Last Modified: 23 July 2023
When people start talking about "the best" ways to build ships or ground loadouts, there's usually many assumptions involved in what's "good" or what's "best" or what's "viable." Something that's "good" may not be to someone else, so we need a common framework or set of standards to understand how we measure or understand things. This leads to what's known as a "metagame."
What is a metagame?
Simply put, the metagame or "meta" is the "game within the game." There are many reasons and many ways to play Star Trek Online. Some of them are thematic, like making a ship that adheres as closely to the look and feel of making a particular ship from the Star Trek movies and shows as possible. Some of them are focused around a particular item choice, i.e. plasma torpedoes or hangars.
However, when people generally refer to the metagame in STO, they're referring to the notion of measuring, optimizing, and evaluating builds based on damage per second (DPS) on a few specific maps. A secondary stat for tanks is percentage of incoming attacks they absorb for the team (% atks in).
Does the (DPS) metagame matter?
The meta is an artificial construct that mostly exists to give the min-maxers in the game something to do once all the missions, reputations, and TFOs have been completed. It's the equivalent of speedrunning a PvE game; yes, the game has been beaten, but now how can I beat it faster? The meta does NOT mean build mechanics. There are plenty of people out there who can take a focused build and get very high DPS numbers without really understanding how much of it works.
The fact is STO is a fairly easy game when it comes to completing its content. There is only one map in the entire game that is restricted to Elite difficulty, so if you want to play the game casually or on a very tight budget, it's entirely possible to do so. Understanding some build fundamentals and basic guides is very helpful especially given STO's uneven difficulty ramp-ups but a deep understanding of the meta is not essential. When we evaluate something on this site, it will be in the context of the general PvE meta for Elite-difficulty content, but not necessarily tailored only to the specific maps used for parsing.
What maps are used for benchmarking builds and why?
The DPS Leagues recognize three maps for space combat on PC:
Infected: The Conduit (Advanced) aka ISA
Infected: The Conduit (Elite) aka ISE
Hive Onslaught (Elite) aka HSE
For ground content, the usual benchmarks are as follows:
Bug Hunt Elite (BHE)
Nukara Trans-dimensional Tactics Elite (NTTE), though this has fallen out of favor somewhat.
These maps are run with a third-party program (called a parser) which reads the CombatLog and determines DPS and other meaningful stats. Common parsers include STO Combat Meter and Combat Log Reader. Play one of those TFOs with a parser running and at the end, your DPS numbers are calculated from reading the game's CombatLog file.
For console, there is an alternate method reliant on timing certain patrols on Elite, including
Starbase 234 (Advanced)
Gamma Eridon (Elite)
These maps are chosen because they are fairly short, are not time-gated, have constant combat, and no non-combat objectives. They also have minimal/no NPC ally support which can throw off player DPS/attacks-in numbers.
What kind of DPS numbers do I need?
The following are personal recommendations for space, not hard rules.
0-20K DPS - best to stick to Normal difficulty
20-50K DPS - Advanced is now an option. Maps may feel difficult to carry until above 50K.
50-100K DPS - Advanced should now feel fairly easy depending on build/type. There are a small handful of Elite space maps where a 50K player can contribute as they are not as DPS-gated, but you still need higher-DPS players to beat optional objectives most of the time
100K-300K DPS - this is where Elite content becomes much more accessible and very few missions will outright fail is all team members are within this DPS range (notable exception: Khitomer Vortex Elite has a DPS floor of around 250K apiece for a 5 member-team to finish the map). Some builds tend to drop off on ISA in this range if they rely on damage-over-time effects or hazards.
300K-1000K DPS - this range is the ceiling for most builds without dedicated team compositions and hyper-specialized builds. Builds in this range can play any map in the game on Elite and excel. Most builds on this site are in this range.
1M+ DPS - this range generally gets even higher results through taking a build from the previous range and specializing it further for specific maps and team compositions. They are usually expensive glass-cannon builds as there will be a tank (who draws away incoming fire) and often 1-2 players flying debuff builds sometimes called "nannies" (we prefer the term "support") to further boost the primary player. These builds have the advantage of being able to generate even higher DPS numbers, but depending on the level of specialization and team dependence, may struggle in non-ISE/HSE maps. The current record on ISE is over 2 million DPS, which is an incredible achievement.
For % atks in, 75% or higher on ISE is preferred for a generally-good Elite-capable tank. HSE can be a little fickle in that there many attacks that can hit the entire team at once (Feedback Pulse) for which most tanks can't necessarily debuff or remove.
On ground, 1K DPS in BHE is enough to handle most Elite content, 2K is enough to be top 100 and is quite excellent. 3K and above speaks to superior levels of ground performance and synergy.
Why aren't the builds here geared towards maximum DPS?
