Last Modified: 22 February 2023
The power of weaponized science (aka "scitorp," "scihax," "exotic," "space magic" or "EPG") is truly incredible when unlocked to its maximum potential. Science builds are much less flexible, requiring a science ship and specific weapons/bridge officer abilities for optimal play, even at lower budgets. And while the deflector array is the ultimate McGuffin in many episodes of Star Trek, rarely was it used to generate a pile of fleet-destroying anomalies unlike how it can be used in STO. Exotic builds tend to be less popular for these reasons, but make no mistake, this is an incredibly powerful way to build ships, with much higher ceiling than energy weapons.
Career and Species
Doesn't matter. Okay, there are small differences as you min-max more, but unless your goal is to chase the very top of the DPS leaderboards, any captain career, faction, or species can fly any type of ship and any type of build and do very, very well in any map in the game.
Ship Basics (Exotics)
There's a large combination of things that interact to evaluate a ship's suitability for exotic builds. Before we begin, though, we need to discuss the 4ish different leans of an exotic build. When we're talking about exotic builds, we're talking about using items that scale off of the Exotic Particle Generator (EPG) skill stat, which are typically console actives, bridge officer abilities, certain torpedoes, and the secondary deflector. While we do want a lot of EPG, stacking it at the expense of other offensive stats like Critical Hit Chance/Severity is inefficient.
Deflector lean is the most basic and emphasizes the Deteriorating Secondary Deflector. While most any high-end sci boat will be running Structural Analysis and DRB, this lean goes beyond that. This means you'll see powers like Tyken's Rift or Charged Particle Burst as these four powers apply the secondary deflector to multiple targets. This is the cheapest to acquire/build.
Tactical lean uses the Entwined Tactical Matrices trait (T6 C-store ship) and the Morphogenic Armaments 3-piece to boost and hurl extra torpedo spreads of the Gravimetric and Particle Emission Plasma torpedoes. This requires a cannon, a beam, and a torpedo bridge officer power to be slotted (at least 3 tactical seats).
Out of these four leans, the anomaly, tactical, and console leans all require C-store or lockbox purchases to really make them go, so for the purposes of this tutorial, we're going to leave the links to the fancy items but not build around them. Instead, we're going to focus on the Deteriorating Secondary Deflector.
You need a Secondary Deflector. There are support carriers with 2 hangars and Commander science seating with no secondary deflector but we'll say that they're harder to make work, especially on a budget.
You need a Commander Science seat. There are some ships that can mix energy and exotics pretty well with lesser seats, but for a basic build, we're going to say that we need that Commander science seat. Any ship that has a secondary deflector probably has this.
The more science seats the better. Science and Temporal seats are better than any others unless you're going for the Tactical lean. LtCmdr Engineering is not ideal.
The more science consoles the better, though for the console lean, this matters less.
Specializations: Temporal (Cmdr) > Miracle Worker (Cmdr) = Command (Cmdr) > Temporal (LtCmdr-) = Intel (LtCmdr-) = Pilot > Miracle Worker (LtCmdr-) > Command (Lt-) = ships with no specialization seating. Note that the value of Intel and Pilot really depends on having certain starship traits from C-store ships. If you don't have either Spore-Infused Anomalies, Intel is not as useful. Pilot benefits most from Synthetic Good Fortune (C-store T6) as well as Fly Her Apart or possibly Cold-hearted (Event/Epic Phoenix).
Ships with 12 consoles (T6 Fleet-grade) > Ships with 11 consoles (T6) > ships with less (T5 and below)
Other gimmicks: Hangars, innate "lance" damaging abilities, and the Temporal specialization (full commander Temporal seating). Of these, hangars tend to add an easy 15-20K DPS at least with the right pets, while the Support Configuration of the Temporal specialization is worth about another Particle Focuser's worth of damage.
These aren't the only variables tied to a ship's evaluation as we also need to consider our bread-and-butter bridge officer skills
Rather than walking through every possible combination of bridge officer skills, let's prioritize what we need:
Slot Gravity Well III at Commander. There are niche setups that don't use Gravity Well III, but the pull is too important to ignore at rank III for general building.
