FTL was just released yesterday, and I am hooked. It’s a relatively simple title and is essentially a roguelike with spaceships. You start off with a pretty basic spaceship, and your goal is to deliver some crucial intel to the Federation base in Sector 8 without being blown up by the Rebels. Along the way you will fight pirates, encounter distressed merchant ships, abandoned space stations and horses.
There are different ships you can use on your mission, and also different alien crew members to recruit. You also get a starting crew, loadout of weapons, systems and augments unique to the spaceship. Each spaceship also has an alternate layout, which changes the layout of the rooms (obviously) but also changed the starting loadout of weapons and augments. The one you start with is the Kestrel, which has 3 human crewmembers, a missile system, and a laser system. It’s a good basic ship that uses missiles to disable key opposing systems while blasting away with lasers.
Once you reach at least Sector 5, you unlock the Torus. The Torus is manned by 1 human and 2 Engi. Engi have quicker repair rates but aren’t good in fights. It’s usually nice to have an Engi around to fix up the ship. The Torus also plays slightly differently as it primarily uses Drones to fight. The Ion cannon doesn’t do damage but can disable opposing ship’s systems. Drones attack automatically, but can’t be commanded to focus on specific systems, so you usually use the ion cannon to disable the shields and hope the Drones are able to mop up quickly. There are also other drones that repair the ship, board and fight other ships or repel invaders on your own ship. Although the Torus starts with it installed, other ships can also install a Drone control system, but it costs a fair bit.
Once you’ve selected a ship, it’s off to explore the cosmos on the way to your impending doom. Hull points on the top left indicate your health and you lose when you run out, while shields absorb damage before recharging. You also have 3 resources on the left which are Fuel, Missiles and Drone Parts. Fuel is needed to travel, run out and you’ll have to wait for a cargo ship to donate some to you but the Rebel fleet catches up to you while you idle. Missiles and Drone Parts act as resources for combat.You also have Scrap which is the resource used for buying upgrades.
In the centre is the jump gauge which slowly fills up depending on the level of your Engines and pilot. Crew members are listed on the left, and you can assign them to different parts of the ship to provide boosts to the systems. On the bottom left is a power bar which shows how much power you have to power your ship’s systems. Main systems are also on the bottom left, and consist of Shields, Engines, Oxygen, Medbay, Weapons and Drones. Engines not only influence the rate at which your Jump gauge fills up, but also provies passive evasion as your pilot weaves and dodges oncoming attacks. Oxygen is needed to sustain your crew and you will lose if all your crewmembers asphyxiate. Medbay is for healing injured crew (from boarding parties and/or fires) and Weapons and Drones determine what kinds of Weapons/Drones you can deploy at a time.
Subsystems are on the bottom right and consist of Piloting (for Jump Gauge and evasion), Sensors (see within your ship, and within enemy ships when upgraded) and Doors (stops boarding parties and spread of fire). One cool thing with the doors is if there is a fire, you can open up the airlock doors to vent out oxygen and starve out the fire.
All the Systems and Subsystems can be upgraded using the Scrap you’ve collected through the Ship menu in the top middle of the screen. Higher levels of systems will provide increased bonuses but also require more Power to run.
Once your FTL Jump gauge is full, you can initiate a jump to a new location (Beacon) in the system. A map shows you where you can travel to, and if you install the Long Range Scanners augment, the map also gives you some hints on what you might find there.
In your travels, you will sometimes encounter Quests, which could be as simple as travelling to a certain Beacon, and sometimes involves battles. Depending on the crew and types and levels of systems/augments you have, you may also get special options which usually yield a more beneficial result. For example, one of the quests is a satellite defense gone haywire. Usually you could just have a battle with the defense drones, but if you have an Engi on board you could be given the option to repair the drone or if you have ion cannons you could get the option to fire your ion cannons at the drones to deactivate them.
Some Beacons are home to shops where you can find a random assortment of goods for sale. You can always buy resources (Fuel, Missiles, Drone Parts) and Repair your hull but the selection of other goods for sale can range from new Systems, Weapons, Augments or Crewmembers to hire. You’ll want to stock up some Scrap whenever you see a shop, because it is usually worth it to buy what you can.
Finally, the meat and potatoes of the game is the ship to ship combat. You can select what weapon you want to use and target which areas of the shop or which system you want to attack. Different weapon types do different things. Lasers are basic, but also come in volleys with multiple shots fired at one go. Beams attack in a straight line and go down in power as they encounter Shields. Missiles and bombs bypass shields, but use up ammo. Although it isn’t overly complicated, there is still a pretty good variety of options and styles you can play with. You can even teleport your crew onto the enemy ship and kill the enemy crew in bloody laser pistol to face combat.
Overall, FTL is a really great, simple game. The mechanics are intuitive and easy to use. There are plenty of options and strategies but not too much that they overwhelm you. Combat is pretty fast paced and exciting, but you can also pause at any time to make some tactical decisions. Management of resources is also crucial, as you’ll want to collect as much Scrap and upgrades as you can before the Rebel fleet catches up to you and you jump Sectors, as the final battles are really challenging. There are random encounters, which will change every time you play the game. Some of the encounters will also lead you to quests which reward you with new ship types. There was a set of encounters where you help track down some Mantis agents that have stolen blueprints for a new Stealth ship which you can use once you capture them. The Stealth ship also plays differently as you start with no shields, but you get a cloaking device which makes you impervious to attacks for short periods of time. I have yet to get all the ships, but there are 18 in total which is pretty good variety. The various alien crew members also allow some customisation, although it is quite random how you encounter them.Your crew members also level up in skills as they perform them.
The game is also pretty challenging. So far I have yet to win, but that is probably due to my terribleness as well as learning the weapon and upgrade combinations that work. The closest I’ve come is getting that damn final boss to within 1 health before dying horribly. It was my own fault as I mistakenly upgraded my Drone slot instead of my Weapon slot, which meant I had no Lasers for the fight.
In summary, I think FTL is a great game for those of the tactical inclination. The art is also pretty darn nice, although it’ll start to look quite familiar after a few plays. I can see many expansions with new ships, new crew and new upgrades. In fact, if they would implement an exploration mode where you have a cargo hold and can go around trading and/or pillaging ships for goods and selling them… Shit. I would play the crap out of that game. But as it is now, it is still pretty addictive and I give it 4 out of 5 ion cannons. For $9 on Steam, it’s a great buy.
EDIT: There’s a follow up post here.