Gaming on a Timer

A Rogue’s Journals – FTL: Faster Than Light

In this new column we’ll be exploring one man’s adventures in a variety of rogue-likes and rogue-lites. Adventure! Intrigue! Terror! Lots and lots of deaths! This week, our adventures continue in  FTL: Faster Than Light, where our heroic crew has just completed the jump to Sector 2…

The Second System – Mantis Controlled Sector

Emerging from FTL speed, the Kestrel now orbits a deserted node in the outer parts of Mantis-controlled space. The crew have taken to calling this sector Mantid Beta Minor, since it’s an outlying part of the Mantis empire – relationships with the Mantis being what they are, their own designation for this system is unknown.

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A new sector – a new hope…

A bit of stock-taking is in order since last sector: after a series of generally favorable encounters in the first sector, we are now equipped with a shiny new drone bay, however we still need around 40 scrap in order to upgrade our reactor enough to power it consistently; until then, we’ll need to juggle energy from other subsystems if we want the combat drone to be of any help.

Meanwhile, our fuel levels are good enough to push us through this (and probably the next) sector without much difficulty, though we could use a few more drone parts and scrap.

As for long-term goals, our priority for now is giving our ship a bit more durability; upgrading shields, an anti-missile drone or a stealth subsystem would all go a long way towards that. 

With that in mind, let’s see what our immediate jumps allow us to do…

Downs powers up the communications channel; immediately, a couple distress signals sound throughout the piloting module, modulated by sharp bursts of static. Aside from those, another two possible jump locations appear on the holo-map, giving us a choice: bravely attempt to help the distressed ships, or take the (possibly) safer paths towards the exit beacon.

After much deliberation, the crew decides to attempt the jump to the furthest of the two distress beacons – they reason that, while we are still on the run from the Rebel fleet, if our investigation goes awry we’ll be in a much better position to outrun them if we’re further into the system.

I mentioned distress beacons in passing last time – they are special nodes in a system’s map that will always contain unique events, chosen from a separate table of encounters than “regular” nodes. 

While these encounters are usually slightly more difficult (or, in the case of non-combat encounters, have a higher chance of failing), the reward table compensates for that with better/more items on success.

We may even be lucky enough to pick up one of a handful of quests, which are multi-stage encounters that also have above-average rewards – and rarely, other unique benefits such as a new ship being unlocked.

As soon as we emerge from the jump, a cacophony of shouts and noise greets us over our communications modules; one of the staff of what turns out to be a research station pleads for help, as fire has taken hold of one of the aft laboratories. Their emergency systems having been damaged by the intense heat, we are now their only hope for salvation.

Not wasting any time, Downs brings the Kestrel near the mid-point of the station, where most of the survivors seem to have gathered at, and with Fenn and Kusy’s help, we prepare to dock with the station when…

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Can’t win them all, I guess.

Whoops. Unfortunately, our good luck deteriorated since the last sector; while this particular event has three dialogue options that are guaranteed successes, we currently lack the crew or equipment that would allow us to select them (for example, if we had a Repair Drone, we could have extinguished the fire without casualties, gaining a large amount of rewards).

This left us with choosing to either A. Send in crew to help with the fire (risking loss of a crew member on failure) or B. Trying to board the station to evacuate survivors (risking hull damage on failure). As hull damage is easier to recover from, I chose the second option… and failed accordingly.

The shock of the explosion sends debris hurtling towards the Kestrel, causing light damage to its hull, while a wayward fragment manages to temporarily take the door subsystem down.

The material damage, however, is nothing compared to the loss of life we are currently witnessing: at least thirty scientists, the residents of the destroyed station, now drift aimlessly through space, lifeless bodies destined to spend eternity in the harsh, cold embrace of the cosmos.

Kusy is the first to regain his composure following this scene; in a quick dash, he rushes to the door module, while the rest of the crew prepare the ship for the next jump.

We regain full system functionality a few minutes later and, Kusy returning to his station, we jump once more into the unknown.

The next few jumps are largely uneventful; a chance encounter with a low-grade pirate ship provides a brief distraction from the series of empty location nodes and nets us an augment for the Kestrel – a repair arm – but other than that, the journey through this sector has so far been quiet.

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Rewards such as augments are usually rare, but worth it.

A store beacon is our next destination – the crew has decided that, while helpful, the repair arm we’ve picked up from the pirate attack will cost us more scrap than it saves in the long run, and the trader here is more than happy to pick it up.

Unfortunately, the few nodes we jumped before reaching the shop have, quite literally, been empty – these are sometimes worse than ones containing encounters, as fuel poses yet another time limit aside from the ever-advancing Rebel Fleet. As each jump costs one unit of fuel (and fuel costing scrap to acquire reliably), an empty node means you’ve just spent a jump and gotten nothing in return.

This hurts doubly so in our case as, in this shop, we could’ve bought a Stealth subsystem had we gained a few more scrap… Such is the nature of rogue-likes. To compensate, I’ve decided to sell the Repair Arm, which would repair hull damage each time I gained scrap, at the cost of reducing my overall scrap gains by 15%.

The difference isn’t noticeable in early sectors, as the scrap yields from encounters are usually low enough that the Arm’s operating cost would more or less equal what you’d spend repairing at a shop, but when the Kestrel is at full hull or when the scrap rewards are high enough, we’d be actually operating at a disadvantage.

The proceeds from the sold Repair Arm then go into buying a Halberd Beam, one of the more powerful weapons you can get for early encounters, as well as repairing and stocking up on fuel and droid parts.

Kusy oversees the installation of a new Halberd beam, purchased in part by the scrap traded for the Repair Arm, which gives us another weapon in our fight against the Rebels; meanwhile, Downs and Fenn oversee the shop’s repair bots, while they patch up our battered hull. A pang of guilt comes and goes as we remember the tragedy at the research station that caused all this damage. If only things had gone differently…

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Luckily a store was present right in our path, and just in time too!

No matter – For now, all that matters is reaching the Federation HQ and, with that in mind, as soon as the repairs are completed, we launch and jump to the next destination in the plotted path.

Another jump, another misfortune – thanks to our weak sensors, we have inadvertently plotted a course near a flaming ball of gas; we are now orbiting one of this system’s suns!

The pirate ship that followed us is a small consideration: a combined effort from our Artemis missile and the new Halberd Beam make short work of it, and the resulting scrap is quickly salvaged and added to our storage bay.

A much more pressing concern is the solar flares that keep lashing at our ship. With moments left until the FTL drive is charged, one such flare manages to spread across our hull, and the resulting spike in temperature ignites the room housing the droid control subsystem. As the fire alarms blare their warnings throughout the Kestrel, Fenn rushes to the door controls and starts pressing buttons.

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Orbiting around a sun: generally considered a bad idea.

Doors across the ship start flying open, making the equivalent of a path from the drone control bay to the nearest airlock. With one final press, Fenn opens the port-side airlock, letting all the oxygen vent into outer space. Thankfully, thanks to his quick thinking, the resulting oxygen-free zone is enough to kill off the fire without us suffering any more damage.

Fire is an ugly affair in FTL; aside from solar flares (another type of environmental hazard, like the asteroid field from last time) there is a small handful of weapons and droids that can cause fire to catch in whatever room they’re targeting (Artemis missiles and our Burst Laser both have a very small chance of doing just that to enemies).

Aside from constantly spreading through rooms, fire will also damage any subsystems and/or crew members that share a room with it, and are usually difficult to deal with (especially during combat) as I’d normally need to juggle crew between their stations, the med bay (fire damages them as they attempt to extinguish it) and pay attention to what I’m targeting with my weapons at the same time.

