and the Shikar. Unlike higher-tiered ships, the Lieutenant-level ships do not lend any advantage to the player's chosen profession. All ships have the same bridge officer skill layout and weapons slots; in other words, they provide no advantage for an engineer, a tactical officer, or a science officer. Any selection of the class of ship would be made for aesthetic purposes only.
The ship customization tool can be found in the lower level of the Earth Spacedock shipyard and will allow the player to select the look of his new ship the the look of his bridge/ship interior. A basic interior is provided, and several ship interiors are available for purchase in the ZEN Store.
The tier-one ship is also the same ship, statistics-wise, that the player used during the game's tutorial. It has two forward weapons slots and one aft weapon slot. The hull strength is set at 10,000 with a sprightly turn-rate of 13 degrees per second. It's a great basic ship that will help all new players gain an understanding of why ship use in STO is so vitally important.
When a player reaches the rank of Lieutenant Commander, she'll be faced for the first time with an actual choice of ship that will affect the way the game is played. While there is a general rule-of-thumb that cruisers are for engineers, escorts are for tactical officers, and science vessels are best for, well, science officers, that is by no means a requirement. I know plenty of players who love to mix it up a bit and have their engineers commanding escorts or a science officer commanding a cruiser. The decision is ultimately up to the player and how comfortable she with any given ship, regardless of her character's profession. The player is given the opportunity to select one of the three types of ship: cruiser, escort, or science. After the initial choice is made, the player can customize the ship using one of three basic designs for each class of ship.
For example, in the Lt. Commander rank, if the player chooses to command an escort, she will have the opportunity to customize the look of her ship using components from the Saber, Rapier, and Ushaan class ships. These ships have hull strength of 15000 and a turn rate of 16 degrees per second.
If a player selects a science vessel, she can alter the look of that vessel using the three classes made available, which are the Nova, Aurora, and Quasar class ships, which have a hull strength of 13500 and a still-quick turn rate of 14 degrees per second.
The cruiser classes come in three delicious flavors of canon-respectful designs: the Constitution class, the Excalibur, and the Vesper classes. Each one of these classic looks comes with a hull of 19500 but a much slower turn rate of 9 degrees per second.
The biggest difference in all of these ships is bridge officer slot arrangement -- the skills the commander will have available during battle. An escort will have two tactical officer slots for weapons skills, whereas science ships and cruisers will have two science officer and engineering slots respectively. This is where ship selection becomes such an important factor for many players since it's the bridge officer skills that will have the most influence on how space battles play.
Commander-level ships really begin to show the player how the difference between vessels can be really noticeable. Hull strength of cruisers definitely outweighs that of the escorts, but the escorts can really dish out some beefy DPS. Science vessels, at least in my opinion, tend to be a bit better-rounded as far as weaponry vs. survivability, but they have nifty tricks up their sleeve and can be indispensible in teams as a healer, especially for the more fragile escorts.
Again, a player will have his choice of three classes in each of three categories of ships. The tough-hulled (and four-nacelle) cruisers can be altered using the classic looks of the Cheyenne, Dakota, or Stargazer classes. Escorts can be customized using the skins of the famed Akira class or the Oslo or Zephyr class. The science ships at this level all have a "bubble hull" and can be tweaked in the customization tool using the Hope, Olympic, and Horizon skins.
Again, it's up to the player to decide what skills he feels are more useable in the game and complement his personal playstyle.
If you want to know more about all of the ships available for federation characters, check out this amazing (and very handy) chart made by player SpiderMitch. In the future I will focus more columns on the higher-tiered Federation vessels as well as the ships of the Klingon Empire. Until next week, live long and prosper!
Incoming communique from Starfleet Headquarters: Captain's Log is now transmitting direct from Terilynn Shull every Monday, providing news, rumors, and dev interviews about Star Trek Online. Beam communications to firstname.lastname@example.org.