Steam Sale Recommendation: FTL

I’ve been losing GW2 play time to two roguelike games picked up from the ongoing Steam sale.

First up is FTL: Faster Than Light.

Ironic story: I’d waited for months for FTL to go on 75% off to try it out as it didn’t look that appealing on first glance. The whole spaceship system looked so alien and complex, and the graphics nothing spectacular.

GOG got there first with the 75% off offer and I nabbed the DRM-free version. Played it, found it quite enjoyable and worth $2.50. And now Steam comes up with their 75% offer with trading cards but no Steam-linked achievements. After agonizing for a while, the deciding factor was the soundtrack version and I decided to pick it up…again. After all, I’d only unlocked a quarter of the available ships and was still getting considerable play value out of it.

Is FTL worth $5?

I’d say yes, now, but one has to play it to figure out if one likes it.

In truth, FTL doesn’t have much roguelike resemblance, save for the fact that “normal” mode is harder than one would expect, occasionally arbitrary and that dying and restarting new games is all part of the grand plan.

The closest thing I can link FTL’s basic gameplay to, is a real-time strategy game, or RTS.

Except it’s not entirely real-time and has combat more similar to the old Baldur’s Gate games of yore.

There is a lot of spacebar-pause stop-and-start to give time to think, and to reallocate your orders to crew and weapons as best befits the current situation (which can change in a second.) The mouse is used to select crew and order them to move from room to room, with keyboard shortcuts an option.

The symbols are new and strange at first, but a few playthroughs will quickly get you understanding which represents the various spaceship subsystems – the shields, the weapons, the engines, the oxygen supply and so on. Further playthroughs will increase one’s familarity with what types of weapons opposing ships are carrying and how best to prioritize disabling or destroying the other spacecraft as needed.

The overarcing goal is to move your ship from place to place in the galaxy, having a bunch of random encounters and leveling up one’s systems and weaponry by means of the currency of “scrap,” staying just one step ahead of the pursuing rebel fleet which prevents one from staying too long in any one place, while preparing and buffing up for the final boss fight of the Rebel Flagship at the last stage.

There is some emergent narrative that could occur, but not too much, in my opinion. A well played game means most or all of your crew stays alive and enemy ships are swiftly demolished. If you get to a stage where your last crewmember bravely puts out all the fires on board, repairs everything and takes the helm and manages to limp from encounter to encounter, chances are more likely that something will wreck you, or that you won’t have accumulated enough scrap to survive the endgame, rather than you making it to an encounter which replenishes your crew and recovering well enough to defeat the final boss. It -could- happen, but not that likely.

Of course, at the moment I’m primarily playing it on Easy. The joys of a game that allows you to adjust difficulty to one’s preferences. I find the encounters less arbitrarily unfair that way. And it’s easier to unlock the variety of spaceships FTL offers to play around with.

The beginning ship, the Kestrel, is a good general all-rounder ship for learning the game with. Its starter crew of humans has no particular strengths, but no particular alien weaknesses either. Piling on the lasers and the shielding tends to give a good run, though one might not complete the game if one hasn’t planned on a specific strategy to defeat the final flagship and built for it.

In this demonstration game, I’m running a ship I’ve been itching to play since I unlocked it, a Mantis ship.

The Mantis are preying mantis-like aliens whom you might be able to guess, specialize in hand-to-hand combat. They are fast, but they repair poorly.

Their ship starts off with no sensors, which leaves one a bit blind, and a weak basic one shot laser. However, they do begin with a teleporter, which dictates their initial engagement playstyle to be very different from the norm. The boarding party strategy of killing all the crew was something I was dying to try out, as it yields more scrap than simply pummeling the ship and blowing it up like most other ships would.

mantisstart

This is one of the earlier engagements. I’d lucked into an encounter that gave me a second Engi crewmember (Engi are robotic lifeforms which are doubly good at repairs, but poor fighters, and often serve as slaves aboard Mantis ships, from what I gathered via the game lore.)

One Mantis, Kietzkin, has been assigned to pilot the ship. You might call him the captain. This enables the ship to evade (as long as engines are also operational) and charges up the FTL drive during combat, so that one can jump out if the situation is really going bad. I’d have preferred a non-Mantis pilot, as Mantis make really good boarders and his improved hand-to-hand fighting is wasted here, but beggars can’t choosers.

