“You will never come up against a greater adversary than your own potential, my young friend.”
- Dr. Paul Stubbs to Wesley Crusher, ‘Evolution’
Your character in Star Trek: Online can be slightly harder to get to grips with than in some other massively multiplayer online games, as your captain is only one of several interlocking elements that together determine what you can do in the game and how effectively you can do it. Your ‘character’ in STO is really a combination of your captain, your bridge officers and your ship.
This guide is intended to provide an overview of these different elements, how they function and how they relate to each other, and introduce the basics of character progression in STO. I’m planning future articles that will cover each of these in more detail, but this should help you get your Starfleet career off to a good start.
(Note that this guide is written for Starfleet characters. The majority of the information also applies to Klingon characters, although some of the terminology is different on the Klingon side.)
- Character Class
- Species and Traits
- Ranks, Grades, Tiers and Skill Points
- Bridge Officers
The most significant decision you make when creating a new STO character is the class of your captain. There are three classes available, each with a different focus:
- Tactical Officers focus on dealing damage, both in space combat and on the ground in away missions
- Engineering Officers focus on survivability and durability in space combat, and on supporting their away team with fortifications and shield repairs on away missions
- Science Officers focus on weakening and incapacitating their opponents and supporting their allies both in space combat and on away missions, where they also offer medical treatment
It’s perhaps important to understand that classes in STO are not as ‘exclusive’ or rigidly defined as in many class-based MMOs. Specifically, the classes differ in the following ways:
- Each class gains one unique ‘space’ ability per rank
- Each class gains one unique ‘ground’ ability per rank
- Each class has a unique group of skills that affect their performance in away missions
- Each class can equip unique ‘kits’, which grant additional ground abilities
- Each class can train bridge officers of the same class in advanced abilities (for example, Tactical captains can train Tactical bridge officers, but not Science or Engineering bridge officers)
In all other respects, all three classes have access to the same options, including skills, gear, weapons, bridge officers and ships. This is not to say that your choice of class for your captain isn’t important, simply that your captain’s class is not the only aspect of your overall ‘character’. STO offers more flexibility and options than that of more traditional class-based systems, and doesn’t restrict or ‘pigeon-hole’ the classes to the same extent.
Species and Traits
As well as choosing a class, when creating a new STO character you must also decide on your captain’s species and traits.
Traits are innate bonuses or abilities, representing things that your captain has a natural aptitude in, whether due to their species or individual excellence. Some traits offer bonuses or abilities during ground missions, others are specific to space. Each captain can have four traits in total.
Your captain’s species defines both which traits your captain will automatically have (all Vulcans, for example, have the Logical and Physical Strength traits) and which traits you have to choose from to bring the total up to four. Certain species also offer unique traits (Vulcans, for example, have the option to choose the Nerve Pinch and/or Mind Meld traits, which are not available to any other species).
The exception is the ‘Unknown species’ option, which allows you to design a unique species for your captain, and lets you choose all four traits your captain will have from a wide selection. Unknown species, however, do not have access to the unique traits of the ‘known’ species (you cannot, for example, choose the Nerve Pinch or Mind Meld traits for a captain of an unknown species, as they are unique to Vulcans).
Ranks, Grades, Tiers and Skill Points
Although STO does use a level-based progression system, its structure and terminology are different to other MMOs.
Your captain begins the game as a lowly Ensign, but by the end of the introductory mission sequence will be promoted and begin to advance through the five main ranks:
- Lieutenant Commander
Each of these ranks is split into 10 grades (with the exception of Admiral, which currently only has 5 grades), the equivalent of levels in other MMOs.
Your captain advances through the grades of his current rank by earning skill points (SP), the equivalent of experience points (XP) in other games. Skill points are earned by defeating opponents, achieving mission objectives and completing missions.
In order to be promoted to the next rank, your captain must spend a set number of skill points. Doing so will earn a promotion to the next rank.
The total number of skill points you must spend in order to qualify for each rank are as follows:
|Rank||Total SP Spent|
It’s important to understand that you gain grades by earning skill points, but only gain ranks by spending skill points.
Promotion to a higher rank carries several benefits, including access to a new range of ships to command and a new set of skills to learn.