Our builds can perform any map in the game on Elite and do well with good piloting. The tippy-top of the DPS meta is 1) very expensive, 2) requires specific setups and builds, 3) is hyper-specialized to specific maps with specific teams. For example, the highest-parsing builds on ISE are currently torpedo-centric, and really a hybrid of torpedoes and science builds, but that doesn't mean we only want to post that type of build. Energy weapon ships are doing 1-2M DPS whereas sci-torp hybrids are above 3M on ISE. Does that mean non-tank energy weapon builds are invalid? We don't think so. At some point, chasing the top of the meta becomes needlessly reductionist for general use. Our builds adopt a more universal approach with more individual flavor and at a lower price point. If you're not already in the 300-900K range, those specific setups and builds won't help you as much anyway. Similar statements hold true on ground, where the peak DPS is 17K and involved a heavily-supported run centered around mines on a specific type of build. We refuse to be that map-specific and prefer to build around general Elite play. The STO League site has some guides written with the intent of achieving peak DPS.
What matters more, build, team composition or piloting?
Across the range of DPS scales, we've found that there's varying levels of contribution between build and piloting. They go in hand-hand. Below 50K, there's a good chance that the build is neither well-optimized nor is it flown well. We've been able to train players who had mostly-good builds from 60K to 300K with decent build upgrades and a LOT of piloting help. We've trained a 40K player to go to 140K in a single night with piloting tips because they had a solid build. No amount of gear or expenditure can salvage ineffective piloting. Piloting improvements for the vast majority of the playerbase will always lead to higher performance swings than changing a few pieces of a build until you've fully mastered piloting and its relative contribution goes down. Team composition, where having too many of the same kind of build, or not having certain builds, or having a disproportionate DPS difference, only starts to matter above 200K and doesn't impact significantly until above 400K. We made a very approximate chart to illustrate these principles. While not depicted, similar statements hold true on ground once you get above 1K on BHE.
Why are you pushing cookie-cutter DPS builds?
We don't; we try to provide a wide array of options and teach people what's good and what should be prioritized for effective shipbuilding rather than a single template. Our Basics guides are necessarily constrained on options due to budget and is intended to give new players or players on a budget the most bang for their buck, so we make hard recommendations there. Plus, the sheer number of options in the game can be overwhelming. Otherwise, the game has incredible flexibility and our builds reflect that with a variety of off-meta flavors and twists on top of solid fundamentals. None of us fly full meta builds anyway, which is exhausting and expensive to keep up with. Our ratings and guides are aimed towards making builds that can fly any map on the game well, even the Elite TFOs. To that end, a certain amount of efficiency and optimization is required. Since STO can be an expensive game, we want to be successful but also have fun with it. Fun is paramount.
What about budget/free-to-play (F2P) builds?
It's possible to make a budget/F2P build and do 100K (your author has done it twice using basic versions of his builds here) using only equipment available to F2P players at Mk XII and MK XIII, so Elites are certainly not off the table. Our builds are geared at a higher price point, including C-store/Lobi items, but we list out substitutions that can be made to cheapen a build. Ground builds tend towards being even more readily available. A very capable ground build can be put together for quite cheap.
What about PvP?
Sorry, this site is only focused on PvE.
Why Google Sites and not YouTube, the STObuilds subreddit, or Discord?
One thing that is difficult about both YouTube and STObuilds is easily maintaining a current, curated repository of builds. If something changes on a build, it's hard to balance updating an existing video or post in a way that messages the updates and draws attention or else clutters up the subreddit/channel with myriad duplicate posts. Deleting the old versions to only keep the current one breaks any links people have to those builds and ends up being a mess. The formatting restrictions of reddit mean that we (especially Eph289 since he's wordy) often hit the character limit on posts, and a lack of inline images have been flowed to us as harder to follow for newer shipbuilders. YouTube's algorithms prefer frequent content uploads to gain visibility and we don't have the bandwidth to constantly be uploading something both new and meaningful while not contributing to the low signal-to-noise ratio in the STO YouTube sphere. Re-recording videos every time we make substantial changes to a build is also tedious. However, we are starting to publish TFO tutorials and other videos on our YouTube channel.
We don't have much experience with Discord's posting capabilities, but it doesn't allow directly posting tables, meaning that everything would have to be copied in as a picture. If you don't have excellent recall of what every icon is, this is hard to use for newer shipbuilders. Discord lends itself well to live discussion, but is sufficiently limited in terms of formatting that we're not eager to use it as a repository. Sites allows us to even directly import charts from other tools like the CDR Calculator and is relatively easy to maintain thanks to some CSS templating by Jay that allows us to convert tables to CSS/HTML. Our build and guide pages will have permanent links that won't have to be redirected or obsoleted over time. The site serves as a stable repository for our builds, tools, and guides, and it's fairly easy to maintain.
Can I post my builds here?
At this point, we are not accepting submissions as that would require both a decent amount of Google Drive server space and extensive vetting, plus access to the templates used to build the site that need to be carefully maintained.
How do I leave feedback?
Please use the form embedded at the bottom of our various pages, like this one: