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There are levels to Star Trek Online that players, new and old, may have never experienced. While the tutorials will teach you everything you need to know to play, there are systems and playstyles that the playerbase themselves have put together through seven years of mastering this game that can truly help you in those Elite queues, and these playstyles may not be something it’s easy to discover for themselves. That’s why we love the STO community so much. Our veteran players are known to spend much of their time helping new players, including a certain beleaguered Community Manager, get past their new player days and learn to be the kind of Captain we all want to be.
One such veteran player is Qthulhu, a regular member of our Reddit and Ten Forward Weekly stream communities. Watching those streams, and seeing Ambassador Kael explode himself on enemy torpedoes time and time again, Qthulhu knew he had to do something, and he created a series of incredibly helpful guides for new players. You can check out all of these articles right here:
We sat down with Qthulhu to talk about the guides, and how STO looks through the eyes of a ship builder:
What inspired you to start doing these build guides?
Well, funnily enough, it was the first Ten Forward stream. What I remember most vividly are the two Dispersal Patterns without any mines, and Torpedo: High Yield even though your fore torpedo wasn’t affected by it... “Feel free to critique my build” seemed an open invitation. At the start, it was just going to be a simple build post with brief exposition – here’s the build, here’s what the chat meant by “sort your tray” – but as the explanation started to consume more of the post, I made the decision to split the build off into its own article. That meant I could make the guide part far more elementary, and the goal was instead that it would be a “one off” for potential use as the basis of a “real” article in our internal wiki. At it happened, even that basic guide grew too large and was itself split into two parts.
It just sort of snowballed from there - some of it being updates to our existing internal wiki articles, and some of it being “widely known” information that just hadn’t really been set down in any one place. Collating it was really the easy part, the hard part was the work put in by the community in getting the information in the first place. I just happened to have the free time to staple it together.
What makes building a starship in STO interesting?
One of the many things I like about the r/STOBuilds community is that it’s a melting pot. You’ve got people who love the mathematics, or people who want to do the highest damage possible, and then you also have people who build around a theme or game mechanic, or that have a favourite ship that they’d just like to do a little better in. As for archetypes, as a community we have dedicated healers, tanks, space wizards, you name it - we’ve got them all. All those different players and different requirements keep things fresh for me. In a nutshell, it’s the infinite diversity in infinite combinations – you’re not truly tied to any single philosophy. Aside from the permanent community, there's also the variety from commenters "just passing through", and helping them out keeps things interesting as well.
For myself, I would self-classify as a theme or gimmick builder, and my challenge is really to meet the goal while still being capable of good performance. That can be as simple as a “hard canon” T6 variant of the Miranda (Pulse Phasers!), cosmetic-canon builds such as a T5 D’Kyr using Elachi beam arrays, or something much more technically challenging, such as a T3 Koro't'inga for a KDF-aligned Romulan character.
What's the most important part of designing a build?
Arguably the most important part of any build is the end goal. A well-defined goal makes everything else much more straightforward, not only because it’ll narrow down your options, but it’ll also inform every choice you make – from the stats you want to boost, to the abilities you need on your Bridge Officers.
The second most important part, but the more difficult, is understanding how the game mechanics will help you achieve your goal, and for many players that will be their first, and largest, stumbling block. It’s easy to look at abilities and choose the ones that do the most damage, and that approach might work for the first 15 seconds of any battle, but without healing or power management your overall performance will be sporadic. The community at r/STOBuilds has put a lot of work into learning and studying the game mechanics, creating calculators to help players optimize, and the wiki itself is a huge resource for explaining these things in greater depth. Anyone reading my articles is really only seeing the tip of the iceberg. We also have pretty good engagement with the likes of CrypticSpartan, which is great when we’re collectively scratching our heads over a mechanic or not quite sure if something is working as intended.
Ultimately, if someone is looking for help then it's more important for them to be able to say what they want help achieving.
Can STO be enjoyed by folks who don't have a master build?
Absolutely. For my theme builds (and really any build myself or the community assists with) the goal is participation in Advanced content at the very least, and that’s very easy to accomplish with nothing more than stock reward items from playing through the story. Most of the time when a player has a problem, it isn’t the gear that’s the main issue - often you’ll find the reason a build is struggling is just simple piloting errors, or activating abilities at a poor time, and both of those problems cost no resources to correct.
At the same time, I would have to say that Elite content definitely requires a stronger setup (as it should!), or at the very least a good team that can pick up any slack. All of the endgame ships are capable of Elite content, although there are builders out there that pride themselves on running Elite content successfully in as low tier a ship as possible. There's a big different between what is viable, and what is optimal. In the race for the highest damage, players are often doing double what is "required" for Elite content, and sometimes even more, which I feel is something the average player can lose sight of.
What's the number one piece of advice you would give to new Captains?
Stay out of Zone Chat. Enjoy yourself. In terms of shipbuilding, the game is pretty forgiving up until level 50, which is where you’ll be introduced to content that will require a bit more attention to your setup. I normally suggest new players try all the ship types available to them while they’re levelling up (and what they can’t get for free, they’ll get to try in certain missions...), find the style they enjoy, and then from level 50 onwards they can more easily build around that playstyle. If you’ve used nothing but big Cruisers for 50 levels then a Science ship or Escort can be a bit of a shock! Ultimately, the important thing is to have fun, whether that’s by chasing a high score, running your favourite ship, sticking to a theme, or whatever floats your boat.
What's your favorite build you've ever done?
That’s not a fair question! I would say that, currently, I get the most enjoyment from helping other players with their builds. It’s a great feeling when you help a struggling player double or triple their effectiveness, as it also means they get more enjoyment from playing rather than suffering through content.
For my personal builds... I’m pretty proud of the Romulan Koro’t’inga, my Vo’quv mobility build, and Tricobalt Blockade Runner Retrofit, but the ship I fly every day on my main character is a Borg-themed APU. Everything on the character is built around the Borg theme – they’re a Romulan Liberated Borg Captain, the whole away team is Borg, and at the moment I’m working on making their ground weapons a bit more thematic. It’s not my highest damage build, and some of the Tholian and Breen ships have a better Borg “look” (if not outright better ships, period), but the ship was a gift and also the first real step towards a build that covered all the bases for me, rather than just being my “best” damage build. It reminds me that the goal is having fun, however one defines it.
Thanks, Qthulu! If you’re interesting in learning to design your own builds, these guides are a fantastic start. Check them out.