Because of the way that the available ships and skills are arranged into groups by rank, the term Tier is often used when discussing them - Tier 1 corresponding with Lieutenant, Tier 2 with Lt Commander and so on up to Admiral and Tier 5.
Your captain can purchase in a wide variety of skills, which provide bonuses to various aspects of your character. Skills are purchased with skill points (SP), the STO version of experience points.
Skill Groups and Tiers
The Skills in STO are arranged into groups by similar function and tiers by rank. For example, the Starship Energy Weapons group contains skills that increase your effectiveness with energy weapons (beams and cannons) in space combat:
Within the group, the skills are arrange into 5 tiers according to the minimum rank required to purchase the skill, from left to right. Thus a captain can purchase the Starship Energy Weapons Training skill at Lieutenant (Tier 1, far left), but must be promoted to Lt Commander before being able to buy the Starship Beam Weapons and Starship Cannon Weapons skills (Tier 2, second from left), and all the way to Admiral before being able to access the Starship Antiproton Weapons and Starship Polaron Weapons skills (Tier 5, far right).
Note that there is no rigid skill ‘tree’ in STO - you do not, for example, need to buy Starship Energy Weapons Training before you can buy Starship Beam Weapons or Starship Cannon Weapons. The only restrictions are your captain’s rank and available unspent skill points.
All captains have access to the following skill groups:
- Starfleet Training
- Starship Energy Weapons
- Starship Projectile Weapons
- Starship Engineering
- Starship Operations
In addition, each class has a unique skill group:
- Tactical captains get the Tactical Officer group
- Engineer captains get the Engineering Officer group
- Science captains get the Science Officer group
Skill Levels and Costs
All skills in STO have 9 levels. Your captain starts with no levels in any skills, and purchases skill levels with skill points.
The cost of a skill level depends on the tier of the skill:
|Skill Tier||SP per Skill Level|
|2 (Lt Commander)||200|
How Skills Work – The Basics
Each level in a skill grants a bonus to specific aspects of your character. For example, the Starship Energy Weapons Training skill increases the damage of all energy weapons on your ship. The more levels you have in the skill, the greater the damage bonus.
The effects of the different skills can be broadly broken down according to the skill groups:
- Starfleet Training skills either increase the speed, turn rate and hull strength of ships (the ‘Command’ and ‘Captain’ skills) or increase the effectiveness of your bridge officer’s ground abilities and some space abilities (the ‘Team Leader’ skills)
- Starship Energy Weapons skills boost the damage done by energy weapons
- Starship Projectile Weapons skills boost the damage done by projectile weapons
- Starship Engineering skills generally boost the effectiveness of Engineer abilities, although some also have secondary effects on your ship’s power generation and repair rate
- Starship Operations skills generally boost the effectiveness of Science abilities
- The class-specific Tactical/Engineering/Science Officer skills boost the effectiveness of your captain’s ground abilities
What Affects What
All ships, space weapons and most abilities are affected by three different skills, and the bonus from each skill stacks. In most cases, each ship, weapon or ability is affected by one Lieutenant (Tier 1) skill, one Lt Commander (Tier 2) skill, and one Commander, Captain or Admiral (Tier 3, 4 or 5) skill.
For example, the damage of a phaser beam array is boosted by Starship Energy Weapons Training (Tier 1), Starship Beam Weapons (Tier 2) and Starship Phaser Weapons (Tier 3), while the speed, turn rate and hull strength of an Assault Cruiser is affected by Starship Command (Tier 1), Cruiser Captain (Tier 2) and Assault Cruiser Captain (Tier 5).
In the case of the ship and weapon skills, then, it’s normally fairly easy to see which three skills will affect something. In the case of abilities, you can see which skills affect them by opening the Ability window (press ‘P’), selecting the skill and reading the information on the right-hand side.
For example, the Emergency Power to Weapons I ability is affected by your Starship Warp Core Training (T1), Starship Weapon System Maintenance (T2) and Starship Weapon Efficiency (T3) skills:
For more details on how skills function, how their bonuses are calculated and a lot of numbers, see the Skills: The Numbers article.