1 LtCmdr Science seat needs to go to Photonic Officer II for cooldowns. Bridge officer abilities have a base cooldown which is almost always longer than its minimum (aka) global cooldown. There are a number of ways to improve that; but Photonic Officer is really the go-to for exotics. If we had Improved Photonic Officer, a powerful-but-expensive starship trait from a Lobi ship, we could go down to rank I. Do not use Auxiliary to Battery on exotic builds; your offensive abilities generally scale off of Auxiliary power, which Auxiliary to Battery dumps periodically.
We need Deteriorating Secondary Deflector triggers. Fit the highest rank of Destabilizing Resonance Beam you can slot, then the highest rank of Tyken's Rift and Charged Particle Burst. Slot Tachyon Beam at rank I as well On a typical science ship, this means we've used 1 Cmdr, 2 LtCmdr, 2 Lt and 1 Ens seats thus far.
Slot the highest rank of Torpedo Spread you can fit without sacrificing science seats.
Slot Attack Pattern Beta at the highest remaining rank after the torpedo spread is slotted.
If this was a Tactical lean ship, we'd be recommending Cannon: Scatter Volley and Fire at Will at minimum rank to get free torpedo spreads from those abilities, but again, that requires a C-store ship that's outside of our budget.
We need to get our auxiliary power maxed out, typically 130. You can set up to 100 using power levels, and a science ship should have +10 aux power from its innate stats. That means we need to get 20 power from something. If you can get it from skills (13 max), then you need 7 more from something else. Some science ships have +15 aux power which helps. If you can't fill that from gear/traits, slot Emergency Power to Auxiliary at minimum rank. See below for more discussion.
These are the important ones. Now we fill in the gaps. The priority will depend on what the emphasis of your build is and your available seats:
Tactical: Kemocite-Laced Weaponry (expensive). Consider slotting Tactical Team at rank I if you have remaining tactical seats. This has a small offensive boost but is mostly there to distribute your shields for survivability. However, be warned that Tactical Team and the other "team" abilities like Engineering Team have the drawback of having a longer activation time (1 second compared to the usual 0.2 seconds for most abilities) that slows down the activation of the next ability. Consider carefully whether you need the survivability from not having unshielded facings (typically fore shields) compared to the DPS loss of activating Tactical Team and slowing down your firing cycles and abilities.
Engineering: Emergency Power to Engines (speed boost), Auxiliary to Structural (heal/damage resist), Reverse Shield Polarity (massive shield heal/absorption), Engineering Team (minor heal, slot at rank I only but see the note on Tactical Team)
Science: Hazard Emitters is an important cleanse/heal effect for removing damage-over-time effects. Science Team is a minor shield heal but suffers from the same activation time penalty as Engineering and Tactical Team. If you can acquire or have winter ornaments, consider slotting Very Cold in Space at the maximum remaining rank, prioritizing it over Tachyon Beam. Structural Analysis is an expensive lockbox purchase (5-10M EC), but if that's within your budget, consider slotting it over Tachyon Beam. If you have other traits or consoles that trigger based on using specific "Control" powers, Tractor Beam is a high priority slot at rank I.
Thus our decent exotic ships have a secondary deflector, seating for at least 7 science powers including Cmdr rank. As we optimize further, more tactical seating is preferred in some leans, while others prefer maximum science. At the highest level, maximum science is stronger, but the difference is not huge at the lower budget levels. There are example builds of higher-end tactical leans and science leans on this site. We'll discuss specialization seating below. Here are some ships available for fleet credits/fleet ship modules or Dilithium that have 7 science seats and a secondary deflector:
Specialization Bridge Officer Seats
In general, Temporal > Cmdr Command > Intel > Miracle Worker > Command (LtCmdr-) = Pilot in terms of seating at this budget level. Pilot Team can be a really good trigger for Cold-hearted/Synthetic Good Fortune though, so if those are available, Pilot's up there with Miracle Worker.
