Some thoughts on ship classes, balance, and roles
I'm make no apologies for the length of the post. I have a lot to say and there is no "tl;dr".
It's worth pointing out, as always with my posts, that I only play PVE, usually with a team of one or two friends that I can rely on. I don't care about PVP, and I think it's really silly and a waste of time to attempt to balance the same systems for both PVE and PVP when the threats and abilities used are nothing alike.
Now that you know where I'm coming from.
There's been several threads lately about ship balance. Cruiser captains feeling like escorts make them obsolete, escort captains feeling cruisers have a self-entitlement complex with their requests for buffs, sci-ship captains just feeling indistinctly saddened by life. Massive, heated, circular threads about buffs and nerfs ensue. In the spirit of maybe building a foundation that we can move forward from, rationally, I've made this thread.
There's a fundamental flaw with the way STO works, and it revolves around the purpose of these ship classes.
In the universe of classic Star Trek canon, "cruiser" type ships are the default and most numerous vessel of the Federation because the Federation is primarily an organization for exploration, research, diplomacy, and colonization. They build cruisers because they have the flexibility to host a summit, defend a convoy, deliver colonists and fabricate a colony, and explore a strange particle cloud all on the same mission. Many of us grew up with The Next Generation... How many times did you hear "The Enterprise is being refitted for its next mission"? Rarely. Because it already had all the stuff it needed to do pretty much anything.
Escorts were introduced because they were more efficient at filling a needed role in a destabilizing galaxy, which was combat patrol. They were small, quick, efficient in materials and manpower, and aggressive. They delivered all the firepower of an advanced cruiser without the bulk of also carrying industrial fabricators, fancy scanning systems, and everything else that cruisers needed to deliver on their multi-role mandate. Escorts were not intended to go on missions that could range to years in length or to perform advanced research or provide logistical support. They were built and fielded to fight, which they do well, while cruisers and science ships were still built and fielded for other missions.
Now we look at STO, and realize: Every single mission is combat-based. Mission events that require scanning or beaming are just buttons we push before enemies leap out at us. Every ship has the same cargo capacity, the same technological and sensor abilities, the same mission endurance and range. The only thing that actually relies on your ship's equipment and realtime performance metrics.... is combat. "Escort" type ships are designed specifically for combat, at the expense of all areas which are not combat, which is why they seem to be favored so much: Every game mission favors their strengths and turns a blind eye to their weaknesses.
To make other ship types seem useful and appealing while sticking to the basic ideas of Star Trek, a total overhaul and massive expansion of mission gameplay and strategies would need to be done. There would need to be non-combat missions focused on areas that cruisers and science ships actually hold the superior hand for. As an example, instead of saving a planet from an implausibly massive fleet of enemy ships, maybe we need to save a planet from a sudden onset of extreme volcanism. Science ships would probe the planet's crust, identify the currents in the mantle and use precision drilling and blasting techniques to settle the planet down. Cruisers would mine the system's asteroid belt for materials, then build seismic dampeners and reinforced habitat domes that would keep the inhabitants safe. Meanwhile the escort are somewhere else shooting the bad guys.
These kind of sweeping overhauls seems utterly beyond the ambition or budget of a game pushing several years of age. Basic concepts like these need to be decided in the early design stage of a game. So in realistic terms we're pretty much stuck with all the missions being combat-based. Which mean we need to come up with some way for each type of ship to succeed in combat, to prevail over enemies, to an equal extent. Teamwork is a fine and noble goal and I'm all in favor of synergy between careers and ship types, but every ship also needs to be an equivalent solo combatant as well. If they aren't, you force some ships/players to only play with teams that can complement them, instead of allowing them the freedom of choice. And obviously that's not cool.
So, let's decompose. What is the core essence of each ship?
For escorts it's pretty obviously all about aggressive offense. They have the best guns, the best agility, the most tactical abilities, the highest bonus to weapon power, the most widgets that boost damage output. Simple and direct, the escort is all about going in with the volume set to 11 and making as many kills as they can before they do a 180 and fly off to recharge. The escort's combat toolkit is all about the overwhelming initial barrage and getting away before the enemy counter punches (if they survived).
What are cruisers then? Some say that the cruiser's role is to tank.... but tanking alone does not win fights, it leads to stalemate. In order to win by defense, you have to be able to outlast an enemy, hurting them more than they hurt you, and winning by the inevitable erosion of their endurance. Therefore: the cruiser's combat toolkit should consist of things that change the balance of power in prolonged engagements. In cliched fantasy imagery, cruisers should be the heavily armored, shield-carrying, mace-swinging guy that deflects, blocks, and outright absorbs everything you try to do to him until you get too tired to properly defend yourself.
