Gaming on a Timer

A Rogue’s Journals – FTL: Faster Than Light

In this column we’ll be exploring one man’s adventures in a variety of rogue-likes and rogue-lites. Adventure! Intrigue! Terror! The cold embrace of space! This week, our journey in FTL: Faster Than Light takes us through a civilian sector… 

The Third System – Civilian Sector ZZ9-PZ-A

This time, the jump has barely caused any discomfort in the crew; it seems that our bodies have gotten used to the so-called “FTL shock” after so many jumps – between location nodes and systems alike.

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New sector, new troubles… At least the nebula is good for hiding in.

We complete a quick diagnostic of our systems: minor hull damage, missiles and drone parts running low – but on the other hand, a good level of fuel, plus an above average assortment of armaments. Things, in short, could be worse.

We’ve made it to sector 3; this is usually when the player will first feel the consequences of their actions in previous sectors, as better-armed enemies start appearing, fuel  and ammunition for the more specialized equipment begin to become more and more scarce and (if you’ve been particularly unlucky) scrap really starts to matter.

Our position is more or less good; while our stock of missiles and drone parts is low, we have plenty of fuel to explore as many nodes as possible, while the combat drone/halberd beam combo will help with enemies that have two points of shield. Goals for sector 3 include: getting enough scrap (around 100) for another point in shields, a crew member to man the shield generator room (for the faster recharge rate) and replenishing our resources.

It is at this moment that Downs decides to check our long-range scanners, and promptly gives out a shout of delight: it seems like this sector is home to a nebula, one as of yet unknown by the Federation and – more importantly – the Rebels.

We make a few quick calculations, plotting a route that will take us through the ionized clouds; while our sensors will surely suffer for it, it will also buy us some time to explore. The FTL drive powers up once again, and propels us onward.

Our first jump takes us within shooting range of a pirate scout; as we scramble to take combat stations, a message arrives – these pirates seem much less hostile than their previously-encountered brethren. Instead of fighting, we can actually hire these scoundrels!

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These are more my kind of pirate.

After some quick negotiations between Downs and the pirate captain, a gruff man named McFhtagn – by the sounds of it, a genetic descendant of the long-extinct Astrocaledonian colony – offers us his maps of the system, meticulously documented down to the last detail, for a modest amount of scrap.

Star maps updated thus, we survey our options. It seems that the nebula is a risky proposition after all – while the ionic interference will certainly delay the Rebel pursuit, it seems that the pirates have logged a number of ion storms throughout the cloud. This will be a much bigger hindrance than mere ion interference, but the crew hopes that they will be able to overcome this disadvantage in order to reap the benefits of our concealment.

Our next few jumps bring us through a series of ion storms, which cut into our generator’s output – thankfully the Rebel fighters that just caught up with us suffer from the same effect and their shields are rendered inert. With a few cleverly allocated surges of energy, our lasers manage to make short work of them without us suffering much damage.

Ion storms are a major annoyance, this early in a run. They are yet another environmental hazard that might appear within a node – exclusively within nebulae – which halves the power output of any ship caught within its effect.

Luckily, the Rebels after us both had their shields disabled as a result of this power shortage, and with a quick redistribution of energy, we were able to charge up our Halberd beam in time to take out most of their combat-specific systems.

The crew decides to use our newly-acquired scrap stockpiles to jury-rig a few improvements in the shield systems. While we are still too few to keep the shield generator manned at all times, we have at least figured out (with Kusy’s help) how to squeeze out a few more layers of shielding out of the subsystem.

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The spoils of war and some sorely needed scrap.

Content that we have increased our chances of success, even if slightly, we make another jump – this time to a node that McFhtagn has marked as “volatile”, and for good reason.

The ion storm batters the Kestrel as soon as we drop from FTL speed. At first, we pick up no unusual signals… except a couple of inert polymer objects, floating listlessly among a cloud of metallic debris.

Upon closer inspection, these “objects” turn out to be the remains of two ships, obvious remnants of a battle fought long ago. Any markings that might have clued us in to which faction or empire these ships belonged to are gone, wiped away by corrosion and the cosmic ravages of space.

Downs immediately orders a salvage operation, attempting to extricate enough supplies to aid us in our journey; no sooner is it completed than one of the ships begins emitting a signal. Before we know it, the ambush is sprung and intruders are on board!

No less than four pirates have beamed into our ship, sent here from a hitherto-unseen scout now jumping away from weapon range. To make matters worse, the ion storm is still in full effect, meaning that we can spare only the bare basics in regards to energy consumption.

Thankfully, the crew manages to retreat to the med bay, where we have allocated enough energy to keep the nano-healers powered up. Fenn once again provides us with an easy out; utilizing the same trick he once used to oxygen-starve the fires, he orders that the entirety of the ship (minus the med bay) is to be vented of all breathable air.

His ruse works: as soon as the boarding party realizes what has happened, they rush to the only source of oxygen in the ship – the med bay – where the crew has set up a deadly trap. The melee is fierce but, eventually, the day is won.