Miracle Worker: Destabilize Warp Core has decent damage. Miracle Worker's real value on exotic builds comes with full Commander Miracle Worker ships for their extra console slot, not the seating itself.
Intelligence: Override Subsystem Safeties is a decent aux power boost and thus damage steroid. Intel Team can help with survivability by reducing threat but is fairly niche. Ionic Turbulence at Lt and above is a decent damage resist debuff, but Intel seating is much more valuable if Spore-Infused Anomalies is in play. Ionic Turbulence will both trigger SIA and is a source for the explosions.
Temporal: Chronometric Inversion Field is the big winner and should be slotted if Temporal seating is available at all, prioritizing that over everything but Gravity Well, Photonic Officer, and Destabilizing Resonance Beam. Recursive Shearing is a considerable single-target damage amplification boost. Timeline Collapse is a decent damage source whose value increases considerably in an Anomaly-leaning build. Causal Reversion is an okay heal that improves with Entropy stacked up from powers like Chronometric Inversion Field.
Command: Call Emergency Artillery does very high damage on clustered targets when combined with Gravity Well, but is somewhat map-dependent. If you have space to slot Concentrate Firepower III, it can be a damage boost, but be aware that both of your main torpedoes become destructible on High Yield, and Concentrate Firepower spits out lots of High Yield torpedoes. Do not slot Concentrate Firepower at any rank other than III as the lower ranks override higher ranks.
Pilot: If you have Cold-Hearted and/or Synthetic Good Fortune, consider slotting those starship traits and Pilot Team, combined with saving for an exchange purchase: Fresh From R&R to keep those traits stacked. These are not budget build considerations however.
Do I need other cooldown help?
Three other easy methods of help with cooldowns are the Readiness skills, and the reputation traits Chrono-Capacitor Array and Torpedo Astrometric Synergy or the Bio-Neural Gel Pack (BNGP) universal console from the Delta reputation. Do you need them?
The answer is it depends and the best way to find out is to take your chosen cooldown scheme and bridge officer powers from above and put it into the cooldown reduction calculator (make a copy) and see what you need. Here's our cheatsheet for general use:
Photonic Officer II: 2-3 Tactical Readiness + Chrono-Capacitor Array OR BNGP
Photonic Officer I: 2-3 Tactical Readiness + Chrono-Capacitor Array OR BNGP + Torpedo Astrometric Synergy - not recommended but if you really want that LtCmdr Sci seat off of Photonic Officer this is the way to do it.
These will get you to global (minimum) cooldown or very close to it on all of your science abilities.
While the full implementation of keybinding is outside the scope of this guide (and not applicable to console players anyway), PC players should consider using a keybind file or an app like the STO keybind for more efficient usage of abilities. Further discussion and links to the app can be found here.
The above is an example bridge officer layout on a T5 Long Range Science Vessel. Due to lack of seating, Charged Particle Burst and Attack Pattern Beta are not available as options, but it'll suffice to get started in Advanced TFOs. If I didn't have access to Very Cold in Space (the Ensign power), I'd slot Tachyon Beam.
There are a wide variety of skill trees out there depending on how general or hybridized your build is, but here's the important ones:
Tactical: Projectile Weapon Training (x3), Weapon Specialization (x3), Targeting Expertise (x1 or x2), Weapon Amplification (x3), Hull Penetration (x3), Shield Penetration (x3), Coordination Protocols/Offensive Protocols/Defensive Protocols (x2 or x3, possible to skip Defensive)
If you fill these in, you'll have 4 Engineering, 9 points in Science, and 16 in Tactical, leaving you 17 points that can be flexed depending on your build and needs (but don't forget about the Readiness skills per the previous section and Power skills--keep reading). Unlike in weapon builds, taking extra points to pick up the Tactical ultimate is not highly-valued as that only benefits weapon damage and weapon damage will end up being less than 10% of our overall build's damage output. Instead, considering taking power skills in Engineering that combine with your gear to max out Auxiliary power without Emergency Power to Auxiliary.
