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, we reach the halfway point – Sector 4 – and our first Slug system.

The Fourth System – Sector Apophis 5L-UG

Our emergency systems kick in as soon as we arrive in this sector, a multitude of warnings flashing across our navigation computers. The crew scrambles to get a reading on the situation: as anticipated, jumping into a nebula of this size has caused our sensors to go haywire, making it appear as if we had suffered catastrophic malfunctions in every system.

A few short moments later, Downs manages to re-calibrate the sensor array; the ionic interference that runs throughout the nebula should no longer trigger the emergency system. As the last few alarms die down, the crew starts getting their bearings again. A meeting is called to discuss our current status:

See the pink stuff? You’re blind as a bat while in it.

The Kestrel seems to be in good condition, a few light dents in its hull the only evidence of the previous sector’s encounters. Stocks of fuel are well within safe levels, enough to reach the next sector without worry of running out. Our store of munitions is a bit low, but with some careful rationing, we should be able to make do until an opportunity to restock appears.

Downs also notes our position; while the nebula we’re in will surely block any Rebel scanners long enough to give us a head start, we should not count on it to slow them down considerably. She goes on to explain that the area has most likely already been mapped in galactic nav-charts and, as such, the Rebels will have compensated for the interference beforehand.

As you might remember, we encountered a nebula in previous sectors – these pinkish clouds of ionized particles are usually very useful for players wanting to extend their exploration time, as they delay the Rebels’ advance, at the cost of interfering with our sensors system.

However, these sector-wide nebulae are a different story; while they still slow down the Rebel fleet, the effect is somewhat diminished – with the in-game explanation being that they’ve been mapped already.

Thankfully, the delay in the pursuit should still give us enough leeway to explore a few more locations before being forced onward by the Rebel fleet.

Our situation thus recapped, we prepare to make our first jump for this sector. The FTL drive powers up and…

Alarms go off once again as soon as we emerge from the jump – this time, not without reason. A Slug ship is targeting us, their weapons trained on the Kestrel from the moment she emerged from FTL space.

More importantly, Fenn reports that our life support systems seem to have been turned off; apparently, the Slugs have some sort of hacking module that allows them to disable systems remotely. We will need to wrap this up fast enough, before oxygen runs out and we suffocate!

One of the major problems when fighting Slug; they’re sadistic bastards that want to see you suffocate.

With swiftness borne from desperation, we dispatch our Beam drone towards the Slug ship – under its constant barrage and, aided by an Artemis missile, we manage to breach their shields long enough for the Halberd beam to cut them to ribbons – but not before they manage to fire a missile off towards us.

Their missile hits one of our empty modules just as our beam completes its last, fatal pass – the Slug managing one parting blow before being annihilated. With the source of the hack now disintegrated, we quickly rush to re-establish life support and oxygen generation. We are finally safe… or so we think.

The spike in the Kestrel’s temperature is our first clue that something is amiss; a few seconds later, we find out why. Kusy, stationed in the weapons systems room, reports that he can hear weird noises coming from the bulkhead next door. When sent to investigate, he finds a raging fire burning through the section of the ship between shields and weapons – exactly where that final Slug missile had hit us.

Not wasting any time, Fenn’s solution is once again deployed; by venting all oxygen through the danger areas, we manage to eradicate the fire. It is only thanks to Kusy’s alertness that we manage to avoid disaster.

This highlights one of the bigger issues with nebulae; your situational awareness is greatly diminished  as long as you are in one. 

Usually, even the most basic of sensor systems will at least give visuals on every room of your ship – but with sensors being taken out by ion interference, sneaky fires starting in unmanned rooms can (and will) quickly spread out of control throughout the ship if you don’t pay attention.

A much more dangerous version of this can also happen if you are boarded by enemies, as boarders behave much more erratically and move faster than fire ever would, leading to wild chases from room to room (and usually, removing crew from their stations to join in the chase).

Unfortunately, there isn’t really any way of circumventing this disadvantage (aside from getting more rooms staffed), so we’ll just have to be extra-careful until we’re out of the nebula.

The next few jumps play out in similar ways; the Slug prove to be extremely hostile towards the Federation and their remote hacking modules make the situation even more problematic. It is only thanks to their weak shielding that we manage to emerge victorious, time after time leaving behind us the wreckage of yet another Slug interceptor.

On the bright side our next stop appears to be a store and, having gathered a good deal of scrap from our foes, we can look forward to a few much-needed upgrades.

Luck is on our side this time round – and the guy even knows how to work shields!

Docking with the store ship, we immediately head for their mess hall. Here, we are delighted to find that a couple human mercenaries have set up shop; for a modest amount of scrap, one of them agrees to sign up for the post of shields maintenance.

Kusy also discovers a Drone Recovery Arm among the piles of salvage that the merchant peddles; after a lot of haggling, it is installed within the Kestrel’s drone bay. The remainder of our scrap goes towards fuel – and before long, with new crew member Cubbin safely on board and manning the shield system, we are finally ready to move onward.

Finally, after a series of encounters in the previous sectors, we now have both the scrap and the opportunity to get a new crew member. Even better, this one is already proficient with handling shield systems, which gives them a much faster recharge rate whenever he’s stationed there.

The drone recovery arm will also prove very handy, as it will save us a -lot- of scrap that would have otherwise gone towards restocking on drone parts. Usually, any drones we send out are lost once combat resolves, in the same way that missile ammo is spent with each shot.