And science ships? They have limited firepower, somewhat weak hulls, and lots of weird particles. Many science bridge officer abilities offer "crowd control" of various kinds, which is all well and good but controlling the crowd doesn't win battles. Making the crowd go away forever wins battles, and neither boff science abilities nor science ship's built-ins facilitate this. Similar story with their little surgical gimmicks; pricking the enemy in a soft spot is cool, but making them go away is what's going to end the fight. So without extreme firepower or extreme endurance, what HAVE they got? While the escort just bulldozes through the enemy and the cruiser wears him down, the science ship combat toolkit is filled with techniques to evade, misdirect, and neutralize the enemy so that their attacks and defenses are simply ineffective.
What does this mean in practical terms... i.e. What are my suggestions to make things more "balanced".
Escorts are fine. They're a handy baseline. They have a role, they fill their role, and everybody's happy.
Cruisers should be given three key abilities aimed at strengthening "victory through endurance":
1.) Lift the "sensor analysis" mechanics from science ships and graft it onto cruisers, but instead of only increasing damage output, it also stacks shield resistance and threat generation against the specific target. In other words, the longer a cruisers fights a given enemy, they more damage they will do, the less damage they will take (from that enemy), and the less likely the target is to pay attention to anybody else.
2.) Increased shield transfer speed. With a twist. In keeping with the spirit of getting in the enemy's face and just outlasting the hell out of them, a cruiser's ability to focus their shields is essential. Currently this requires the use of tactical teams, which cruisers are very limited on. The boosted shield transfer speed should be somewhere between what tactical team does and what automatic rebalancing does, BUT rather than being automatic to adjust to all threats in a dynamic way (very useful for escorts as they fly all over the place) this bonus only kicks in when you use the arrow keys to focus your shields to a specific quadrant, presumably toward the enemy that you have selected to relentlessly pound into submission.
3.) Insta-death protection. Sometimes incoming hits just roll ridiculously well on a critical, and even the toughest ships can be wiped out or nearly wiped out in the blink of an eye. Such weapons make a mockery of a ship class supposedly all about endurance and durability. Make it so that a cruiser can never lose more than 1/3 of its hull in one second, and by implication, never more than 1/3 its hull from a single weapon hit. Though, the ship does take an "injury" every time this protection kicks in if the difficulty and mission parameters allow injuries.
Science ships get the biggest and vaguest changes:
1.) Overhaul abilities effects in general, with the intent of making science able to disable and neutralize enemies to the point that even with their low firepower they can win the same fights as escorts and cruisers. As a random example, Tachyon Beam removes a couple hundred points per second of the enemy's shielding, coupled to a long cooldown on the beam itself and sympathetic cooldowns on many other science abilities. Which means you have an ability specifically designed to remove shields that is much worse at doing this than even a single weapon mount on a ship with full power to guns. Instead of just stripping paltry amounts of shield, make the tachyon beam reduce their shield "hardness" so that they take more damage, and also reduces their ability to recharge. These abilities, in general, should be aimed at making the enemy's attacks or defenses ineffective in a meaningful and specific way.
2.) Overhaul abilities in general for greater "up time". For a science ship, its abilities ARE its weapons. Compare the merit of having 2 copies of Cannon:Rapid Fire (66% "up time") versus 2 copies of...well, most science abilities. Keep the shared cooldowns for systems of abilities, but make the actual cyclic time on abilities faster, so that the player basically chooses one tool from their toolbox at a time to focus on, rather than being forced by gratuitously long cooldowns to use everything in sequence even if it's not really the best tool for the job at hand.
3.) Change the subtargeting abilities to modes rather than events. In other words, rather than firing one single shot at the enemy's engine for minimal impact, turning on Subtarget:Engines would make ALL shots affect the engines to some degree until you turned that mode off, at the cost of all shots doing reduced damage to shields and hull. Subtargeting would then be more of a strategic choice rather than an occasional poke in the eye. Target the engines until you can outmaneuver the enemy and get into their weak weapon arc, then switch to targeting their weapons while your tachyons and charged particle bursts bring down their shields, and finally switch to targeting the shields to keep them suppressed while you work on their hull.
So. There you go. Congratulations if you survived. My thoughts on ship roles, ship balances, the problems we face, and both idealist and realistic ways to address those problems.
now imagine a MVAE with tachyon beam...in the ltcmdr slot...awesome pwnge
i generally like all ideas you have there, but the current system is somewhat beyond repair. It works...for now
also in my opinion escorts don't work...they are way too hard to break in certain situations.
RSP shouldn't be a ltd ability...thats just one thing. Certain science boff commander abilities are way too weak. But then you have again a problem with hybrid ships getting too powerfull again.
nevertheless it's apreciateable to look at all the brainwork you put into this.
