So, you got your first character to level 50. Congratulations! Nope, no free ship at this level. Oh, you missed the free event ship, huh? And you don't have any real money to throw at this free game to get one from the Z-store? Not a lot of in game currencies, either? Fear not, I can help you. This is a guide to help brand new players with their first level 50 character get a ship that will get them though early to mid end game. (So you high DPS veterans, shoo, be off.) I am going to talk to you about getting a ship, setting it up with basic gear, and improving it as you go. You won't be starting off with the ship of your dreams, nor the best ship in the game. That said, there are a few ships that will see you through a lot of end game content and should be affordable to you, if you do the following.
Step one: get your economy in gear. I hate to tell you this, but, at end game you will be spending energy credits (EC) into the millions, and you will also burn though dilithium and zen. That doesn't mean you need to spend cash (as long as this game truly is free to play). If you haven't done so yet, stop reading, and search the net for how to make money in STO. I won't get into that here, but I will tell you what you need. First, you need the EC cap increase. Yeah, you do need this, because... Second, you'll need at least 20 million EC, maybe even 30. Prices on the exchange will vary. One way to help do this is to grind dilithium (DIL), exchange it for zen, buy some lock box keys and sell them on the exchange. Four keys should get you the 20m. But like I said, research this further.
Now that you have your 20-30 million EC, go to the exchange and buy a T5U curiser or Tac ship, and an upgrade token. I wouldn't recommend a science vessel to a new player, besides, they are even more expensive. If you want a cruiser, get the APU cruiser or the malon battlecruiser. If you want a Tac ship, get the Tholian Meshweaver, Kazon raider, Nihidron Destroyer, or the Sphere Builder Destroyer. (My personal favorite of this bunch is the APU cruiser, and I will use that as my example.) They used to sell for about 2 million EC each, but exchange prices are changing. Now you have a ship. That was the easy part. Like a kit, a ship is the empty frame upon which you build your perfect beast.
Let's talk about gear. Remember the good old days when you got your ship, filled up all the weapon slots with the same type of beam, maybe throwing in a torpedo or two, then filled the Tac console slots with the same console that boosted the beam type you used, and that was all you needed? Yeah. Good times. Those days are over. (Um, you have been using just one type of beam and maxing out Tac consoles to boost that type of beam, right? No? That will be our little secret, but start doing that now, ok?) Now you need to start building your ship around sets, fleet gear, mission and event rewards, reputation gear, and maybe even lock box and lobi gear, or some combination of the above. Fleet gear is great...IF you are in a fleet AND you have the fleet credits AND the dillithium to spend on it, which you likely don't right now. Same with mission reward sets...if you have unlocked those missions, and at level 50 you haven't unlocked most of those missions yet. Rewards from events you've already missed are not going to help you, either. I will also assume that you don't have the funds to use lock box and lobi gear. And, at level 50, you've only just unlocked the reputation system, and it will take you about a month to get a set from one of the reputations. (If you don't already know, a set is a specific group of weapons, consoles or gear that offer special bonuses and abilities only when they are used together.) So, what can you do?
First, we are going to equip your ship with basic gear that will get you started, most of which will just be place holders until you get better gear as you go. For a cruiser, I recommend using 4-6 polaron beams, 0-2 polaron turrets, and 0-2 photon torpedoes for your 8 weapon slots. (I like 4-2-2, but your mileage may vary.) For a Tac ship, I recommend loading up the front with cannons and loading up the back with turrets. You may aks, why polarons? Well, at this stage, you will have access to only one or two sets from mission rewards, and you should use only one of them at a time, because they are based on different weapon types. One set is an antiproton set, and is available only if you want to do the missions out of intended order. More importantly, I would wait to use this set until you unlock enough gear from the Iconian reputation to make it worth your while. Otherwise, you are left shopping on the exchange for regular antiprotons. They are the most expensive weapons out there, and you are on an extreme budget right now. Polarons are cheap and underrated, and they have another advantage that I will explain below. They also are boosted by a set from the DS9 story arc, which you may have unlocked already, or are getting close to. For now, get polarons and the Tac consoles that will boost them. Don't worry about rarity of them yet, just get MK XII weapons and consoles that you can afford. You'll get better stuff later. For engineering consoles, get some cheap consoles that will boost your health and turning rate. For science consoles, get some that will boost drain, control, shield healing, or whatever you can afford. Your shield should be a resilient or covariant, within your price range. Engine, core and deflector, just get something you can afford that you like. Again, all of this equipment will be replaced as you unlock better gear and get more money (in game, or real cash). Now that you have all of your basic ship gear, your ship is ready...or is it?
