A medium sized assault ship, the Continent is designed for the fast insertion of Federation troops, tanks, and other ground assault equipment and personnel. The Continent Assault Ship is more maneuverable than most Federation starships, and it relies on this improved maneuverability to break through enemy fortifications and battle lines to deposit its troops planetside.
The Continent Assault Ship does however come with its limitations. So much room is required to house the troop quarters and extra shuttle bays onboard the Continent that the ship's shield systems are atrophied to the point that they offer very little real protection from the horrors of space combat. Where a Constitution or Excelsior's shields would hold under an assault, the Continent would be opened to vacuum.
It is not hard to believe that the Continent design fell out of favor with the Federation and Starfleet after its first few campaigns in service. In those ground assaults the Continent acted almost as an attrition unit, with a dozen Continent Assault ships swarming enemy positions with escort just so that a few could make it within transporter range of the planet. The expanded cargo and troop facilities on newer Federation classes relegated Continents and their brethren to auxiliary roles, though several were called up from mothballs during the Dominion War to move Federation troops to the frontlines.