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Obligatory “It’s a trap!” reference.

However, it is a hollow victory, as the pirates have managed to burn down several consoles in the droid bay (where they initially boarded), as well as the ship’s navigation subsystem. This has caused additional stress to manifest upon our hull; regrettably, any scrap we may have gained here is more than likely to end up paying for hull repairs.

Sadly, a 4 on 3 disadvantage is hard to overcome without some creative thinking, and even then it doesn’t result in a 100% beneficial outcome. The few extra points of damage we sustained from the raider attack ends up costing us half of the scrap we gained in this node; the rest needs to go towards supplies – and so, the Stealth subsystem I was planning on getting will once again need to take a back seat to hull health and missile ammunition.

Even more annoyingly, the store here also provides crew members… but the price is just too steep at this point in time. As I mentioned in the intro to this post, we are now beginning to feel the consequences of the previous sectors’ outcomes – specifically, my prediction of a scrap shortage seems to have come true, partly thanks to a string of empty locations in sector 2.

I am now feeling a bit worried about this run; while we have now managed to scrounge enough currency for a second point of shielding, the lack of crew members or additional survivability options puts us at a serious disadvantage once sector 4 (a.k.a. the halfway point) hits. Let’s see if our luck doesn’t turn around once more…

This ends up being the case in the next jump: a lonely merchant ship hails us and, a few hours later, the Kestrel emerges from it’s AutoMec bay fully repaired – in exchange for half our scrap stockpile. We decide to spend the rest getting some much-needed fuel and ammunition and engage our FTL once the transaction is completed, our scrap stores nearly depleted.

Thankfully, our luck begins to change once again – after a couple of rather weak attacks from Rebel auto-scouts (which end up furnishing us with a good deal of scrap and fuel), we encounter a wandering Engi ship. These aliens are renowned throughout the galaxy for their mechanical aptitude and, as we now observe, not undeservedly.  For a small gift of missile and drone parts, they have offered to upgrade our reactor – an otherwise costly operation – completely free.

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One chance encounter later, we are POWERED UP! A bit more, anyway…

An Engi crew member beams into the Kestrel and, thirty minutes later, beams out again, a job well done. Fenn swears that he’s never seen anyone work this fast before; this statement, coming from our most experienced crew member, says quite a lot about the Engi and their tech know-how.

We make another jump, another step towards our ultimate goal and there, in an unassuming location node, we finally have a good turn of luck – a stray Mantis cutter attacks without provocation. While we sustain very minor hull damage, we emerge victorious with relative ease and the spoils of war more than make up for it. A schematic for a beam drone is found among the wreckage and is swiftly installed in our drone bay!

If you played FTL before, you might be wondering why I’m so pleased about a measly Beam I drone, and you’d normally be right – Beam I is very weak, inflicting only 1 point of damage per shot, which usually means that most anything with a shield will nullify its effect.

However, it is a major upgrade over the Combat Drone I, for a very simple reason – the Beam I drone will never miss its target. This makes it a -great- addition to the Halberd/Burst Laser combo, letting me strip up to 4 levels of shield momentarily, giving the Halberd beam a small window in which to lay the damage in thick.

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Beams, it’s what’s for lunch.

Another benefit here is that, with this setup, I can now consider entering Zoltan space as well – their shields have additional one-time protection, which the beam drone works well against.

While this takes a lot of effort (as timing laser bursts to the drone’s fire rate is hard) but will at least give us a good chance against better-equipped enemies until we find more powerful weapons.

Our arsenal thus augmented, we make yet another jump – this one bringing us to the sector’s exit. This time, there is no choice; our only available jump forward will take us to a Slug-controlled nebula. We punch in the co-ordinates and, in a flash of light, begin our journey towards the next sector…

This concludes Sector 3 – all in all, I think that we had a good deal of luck; the beam drone being a great addition to our arsenal, it will also allow us to gain a few scrap in the next store we encounter (seeing as I no longer need the Combat Drone, I might as well sell it). We also managed to upgrade our reactor a few times, making the next sector – a nebula which I’m sure will contain at least one ion storm encounter – slightly more bearable.

A second point in shields is also highly beneficial, as sector 4 is where I expect to start encountering enemies with ion weaponry – which doesn’t deal damage but instead disables whichever system it hits. Extra shields will also be handy if the game decides to pit us against drones or enemies with “burst” weaponry.

For sector 4, I’m hoping to upgrade my weapons subsystem at least once, in order to be able to power both Halberd and Burst Laser at the same time (the aforementioned combo), although my highest priority is getting that last crew member to man the shields subsystem with. The combination of a nebula system with a slug-controlled one promises some… interesting encounters – Slug are quite weak physically, but provide a great bonus from their racial passive: telepathy.

In a nutshell, this allows them to see enemy movement within ships, meaning that if I can somehow get a Slug crew member, I can actually start actively targeting rooms with crew in enemy ships (another win condition in combat being that you manage to kill of the entire crew). Fingers crossed…

Next time: The Fourth System – Sector Apophis 5L-UG.

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