So, instead of using crew to extinguish it (which I would have considered, if I had any Rock crew members, which are immune to fire damage), I used a cool little trick that the devs have included: you can actually oxygen-starve a fire by opening doors and letting your air vent out into space. While it’ll take some time for the oxygen to replenish once I’ve shut all the doors again, at least I won’t risk any crew members’ lives and won’t have to worry about the fire during combat.

Note that this trick is more or less dependent on the ship’s layout and which room catches on fire; certain ship layouts, such as the Engi Torus, have only minimal exits into space, making it much harder to actually vent oxygen in a timely manner without also putting the crew in danger.

As soon as the fire is extinguished, we quickly prepare for yet another jump; fearful of another catastrophe caused by the rampaging solar flares, we jump to the nearest node, where another Auto-Scout awaits us.

This time, though, things are a bit different – this unmanned scout does not waste time with evasive maneuvers, but prepares to jump away! In a panic, we activate all of our weapon systems in a mad dash to take its engines down – if it manages to escape, the Rebel Fleet will surely be warned and be upon us within moments.

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Fortunately, this enemy doesn’t have any shielding, making it very easy to target their engine room and thus cutting them off of any FTL functionality.

As a few agonizing seconds pass, in which the lasers can charge up, we focus on the energy readings of the scout’s engine room. Four seconds to go. Three. The scout’s energy reading spike as it prepares to pull itself through FTL space. Two. One.

A green-hued burst of energy issues from our Lasers, striking across the unshielded hull of the scout. A new reading is taken immediately; the shot strikes true, their engines now too damaged to complete their jump!

We take down the scout, collect the scrap and head towards the exit to this sector, faintly smiling at our stroke of luck.

While not nearly as important now that I’m almost at the exit to this sector, letting the Scout jump away from us would have pushed the Rebel Advance faster; this, in turn, would have deprived me of at least one more jump in which to try and gather more materials.

As mentioned before, this is the second constraint in exploration the devs are using – with each jump the player makes, the Rebel Fleet advances a couple inches further into the system (that’s the red semi-circle you might have noticed in screenshots of the system map). Jumping to a location inside the Fleet’s area of influence is usually a bad idea, as the ships chasing us usually have 4 points of shielding plus a -lot- of powerful weapons, while the rewards for taking one down are mediocre in comparison.

Between the lack of fuel and the pursuing Rebels, this is the true difficulty in navigation: planning your route through-out the system to hit as many nodes as possible, while not running out of fuel or boxing yourself in,

At the exit, we encounter another trader, this time one of the black market skiffs that usually prowl in such places, hoping to make a quick and dirty buck from trading goods. We trade a few of our surplus rockets in exchange for scrap, which we’ll put to good use upgrading our weapons systems; after all, we will surely need the extra firepower from here on out.

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Choices, choices…

Between our two choices, the civilian sector eventually wins over the nebula; as we prepare for the extra-long jump, our hope is that we’ll find help here, as the population here is not favorably disposed towards the Rebels…

…and that’s it for sector 2 – overall, this time we were slightly less lucky; a string of three (!) empty nodes cost us a good chunk of supplies and (potentially) a Stealth Drive subsystem.

There was also an event that could’ve rewarded a much sought-after Mantis crew member, but sadly the dice rolled the wrong way and I failed the encounter.

On the other hand, the Halberd Beam we picked up is sure to come in handy: used in tandem with the Combat Droid and Artemis missiles, we can quickly lock an enemy down by taking away their shields and then splashing the beam across multiple rooms for a good chunk of damage. We also managed to upgrade our reactor a few notches, giving us a bit more leeway in power distribution, which will surely come in handy in the more complex encounters further along the way.

This time I choose the Civilian sector over the Nebula, as Nebulae tend to play havoc with our subsystems and the Kestrel is still not sufficiently equipped to survive at sub-par functionality. I’m still hoping for enough scrap to get the Stealth Drive but I’ll also be on the lookout for some more crew members. Ion weapons are now higher on the list of our priorities as well.

Next time: The Third System – Civilian Sector ZZ9-PZ-A

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