I almost quit STO last Friday night. Things started out innocently enough. I was tooling around Beta Ursae Sector Space on my level 32 captain when I accepted an exploration mission in the Rolor Nebula. Time to investigate an asteroid base!
Naturally, I had to clear out a few packs of goons. The problem was that the first pack of maybe six or seven enemies took easily 15 minutes. 15 minutes! Mainly because of a Dref Lieutenant and a Dref Commander. The lieutenant seemed capable of fully healing himself and all others nearby every 15 seconds or so, and the commander almost constantly spammed a turret and a medical regenerator, the latter of which healed whatever the lieutenant didn't.
After wearing down all the little ensigns in about three minutes, my away team and I focused on the lieutenant. We shot him, blew him up and smacked him from one end of the room to the other and back again. And then again. And THEN we had to do the same with the commander. Were it not for a few well-timed Exposes, I don't think I ever would have beaten them. Frustrating, right?
I kept plugging on with the mission, and the next three packs of Dref, replete with lieutenants and commanders, fell like dominoes in an earthquake. And then we ran into the same arduous ordeal at the end of the mission -- a lieutenant and this time a captain who refused to die. Another 20 minutes of my life seeped slowly down the drain as I forced the enemy captain into a corner, smacking him and shooting him over and over again.
It was utterly asinine, and such stupid, stupid encounter design has no place in this world. Particularly not on an exploration mission, which is supposed to be quick and easily doable. My only hope is that those four particular Dref goons were severely bugged. Their difficulty was so out of line with that of other identical mobs that a glitch could be the only reasonable explanation.
But enough of my ranting. The following tips and suggestions are guaranteed to make STO's ground combat much less painful, even if you encounter such an aggravating situation (minus the bugginess, of course).
1. Use focus fire
This is easily one of the most important points to remember on away missions. Your Bridge Officers, as much as you might love them, are nigh-brainless drones. You can trust your science officer to save countless lives and your engineer to patch up a warp core in the middle of a Borg invasion. But you can't trust any of them to use the three ounces of common sense required to choose the same target in a firefight.
Rather than allowing your officers to run around like headless chickens -- and I promise you, they will -- you should use the little target icon at the top of your bridge-officer-party display to focus their fire. Pressing this button commands all your BOs to shoot lasers usefully at the same target, instead of uselessly at four separate targets.
Sadly, as of this writing, we cannot yet toggle the ability to always be on, so you'll have to focus fire manually. A lot. Like, after every enemy you kill. But doing so makes life easier, as you're all attacking -- and using Exposes on -- the same target all the time.
2. Use rally points, too
The rally-point button, a downward-facing arrow, appears right next to the focus-fire button in the user interface. Setting a rally point allows you to place your BOs in a specific spot from which they will not deviate unless provoked or so ordered.
It's a really, really handy ability for those away missions where you have to collect data or scan chunks of meteorite while enemies loiter nearby. Sometimes you get lucky and the group of enemies is far enough way for you to creep up to the quest object and interact with it -- as long as you rally point your team of idiotic, aggro-happy BOs far away. The best ground combat, in my book, is the ground combat you avoid altogether.
3. Queue your abilities
I didn't notice this until I had played STO for a while, but you don't have to wait for the long-ish animation of one ability, such as Tricorder Scan, to complete before selecting your next ability. This trick is especially useful when I follow my strong phaser attack, mapped to the 2 key, with the 1 key's normal phaser attack. Pressing 2 and then 1 immediately afterward skips the elaborate animation of the strong attack and lets me get on with zapping my target.
Queuing your abilities in rapid succession will save you considerable time in battle. Unless you like watching your captain leave his crouch, take out his tricorder, scan the enemy, put away his tricorder and then crouch down again before telling him to shoot.
4. Choose your enemies wisely
You'll get a feel for this as you go, but some enemies suck exponentially worse than others. And those are the enemies you should focus on first. Targ handlers were the bane of my first week in STO, before I figured out to kill them quickly, lest they spawn a steady stream of annoying targs. Melee-oriented Klingons, enemies with impressive-sounding ranks and anything with the word "medic" in its name should be the first to go.
5. Scan for anomalies
Simple, really, but I still run into other payers who don't do this. Always, always, always scan for crafting resources, item containers and quest objectives using the V key.
6. Bring a mix of officers on missions
Another no-brainer, but mix up your away team. You might be tempted to beam down to that asteroid base with four tactical officers, but you never know when a heal from your science officer or a turret from your engineer will save the day. So mix it up, especially on Advanced or Elite difficulty.
7. Upgrade equipment often
Micromanaging your equipment, plus your ship's equipment and then your bridge officers' equipment on top of that can be a pain in the patoot. But it's necessary, because your officers' gear can turn obsolete easily.
On the plus side, you really don't need to buy upgrades, at least during the leveling process. For the most part, you can upgrade your BOs' armor and weapons as you complete missions, either from random drops or castoffs from improving your own gear. You just have to take the time to do it.
8. Give all your BOs Tribbles
It is utterly, unfathomably crucial that you equip each officer with a Tribble, which your officers will pet during downtime between battles. The fun squeaking noises those little furballs make are vital to your success.
9. Enjoy the scenery
Space isn't the only beautiful thing out there in the cosmos. No matter how grueling or tedious fighting off hordes of Klingons might get, STO is a lovely place on the ground, too. So remember to stop and smell the flower-like alien growths!