STO's Early Game

Commander Green Armadillo is sitting at rank 26, cruising around the galaxy in the USS PVD-3, a Research Science Vessel.  This puts me nominally halfway through the game's level curve, primarily through the duty assignment system, with remarkably little intervention into the game's actual leveling content.

Choose your ride
One of the quirks to STO's modular "class" system is that players have relative flexibility to swap out their role in the game.  After ditching the introductory ship, I went with an "escort" class DPS ship, hoping for faster leveling.  These ships do indeed offer firepower, thanks to added weapon slots, bonus power to weapon systems, and slots for tactical bridge officers/consoles (both of which tend to add raw damage).  However, this ship felt squishy and I was not a fan. 

The science vessel I am currently piloting is more of a utility ship.  Science vessels have good shields, otherwise balanced stats, and a focus on special abilities (including buffs, debuffs, and some healing).  The ships come standard with special attacks allowing players to damage enemy shields, weapons, engines, or auxiliary systems.  It's still really early, but so far I'm a big fan.

That said, I would also like to try piloting a cruiser when I get my next promotion.  Cruisers are slower tank-like ships, but they are extremely tough, and tend to have iconic Enterprise appearances.  The "cost" of doing this type of experimentation is pretty trivial.  The one issue I run into is that, as a non-subscriber, I am still limited to a mere four bridge officer slots. 

A subscriber would have eight by this point, which would allow me to carry enough bridge officers to staff all these various ship types.  Almost all ships take one of each type of officer (tactical, science, and engineering), but the fourth (and later fifth) slots vary.  My cruiser wanted a second tactical officer, and I then needed to dismiss a tactical officer to make room for a second science officer in my current ship.  If I understand the system correctly, I will finally get a fifth slot at the Captain rank to house the excess engineer for the cruiser. 

(I'm also nearing enough Cryptic points to buy a pair of slots in the store, but I may opt to subscribe for a single month instead.  This is supposed to grant permanent access to all of the subscriber-only slots for inventory, bankspace, bridge officers, etc which is a pretty good deal for $15.) 

A slow start
One thing that's struck me about this game is that it got off to a very slow and underwhelming start.  The duty officer system that I've raved so much about does not unlock until level seven, which took me several gaming sessions to achieve.  The early levels of combat, especially in the introductory ship, are similarly underwhelming due to the highly limited number of weapon and ability slots at this low level. 

I also clearly did not help my cause by working on crafting early, as this requires travel to a specific out-of-the-way planet.  Using just materials harvested running missions, it will take a long time to get the materials to ever build anything, especially given that you must build schematics and other random stuff for skill points in the early going.  Again, it's only now that I have tons of crafting materials coming in from duty officer missions that I'm actually able to make all the stuff I need (especially as I gain levels much faster than I loot gear due to my extreme lack of actually playing the original game as intended.
Business model note: Speaking of crafting, for each rank tier, your gear can come in one of two "mark" qualities (in addition to the normal green, blue, and purple quality colors.  The odd numbered marks - e.g. mark 5 phasers for commanders - are built using only materials and schematics.  The even numbered marks - e.g. mark six phasers, also for commanders - require the use of "unreplicate-able" parts which are bought using dilithium ore.  Dilithium can only be earned through time-limited daily quests and duty missions, and can be freely converted into cash store Cryptic points.  In my view, these upgrades aren't worth the cost when you could be spending those points on other stuff, such as additional ships, or to save money in the cash shop.

The good news to my less conventional approach to the game is that there is tons of content that I have yet to enjoy at my leisure.  Meanwhile, I've been surprisingly unhampered by the business model.  I don't really run into major issues with the limits on inventory as long as I actually use a bank every so often.  The bridge officer thing is mildly irritating, and I will probably pay for some additional duty officer slots (more because I enjoy the system and want more flexibility than because it's actually required). 

Depending on whether I prefer the Cruiser or the Science Vessel, I may want to purchase a ship at endgame.  (I have a free level 50 cruiser in my bank, courtesy of the anniversary event that got me started in the game in the first place.)  Even so, I'm on a path where I will probably spend between $15-30 on this game.  Given the value I've gotten out of it so far - it's not perfect, but it's definitely different and that counts for something - that's a fair price indeed.