Abilities are the ‘powers’ that you use in combat by clicking on your hotbar or pressing the appropriate keyboard shortcut. Abilities are specific to either ground or space combat, so you will have different abilities available in each.
In STO, you gain abilities from several sources:
- Captain abilities – your captain earns three abilities as you progress through each rank. Captain abilities you have earned are always available to you in the appropriate type of combat, regardless of what ship, bridge officers and equipment you are using. Like promotions, captain abilities are earned by spending skill points. Assuming you spend your SP as you earn them:
- At around Grade 3 your captain will learn a generic space ability available to all classes
- At around Grade 5 your captain will learn a class-specific ground ability
- At around Grade 8 your captain will learn a class-specific space ability
- In addition, as your captain advances through the ranks, the abilities earned in previous ranks automatically upgrade to stronger versions
- Kit abilities – your captain can use special ‘kit’ items, which grant 1 to 4 ground abilities. Kit abilities are available to you in ground combat as long as the kit is equipped.
- Ship abilities – Science Vessels have the innate ability to target their opponent’s subsystems in combat, and grant four abilities (one each for targeting weapons, shields, engines and auxiliary systems) to any captain commanding them
- Bridge Officer abilities – your bridge officers have both ground and space abilities. For more information on bridge officer abilities, see Bridge Officers, below
In general, abilities are fairly straightforward – you activate the ability by clicking on it or using the appropriate keyboard shortcut, the ability applies its effect, and must then recharge before you can use it again.
Many abilities require a target, and cannot be activated until an appropriate target is selected. Beneficial abilities that can be used on your character or on a friendly character will automatically affect you if used without a target or when an enemy is targeted.
For example, if you activate the Science Team ability when you have no target or an enemy ship targeted, it will repair your shields and apply a buff to your Starship Operations skill bonus. If you activate the ability with a friendly ship targeted, the target ship will receive the benefits.
There are some differences between how abilities are controlled in space and ground combat:
- In space combat, all your character’s abilities are completely under your control, and will only be activated when you select them
- In ground combat, all your captain and kit abilities are under your control, but your bridge officers will automatically use their ground abilities as they see fit. You can, if you wish, order a bridge officer to use one of their abilities by clicking on the relevant icon in the team window
Systems and Cooldowns
Most space abilities are linked to a specific system aboard your ship. This system will be listed at the start of the ability’s description in the ability window. For example, Emergency Power to Weapons is a ‘System: Batteries’ ability:
Abilities that are linked to the same system generally share a cooldown in addition to their normal recharge timer. While a system’s cooldown is in effect, other abilities that use that system cannot be activated.
For example, activating the Emergency Power to Weapons ability triggers a 20 second cooldown on your ship’s batteries system. During that time, no other ‘System: Batteries’ ability (such as Emergency Power to Shields) can be activated.
Getting the most out of Abilities
Your character’s abilities, together with when and how you use them, can have a huge impact on your effectiveness in combat, so it makes sense to try and get the most out of them.
The base effect of an ability is determined by the ability and its level – most abilities have three levels, and the higher the level of the ability, the stronger the base effect.
For example, the Torpedo: High Yield ability increases the strength of your ship’s next torpedo attack. Torpedo: High Yield III gives a bigger damage bonus than Torpedo: High Yield II, which in turn gives a bigger damage bonus than Torpedo: High Yield I.
This base effect can then be improved by several factors, which vary depending on the type of ability:
- Skills - the strength of most abilities is affected by your captain’s levels in three specific skills (see the Skills section, above, for details of how to find which skills affect an ability), although there are some exceptions:
- Space abilities that affect your next attack with a weapon are generally not linked to three specific skills, as their effect is modified by the three weapon skills linked to the weapon in question. For example, Torpedo: High Yield increases the damage of your next torpedo attack, which is also increased by the three weapon skills that affect the specific type of torpedo launcher you are using
- In ground combat, your captain’s ground abilities and kit abilities are generally improved in strength by three skills (normally skills from the Tactical, Engineering or Science Officer group, according to your captain’s class), but the ground abilities of your bridge officers are improved by your captain’s level in the Tactical, Engineering or Science Team Leader skill (according to the class of the bridge officer) and the bridge officer’s own level in the ability (see Bridge Officers, below, for more details)
- Items - many items that you can equip on your ship give bonuses to skills, which in turn will increase the strength of any abilities affected by that skill. Deflector dish items, for example, generally give bonuses to skills in the Starship Operations group, and thus increase the strength of certain Science abilities
- Traits - a few of the traits you can select during character creation give bonuses to skills , which in turn will increase the strength of any abilities affected by that skill. The Astrophysicist trait, for example, gives a bonus to Starship Operations Training, and thus increases the strength of many Science abilities.