Battery Expertise and Threat Control are the two most important. Between CrtH and CrtD in tactical, choose CrtH. Our builds section has many full examples to look at.
Example: This skill build from Eph289's exotic builds uses all of the essentials as well as extra points in power and readiness to avoid using Emergency Power to Auxiliary while still maxing Aux. Extra points in DrainX are taken because it uses Tyken's Rift, which has a drain effect scaling off the stat.
Temporal primary, Strategist secondary for general exotic DPS.
Power levels are a basic but very important way to boost your ship's effectiveness. If you want to know the why behind the power level suggestions, check out our advanced reading on this topic.
Auxiliary to 100 is essential
If using 2 or more energy weapons that fire in the fore arc or if using the Chronometric Calculations 3-piece, put weapons to 70 as the active scales Exotic damage off of weapon power.
If using Emergency Power to Engines and a core with [AMP], consider feeding enough power to Engines that the subsystem is above 75 when Emergency Power to Engines is active
If using the Tilly shield, consider putting more power to shields.
Console players will want to use setting 4 (50 weapons, 25 shields, 25 engines, 100 auxiliary)
Now, how to get aux power to 130? Let's revisit that again in-depth. Let's say we're using a science vessel with only +10 innate power. We need 20 more.
Chronometric Calculations 3-piece: +3.6
Zero-Point Energy Conduit: 2.1 at Mk XV Very Rare
Warp Theorist personal trait: +1 power
This gets us to +19.7 which is close enough for a budget build. If we had a +15 aux science ship, we wouldn't need Warp Theorist or some of the skill nodes. The Neutronic Eddy Generator console also provides plenty of aux power on its own (+7.5), further reducing our dependency on the items above, but requires an event ship. If you don't want to slot those specific items/have better options and have excess Engineering seating, that's when Emergency Power to Auxiliary comes in, but it's not needed for exotic builds unless you're trying to take advantage of an expensive trait.
Our intent with this suggestion is to offer a number of viable gear choices, not to dictate cookie-cutter builds. If you want to use something else, be our guest. For those of you who want a narrowed-down menu from the dizzying array of choices out there, this one's for you. Most of the gear options here, save for non-tactical consoles, are the same ones being used or considered at the high end.
Ground rules: only fleet, reputation, easily-crafted, or mission reward items will be considered along with low-tier Phoenix Box rewards. Finishing out reputations is essential to completing an endgame ship. A quick refresher on what those are:
Fleets: Fleets are player groups that allow players to contribute resources (fleet marks, energy credits, refined dilithium, common duty officers, etc.) to various holdings, which unlock a variety of stores carrying fleet-specific items. Fleet holdings with more tiers and unlocks open up more items. Joining a fleet is not essential to succeeding in Star Trek Online, but it can be highly valuable to join a fleet at least temporarily to go shopping even if you don't intend to stay long term.
Reputations: There are 13 reputations that reward players for playing specific pieces of content, either battle zones/adventure zones, or task force operations. Fighting against certain enemies will improve a player's efforts with the associated organization devoted to countering them. Reputations must be advanced, typically through daily projects, and takes 70 days of daily projects to fully level to the highest tier (tier 6) for the first time on an account. Starting the reputation climb and advancing through the ranks is a top priority upon reaching level 50. Reputations have both a series of items that combine into sets with bonuses for multiple pieces as well as reputation stores that sell Mk XII items for dilithium.
Mission Rewards: Come from playing particular missions. It may be desirable (if grindy) to replay a certain mission multiple times. We'll only be recommending items at Mk XI Rare or better because Mk XII Rare should be pretty cheap on the Exchange.
