Friday, January 15, 2010

Free Star Trek Online Guide for Newbies

With Star Trek Online (STO) almost upon us, I've decided to put together a basic guide for newbies. This guide will cover the basic features and game systems as well as provide you with a few tips and tricks.

Character creation
Creating your first character in Star Trek Online can be a very deep process. You can choose from an array of premade races or create an entirely new one. I suggest creating your own custom race even if you want to play a premade one because it allows you to select four custom racial traits instead of just one. Check out this video for a good overview of character creation.

No matter what race you pick you will start out as an Ensign within the Federation. Later on you can create a Klingon, which is currently the only opposing faction to the Federation.

Progression system
You start the game by completing a tutorial. This tutorial is similar to the various "episodes" you'll experience throughout the rest of the game. Your character progresses in STO by completing episodes (deeper mission arcs), missions, and killing members of the opposing faction (especially if you're a Klingon).

The major difference between STO and many other MMORPGs is that instead of experience points (XP), you are rewarded with skill points (SP).  For example, when you complete Mission A, the reward might be a piece of gear and 300 SP.

You can spend earned SP on various abilities that will shape your character. For instance, you might buy a ground ability that does damage and has a knockback. Another example might be a skill that boosts your ship's speed and maneuverability in combat.

As you spend SP you will increase in military rank from Ensign to Lieutenant to Lieutenant Commander to Commander to Captain and eventually to Admiral. As you raise in rank, new gear and ships will become available to you.

Career paths
There are three main "classes" in STO: Tactical, Science, and Engineering. Generally speaking, Tactical officers are combat specialists, Science officers lean more towards healing and support, and Engineering officers are more about crowd control.

It is important to choose an area you would like to specialize in and stick (mostly) to it. You do not have an infinite amount of SP, so spreading them out over a wide variety of will weaken your overall effectiveness. That said, the system is quite flexible and provides you with a means to break away from the cookie-cutter mold.

You will find two kinds of combat in STO: ground and space.

Ground combat will involve you and members of your away team. You play as your avatar in ground combat using various forms of ranged weapons (phasers, grenades, etc.) and melee.  Your away team is controlled by the computer, so it's a good idea to pay attention to what they are doing. Compared to space combat, ground combat is a breeze but there are still some strategies that will help you be more effective.

Ground tips: Balance your team with a good mix of crowd control, healing, and damage. Use cover to your advantage (e.g. corners, barricades, etc.). Double tapping a keyboard direction will roll your character that way more quickly. Focus fire on key targets. Don't panic when surrounded -- use your melee attacks in close quarters combat.

Space combat is a bit more complex. Ship-to-ship combat requires the ability to think quickly on your feet and make proper adjustments. You have to worry about distance, direction, maneuvering, camera angles, firing arcs, weapon-types (e.g., beams and torpedos), shield deflection, special bridge officer abilities, and a number of other things. It may sound complicated but it's easy to get a handle on everything and the more you practice the better you'll become at multi-tasking.

Space tips: Use beams/lasers to carve through enemy shields then follow up with devastating torpedo attacks. Re-balance your own shields frequently -- it is useless to have shield points on parts of the ship that aren't being attacked. Hit "P" to bring up a list of special abilities. Keep moving and adjust speed in relation to where you want to be vs. your enemy. You turn faster at slower speeds. You can also fly in reverse. Custom map your keyboard so that ship controls are more intuitive.

There are various ship classes for different combat roles. Cruisers are more adept at tanking. Escorts are more adept at DPS. Science are more adept at support. Ships can be customized visually, with gear, and with various bridge officers you have trained. Can use any ship as long as you meet its rank prerequisite.

Bridge officers
Bridge officers are similar to pets in other games. You gain them by doing missions or trade. They can be promoted and trained (and re-trained) with various abilities that will enhance your ship and ground combat performance. You can have up to four of them at once.

STO gear comes in two categories: space and ground. Space gear is fitted onto your ship (e.g., weapons, consoles, bridge officers). Ground gear is fitted to you or a member of your away team's person (e.g., shields, armor, weapons). Find a piece of gear you can't use? Give it to a bridge officer.

The Klingon race unlocks after you get a Federation character to level 6 or complete the "Stop the Signal" episode. Klingons gain skill points from killing Federation players, not by doing episodes. All Klingon ships can cloak (stealth) to close in on unsuspecting enemies. The Bird of Prey is the only ship that can cloak in and out of combat -- others can only cloak while out.

A good place to take your Klingon is the instanced scenarios (like battlegrounds) or contested areas. Currently, Klingon content is a bit underdeveloped but Cryptic plans to expand them shortly after release.

That's all I have for now. Please feel free to add your own tips in the comments section!

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