Captain's Log: Star Trek Online's skill points and expertise

STO KDF Starbase
It's time to ramp up the efforts to help out Star Trek Online newbies -- not just experienced MMO players new to Star Trek Online but new MMO players in general. Since STO went free-to-play late last year, the game has seen an influx of new players, many of whom have discovered and have become a part of the game's wonderful community. To date, there are still many people who are making STO their first MMO and are looking for helpful hints.

With the kind assitance and input of many members of the STO and Massively communities, I'm continuing a series of columns devoted to helpful hints for the new player. This week we'll be taking a look at the game's skill trees for playable characters and their bridge officers.


STO FED Tactical Officers
What is a skill point, anyway?

In STO, all leveling characters receive two different types of points from every playable mission they undertake as well as from duty officer assignments. The points are called Skill Points and Expertise, respectively. Once a character reaches level cap (currently level 50), all points received from that moment on are converted into Expertise.

Skill points enhance a character's performance in a variety of ways. In STO, every character will face battle either in space (as the captain of her vessel) or on the ground (usually as a member of a five-person team). As Skill Points are spent in certain subjects, the character's abilities in those subjects are increased in minute increments. Over the course of gameplay through to the level cap, the player has the ability to make her character a jack-of-all-trades or a relative specialist.

Captain's Log Star Trek Online's Skill Points and Expertise
How skill points are used

To access the skill panel, press the "U" key; the character panel and inventory will appear. After ensuring that your main character has been chosen from the crew list on the left, click on the Skills tab at the top. That will reveal the skill tree for the main character. In the alternative, if a player has enough skill points to spend, a faded blue bar and the words "Skill Up" will appear in the upper-left corner of the game screen. Simply click on the bar and the same skill tree will appear.

There are five tiers of skills in which points can be spent: Lieutenant, Lt. Commander, Commander, Captain, and Admiral. Each level requires an increasing number of points. Before clicking away, review the entire panel and make a few basic decisions about your character's specialties. Don't waste points early in areas like "Ship Batteries" or "Driver Coil" if the character won't be relying heavily on shield batteries or needing to be fast in sector-space. If the character's ship needs better weaponry or hull strength, the skill points should be saved for "Weapons Training" or "Starship Hull Repair."

One of the niftiest tricks of the skill tree is the very handy filter tab in the upper right-hand corner of the window. If a player wants to know what will enhance a specific ability, a simple click on that ability in the dropdown list will highlight the skill box that will be most effective. In the example shown above, my character has a Backhand ability merely as a backup melee weapon. If I click on Backhand in the filter list, the skill tree highlights the ground trait "Combat Specialist." This clarified for me that putting points into the Combat Specialist skill will enhance my character's backhand abilities. If only he were a tennis player...

One of the downsides to the skill tree as designed in STO is the fact that the succeeding tiers will not open up until a minimum number of points have been spent in the tier preceding it. This usually forces a leveling player to spend points in areas she'd rather use for something else. This is just a reality of MMOs: They will, inevitably, find a way to make you want to pay for a retrain token when the character reaches level cap. Players who subscribe to STO (or are Lifetime Subscribers) receive a free re-training token with every new rank the character achieves. Since retraining tokens cost 500 ZEN ($5 US), you could argue that subscribing to the game while you're leveling would certainly be cost-effective.

STO FED Science Officers
Bridge Officers

The main character isn't the only one that needs to be well-trained in STO; the player needs to have a reliable crew as well. Bridge Officers, also known as BOffs, are assigned to the player's crew as she levels up in the game. Also, officers of unique species like Aenar or Caitians can be purchased via the ZEN Store.

Bridge Officers are especially important because their skills can differentiate one captain from another. As a player increases in rank, she receives a new tier of starship to command until she reaches Rear Admiral. Each new starship requires a slightly different blend of BOff skills; Tactical officers need to fill a role in weapons, Engineers maintain power systems that regulate shields and other core systems, and Science officers assist by using healing skills or their mastery of the use of radiation, nano-technology, or even space itself.

As a player advances in rank, and if Expertise points are available, she has the opportunity to promote her BOffs and increase their training in each of their four potential space skills. For example, a player is first assigned to a Miranda-class vessel when she begins the game. It bears only three Bridge officer spots: one Ensign Tactical, one Ensign Engineer, and one Ensign Science. However, by the time the player reaches the rank of Rear Admiral, the larger ship she commands will have more BOff skill slots that need to be filled to ensure that ship and crew survive the increasing challenges of battle. Therefore, promoting and training BOffs is, at least in my opinion, more important than the possible misplacement of a few skill points on the playable character.

STO BOff Skill Tree
Not just for space

BOffs are also very important for the away (ground) missions, too! Bridge Officers act as the player's own five-man team for most away missions. This allows players the freedom to play the game alone if they're not in a position to seek out other players for assistance. BOffs provide all of the skills required and can even fill in when a player-created team is running short a few people. This is one of the things I adore about STO. I can team up with one of my friends and choose as a group which of our Bridge Officers will fill out a five-man team for our PvE missions.

Each Bridge Officer has the potential to be trained in one ground skill for every rank between Ensign and Commander for a total of four. As Bridge Officers are promoted, they gain access to the elevated skill. Expertise is then used to increase their capabilities at each skill.

A year in to playing STO, I finally figured out how to focus BOff training to the point that I now have a five-officer team for the bridge of my tactical escort and a different team for my assault cruiser and two ground teams, one of which is more effective against enemies that use plasma weapons and another that specializes in taking down Borg.

The great news is, re-training Bridge Officers costs only Expertise, which is plentiful in the game. By the time a player reaches Vice Admiral, she should have enough Expertise to retrain her entire crew from top to bottom.

There is no possible way I could go into the minute details of training skills for characters and Bridge Officers in one column. I highly recommend that if you need to educate yourself a bit more on the complexities of skill training, check out STOWiki. You can also follow them on Twitter!

In the meantime, I ask you all once again to post in the comment section below the answer to these questions: What tricks do you wish you had known when you first began to play STO? What tips would you give to a new member of your fleet? 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 terilynn@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.