The Ships of Star Trek Online
Some friends of mine have gotten into Star Trek Online recently. Being the only one with experience of it, I’ve unexpectedly found myself in the position of the wise mentor. Before I get horribly killed to provide dramatic tension, I’m giving them a brief overview of the three types of ships available in the game.
As with the character class system, there are three categories of ships available in the game: Escorts, Cruisers and Science. Any character can fly any type of ship, and it’s possible to create some very interesting synergies by mixing it up. A Tactical character can get into an escort and have a truly devastating damage output, or they could hop in a cruiser and improve that ship’s firepower and speed to make it something beyond a big armoured hulk. For the vast majority of the game’s content, you’re free to do whatever you wish; it’s only if you get into PvP or end-game “Elite Special Task Force” PvE challenges that there’s a real need to specialize and perfect your character-ship relationship.
The Escort is the most DPS-focused of the three ship types, and is similar to the “rogue” archetype in fantasy MMOs. It suffers a 25% penalty to shield strength and has the lower hull HP of all the ships, making it quite fragile, but its front-loaded weapon hardpoints and ability to mount heavy cannons means it’s capable of absolutely frightening damage output. The escort’s survivability relies almost entirely on speed; it is the fastest type of ship available, as well as the most maneuverable, qualities which must be exploited to maximize the chance of dodging enemy fire. Escorts gain an inherent +15 bonus power to weapons.
The escort’s bridge officer and console layout serve to reinforce its status as king of DPS mountain, with both slots having a heavy emphasis on the tactical section. For consoles, this means the ability to stack multiple passive damage-increasing bonuses; for officers, it means a wide selection of attack patterns (self-buffs, mostly focused on damage and speed), attack upgrades (causes a special effect on the next attack, such as increased damage or an area-of-effect burst) and minor single-target debuffs.
While the tactical-heavy focus allows an escort to shred through enemies, the lack of science and engineering officers and consoles means one has to operate with a frighteningly slim amount of survival abilities to restore shields, repair hull breaches, and remove enemy debuffs. This can be somewhat mitigated if the player character is an engineering or science officer, as they can then use their inherent class abilities to partially cover the weaknesses of the ship, but an escort captained by such a character will not have the raw damage output of one helmed by a tactical character.
The Cruiser does one thing, and it does it well: Survive. It’s the paladin, the guardian, the protection-specced warrior of the trio. A cruiser’s shields operate at 100% efficiency, and it has far and away the most resilient hull of all the ships. It’s also the most heavily-armed, though as its weapon hardpoints are spread out evenly fore and aft, it can’t always bring that full firepower to bear. On the downside, the cruisers are the slowest ships in the game, and the least maneuverable, making it difficult to jockey for position in combat. All cruisers gain +5 bonus power to weapons, shields, engines and auxiliary systems.
The bridge officer and console slots of a cruiser enhance its defensive capabilities even further thanks to the focus on engineering officers. The consoles will be able to provide a variety of passive defensive bonuses, from hull repair to crew protection, as well as being able to slot multiple armour alloys, providing passive mitigation against a variety of damage types. The officers, meanwhile, will work overtime to keep the ship operating at peak capacity; engineering officers are equipped with multiple abilities to reinforce and restore shields and hull, can remove certain debuffs, and offer a number of self-buffs to temporarily improve damage and handling. The also have a limited number of single-target debuffs, and a few skills specifically designed for supporting friendly vessels.
While the above may sound like a winning combination, the lack of tactical officers and consoles means a cruiser’s damage output suffers considerably when compared to an escort, and the limited availability of science options means there’s no crowd-control abilities to make up for it. The cruiser is stubbornly difficult to kill, yes, but that’s really the only strength it has; it wins battles by outlasting the enemy. Naturally, a tactical or science-based character can overcome this, giving their ship a boost to damage output or the ability to play havoc with the enemy, but their ships will never match the nigh-invulnerable heights of tankiness that an engineer can get out of a well-equipped cruiser.
The Science vessel is in some ways the middle child of the trio. Its hull is stronger than an escort, but weaker than a cruiser. It can out-fly and out-maneuver a cruiser, but can’t keep up with an escort. Its shields are actually the strongest of the three, with a 25% bonus to their maximum capacity, but it is undergunned compared to the other two, with the smallest number of available hardpoints to mount weapons on. The science ship makes up for this with an array of ways to hobble, control and debilitate the enemy – it is the wizard of the group. All science ships have +15 bonus power to auxiliary systems, and uniquely, have a number of inherent abilities: Subsystem targeting (upgrades your next attack to drain power from and possibly disable the enemy’s weapons, shields, engines or auxiliary systems – your choice) and sensor analysis (a passive ability that adds a stacking accuracy and crit bonus to your attacks against a single enemy, and resets whenever you change targets).
The bridge officer and console layout of science ships naturally favour the sciences, and provide the vessels with their primary means of offense. The consoles can provide a variety of options, from crew recovery to shield enhancement to passive bonuses to various science abilities. The officers, meanwhile, give access to a dizzying array of powers, ranging from area-of-effect and single-target debuffs to area-of-effect and single-target damage, abilities to slow or stop enemy vessels in their tracks or fling them away at high speed, a large number of debuff removal options (many of which can also be used on friendly ships) and a few dedicated support abilities. A well-equipped science vessel can play merry hell with enemy systems, keeping them off-balance, underperforming, under constant shield- and hull-sapping attacks and often stuck in vulnerable positions while the ship whittles away at them with its limited armaments.
Of course, without tactical officers or consoles, the science vessel’s already anemic damage output withers even further, and while science officers do have a number of survival abilities, they can’t match engineers when it comes to keeping the shields online and hull in one piece. As always, these weaknesses can be at least partially mitigated by using a tactical or engineering character to captain the vessel, but to do so deprives the science ship of the additional control, debuff and damage abilities that a science captain could add to its arsenal.
The above guide is a generalization, of course, but it’s accurate for all standard high-level vessels. The exceptions are mostly the real-money ships purchasable from the in-game cash store, where one can find maneuverable cruisers, tanky escorts and science ships with monstrous DPS, and the Nova-class science vessel available at Lieutenant Commander rank, which is just as heavily armed as the cruiser of the same level and in my opinion the only viable choice of the three available at that point in the game.
As for myself, I’ve flown all three types over the course of multiple characters, and which one is my favourite tends to drift back and forth. At the moment I’m getting the most enjoyment out of a cruiser; the incredible survivability of the ship means I can relax while playing, rather than constantly be focused on pulling off razor’s-edge maneuvers in an escort or calculating precisely where to unleash my next burst of science in a science ship. Your mileage may vary.