Since this is your first end game ship, you probably don't know about something called starship mastery. In short, the ship has it's own XP pool, and you must level up the ship. You can only do this once you have upgraded your ship with that upgrade token. The upgrade and ship mastery are what makes a T5U ship better than a T5. The APU cruiser has 4 levels, each making the ship more powerful as you go. What you should do now is get in your ship, go to sector space and play some red alerts. These are great for levelling up a ship. You will be matched up with four other players, and you will fight the Borg, Tholians or Tzen'kethi, depending on which one you pick. Do not apologize for having a bad ship. Most players won't know or even care. Just do your best. You won't carry the match, but you don't need to. Just follow your teammates, shoot what they shoot, and use your tachyon or tractor beams on anything your allies shoot. (You may use different tactics, if you like.) This will not only level up your ship, but will give you something called "choice of marks". These marks are needed to advance reputations and buy reputation gear. (Fleet marks are for fleet projects and fleet gear, but I will assume you're not in a fleet yet. If you are, talk to them about fleet marks.) Be careful when you choose your marks. Once every 20 hours, you get a bonus. So, it's worth it to choose different stuff each time, until that timer runs out and you get the bonus again. For now, your fist choice should be marks for the Lukari reputation, and your second choice should be Iconian for a ship you will build later.
Once you have your Lukari marks, open up the reputations window. Advance that reputation by contributing these marks, along with some energy credits, and skill points. In return, you get Lukari reputation points (which advance the reputation), some dillithium, and a box with a random thing in it. Now, you can contribute once every 20 hours, and/or once every hour. The 20 hour method is, by far, the most efficient way to advance the reputation, however, both methods each give you a box, and this will be important once you get the reputation to tier 3. In those boxes will be random gear specific to that reputation. Tier 0 and 1, it will be ground guns. Tier 2, it will be either a torpedo launcher or more ground guns. You also can discard what you don't want for a credit refund. At tier 3, it will most likely be a beam weapon for your ship, but could be a torpedo or ground gun. Tiers 0-2, just do the 20 hour contribution, but at tier 3, start doing both so you can get more boxes. What we are after are the piezo-polaron beams and piezo-photon torpedoes, and this is why I suggested polarons for basic gear. These piezo weapons have an ability that I call "damage to heal". With each hit, there is a 5% chance that they will heal your hull as you damage the target. This is very helpful in staying alive. As you open these boxes, you will replace your ordinary polarons and photons with these things. Being polarons, they will be boosted by your tac consoles and that Jem'hadar set from the DS9 story arc. If you got to level 50, and you're still a long way off from that story arc, don't worry. You will get by without that set. However, if you can scrape up another 3-6,000,000 energy credits, you can buy the Aegis set (impulse, deflector and shield) from the exchange. It's not the best set, but will see you through until you get better stuff.
So, once your ship is levelled up fully, and decked out with piezo-polarons and piezo-photons, and you have either the Jem'hadar or Aegis set, you are now ready for end game. But like I said before, this is not the best ship in the game. It is adequate, not OP. With this ship, you should now be ok doing most missions, pve queues, reputation battle zones and such. Do not expect to carry, and do not take this into PVP. While building this ship (and now that you have it), start chipping away at the Iconian reputation and really any others that you like or that people recommend. Keep farming currency, and watch for events and featured episodes that give you free ships, sets and gear. And don't be afraid to rebuild this ship for a better build, like an Iconian Antiproton build or Quantum Phase build, at level 60. Welcome to all the content that is end game STO, and start grinding and planning for that ship of your dreams.