Phoenix Boxes: Are available from the dilithium store and should generally be purchased in lots of 10 for 40,000 refined dilithium. While some consoles and duty officers are useful and easily available from a rare or very rare token, ship rewards at the Ultra Rare and Epic level are exceedingly unlikely and restricted to a single character. The most frequent choice from the Phoenix Box is the Phoenix Upgrade, which helps upgrade gear items. Phoenix Upgrades are best applied on special upgrade weekends to double their efficiency; it takes about 200 Phoenix Upgrades on an upgrade weekend to take a ship with gear at Mk XII-XIII to Epic Mk XV.
The Exchange: Allows players to buy and sell a variety of items. Many items are enormously expensive due to their rarity and are thus priced out of the reach of a new or semi-casual free-to-play player; however, they are not needed for this guide. Some items, if cheap on the exchange, may be accessible, so their use may be recommended sparingly.
Crafting: Allows players to create items through leveling their research & development schools (typically via another series of daily projects). R&D unlocks personal traits at level 15, which are particularly valuable in the Beams, Engineering, Projectiles, Science, Ground Gear, and Kits and Modules. Crafting items below level 15 is not efficient as higher crafting skill will lead to greater rarity on first result.
Picking Weapons and Weapon Types
Very few weapons scale with Exotic Particle Generators, so we're going to slot those as available and then fill in the rest with weapons that grant set bonuses;
Fore weapons: Gravimetric Torpedo Launcher from the Dyson reputation and the Particle Emission Plasma Torpedo (crafting) are the two EPG-scaling weapons. Round your third fore weapon slot with the Dark Matter Torpedo Launcher for the set bonus. If you have a fourth weapon slot, consider slotting the Neutronic Torpedo Launcher from the Delta reputation. Alternately, the Wide-Angle Dual Beam Bank from the Discovery Legends reputation could be used to get the 3-piece, but is not as highly-regarded since you'll be wanting to use more things that scale off of projectiles rather than energy.
Aft weapons: Always slot the Dyson Proton weapon (Dyson reputation) for the global 3% CrtH bonus with the Gravimetric Torpedo you're already slotting. The remainder depends on your setup
If using the Chronometric Calculations 3-piece, the Omni and beam array go here
If using the Morphogenic set on a Tactical lean, the Omni and torpedo go here
If using the Neutronic torpedo, slot the Beam Array for the 2-piece and consider slotting an Advanced Inhibiting Omni from the Gamma reputation for its -DRR effect
Alternately, you could use the Advanced Inhibiting Omni and a mine launcher like the Thoron Infused Quantum Mine Launcher from the Delta Reputation store.
Other Gear for F2P/New players
Deflector: Elite Fleet Intervention Protomatter Deflector Array with [Colcrit] and [CtrlX]x2[EPG] from the Fleet Colony provides a wide range of useful offensive stats.
Secondary Deflector: Any flavor of Deteriorating Secondary Deflector is fine. The ones from the Fleet Colony are slightly better than those from the Research Lab due to boosting Projectile Damage [ProjDmg] over Energy Damage [EngDmg], and the Crafted ones with max CtrlX and EPG are very close.
Now you have choices.
You need a way to go fast. Every ship needs to be able to move quickly, so either
Prevailing Regalia Engines (Competitive Reputation), choosing Innervated if you have multiple firing modes or Fortified if you have a low cooldown hull/shield heal like Science Team or Auxiliary to Structural
You need to complete a set: Save either Engine or Shield Array to complete your Imperial Rift or Temporal Initiative 2-piece set. If you're using Prevailing Regalia, this is what you use for your shield.
You need to fill in the gaps:
If your shield slot is still open:
If your engines slot is still open: Romulan Advanced Prototype Engines (Romulan reputation NOT the Reman ones) for the critical severity boost
If you have the Temporal Vortex Probe or Neutronic Eddy Generator (Risian Weather Control Ship), these are good options. The Tholian Webspinner used to be very powerful. It is significantly less so since being nerfed in September 2022, but if you're struggling to fill console slots and already have it available, it still does decent damage as a budget option. These are all event items, so if you don't have them already, they are outside of our budget range.
