Star Trek Online Space Combat, With Friggin’ Laser Beams

Star Trek Online makes no bones about being a space combat –centric game.
Star Trek Online makes no bones about being a space combat –centric game. The majority of the missions will include space combat (previous interviews with Cryptic has the number at 60% space combat missions). Within a very short time of starting your career in STO, you will be shepherding your new ship into harm’s way. Since we are going to spend so much time at the helm, it’s time to complete a brief walk through of space combat and provide some pointers for you new captains.

The first thing to understand about captaining your ship is the layout of the controls. The UI for ship maneuvers has undergone several iterations and the latest is by far the most intuitive, putting the power in your hands. Space combat is really about 5 things; ship movement, offensive attacks, defensive actions, managing resources, and utilizing your bridge officers. Bridge officers could be under managing resources, but I like them to feel more empowered than just being a resource.

Flight School Basics, maneuvering your ship.

Just like driving a car, each ship has basic motion controls for forward and reverse, with various speeds available up to ludicrous speed.

STO-Ship Shields

This ship is stopped with full shields, 100% hull health and a full crew.

 Clicking the double up arrow at the top of the speed adjustment provides for a very fast burst of speed, at the expense of power to your other activities.

Captains can steer using either the mouse (holding down both buttons) or W, A, S, D keys (very similar to other MMOGs). If you have targeted an enemy, the camera will always center on that enemy so steering with the mouse can take a bit to get used to. Moving into position is critical in ship combat as you will always want to monitor the enemy’s shield strength (as well as your own). Make sure you move into a position to maximize offensive and defensive opportunities. The key to blowing the enemy out of the sky is keeping the firepower aimed at the weakened defenses while keeping the enemies guns pointed at your strongest shields.

It’s time to offend.

Sometimes (ok, most of the time) talks fail and players have to resort to violence. When this happens, it’s time to start clicking; there is no auto attack in this game. Starting out, each ship has three basic attacks, front phasers, rear phasers and forward photon torpedoes. The phasers are good to bring down shields, and torpedoes will eat up enemy ship hulls.

STO-Fire When ReadySTO-Space Hotbar

There are two forms of hotbars for attack skills as well as a “Fire everything we got” button.

Much improved from the earlier versions, the combat hotkeys and options have become very intuitive. Essentially anything you put in your hotbar for ship combat wil populate the quick-draw box (shown on the left above). This box has three auto-pickers above it with the upper righthand corner being a game-povided macro style button that fires all available weapons at the target. Click it early, click it often is my motto.

Each weapon has a different field of fire, also called arcs. Hovering a mouse over the different weapons will show the firing arcs so that players can tell where the firing cones are located. Another visual clue is that the weapon buttons light up when the targeted enemy is within the firing arc and range (conversley buttons will grey out when the target is out of range).

Best offense is a good defense.

Defense is all about shields. The goal for minimizing incoming damage is to not take any! My anticipation is that shield management will become much more involved as we get into the higher levels. There are multiple shield management tools at your disposal. First and foremost is re-allocating shield energy. Using the arrows in the shield UI, players can bolster failing shields by drawing energy from the shields not being attacked.

STO-Ship Shields

Shields can be managed by clicking the arrows to draw more energy to a failing shield.

Shield management also comes in the form of skills for both the players and their bridge officers. Skills can help repair shields, re-enforce them or provide speedier allocations. As stated earlier, the cat and mouse game of maneuvering to keep the right shields facing the enemy while maintaining prime attacks will be a challenge.

Call in the management team.

Instead of having to micro-manage each facet of ship resources, we’re given a handy utility for quickly divvying up resources (energy).

STO-Balanced Power by default

The default power plan is balanced across weapons, shields, engines and auxiliary.

As seems appropriate, increasing the energy going to one area will decrease the levels of energy going to others. There are four default energy options (balanced, weapons, shields, engines), but players can customize the look and presets as well (layered button in the upper right).

STO-Energy Options

Three default energy options for Weapons, Shields and Engines (speed)

The energy does take a while to shift between the different options so plan accordingly. This is another area of the game where players can use the default settings for the early areas and not suffer; however using these tools will greatly enhance a ship’s capabilities when used correctly.

A good leader is only as good as the people he/she leads.

Bridge officers are a key component for managing a player’s ship. Bridge officers will attain skills and training for increasing ship efficiency as well as adding special abilities. The special abilities can turn the tide of a battle and need to be used. It’s easy to forget about them, but they really need to part of the combat rotation for every captain.

STO-Bridge Officer

A first tactical bridge officer provides a boost to torpedoes, use it.

Bring it all together.

Luckily, the game baby-steps players into how all of these mechanics work for the most part. Captains won’t lose every battle if they haven’t mastered each of these nuances to space combat. On the flip side, the players who learn to play the game well will be dancing on the keyboard and mouse as they maneuver a ship for optimal fire output while keeping maximum shields “enemy facing” all the while balancing power demands and using bridge officers to their fullest.

These are the basics for starting your career at the helm of a ship, the number of ways these building blocks interact is anything but basic however. It’s easy to get tunnel vision during a close battle and just concentrate on firing weapons, but many times a little defensive boost and a bridge officer special skill will be the determining factor. Keep all of this in mind as you set up into the stars.

For more detailed information on the rest of the user interface and some handy tips, read Dalmarus’ STO Space UI Guide.

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