- Other Abilities – some abilities give bonuses to certain skills for a short period of time, which in turn will increase the strength of any abilities affected by that skill. The Science Team ability, for example, gives a temporary bonus to the target’s Starship Operations Training, which will increase the strength of many Science abilities used while the bonus lasts
- Ship Power Levels - some abilities are directly affected by the power available to a specific ship system when they are activated. Abilities that improve your next energy weapon attack are affected by your ship’s current weapon power, as this will determine the base damage of the attack, which will then be modified by the ability. Several Science abilities, such as Tachyon Beam, are directly affected by your auxiliary power level
Your bridge officers (often shortened to BO or boff) are your captain’s equivalent of Spock, Bones and Scotty, and are just as important to your success. In space, your bridge officers give you access to a wide variety of abilities in addition to those of your captain and your ship, while on solo away missions up to four of them will accompany you, automatically following your lead and fighting alongside you.
Bridge officers are effectively ‘mini-characters’ in their own right that you develop alongside your captain. Like your captain, they have classes, ranks, abilities and skills, but there are some important differences in how they function.
Starfleet Merits and Bridge Officer Skill Points
Your character has two resources that are dedicated to bridge officers, Starfleet Merits and bridge officer skill points (BOSP).
- Starfleet Merits are earned by completing missions, and are used to requisition new bridge officers from Starfleet, to promote them, and to train them in new abilities via Bridge Officer Trainers
- Bridge officer skill points are earned for defeating opponents, achieving mission objectives and completing missions, just like your captain’s skill points. They are used to train your bridge officer’s skills. Note that:
- Bridge officer skill points go into a central pool and are only assigned to specific officers when you spend them
- Bridge officer skill points are completely separate from your captain’s skill points – they do not affect your captain’s rank or grade in any way
- Unlike captain skill points, there is no cap on bridge officer skill points – your character can continue earning them indefinitely
Class and Rank
Like captains, bridge officers are either Tactical, Engineering or Science Officers, and have the same general areas of focus. A bridge officer’s class determines which abilities they can use and which stations they can be assigned to aboard ship.
Bridge officers start as Ensigns and can progress to Commander. There are no grades for bridge officers, but your captain can only command bridge officers of a rank lower than theirs – in order to promote a bridge officer from Ensign to Lieutenant, your captain must be at least a Lt Commander, and so on.
Promoting a bridge officer costs Starfleet Merits, and in order to qualify for promotion, the bridge officer must have had a certain number of bridge officer skill points spent on them.
Bridge Officer Traits
Like captains, bridge officers have four traits that give them unique bonuses. Bridge officers generally have ground traits, and may have versions of traits that are weaker or stronger than the standard captain versions – for example, a ‘basic’ version of a trait generally offers half the bonus of the standard captain version.
Abilities and Skills
Ensign bridge officers have access to one space and one ground ability, and gain access to an additional space and ground ability at each rank, up to a maximum of four space and four ground abilities at Commander.
You can see which abilities a bridge officer has and which ones they will gain access to at higher ranks on their Skills tab in the Character Status window:
Bridge officers also have skills – one for each of their abilities. Like your captain’s skills, bridge officer skills have 9 levels, although a bridge officer always has level 1 in the skill for any ability they can use.
