Updated Sun, Jan 17, 2010 by Medeor
This week in our Star Trek Online Beta Journal we’re going to discuss character progression up through the ranks, or as I’ve heard in some circles “how do I get to pew pew end game stuff?” STO is billed as a skills-based system rather than experience based. We’ll talk about what this means and then how that translates into progression as we stroll through this week’s beta chat.
Being a skills-based systems means in the simplest term that the player chooses where progression occurs (i.e. choose to improve strength instead of accuracy) rather than a pre-set value that is added once your character hits a threshold (once X amount of experience points are gained, the character gains 2 strength). There are no “experience points” per se in the game. Characters are rewarded with skill points that can then be used to improve the skills they desire.
One thing you won’t hear in STO is “Ding” since there is no “leveling up” that we may be used to in other games. If a player chooses to not spend skill points, then he/she would never reach the next rank. Before we delve too deeply into this, we should discuss ranks and grades (in lieu of levels).
Players start at the rank of Ensign and quickly work up to Lieutenant during the tutorial mission chain. Here is the complete progression of ranks:
With the exception of Ensign, each of the above ranks has 10 grades, meaning a Commander Grade 3 is of a higher skill level than a Commander Grade 2. With 5 main ranks and 10 grades in each, dare I say there are 50 “levels” in this game?
Moving on, we need to discuss the idea of skill points in more detail. For those of us that are used to hearing the ding and automatically receiving new skills (or going to train for them), we’ll need to get used to spending the points as they are awarded. Each mission provides some nice rewards so in essence you get to “ding” everywhere and then spend your points right when you get them, no need to go train.
The skill selection is somewhat daunting at first because there are so many good choices. I won’t go into details until we get closer to launch, but I spent some serious time trying to spec out my first skill point allocations. Luckily the first skill point decisions are very broad and each skill boost will enhance a number of things. Later on the skills become more and more acute with very specific skill improvements, so we’re lucky that they start off gentle.
Example time: during my latest run-through of the early mission chains I gathered skill points and put them all into one area and hit the maximum. As I spent those points my grade increased so I went from Lieutenant Grade 4 to Lieutenant Grade 5. It wasn’t important that I spent my points in one area, just that I had to spend a certain number of points in total to reach the next grade. Reaching Grade 5 increased the amount of points I could put into my chosen skill so I could again spend more points and max that bar out.
Don’t worry, the progression bar in the user interface spells out the next grade requirements and skills quite well so you’ll never be in the dark on where you are and what you need. Yes, you still have a bar on the screen that fills up showing your progression.
In addition to the skill points received for rewards, the bridge officers will also be receiving skill points that players allocate for them. Similar to hunter pets in World of Warcraft the bridge officers can be spec’d in a way to compliment a player’s captain. Bridge officers go significantly beyond in their progression and support of the captain, but it’s the closest thing I could think of to help out.
Much like your characters, the bridge officers will also be able to earn promotions to higher ranks provided certain criteria are met. Doing so will open up the next highest tier of skills for that particular officer, but as you’ll get far fewer skill points to spend on your bridge officers than you do for your character, you’ll want to pick and choose wisely which of them you’d like to aim for promoting first.
Between the amount of character customization and the skill point system (and let’s add in the bridge officer skill point system), it will be quite rare indeed for two players to have the same setup. The options for variation are just too vast. I’m certain that the min/maxers will try and parse the best skill spec, but if the player choices don’t make them different then the kits they get and equip certainly will. We’ll go into kits in the upcoming weeks, but they enhance skills or make up for deficiencies quite nicely.
I’m sure there is going to be significant theorycrafting to determine the optimal skill layout and bridge officer specs but the reality is that the game is meant to be played the way you want to play. I’m on the fence for how I’ll spend my points.
In most games I like to play hybrids which in STO would mean I’d spend points in multiple categories and round out my retinue with my bridge captain support. I may be more specific this time around though and go straight down one path to optimize that specific skill. I have lots to think about until the game launches in less than a month. Are you going to be a purist or a generalist when you start racking up skill points?
Looking for more Star Trek Online content? Be sure to check out the latest videos released by Crytpic. We also have an excellent FAQ covering numerous aspects of gameplay, from combat to crafting and beyond.
Also, be sure to beam down to our Star Trek Online forums and join in on the discussions. Whether you want to voice your opinions on the latest STO news or just want to share some of your awesome Klingon haiku, Ten Ton Hammer's Star Trek Online forums are the place to be!