It's been about two weeks since I've returned to STO, and I wanted to go ahead and provide new links to some old information that is now very, very outdated for any new and/or returning players. I'll also make some recommendations for new and old players in order to make playing the game a tad easier.
First, there is the shiny and new STO ship chart in all it's high res, rendered glory. This chart is a huge step forward from the old wire-frame profile chart from about 2 years ago. By the by, happy 2nd Anniversary Star Trek Online! Also, for KDF players, here is the KDF version of the shiny and new ship chart. Something you might notice on the Federation chart is a rather large ship for Vice Admiral/Lieutenant General (level 50) called the Odyssey Star Cruiser. Everyone gets one as part of the 2nd Anniversary celebration. (Hell yeah!) You also might have noticed that a similar ship is conspicuously absent from the KDF chart. Don't worry, they guys at Cryptic don't hate the Klingon faction; they just didn't have the designs for the Bortas (Vengeance) Class Star Ship ready for the latest graphical chart. However I happen to have some images of the beast. Many Bothans died to bring us...wait, wrong universe. Here's the picture:
The picture isn't that great, however I can tell you from personal experience that while it turns like a wounded beached whale (just like the Odyssey) it's an amazing ship. Like I stated earlier both the Bortas and the Odyssey are level 50 ships, so by the time you can use it you'll have the devices and console items necessary to make those boats real fighting machines. And lets be honest; a free level 50 ship is hard to beat. Especially when you look at the cost of the other level 50 ships.
Second, I want to talk about a tool that I loved back in the day that some wonderful lads over at Star Trek Online Academy have revamped to keep it updated to make it useful for players. I am talking about the Skill Planner. I cannot stress enough that if you're planning on creating a new character, or you need to respec an old one you need to visit the Skill Planner to make leveling your character up as easy as possible. Now in the last two years, the folks at Cryptic have made changes to the skill tree; making it more streamlined and more user friendly...but the problem remains that if you aren't familiar with what abilities you're going to have access to at maximum level, you're apt to make mistakes on assigning points to the various skills you have to choose from. This is where the Skill Planner comes in..or at least where it should come in. You should spend some time familiarizing yourself with the three classes available to play and the basic roles they each perform. Tactical officers will focus primarily on dealing out massive quantities of damage, however Tactical officers cannot take massive amounts of damage. I often refer to them as "glass cannons". I don't play as a Tactical officer with either faction. I find that the inability to take hits from large groups of enemies is a huge drawback...because I like to solo! It's a personal choice. My brother, Fred, started playing when the game went f2p, and he runs a Tac officer. He enjoys it, but he likes it better when we're teamed up because I can take attention away from him. Engineering officers fill the "tanking" role that is familiar with most MMO players. This class is what I would recommend to all new players because when you solo, you have the highest chance of survivability. Finally there is the Science officer which focuses on buffs and debuffs (or you could call them expose attacks/abilities and exploit attacks/abilities). Sci officers are not nearly as robust as Engineers, but with their enhanced shield abilities and enhanced shield recharge rates they can take slightly more damage than Tac officers, but they still don't do as much damage as Tac officers.
To summarize, each class is superior in one of three areas: Damage, Defense, Expose/Exploit. Tactical officers are superior damage, moderate defense, weak expose/exploit. Engineers are superior defense, moderate expose/exploit, weak damage. Science officers are superior expose/exploit, moderate damage, weak defense. Yes, I said weak defense. And I'll tell you why. With the way shields behave vs hitpoints for your ship, shields don't really fall in to a defense category. Science officers get more access to abilities to buff/enhance their shields than any other officer, but other than those abilities shields are the same for all classes. Defense comes from the ships you pilot. And Science officer ships have the least crew and hitpoints. As soon as a Science officer's shields are down, the ships they are in tend to explode quickly, and beautifully.
Now that I've said all that, let me continue on with my point. My point is that after you decide what class you want to play, you ought to spend the time looking at all the abilities your class is granted, and what abilities your class will allow you to train your Bridge Officers with, and plug all that information in to the STO Academy Skill Planner. The important skills for your planned build will be marked with star in the upper right-hand corner of each skill, and those you'll most likely want to have at least 6 ranks in each skill in order to unlock trainable abilities. Each skill will also tell you what player/bridge officer abilities it affects (if any), and what power/damage/defense/shield bonuses it provides.
Unfortunately I don't feel that this is a game you can just jump in to blind. Star Trek has always been the "thinking-man's sci-fi" and as such, I feel it needs a more logical and objective approach than other MMOs where you just roll up a character that sounds neat and hit the ground running. Think of it like this: you're playing a character than is a graduate of the Starfleet Academy (or Klingon equivalent). In that time, your character would have taken coursework leading him/her down whichever career path was best suited for the character. The character would have the grounding in all those abilities that the player knows nothing about. Everyone knows what a "fireball spell" is and how it works; regardless of what MMO you're playing, if you can cast a fireball they're pretty much all the same. But who knows exactly what a Photonic Shockwave is and how it affects objects in space? I didn't before I started playing, and really I should have taken the time to figure all that our before I fudged up my characters back with the original release 2 years ago. There is nothing quite like the feeling of "d'oh!" when you realize you effed up your character 20 levels ago, and you haven't earned a respec for your character yet. So your either scrap the character and start over, or you resign yourself to buying a respec...because playing a flawed character just hurts.
Live long, and prosper.