Backloggery Beatdown—FTL: Faster Than Light

FTL races
With just under twenty scrap remaining, I breathe a sigh of relief when I FTL-jump into sector 8 right before a missile from the the last rebel ship encounter strikes true upon my blinking-red hull. Upon my exit, I do not hesitate to accept the 10-point hull repair that always greets me in this sector, though I cringe at my fuel gauge, which is at six. I am able to limp to the base before the Flagship’s arrival, skipping the repair stations for fear of encountering another rebel ship because I lack long-range scanners to detect them. Mercifully, I arrive before the Flagship without trouble.
I considered reaching the second round with the Flagship a consolation prize. Being armed with a defensive, combat, and beam drone would mean little to the boarding drones merrily entrenched inside of my oxygen/life support (O2) room. Yes, that plural is correct for FTL fans out there—I am well aware that only one enemy boarding drone can be present per ship, but RNGesus had smiteth me mightily with the Flagship’s patented triple-missile barrage disabling my defensive (and offensive) drones, allowing for the possibility that the offending boarding ‘bots would land in the same room, three times in succession. Under normal circumstances, I would have decompressed the invaded room(s) and wait for the raiders to either be recalled to their ship or die from space exposure. Unfortunately for me, robots do not possess the weaknesses of carbon-based lifeforms. I tried rotating my crew in and out of the room as their HPs warranted, but I was at a disadvantage, for not only were these raiders those special boss-tier kind of  that do more damage than they take, but my crew was also an all-Engi assemblage. Their racial penalty to melee combat resulted in impotent blows which failed to inflict even a respectable amount of damage before they had to withdraw and rotate with another Engi. Eventually, the attrition became insurmountable; my all-Engi crew assailed those drones with the full might of charging mounted knights armed with feather dusters instead of lances as they and their ship sustained damage like Little People inside of a Fisher Price school bus being rolled from the top of a flight of stairs. In the O2 room, a duo of my Engi get served like Apollo Creed against Ivan Drago. My weapons officer perished from asphyxiation while vainly trying to restore my armament for return fire. My my engineer took an arrow energy blast to the knee while powering up the FTL drives for a desperation regress. My helmsman valiantly maintained his post to the last man, and didn’t blink when the Torus absorbed the deathblow and majestically disintegrated into an assortment of fragments during that painfully long “YOU LOSE” animation that lasts longer than any of the destruction animations of the ships that I had defeated up to this point.
I stare at the “Game Over” screen taunting me for what feels like the thousandth time, but it’s only about the fifteenth time…with the same ship. I allow myself an exasperated sigh before returning to the hangar and launching another mission…with the same ship.
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Only FTL: Faster Than Light (FTL) fans would understand.

It Ain’t Easy Even on Easy to Take It Easy

Forums and message boards where FTL players are found will make newcomers feel ashamed for routinely losing around the 2-3 sector mark. The only thing anyone should be ashamed of is pride. I, too, scoffed at easy mode and started on normal. I, too, found myself looking at the hangar screen more often than I cared to see it—as cool as it is. With about ten hours invested into the game and becoming frustrated with getting marked “return to sender” with a blitz of lasers, ions, missiles, and beams on the rare occasion that I actually reached the Flagship, I toned down the difficulty to see what the difference would be. Rather than feel inadequate when my scrap per battle increased from about 15-20 to 30, I felt empowered! I could actually buy a cloaking system rather than just whimper at its dizzying 120 scrap price tag. Playing on easy toned down how certain aspects of the RNG, such as (not) encountering a Zoltan with their racial special shields in sector 1, or an enemy with a Burst Laser MK III in sector 2. Unquestionably, there is still plenty of room for the player to make mistakes and generally get pwnt; easy mode simply allows the player to stick around longer on average. I would say that if reaching the Flagship becomes more routine than anomalous, then it might be time to consider Normal.
Again, don’t be ashamed to play on easy. Seriously:

FTL Censored

The number of mistakes that I had made in just the single run narrated in the introduction to this article were probably in the hundreds, and I now kick myself while reflecting on them and the time I wasted playing by so inefficiently. Yet that is the beauty of playing a strategy game blended with Roguelike. By definition, the genre teaches the player how to get better as long as they keep playing because the RNG incentivizes persistence; when the game isn’t trolling players with Zoltan-shielded vessels armed with a combat drone II and a beam weapon combo in sector 1, it will flood the player with more crew members than their vessel can hold, and provide a Small Bomb, an Ion Blast II, two Burst Laser MK IIs, and a defensive drone within the span of two sectors. Even if the player does not (or outright refuses to) learn, they may still benefit from a series of favorable “rolls” and obtain an OP setup like the one I just mentioned. There is almost too much depth to FTL, however, to allow some noob to faceroll the game at any time. A smooth run could suddenly end because an AI ship scores an Ion Bomb or missile hit on the cockpit, dropping the palyer’s evasion to zero before following up with a 5-shot Burst Laser MK III against only two layers of shields; all five shots land, taking out the doors and engines with fires igniting in three different places—essentially my end-game opening allegory taking place in Sector 3. I have triggered the “Astronomically Low Odds” achievement on both Easy and Normal modes, which means that I failed at least twice on two different occasions to evade even one out of a series of five shots with upwards of 90% evasion. “Astronomically Low Odds,” indeed.

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Traditionally, my Backloggery Beatdown series here at GUG is dedicated to analyzing games with intense focus on just a few topics rather than the broad scope found in our reviews. Here, I will be discussing general strategies rather than a offer a qualitative analysis of FTL’s features. After all, a review would be a waste because I would just give FTL a 10/10: eight different races complete with subtle differences in animations and sound effects for performing identical actions, each of the ten unlockable ships possessing up to three variants each, an infinite number of weapon and system combinations, and a soundtrack by Ben Prunty that rivals the best composers out there—Mitsuda, Wise, Uematsu, Klepacki—all of ’em. A review would be silly. The game is gud. 
(intro image by rubendevela)

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Maurice Pogue

Since picking up an NES controller in 1985 at the age of 2, Maurice and video games have been inseparable. While most children aspired to be lawyers, doctors, or engineers (at the behest of their parents), he aspired to write for publications such as EGM, PC Gamer, PC Accelerator, and Edge. After achieving ABD status in English at MSU, Maurice left academia and dedicated his writing to his lifelong passion. He is currently the Video Game Editor at Geeks Under Grace.

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