STO Impressions Through Level 12

After approximately 17 hours /played, Lt. Commander Green Armadillo of the USS PVD-2 Escort ship has spent enough time in STO to have a bit of an idea of the game.  BlueKae seems to think I'm slow, but perhaps my speed is some combination of actual newbie-ness and taking the time to try some of the many things going on in the 24th century (or is it the 25th these days?).

The Main MMO
The DPS ship for level 10-19.
Beyond the IP, STO's primary innovation is a design choice to offer two separate types of gameplay.  There's the ground game, which honestly I find a bit lackluster - it feels like an odd hybrid of a first person shooter, a squad-based combat game, and a standard MMO.  The other side is the space combat game, which feels a bit more like a real time strategy game than either a standard MMO or a shooter.  This, and the Star Trek storylines, is by far the stronger half of the game.

STO has an unusually modular class system.  There are three "classes" - tactical (generally DPS), engineering (general tanking), and science (healing and utility).  Your ship "captain" (actual rank may vary) has a few unique skills based on class and any equipped weaponry (whether in your ship or on the ground), but this is a small portion of your hotbar.  The rest of your abilities are used by your bridge crew, and which crew you can take is based on the type of ship you are piloting.  For example, I elected to take the tactical escort ship at level 10 for better DPS and manuverability, so my engineering captain has two tactical officers, one science, and one engineering on his bridge at the moment.

I don't know what this does to replay value - especially since the content seems story-driven and thus may not repeat as well - but it's definitely interesting.

The Minigames
STO has two major mini-games that have probably slowed my progress through the ranks substantially.  The first is a crafting game - players harvest a variety of different things and have to truck them over to Memory Alpha - a specific star system with crafting stations.  As far as I can tell, there are no crafting subclasses.  Everyone can craft everything, given enough time to earn the requisite skill points and farm the materials.  I should probably punt on this thing and sell my mats for credits, but it continues to amuse me for the moment.
Yes, I somehow had two crew members injure themselves while scanning for stuff.  Perhaps one started singing and the other couldn't take anymore? 

Next is the Duty Officer system, which feels vaguely like a Facebook game, but manages to be fun despite this.  You can have some number of generic officers, civilians, and other people on your ship and send them out to do missions.  There are unlocks for more officer slots (you start with 100), and the option to buy the officers in the cash shop.  Different missions take different amounts of time - from 5 minutes up to two days.  Your chance of success depends on having the right types of personnel, sometimes supplying materials, and finally a random roll.  Rewards include XP, currency, and points towards what would be called reputation/faction/etc in other games, in exchange for rewards. On the downside, like a facebook game, this thing demands frequent attention, logging in to send your crew off on new assignments. 

There are other mini-games in the world - for instance, a Dabo-roulette which appears to have no discernible strategy other than clicking the bet button repeatedly (but is required for an optional objective in the new featured mission).  There are also mechanics that feel like minigames, like training up your crew through a variety of trainers, recruitment commissions, vendors, etc.  As I said, I probably spend less than half of my time in this game actually leveling.
If there's a strategy here, I don't know it.

The Business Model
And so, the controversy begins.  Good news first - large number of daily quest-like activities, including the duty officer minigame, award a currency called Dilithium, which can be freely exchanged for Cryptic points, albeit slowly.  I.e. in principle, everything in the game can be unlocked given enough time.

Unfortunately, while content is all free, there is a lot to unlock.  There are cosmetics.  There are ship slots, character slots, costume slots, inventory slots, bank slots, duty officer slots, etc etc.  There are also bridge officer slots, which are probably the first restriction that's genuinely irritating, as free players are really locked down in terms of being able to have different officers for space/ground, or for different ship types (which you would most likely end up having to pay to purchase).  These unlocks tend to run a couple dollars a piece, and aren't really a big deal. 

The C indicates Cryptic Point cash store currency.  This model upgrades the second engineering station to allow 2nd tier abilities (the officer's lieutenant skill, in addition to their ensign skill), and it also includes a transwarp (teleportation) drive that to my knowledge isn't elsewhere in game. 
Then there are upgraded ships.  These run from around $10 - $25 for the max level versions, but are strictly level-limited; in the space game, your stats and available equipment slots are fixed by the ship you are flying, so you are going to pitch that cash store ship the minute you gain the next level.  The cash store options include almost every ship available which requires the level 50 cap, unique perks per specific ship, and, even at my level, allow more and/or higher ranked bridge crew, for access to a larger array of abilities. 

I'm already two levels into my current tier, so I can't say that I would be impressed with the value for the money if I had paid for a premium ship.  Perhaps the higher levels will take long enough that it's worth paying $15-20 as a non-subscriber.  However, these charges stand even for subscribers (who get a stipend - you could purchase one level 50 ship in five months). 

Then, there's the lottery thing.  As Blue Kae and Tipa describe, especially desirable ships aren't even to sale on a fixed price; you pay your money for a lottery ticket.  The current promotion drops the lockbox at a high rate in game, forcing you to weed through your loot to avoid picking up and having to trash an item that requires a cash store purchase to open.  Assuming that the in-game spam every time someone wins this lottery does not lie, there are a fair number of these entering the game despite the cost.  Some may come out of points that the players in question didn't pay cash for, but it certainly looks like a successful, if unsavory program.

Early conclusions
Overall, the game gets points for being different, and telling the Trek story effectively.  The gambling thing is a bit pervasive and irritating - from generating bridge and duty officers to in-game roulette to the actual lockbox thing, larger portions of this game do seem to revolve around gambling-like mechanics.  That said, nothing about the business model surprises me given that Cryptic was selling access to iconic character types at launch - this is who you're doing business with. 

My guess is that this is a game I will play occasionally for the story but probably not turn into a primary game.  It will be interesting to see where I hit business model roadblocks and whether I end up paying for some of them, but overall I expect the game will be reasonably fun and return good value for the money I spend on it.  Given the game's increased willingness to put pure character power up for gambling in the cash shop under its new ownership, however, I'd be extremely hesitant to attempt to make a longterm home in STO.  The frustration is predictable, and you have only yourself to blame if you fail to avoid it.
Beaming up and out, the effects definitely fit the IP