Piloting a spaceship through the cosmos can be a challenging endeavor. Doing so while being chased by an enemy fleet all the more so. Add in random attacks from pirates, systems breaking, and answering distress calls, and would be captains will find their hands quite full. These are the sorts of things that players will have to deal with in FTL. It’s a sci-fi rogue-like where players command a spaceship, dealing with these aforementioned challenge. It becomes a matter of managing all of the SNAFUs while improving one’s ship, fighting enemies, and getting away from that nasty fleet.
The premise of the game is that the Galactic Federation has suffered a civil war and the rebels look poised to win. Players pilot a ship loyal to the Federation. They’re carrying data that could turn the whole war around, but need to get to HQ several sectors away. Complicating matters is that the rebel fleet is hot on their tail.
As such, players use their jump engines to warp from way point to way point in a sector. There’s generally no way to find out what might be lurking at any of these destinations, though. So players just have to wait and see when they get there. It could be a civilian ship in need of assistance, pirates waiting in ambush, or there may be a merchant eager to do business. All sorts of things could happen.
A lot of the time, though, it’s someone or something that wants to start a fight with players. As such, there is a lot of combat in FTL. Battles are actually quite involved, but thankfully the game can be paused at any time to issue orders. Ships have a handful of crew members that can be moved around to operate systems. When a fight breaks out, players may want people manning the shields and weapons. Any system with a crew member operating it will function slightly better than leaving it on autopilot.
As battles wear on, players may also have to decide if they want someone staying where they are, or risk a drop in performance because crew are needed elsewhere to repair damaged systems. A balancing act becomes necessary between optimizing systems, repairing damaged ones, putting out fires, and healing injured crew. Then you may be attacked by a boarding party and all of that goes right out the window.
All the while, there’s the whole matter of blowing up the enemy ship. Players will start off with two weapon systems, usually one missile launcher and one beam weapon. From there they must decide what systems to target on the enemy ship. If it has powerful weapons, it makes sense to target their weapons in order to disable them. If they’re trying to escape, target their engines. Different situations will call for prioritizing different systems on an enemy ship, and these may change multiple times over the course of a battle. Players can also control where power goes in their systems, so there may be times where it is necessary to divert power from one area of the ship to another in order to win a battle.
As one can see there is a lot to keep track of during a fight. It’s never overwhelming, though. When things get hectic, just remember to pause the game, take a deep breath, then get the crew doing what they need to do.
Victory often leads to salvaging the defeated ship for fuel, scrap (the game’s currency), and possibly new weapons. From there, players just need to send their crew around to repair damaged systems, heal up, then jump to the next way point to see what surprises might lurk there.
As this continues and players go from one star system to the next, their ship will get into a more and more precarious state. Fuel may run low, missiles might run out, the ships hull may be almost completely destroyed (once its gone, it’s game over). There is a lot to worry about. As such, later in the game resource management will become very important. There might be times where one can spend a few scrap repairing the hull, but that means not using the scrap for system upgrades. Increasingly, it may become better to avoid fights so not to risk the hull. Then again, if a battle breaks out, that may result in salvaging much needed fuel if victorious. Decisions, decisions.
If one successfully makes it all the way to Federation HQ after all this and defeats the rebel fleet, good job, that’s a win. It’s also one of the ways that new ships can be unlocked. The other is meeting specific conditions during a playthrough. In either case, it opens the door to other interesting, sometimes unusual vessels that can completely change the dynamic of the game. They all have their own goodies that help them stand out from one another. Some of them are really quite powerful.
Visually, FTL is very utilitarian. It has a 2D pixelated look to it that gets the job done. It’s enough to figure out what is going on and that’s about it. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is suitably space game sounding. It’s ambient electronic stuff that is common for games in this setting.
A session of FTL can be a harrowing experience. Between all of the combat and staying supplied enough to get to the end of the game, there’s a lot to keep players busy. Given the rogue-like nature of the game, most sessions will probably end in death. However, those times where one reigns victorious are immensely satisfying. They exemplify why Faster Than Light is such a great game worth trying.