Bridge officer skill levels are purchased with bridge officer skill points. Each level costs half as many points as a captain skill of the appropriate rank:
|BO Skill Rank||BOSP per Skill Level|
The effects of bridge officer skills vary according to whether they are space or ground abilities:
- A bridge officer’s skill levels in their space abilities reduce the recharge time of the ability (generally by 5 seconds per level), allowing it to be used more often, but do not affect the strength of the ability’s effect – that’s influenced by your captain’s skills as explained in the Skills section, above
- A bridge officer’s skill levels in their ground abilities increase the strength of the ability, along with your captain’s skill level in the appropriate Team Leader skill, but not the recharge time (which is generally quite short for ground abilities)
In order to qualify for a promotion, a bridge officer must have had a minimum number of bridge officer skill points spent on them. For example, to be promoted from Ensign to Lieutenant, a bridge officer must have had 200 bridge officer skill points spent on them.
Acquiring Bridge Officers
The number of active bridge officers you can have increases with your captain’s rank, beginning with four at Lieutenant. You can acquire new bridge officers in several ways:
- Requisition from Starfleet – the Requisition Officers at starbases have a selection of bridge officers available that can be purchased with Starfleet Merits. The selection changes over time, so if you can’t find one you want, check back later
- Mission Rewards - some missions include a bridge officer or choice of bridge officers as part of their reward for successful completion
- Progress Rewards – as your captain advances through the ranks, you will occasionally be approached by bridge officers eager to join your crew (this is presented as a ‘mission’ via the ‘Hail Starfleet’ window)
- The Exchange – it is possible to buy and sell bridge officers for energy credits on the Exchange. At present, only ‘candidates’ can be traded on the exchange, but it’s possible that this might be changed
When you acquire a new bridge officer, they will appear on the Assignments tab of the Character Status window, in the Bridge Officer Candidates section:
In order to have the new bridge officer join your crew, double-click on them and select the Join option in the window that opens.
Bridge Officer Rarity
Bridge officers, like items, weapons and other equipment, have differing degrees of rarity, and use the same colour-coding as items – white for common, green for uncommon, blue for rare, and so on.
For example, the two bridge officer candidates in the screenshot above are both green, or uncommon.
In general, Starfleet’s Requisition Officers only offer ‘common’ bridge officers, but the rarer types can be earned from missions and progress rewards. Rarer bridge officers may have stronger versions of the standard traits or unique abilities that are not available anywhere else.
Retraining Bridge Officers
The abilities that a bridge officer knows can be changed by swapping out an existing ability for a new one. There are several ways in which bridge officers can be retrained:
- Bridge Officer Trainers - some Starbases feature Bridge Officer Trainers, where you can retrain your officers in a wide variety of standard abilities by spending Starfleet Merits
- Bridge Officer Candidates – if you acquire a new bridge officer candidate with an ability that you would like to transfer to one of your existing officers, you can do so by double-clicking on the candidate and selecting the Train Up option. You will be able to select one of the candidate’s abilities and one of your existing officers of the appropriate class, and the candidate will train the selected officer in the selected ability. Note that this option ‘uses up’ the candidate, who will then depart
- Captain Training – certain skills, when raised to level 9, unlock the ability to train bridge officers in the level III version of a specific ability (if a skill offers this option, it will be noted in the skill’s description). You can then use the Train button on a bridge officer’s Status tab in the Character Status window to train them in this ability. Note that in order to train a bridge officer in this way, your captain must be of the same class as the ability and the bridge officer to be trained – for example, a Tactical captain with Starship Torpedo Weapons-9 and Starship Shield Efficiency-9 can train a Tactical bridge officer in Torpedo: High Yield III, but cannot train an Engineer bridge officer in Emergency Power to Shields III, even though he has level 9 in the appropriate skill
There are a couple of things to bear in mind when retraining bridge officers in different abilities:
- Bridge officers can only have one space ability and one ground ability per rank. Training a bridge officer in a new ability always replaces one of their existing abilities and the skill associated with that ability. Any bridge officer skill points you had spent on the previous ability’s skill are lost
- All bridge officer abilities are associated with a specific rank. For example, it is not possible to replace a bridge officer’s Ensign space ability with a Lieutenant space ability – the new Lieutenant ability will replace the officer’s existing Lieutenant ability
Bridge Officers and Stations
On away missions, your bridge officers always have full access to all their ground abilities according to their rank, and will use these abilities automatically and at your command. In space, however, a bridge officer must be assigned to a station on your ship in order for you to make use of their abilities.
