I've been grinding away for a couple of weeks now and I'm surprised at how fast I've leveled up (federation-currently lvl 43, rear admiral lower half). Since missions are divided into seasons, I believe that I'm in the middle of Season 3 "The Cardassian Struggle"
Up until now I've recieved a spare few fleet invites, but since making rear admiral, it seems that I've been getting hit with fleet invites quite often. I've let them go unanswered thus far because, personaly, I feel that I'm still too "green" to be of any real help to a fleet.
That being said, what are the advantages of joining a fleet? Upsides? Downsides (if any)?
It seems like there are quite a few fleets out there, and I'm not sure who to look at first. If play style (and time) is an issue, I'd say that I'm a fairly relaxed player. I'm a college student, so I play when I'm taking study breaks or relaxing.
1) Consistent people to play with - especially for multi-player events.
2) Access to Fleet Banks - shared items that anyone in the Fleet can use.
3) Access to Fleetbases - which can give you better Ships and Equipment; assuming you're wanting to play and pay for it.
For a lot of people #1 is the most important. For another segment of the fan-base they only joined a Fleet for #2. #3 is only 3 months old and it's really too soon to make any real decisions about it, yet.
From my own perspective I prefer Fleets for the social aspects. I like playing with consistent people rather then Pugging with strangers - and multi-player events are extremely common at end-game. I like having Fleet Nights were we all just do fun things together, and so on. For me the Fleet's a group of gaming friends that extends past STO into several other MMOs.
The best thing you can do is just try a Fleet and see if it fits you. You might need to quit and join another, or several others, before you find one that's right for you. When you get the right fit they can be great!
Yeah, there are some people who take it a little too seriously. Casual players need to find casual Fleets. PvPers really need to focus on PvP Fleets, etc. The goal is really not to settle for whatever Fleet you happen to join but rather to find one that fits your play style.