A Fleet Escort is a perfectly fine Escort and is still a favourite in PVP. You don't need to drop $25 on a ship just to enjoy endgame.
Remember all Tier 5 ships are pretty much on equal footing. The better captain will beat the most expensive ship in a equal level freebie. And the forum is full of threads where people purchased a VA ship and complained it was only as good as the freebies.
If you think you will enjoy flying the Defiant because DS9 was awesome, than by all means buy it. But at the end of the day you'll do almost identical DPS in the Fleet Escort. The cloak is a small situational DPS boost.
If your not used to Cruisers don't drop $25 on one to see how they are.
Second what Mandoknight said about trying out a Soverign first before plunking down $25. The Oddy's hull is only slightly better, and its main advantage is the universal slots more than anything else. Also if you do end up getting an Oddy, I don't think I've ever heard anyone say anything nice about the Aquarius' durability or intellect (like parking next to things as they explode). The only really nice thing would be having 4 tac consoles, but mostly I read people taking the Science version for the Sensor Analysis, then using all those science slots for universal consoles. Either that or the Operations version, activate the cheveron seperation, and get a maneuver boost. But really, try non-premium cruiser first, maybe speed-level an alt or something. You really don't want to spend a bunch of money, then find out the lack of speed, tac powers, and dual cannons, just drives you nuts.
I'll say something about the Aquarius, the thing is staffed by my DOffs who displease me and is nicknamed the "flying coffin." Draw your conclusion from that.
More seriously, the Aquarius' durability and smarts are pretty poor. It doesn't last very long in intense fights in my experience, and doesn't seem to be able to go toe-to-toe with mid-level enemies (or perhaps even low-level enemies) without my support. It's a bit like having a flying gun a bit of a distance away. That said it CAN surprise you and last all the way through, say, Cure, but this is the exception, not the norm. There are some who disagree strongly with me in terms of the Aquarius' value, but I don't know what they're doing that I'm not. You CAN increase its durability by patching it up, but you'll likely have to do so fairly frequently and even then it might not matter.
The tactical Odyssey ITSELF is, however, IMO the best hull for any non-science officer. In short, I recommend an Ops Ody for the saucer sep, which IMO really sells the thing. However, if you don't want/need the saucer sep, then the Ops Ody is a waste of cash unless you absolutely need a fifth engineering console slot (for hyper-dedicated tanks most likely), as the +5 engine boost is basically worthless on the Ody.
The tac Ody on the other hand has a third tac console slot (letting its firepower match the other T5 tactical cruisers), and the +5 bonus to engines is routed to weapons for +10 weapons total.
These are all my opinions, YMMV, but I strongly recommend what other posters have said, get the Sovereign first. The Assault Cruiser is the staple combat cruiser for Feds and gives you a good idea of what the cruiser is really capable of. Do note however it IS more nimble than the Ody will be unless you get the saucer sep, which means you'll need the Ops Ody or the three-pack if you want to be able to match it at times.
For reference, when I take out my Ody (which is/was fairly often until the saucer sep/aquarius bug started showing up), I use the tactical hull with the consoles from all three. I tend to use the Aquarius as a first attack wave and towards the end of an STF, or if I need to get somewhere FAST (e.g. backup at the Kang), I use saucer sep. I use this setup on both my engineer and tactical officers.
Also as a final note, I would strongly recommend AGAINST using the science version unless you're into science/shield tricks. While the boosts for shields and aux are neat, there is no bonus for weapons at all, and Sensor Analysis will only make up for the lack of the third tactical slot if you have your target focused squarely - and WITHOUT deviating - on a target for more than, say, 30 seconds. Most fights that aren't against a structure intended to be demolished are mostly over in 30 seconds, or you'll need to switch to another target for whatever reason by then, in which case you have to start all over. Also, the Work Bees aren't all that great IMO. The science Ody makes a superb science cruiser, but unless you're a big fan of science powers you won't be able to make the most of it and will probably be a little worse off.
I bought the MVAE. I haven't used it yet. But I did want to throw in that you can equip the multi-vector console on the default Advanced Escort, and take advantage of its slightly different configuration with multi-vector goodness thrown in. Just FYI.
But I did want to throw in that you can equip the multi-vector console on the default Advanced Escort, and take advantage of its slightly different configuration with multi-vector goodness thrown in. Just FYI.
Or run the MVAE without the MV console, to use the better science layout.