One Engi each has been put to work in the engine room and the shields. The engine room worker increases the ship’s evade chance, currently at 20%, which lets it dodge enemy fire (lasers, missiles, you name it). I’ve learned that improving evade chance can actually help survival more than rushing shields, as missiles can go straight through shields. The shield room Engi enables my shields to recharge at a quicker pace, which does help deflect enemy laser fire too.

Normally, the recommended strategy for early game is to target and disable the enemy’s weapons as quickly as possible. This allows you to pummel them into submission at leisure as they can’t fight back and damage your ship while their weapons are down.

My basic laser has been deactivated, as the enemy ship has a one dot shield. My basic laser only fires one blast, doing 1 damage, so the shield would just suck it up and likely recharge before my laser can fire again.

Instead, I enabled the other weapon, a Smart Bomb, which consumes a missile for ammo. This does no hull damage, but can do 2 damage to systems. And targeted it on the enemy ship’s weapons, prepared to knock it out to mitigate some damage coming my ship’s way.

Meanwhile, my real weapon, the Mantis boarding party pair, have teleported across into the piloting room. In theory, this should disrupt the enemy pilot, and if the ship plays by the same rules, their evade chance should be lowered as the pilot is now occupied battling my Mantis. Whatever. I really just want them skewered on my Mantis’ claws.

Monitoring their health is tense, as my level 1 teleporter is still recharging and I can’t bring them back for healing if things go wrong. At least only two crew can enter at a time in this small room, and they have no Medlab (First Aid symbol) to heal up. Upgrading the teleporter to a level 2 for faster cooldown is a major priority once enough scrap is accumulated.

mantisstart2

A minute later, the smart bomb has hit and damaged one of the ship’s weapons (which is now retracted), leaving only a beam weapon that cannot pierce my shields. I’d killed off the two thankfully human crew in the pilot’s room, and teleported my Mantis back for healing. The newly healed Mantis have then beamed back to catch the last crew member, struggling to operate or repair his weapon system. He doesn’t last long and the spoils of victory are soon ours.

autoscout

Each ship encounter can be different, with valuable things to know either learned from prior games and good observation skills or reading a wiki/guide voraciously. Here, we face an auto-scout ship. These tend to be fast, unmanned, evasive buggers from prior experience, and this one has a cloaking system (the eye symbol) which prevents my weapons from locking on and charging up (this tend to help them both evade shots if cloaked, and delay us for their weapons to charge.)

But the most important thing to know about an auto-scout, is that it has no oxygen. All the rooms are an airless hazard. Not only does this make setting them on fire very difficult (without oxygen, the fires go out – this is an important firefighting strat for one’s own ships too,) chucking a boarding party over there would be an invitation to suicide – especially since the ship may cloak at a bad moment and prevent my teleporter working to bring out my crew.

Luckily, this ship in the early game has no shielding either. So my mantis boarding party chill out in the healing room, presumably having themselves a party drinking whatever passes for ethanol for them, while I dink around with my one shot laser and eat up its hull one dot at a time.

I -could- have chucked a mantis in the weapons room to increase the rate of recharge of the laser, but I’d deactivated the ship’s weapons very rapidly so I was perfectly safe now as I just needed to keep hitting the same area to keep it unrepaired and causing hull damage. Auto-scout goes boom, and I drink in the scrap it leaves behind.

moreresistance

Other battles are dicier. This ship has an attacking drone, which combined with its weapons system, managed to set my oxygen room on fire. This is, naturally, not good, and steadily depletes the ship’s oxygen – as evidenced by the rooms steadily turning pinker. Below a certain point, the rooms become striped and an asphyxiation hazard. My Shields Engi has been hastily yanked off the shields for firefighting and repair duty.

I could also have ventilated the room by opening up a sequence of doors leading to the outside vacuum of space, but I was a little reluctant to do that with this ship’s layout as it would mean making three rooms an airless hazard just to reach the O2 room, and get in the way of the healing/teleporter access route. And with O2 down, the rooms would be hard to resupply with air. (One could open out all the other doors and hope the remaining ship’s oxygen vents into the rooms, but it just seemed a scary prospect.) So I decided to keep shuttling the Engi back and forth between the medlab and the room aflame and make him operate a fire extinguisher instead.

At the same time, a furious battle is raging on the other ship’s bridge between my half wounded boarding party and a new crew member who has rushed in to take the fallen captain’s position. Their ship’s weapons have been destroyed for the moment, but they are also desperately charging up their FTL drive to escape. Meanwhile, I’m desperately scanning my ship for ideas on how to prevent this, because if they successfully fire it up, they’ll take off WITH my boarding party.

