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Captain's Log: Beginner's guide to Star Trek Online

Ryan Greene

Avast, me hearties! Shiver me timber beams, and raise the mainsail matrix! The weather in the Beta Ursae Sector Block has been so nice lately that the crew of the U.S.S. Bob Wiley has a little spring fever. We've been hanging out in the holodeck re-enacting a trio of historical recordings about Caribbean pirates, and the parlance has rubbed off on me a bit.

Welcome to another edition of Captain's Log, ye olde Massively column on the vagaries of Star Trek Online. With the Bajoran lilacs in bloom, patrolling seems like such a drag. And with the solar winds wafting so lightly through the Rolor Nebula, spreading diplomacy throughout the sector blasting Cardassians into oblivion has lost some of its luster. Spring is a time of new beginnings. (Your humble captain assumes that the rest of the galaxy experiences spring at the same time as the Eastern Seaboard of Planet Earth's United States.) So let's take a look at the beginner's experience in Star Trek Online.

A Few Reasons to Try STO

The first step in any beginner's guide should be reasons to actually begin! So here are three reasons to step into your starship.

  • Space combat - It's divine! Truly, I've rarely had so much fun in an MMO as I have lobbing torpedoes at a pack of enemy frigates. It's so much fun, in fact, that I get too excited and usually end up right next to the enemy ship when it explodes. Which hurts.
  • Casual friendly - As with many MMOs, this one gets less true as the game progresses. But STO starts out very friendly to casual play. The main storyline missions can be handled pretty quickly toward the beginning, though after 20 levels or so they start to require 90 minutes or more. Patrol and Exploration missions, which can take as little as 5 minutes and as much as maybe a half hour, remain my favorite hit of quick gameplay. Toss in PvP queuing, and STO definitely has the casual covered. That's not to say that STO should only appeal to the casual set, but the relative scarcity of end-game content can turn off the power-leveling crowd.
  • The times, they are a-changin' - Cryptic Studios is patching in content at a pretty steady clip. Say what you will about the state of the game at release (I'll likely agree with you), but the developers are definitely hard at work. The game already boasts a healthy dose of new features -- which I'll discuss in more depth in about two weeks.
Character Creation

Massively has already introduced readers to the character creation process and to player traits, so I won't bore you with too much rehashing here. But briefly, a new player first logging into STO must start with a Federation character. Players can unlock the ability to create Klingon characters after gaining a few levels on the Federation side.

  • Federation - They're the "good guys" in all the Star Trek movies, TV shows, books, games, coloring books and lunch boxes. They fly ships with (mostly) saucer-shaped tops, like the U.S.S. Enterprise. The Federation is, by default, the main faction in STO.
  • Klingon - They're the "bad guys." They fly green ships that look vaguely like angry metal birds and can turn invisible. At this point, the Klingon faction is stuck squarely with the short end of the content stick. Most of their gameplay consists of PvP, though Cryptic is heckbent on expanding the faction's PvE options. Right now, they also don't get a lot of ship customization, but that's for another Captain's Log.
Cryptic also promises more factions to come, though whether they'll be available immediately or unlockable remains to be seen.

After joining the Federation, the player has to choose one of three career paths. Don't sweat this too much, because any type of officer can fly any type of ship in STO. When I got started, I assumed that making a Science Officer meant I might be stuck with Science Vessels. That's not the case. For our purposes, the main difference among career paths is the type of ground combat abilities you'll receive. While everyone gets various buffs and debuffs, each career has some unique properties.

  • Engineering Officer - These are the Scottys and the Chief O'Briens of the world. They're the guys in the yellow shirts shouting about not having the power. (Or was that Ace Ventura?) In STO, Engineers are known for fabrication abilities. They can make turrets that spew grenades, emit energy shields or heal allies.
  • Science Officer - These are your Bones McCoys and (sigh) Julian Bashirs. They're the folks in blue shirts who are doctors, not physicists (or escalators, or moon-shuttle conductors.) In STO, Science Officers get most of the healing abilities, as well as some nifty ways to stun, control and otherwise harass enemies.
  • Tactical Officer - On one hand, these are the Worfs and the Commander Rikers, the best of the best. On the other hand, they're the red shirts. The walking cannon fodder. The away team members who always die. In STO, Tactical Officers boast a much longer lifespan. They specialize in tanking and in dealing damage.
So, it's time to make a character. You can choose whichever you want, but today I'll make an Alien Engineering Officer. Using our traits guide, I'll make him a Damage Dealer. So I'll give him the Accurate, Efficient Captain, Lucky and Soldier traits.

Now take your time customizing your character. Cryptic is known for its games' insanely deep character customization tools, and STO is no different. You can choose from a number of pre-made Federation-aligned races, such as Bajorans or, if you shell out cash in the C-Store, Klingons. Or you can design your own humanoid alien. So have at, and I'll meet you on page two for the next part of our journey.

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