Chronometric Capacitor (especially with Beam and Omni) from the "Time and Tide" mission. Requires a 3rd Tactical console slot
Morphogenic Matrix Controller (with Omni and Torpedo) from the "Home" mission. Requires a 3rd Tactical slot. Only use if Entwined Tactical Matrices is available. Do not use with Chronometric set.
Assimilated Module from the Omega Reputation
Nukara Particle Converter from the Nukara Reputation
Zero Point Energy Conduit from the Romulan reputation
Interphasic Instability from the Phoenix Box
Bio-Neural Gel Pack from the Delta reputation as either the 2 or 3-piece.
Consider slotting 1-2 defensive consoles as well (but no more than that!). If you don't have any of the nicer ones like Ablative Hazard Shielding or Protomatter Field Projector, which come from C-store ships or events, slot the Trellium-D console from the "Ragnarok" mission.
Experimental Weapons: Can generally not be slotted on science ships aside from certain destroyers. Based on this ranking, your best best is the Experimental Flak Shot Artillery from the Competitive reputation if you don't have one of the better ones like the Soliton Wave Impeller or Voice of the Prophets (event ships). If you want to shell out for a T6 ship, the Subatomic Field Disruptor from the Earhart/Sech is decent, as is the Hypercharged Field Projector from the Shran/M'Chla.
Hangars: We recommend our tier list for the "Base" configuration for most builds
Devices: Exotic Particle Floods (crafting R&D) and Deuterium Surplus (crafting once you run the Defense Contract mission once) are both helpful and free, if having an unfortunately low stack limit. Reactive Armor Catalysts or Hull Patches help with survivability.
Upgrading and Rarity
Lastly, let's go over things we aren't going to worry about.
Things That Do Not Matter Much
Energy weapons slotted for set bonuses do not need to be upgraded or re-engineered at all.
Rarity is a very small damage boost for weapons. Both Gravimetric and Particle Emission Plasma torpedo gain 3% final multiplier from going Epic but that is a lot of expense for marginal gain. Do it if you have the resources to spare.
Traits for F2P/New players
See our tier list for starship and personal traits and look for the ones that are free, a mission reward, or from R&D schools. Some traits can be enhanced at the Fleet K-13 holding for marginal gains; those are options as well. If you're looking to exit the F2P world and pick up your first C-store (Zen) ship, the one you want is the Somerville or its cross-faction equivalent. The Spore-Infused Anomalies starship trait is a significant DPS boost on exotic builds even if you don't end up flying it longterm.
List is sorted top to bottom in terms of priority:
If your ship has over 90,000 hit points: Tyler's Duality
If you're using 2+ torpedoes in the front or have slots left: Omega Kinetic Shearing
Example: This sample setup doesn't need cooldown help and it's on a fragile ship with 3 fore torpedoes, so Omega Kinetic Shearing is the last trait.
Active Reputation Traits:
These all have 5 minute cooldowns and most of them don't matter much.
The Bio-Molecular Shield bubble from the 8472 Counter Command reputation is a valuable defensive tool especially when you aren't moving much
Deploy Sensor Interference Platform from the Iconian Reputation is an okay defensive tool but does not last very long
Quantum Singularity Manipulation is a temporary cloak that also boosts your science stats by +100/125 at T6 for 8 seconds.
Anti-Time Entanglement Singularity is a powerful ability best combined with Quantum Singularity Manipulation
Unlocking the fifth active reputation slot should not be a priority.
Duty Officers for F2P/New players
See our tier list for duty officers and look for the ones that are free, from mission rewards, from the fleet holdings, or from colonization chains.
An overview of piloting and ship handling is covered in our Mechanics slides.
If you'd like some other resources, check out:
Strict budget build by Thisvideoiswrong is a down-to-the-very-basics science ship with only mission reward items
L.S.S. Frugal Mage by Sizer (Caution: many swears, ye be warned) explains how to build a basic T5 science ship with some starting reputation gear
Mathematical derivations and comparisons of a variety of exotic abilities, actives, etc. can be found in our Revisiting Exotics threads on the STObuilds subreddit: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20