Either the piloting system or the engines have to be damaged to delay this. Do I let my mantis duke it out with the crewman and hope he’s the last crew on board (which would end the encounter?) Will they have time to damage the piloting room after killing the crewman, if there is more crew around? Do I teleport the mantis back and let the ship go? Do I spend another missile ammo and use the smart bomb, which is halfway charged, and aim it at either pilot or engine and hope it hits?

Choices like this are the meat of FTL gameplay.

mantisvsmantis

In this later fight, Mantis goes against Mantis in one of the most drawn out, unwilling to back down conflicts ever. They send a boarding party. I send a boarding party. They have a healing room. I have a healing room.

They have a battery of weapons, including a very annoying missile – and no worries about conserving ammo for a final fight, that has set my shields on fire and is tearing my hull apart from hits. I’ve upgraded my dinky one shot laser to one that produces three laser shots in succession, except I don’t have enough system power yet to operate it, my teleporter, my medbay and my shields all at the same time, and power has to be shunted from one system to another in a frenzy of juggling. (Thank you, pause key.)

I could have jumped out long ago, but this was a matter of Mantis warrior pride here. So I let my ship soak up hull damage from the onslaught while I painstakingly worked on slaughtering their crew while keeping their medbay disabled or destroyed. A bunch of missiles were spent in the process, making this an exceedingly costly action.

In this final cleanup, the Rock member of the boarding party has been co-opted into firefighting duty with the poor Shield Engi, as she’s immune to fire. My mantis have teleported back, knowing they’ve won. And I’m holding back on destroying their hull, which I could, if I just started up my laser…

goodbyecruelworld

…because I was waiting for the final humiliation, and an achievement I had yet to obtain before this. Death by Asphyxiation.

There was a lot of repair work to be done after, and frankly, it would have been far wiser to just jump out and leave the ship behind as I’m not sure I came out ahead in scrap after that, but well… choices.

endgame

Successfully getting over the early game hump made the Mantis cruiser a ship to be feared by the end though. I picked up a scrap recovery arm, which combined with nearly always boarding ships and killing crew, and easy mode increased scrap rewards, left one superbly upgraded ship by the end of it.

Mastering the final boss fight takes a bit of trial-and-error (and/or reading up on the cheese strategies via the forums.)

Here, I use the standard tactic most use (having been blown up many times prior to using it.)

Basically, send in boarding parties to take out all the isolated crew on the weapons but one. The laser is usually left as its three shots have to go past shields, evading, cloaking, etc before damaging your ship. I tend to prioritize the missile weapon first because I HATE missiles going right through my shields. I also don’t think the beam weapon is much of a threat, as long as one’s shields are up, but it’s safer to take down in case a subsequent lucky Power Surge breaks up your shield and the beam weapon then decides to cut through your ship.

The isolated crew member is left so that the ship does not go onto Automatic AI mode, which allows it to self-repair its systems.

Then slaughter the rest of the crew in the middle, which does involve a bit of a scrap, and being able to keep them from healing up.

With no crew left to resist, destroy the ship’s shields from within, remove thyselves, and then take out the rest of its hull.

A similar boarding party tactic is used for the next two stages. With the inclusion of deactivating the drone control system early on in stage 2 so that the incoming combat drones don’t do too much damage to your ship, and keeping a level 1 cloak on standby to evade the Power Surge drones in stage 2 or the all direction laser shot in stage 3. Fire the cloak only when you see the Power Surge weapons pop up, so that it can hopefully recharge by the next Power Surge.

In truth, with 55% evade and 4 dot shields, I purposefully left the cloaking off once or twice and found the gritty little ship soaked it just fine. I kind of envision this small, nimble elite craft flying circles around the big Rebel Flagship, while its commando crew beamed in to recreate an Aliens scenario.

wesaluteyou

To Captain Kletzkin, the intrepid duo of Lana the Rock and Magne the Mantis aka the first boarding party, Aisha and Jorlack aka first ship defenders, team repairers and secondary boarding party, Fleischy the super-safe and super snug Engi running the engines for beautiful evasion, Banks the human weapons banks master, and Elnubnub the forever put-upon firefighter, shield operator and all-around repair guy…

…we salute you.

And if you’ve read all this way and haven’t bought FTL yet, don’t be an idiot like me and just go straight to the dev’s website, where you can buy it for the current sale price ($2.50 for the next 7 hours, and probably $4.99 till the end of the Steam sale – both very reasonable prices) where you can get both DRM-free and Steam versions for the price of one.

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