Kudos to the OP for tackling the key issue with play balance in STO. I love cruisers but gave up on them exactly for the reasons momaw stated. This game is all about combat and the most efficient way to handle it is with an escort. I've played lots of MMOs and this game has the weakest Tanking skills and abilities. I've max skilled Threat Control but all you need is one escort with a pip or two in TC and the boss ignores me for the most part. I don't mind not being the biggest punisher out there. I know tanks arent meant for DPS but then at least give cruisers the ability to properly tank. I've read so many posts of escort captains bragging about their ability to out tank cruisers and solo tac cubes. If that doesnt clearly demonstrate an imbalance of ship abilities I dont know what else will.
I'm not saying I agree with every suggestion of the OP but he/she definitely has identified a significant problem with long term game playability/enjoyment, unless you just want to fly escorts all day. Dont get me wrong, im not saying nerf escorts, just saying restore balance and this OP deserves credit for having the courage to bring this issue out into the open. I for one thank you and hope the Devs do something about it soon.
have to admit some of those ideas look pretty good (especially de subsystem target mode)
1 thing i do disagree on. u said escort play the role of a damage dealer and they do it well. NO, they rly dn't.
as of a classic DD's definition and u'r description, a DD spykes dmg and runs away to recharge... Escort DO NOT. they hit u with everything, and if u'r still not dead they keep hitting u for 5 secs, second RF becomes available and U DIE. if by some miracle u'r skills came up just in time, u get to live for another 5 secs, after which u get hit with the first RF+an attack patter+most likely HY.
a well built cruiser might just survive this, but the huge cooldowns on a sci make it impossible. mby with some of u'r suggestions and other such imaginative ones cryptic could salvage a system rdy to implode.
I think cruisers need a new engineering BO ability that would be a lt. commander and commander level AOE heal that would function similar to how triage works on the ground. As it is with all of the single target ship heals in the game, you have to make a decision to heal yourself or heal an ally, which is bad when your group actually gets in a sticky situation where you are expected to be the healer.
Also Eject Warp Plasma should be buffed by Warp Core Efficiency and Warp Core Potential, not Particle Generators.
Instead of focusing on making this more like a class role based system why don't they just have 'everyone equal in a different way'. What I mean by that would be a setup such as this:
Offense Focus: Burst Damage
Defense Focus: Defense Stat primarily
Utility Focus: Attack Patterns fill this role, they should be expanded
Offense: Damage over Time
Defense Focus: Hull Mitigation Tank Primarily (High Resistance)
Utility: Heals & Team Defensive Buffs
Offense: Build up Damage
Defense: Buffer/Regen Shield Tank Primarily
Utility: Debuffs & CC
O wait a second we already have that. Its just that balance has been completely fubared by the mechanics that were designed to work with Mk X purples and Tier 4 ships.
This could be restored very quickly and easily though. Make the defense stat more important in PvE for escorts, nerf NPC kinetic damage and allow cruisers to tank with hulls. Allow shields to last longer than .2 seconds against an NPC as well. At the same time nerf bat all the low tier heals and defensive buffs (Epower to shields I'm looking at you) to finish it off.
Also Countermeasure Systems and the whole two useless skills it effects can be completely removed from the game. We might as well have a T5 Deflector Dish System skill that impacts more useful abilities.
@ OP: The sad truth is the game had balanced ship roles pre-F2P. The F2P patch changed the entire focus of the game to DPS-centric and escort-focused. This is probably because PWE mandated the game to be a shooter game where they could market and sell power-ups (which is the PWE money maker).
Here's what the ships USED to be like pre-f2p:
Escorts: Fast, maneuverable. Damage output was lower than cruisers (over time but they had high burst damage. aka 4 gun slots in escort vs 8 in cruisers bearing on target). Its role was to use its speed and turn rate to strike the weak shield facing of targets.
Cruisers: Slow, bad turn rate...and darn resilient. Cruisers were the quintessential main force of the fleets.
Science: Relatively slow, relatively low turn rate (worse than escorts but better than cruisers). Excellent shields but very weak hulls. Science ships were the premier debuffers and healers in the game. They were also crowd controllers and damage add-on via science abilities (gravity well, etc).
The game was balanced by the fact that weapons did not do as much damage as they do now. In fact you can still see this balance in the early levels from level 1 to about 30 where escorts really do not have the supreme damage output they do at end game and cruisers and science ships excel at their class roles.
But, since the F2P patch, with the great dumbing down of the skill trees and the idiotification of the combat system the whole thing became escort-centric and ever since Cryptic has been peddling nothing but escort firepower and escort content (for example look at all the content released post season 5. It all relies on ships having extremely high dps to kill npcs quickly before X scripted event happens or before the npcs reach X point ... cruisers and science ships cannot perform those tasks).
To return the game back to balance escorts need to lose a significant amount of damage output and the game overall needs to be re-tuned to return to the pre-f2p balance.
.. but that will never happen. Too much work which will not net zstore sales and there is no talent left at cryptic to code such changes. This game has been on life support pimp-it-before-it-dies mode since season 5.
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