Bridge officer stations have both a class and a rank. The class of a station limits the class of the bridge officer that can be assigned to it, and the rank of the station limits the rank of abilities that the assigned bridge officer can use.
The number, class and rank of the stations aboard a ship is defined by the ship type, and can be see on the Assignments tab of the Character Status window. For example, the Light Cruiser that you will command while a Lieutenant has three stations – an Ensign Tactical station, an Ensign Engineer station and an Ensign Science station:
As the stations are Ensign rank, bridge officers assigned to those stations will only grant you their Ensign space abilities, regardless of their actual rank. This is represented visually by the small icons next to the station, which show the abilities you gain from having the current bridge officer assigned to the station – any abilities an officer has but cannot use at the station will be shown ‘greyed out’.
The ship your captain commands has a significant impact on your character’s performance in space combat.
Like skills, abilities and many other aspects of the character system in STO, ships are divided into tiers according to rank. Upon being promoted to a new rank, your captain will gain access to the appropriate tier of ships.
Note that the only ship available in Tier 1 is the default Light Cruiser that you are given command over at the end of the introductory sequence of missions. In order to gain access to new ships, your captain must first be promoted to Lieutenant Commander, at which point you will gain access to the Tier 2 ships.
There are three broad categories of ship available to players in STO, each with different areas of focus:
- Escort ships are purpose-built warships, focussed on speed, manoeuvrability and dealing damage. The USS Defiant from Star Trek: Deep Space 9 is an escort.
- Cruiser ships are general-purpose designs, focussed on survivability and durability. The various versions of the USS Enterprise are all cruisers.
- Science Vessels are research and exploration ships incorporating the latest Starfleet technology, focussed on weakening and incapacitating their opponents and supporting their allies. The USS Voyager from Star Trek: Voyager is a science vessel.
Each of the three categories of ship has certain inherent bonuses:
- Escorts have a bonus to weapon power output and are the only category of ships that can mount cannon weapons
- Cruisers have a bonus to power output in all four subsystems (weapons, shields, engines and auxilliary)
- Science Vessels have a bonus to auxiliary power output, are more effective at detecting cloaked opponents, and their superior targeting systems grant four subsystem targeting abilities to their captains (one for each subsystem)
Stations and Consoles
Stations are slots for bridge officers (see Bridge Officers and Stations in the Bridge Officers section, above, for details), while consoles are slots for console items that grant a variety of different bonuses according to class. Each of the ship categories has different distributions of stations and consoles:
- Escorts have more Tactical consoles together with more and/or higher ranked Tactical stations. Escorts are the only ships to feature Lt Commander (at Tier 3+) and Commander (at Tier 4+) rank Tactical stations
- Cruisers have more Engineering consoles together with more and/or higher ranked Engineering stations. Cruisers are the only ships to feature Lt Commander (at Tier 3+) and Commander (at Tier 4+) rank Engineering stations
- Science Vessels have more Science consoles together with more and/or higher ranked Science stations. Science vessels are the only ships to feature Lt Commander (at Tier 3+) and Commander (at Tier 4+) rank Science stations
The three categories of ship also differ in their basic statistics. The following table summarises the relative differences between the categories over all tiers:
The specific values of these statistics and the differences between the categories varies according to tier. For more details on the different ships available at each tier and their stations, consoles and other stats, Suricata’s STO Ship Tier Chart is highly recommended.
In STO, all captains can command all three categories of ship, and can switch between any ships they own at Starbases. Like your choice of captain class, your choice of ship is mainly a matter of what you want your character’s focus to be in space combat and what role you want to fill in teams.
The following table gives a general overview of the strengths of each combination of captain class and ship category:
|Tactical||Offence||Offence + Defence||Offence + Support|
|Engineer||Offence + Defence||Defence||Defence + Support|
|Science||Offence + Support||Defence + Support||Support|
Where two strengths are listed, the one in bold text is the primary focus – so Offence + Defence means a combination of offence and defence with the emphasis on offence, while Offence + Support means a combination of offence and support with the emphasis on support abilities.