Since the end of the Star Trek convention last month, I have been approached by a surprising number of people who are just now trying out STO for the first time. For many of them, STO is also their first experience with any MMO. So I have taken it upon myself to create a brand-new character in the game to see what it might be like for a new STO player. I'll be focusing several future columns on that new-player experience, starting with this one.
Always go for personality first
Star Trek Online, like most MMOs, is designed in a fairly standard manner. Players create a character, the character assumes a role/career/specialty, and the character is granted a limited selection of passive traits (or personality/species specific talents) that will grant him "powers" without the player's having to actually trigger them during game-play.
In STO, a player rolls his character by first selecting the preferred species, like Andorian, Human, or Caitian, and gender. Human characters all come with Teamwork and Leadership as passive skills. These skills give the character certain pre-set buffs for the entirety of gameplay. For example, Leadership provides an increase in starship subsystem repairs and ship hull regeneration rate, while Teamwork gives the player a bonus to a team's exploit damage during ground battle.
Of the four passive traits each character is allowed, at least one is predetermined by his species' idiosyncrasies as reflected in the Star Trek shows and movies. However, STO also allows players to select an "Alien" and create their own Star Trek alien species (humanoid, of course) from the ground up. When selected, Alien characters do not have any pre-set passive traits, and players can select all four from a fairly diverse set of traits that will pop up as the creation tool moves forward.
Cryptic Studios' games are known for their extraordinary and detailed character customization tools. STO is no exception. The problem is, if you've never played an MMO before, you won't know that unless you're directed to click on the ever-so-important Advanced button on the bottom of the character customization panels.
When a new player first faces the character customization tool, she is looking only at a series of large default buttons, which could lead her to believe there are only six potential "looks" for her character. The Advanced button isn't immediately noticeable, and frankly, I'm not exactly sure why the defaults are so prominent. I firmly believe that advanced sliders should be the first thing a player is greeted with and that an option for defaults should be posted somewhere on the panel. Be that as it may, do yourself a favor and click on Advanced for every customization panel!
The initial set of sliders the player is presented with will fine-tune the appearance of the character's facial features. Options are present for everything from nose width to nostril height to chin length along with standards like eye color, hair style, and lip fullness. Once the player is satisfied with her character's facial appearance, it's off to body style. Again, the Advanced sliders allow a player to fool around with her character's height, stance, shoulders, legs, arms, and torso. Finally, the last customization panel allows players to select uniform styles.
If you've purchased uniforms from the game's store, you need to know that selecting a purchased uniform during the character creation process can sometimes cause the entire process to fail. Because of this issue, I recommend that all players select a basic uniform first and then visit the tailor once the tutorial is completed (or skipped). This advice will hopefully allow people to avoid the potential frustration of losing a character they spent a lot of time customizing. The tailor gives the first uniform change away for free, so there's no reason not to use this option.
I don't plan to go into the specifics of the game's tutorial. To be honest, I think that's what the tutorial is for -- to teach the new player the basics of gameplay. What I will cover is the fact that the STO tutorial is very, very good at helping a new player. New MMO players shouldn't have any trouble learning the basics of using the keyboard to move their characters, fly their ships, equip weapons and kits, or shoot their weapons.
But there are some very basic things the tutorial simply doesn't cover only because they would confuse a new player. I will go into more depth about a few of these items in future columns; for now, here are a few tips I hope new players will find helpful.
Tribbles are fuzzy little balls of sweet, furry love that, when petted, provide players with small buffs or debuffs during ground combat. You can equip one on your ground utility panel by pressing the "U" button and dropping and dragging the tribble from your inventory to your utility belt. There are dozens of different kinds of tribbles. They are received as drops from ground combat and can be "bred" (and mostly by accident in a new player's inventory) by feeding them food items also received via drop or vendor. There are also specialized tribbles that are handed out as rewards for participating in beta testing of the game's new products on the test server, aptly named Tribble.
Tribbles can be discarded from the inventory simply by right-clicking on the unwanted tribble and selecting "discard" from the drop-down menu. They can also be stored in the player's bank. Again, if there are food items that the player wants, just ensure that the food and the tribbles are not stored in the same location or else the tribbles will consume that food and leave the player a brand-new tribble.
Tribbles can also be bred with purpose. Specific food items that are fed to specific tribbles will result in the creation of another particular tribble that might have more useful buffs/debuffs to the player. STOWiki hosts a handy reference chart about which foods will generate which breed of tribble.
As a new player progresses through the initial levels of the game, she is rewarded with several bridge officers (known as BOffs by most players) to add to her crew. Unfortunately, the tutorial doesn't go into much detail as to what it is BOffs do.
BOffs play two roles for the player. First, they are assigned to the player's ship in space combat, but their talents aren't necessarily made clear by the tutorial; players see only a face appear in a little red circle (as the first BOff received has a tactical specialty) with an icon that reflects "high-yield torpedo I." This is the particular BOff's ensign level skill, and when the BOff is activated in space combat, his torpedo salvo is upgraded to issue a pair of high-yield torpedoes as opposed to the normal low-level single warhead. Each BOff can carry up to four skills useful in space combat.
Secondly, each BOff has the ability to carry four additional skills useful in ground battle. BOffs will fill out the player's five-man team on almost all ground missions. It's important to train bridge officers with the skills desired as the player levels up. Bridge officers can be promoted to have access to the skills they are given by default, or they can be retrained at the Bridge Officer Skill Training Officer near Sickbay on Earth Spacedock.
I highly recommend that all new players become familiar with bridge officer skills and training as soon as they make it to ESD. Even though players will not have enough bridge officer skill points to spend on immediate re-training, becoming familiar with the skills available will make for an easier time as leveling leads to new and larger ships for which you'll need bridge officers with useable skills.
Next week, barring any news that might pre-empt the subject, I will continue on with advice for new players. However, I openly invite all current players and readers of the Captain's Log to leave advice for new players in the comments section below. I will be happy to pass on any useful tidbits! Thank you as always for reading, and 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.