With this augment, however, we can retrieve any undamaged drones once combat ends, meaning that our Beam and/or Combat drones effectively cost no drone parts to deploy – so long as the enemy isn’t running anti-drone weaponry.

With our business concluded, we bid farewell to the store keeper and power up the FTL drive once more. The next few jumps are relatively uneventful; only a solitary Mantis vessel, apparently hunting for Slug cruisers in the vast nebula, breaks up the monotony of empty location nodes. 

The fight is short and decidedly in our favor; before long, the Mantis vessel is nothing more than space dust and debris, from which we manage to salvage a small amount of scrap. Spoils of war thus stored in our cargo bays, we jump once more and…

The ship suddenly goes dark, the sounds of life support, engines and weapons quietly powering down as we enter yet another hazard; a plasma storm appears to have been raging for quite a while in this location, judging by a series of incapacitated ships that drift aimlessly around.

Choices, choices…

We manage to power down enough of our non-essential systems to give energy back to life support and engines. With the situation stabilized, the crew discusses their options.

Fenn, drawing upon previous experience, recommends that we search the ships for survivors. It might be dangerous and we will be risking our lives, but the potential rewards of such an endeavor are well worth the risk, in his opinion.

The rest of the crew agrees with Fenn – we are still a long way from home, the Federation Command Base, and additional supplies are more precious than ever – perhaps, even more than our lives.

This is the first “major” decision we’ve come across in the last couple sectors; the Plasma Storm event is exclusive to nebulae and has the potential to give a variety of good rewards, such as scrap, weapons, drone schematics or, with a good deal of luck, even a new crew member.

As you might guess, however, there is also a pretty hefty price to pay for failure; this is one of those events that might cost us a crew member if the dice rolls fail us.

I am particularly loathe to risk this, seeing as we’ve only just managed to staff our shields system, but the rewards are almost necessary at this point, seeing as we need to start upgrading the Kestrel’s systems.

It’s in-game situations like these, I believe, that help FTL become such an audience favorite; high-risk, high-reward situations with some great writing and delivery – a sort of bite-sized drama situation that asks the player to really think about consequences.

With that being said… Let us see if Lady Luck is on our side this time.

A salvage crew is quickly formed – the more experienced Fenn takes the lead, with newcomer Cubbin at his side, as he is revealed to have extensive experience on using salvage tools. As for the rest of the crew, Kusy will operate the cargo bay’s loader while Downs is to remain at the pilot’s seat and coordinate the entire venture.

The next twenty minutes are hectic; on Fenn’s very precise instructions, he and Cubbin dart in and out of derelict cruisers, quickly scanning each and every one for signs of life, while Downs keeps a record and providing them with new targets within the area. A few pieces of salvageable scrap are cut, packaged and sent back to Kusy at the Kestrel’s cargo bay.

As we enter the last ship in range, our hearts sink slightly; once again, the life-form detectors stay silent, finding no living beings in range. The salvage team reports their findings back to Downs, then prepares to return to the ship – when, suddenly, Fenn lets out a cry of surprise.

A lone drone schematic for a Beam Drone sits in a corner of this ship’s workshop. We are pleased with this stroke of good luck – if not for this ship’s weird layout, with the exterior airlock situated directly in their drone bay, we may never have found this schematic. 

One of the few times bravado paid off.

The schematics safely in our possession, we conclude this short expedition. Before long, the Kestrel jumps off into FTL space once more, leaving behind this graveyard of interstellar wayfarers, the lifeless husks of each ship a testament to the never-ending dangers of outer space.

Our luck was pretty decent this time around; with around 50 scrap and an extra beam drone to sell at the next vendor, we can now afford a few upgrades to our power. This is the first step in getting another point of shields running, which will be crucial in later sectors – where multi-fire weapons are more common.

Once again, our jumps are uneventful; a civilian ship breaks the monotony and offers to buy our missiles for some scrap. Negotiating a good exchange rate, we agree upon receiving a small amount of scrap for five of our missile stock. Thanking us profusely, the civilian ship blasts off towards a nearby planet. 

More Slug? I think I’ll pass on that…

With the scrap received, we can finally jury-rig a few upgrades to our reactor and weapons systems; we can finally bring the fully force of our weaponry to bear! Feeling more confident than ever, we set a course for the exit beacon and power our FTL drive. Pretty soon, we have jumped off this sector and into the nearby Engi Homeworlds…

This sector ended up being a mixed bag; we’ve had a few good encounters, gaining a substantial amount of scrap, a new crew member, some much-needed upgrades and even a Drone Loader augmentation to save up on drone part usage.

On the other hand, we’ve also used up a lot more fuel than anticipated and with the placement of stores being as they were, we didn’t get the opportunity to restock sufficiently. We also didn’t manage to get a Slug crew member, but that’s a more minor setback.

I’ve chosen the Engi Homeworlds as our next destination, since I would like to get an Engi crew member (which are weak physically, but can repair twice as fast), as well as not wanting to go through yet another Slug-controlled nebula.

We’ve so far been able to meet our goals; our weapons systems have now been upgraded to handle powering both the Halberd and Burst Laser at the same time, which gives us an edge against everything with up to three shield points (factoring the enemies’ evade rates as well).

For the next sector, aside from getting an Engi crew member, I’d also like to do another two upgrades to the reactor and another level of shielding – which means we’ll need roughly 160~ scrap to facilitate this.

Next time: The Fifth System – ENG-Prime, the Engi Homeworld

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