This is my take on Kostamojan's 'Escort Build thread', only from the skill tree side, rather than the boff abilities/equipment side.
I've heard a couple of people say that there isn't much (post F2P) skill tree guidance around here, so here ya go.
My goal with this post is to provide a cookie cutter STF Escort build for anybody wanting a starting point. It is not optimal in all situations, and is not intended to be. Once again, for clarification, and to keep the pedants off my back, this is for the guy who has just made VA, and wants to know how to make a viable and easy to use STF escort build which they can build on as they adapt their play to more specialised areas.
This assumes you are a tac captain flying an escort, using the classic dual heavy cannons/1 quantum torp up front and 3 turrets behind weapons layout, and using the fireteam ground kit ideally, but that is far less important. Btw, should be cannon selected at the top, not beam, not that it really matters.
The build above is for the fleet escort specifically, as in my opinion, it's the most versatile escort and therefore the easiest for newer folks to fly, do damage and still survive when they make a mistake. In any case, the skills referred to below are valid whichever escort you fly.
With this boff layout, which I won't go into great detail on, you will do great dps both AoE and single target (thanks to the torpedo and cannon abilities), and have great survivability rotating tactical teams and EptS, throwing in a Transfer Shield Strength when needed or a Reverse Shield Polarity when in deep trouble. The single Hazard Emitters, when popped along with an Auxiliary battery, will heal you for a good portion of your hull over time and give a decent damage resist while you get your shields back up. Carry Aux batteries to get benefit from Hazard Emitters, rather than Shield batteries which aren't really needed when you have this many shield heals and damage reduction abilities.
Comments: None really, these skills speak for themselves. I guess you could take 3 points from attack patterns to use elsewhere, like batteries or driver coil, but I wouldn't recommend it. Driver Coil only benefits out of combat abilities (full impulse in system space, and warp speed in sector space, specifically). Batteries can be useful, but at the end of the day, the only battery you're going to use is an Auxiliary and only when you pop Hazard Emitters or Transfer Shield Strength, so very marginal.
Tier 2 essentials: Energy Weapons, Structural Integrity, Starship Shield Systems.
Tier 2 optionals: Projectile Weapons (do not use if you are not running torps at all), and Warp Core Efficiency.
Comments: Due to my infrequent use of torpedoes (usually as a killing blow), and the difficulty of ensuring they always strike an unshielded hull, I see little additional benefit in maxing out Projectile Weapons. The vast majority of your damage will come from your cannons. With 6 points, you are still getting 85% of the maximum possible bonus. Warp Core Efficiency is good for all builds, it gives a boost to systems which have low power levels, however, this is arguably the weakest skill that I invested points in from this tier for an escort captain. If it is desired to max out projectile weapons, take three points from WCE to do so. For pure cannon builds, take the points from Projectile Weapons and either max WCE and/or put a few points in Subsystem Repair (situationally useful, but marginally so).
Tier 3 essentials: All Tactical and Engineering skills are essential in tier 3.
Tier 3 optionals: The only skills not maxed in this tier are the science skills for graviton and particle attacks. Leave that stuff to the science captains
Comments: The tier 3 tac skills are about Accuracy and Defense and both should be maxed. Particularly Targeting Systems, as every point spent here equates to an increase in DPS due to the game's conversion of overkill in accuracy to critical hit chance (CrtH) and critical hit damage (CrtD). Starship Maneuvers simply means you get hit less often (flat increase in defense), which is good in any situation. In the engineering skills, Electro Plasma Systems is critical to most builds, it helps keep power flowing fast to where its needed, and in energy weapon heavy builds keeps power levels up while firing all guns. It also directly benefits the shield heals. Starship Impulse Thrusters directly equates to maneuvrability. Some of the 'Park and Shoot' brigade may not bother maxing this skill, but since one should be constantly moving in order to get the defense bonus, the quicker you can turn around the better. That one comes down to playstyle. Warp Core Potential is good bang for your buck giving a flat increase to all power levels.
Tier 4 essentials: Shield Performance
Tier 4 optionals: Engine Performance and Hull Plating.
Comments: Engine Performance gives a flat boost to engine power which increases flight speed and turn rate. It's a solid skill, hence I put 6 points in it. Hull Plating is pretty good energy damage resistance for the money too. The tactical skills are situational at best (Stealth and Threat). Stealth is not needed outside pvp really, and threat is something you positively don't want as an escort. Again the science skills in this tier benefit pretty much sci abilities only, so I won't waste my breath on them.
Tier 5 essentials: Energy Weapon Specialization.
Tier 5 optionals: Everything else.
Comments: Energy Weapon Specialization increases your critical hit chance and critical hit severity with all energy weapons. This is a solid DPS skill, especially with cannons. I go against my poloicy of not maxing tier 5 skills only for this one. Projectile Weapon Specialization is the same thing, but for torpedoes and mines. Due to the high single attack damage of projectiles, you want to maximise your crit chance and crit damage if you use them, so I also put 6 points in this. Armor Reinforcements is definitely debatable for an escort captain, but for only the first 3 points, you are getting more than 50% of the maximum possible bonus, and at the end of the day, most of your deaths will be to kinetic damage, so I feel 3 points is justified over maxing one of the other abilities (because at 3000 per point, maxing tier 5 skills is extremely inefficient). I used to have Weapon Performance as an essential, but I have now changed it to an optional and only spent 3 points (previously I had 6 here). Why? With this build, when running full power to weapons (which you should be). You will be at the weapon energy cap for sure. In order to combat this wastage (since there is no longer an invisible buffer above 125 power, it is now a hard cap), you could reduce weapon power settings and route some to another system, or spend less points here, putting them in something else in order to max it (such as in this case, using the points to max energy Weapon Specializatoin, instead of expecting folks to mess around with power settings, this is supposed to be a no-brain required build after all ). Your weapon power in system space should always be 125 though. Personally, I mess around with power settings to make sure these points aren't wasted, so this skill effectively gives me a power boost to another subsystem of my choice (such as shields).
Any and all comments welcome, I hope this helps a few new escort captains pull their weight at endgame.