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, the Engi Homeworlds beckon…

The Fifth System – ENG-Prime, the Engi Homeworlds

Another jump, another sector. The crew initiates post-FTL procedures almost mechanically by this point: run diagnostics, gauge fuel and ammunition levels, inspect the beacon map for our immediate options… Adversity and the constant need for cross-sector jumps seems to have instilled in them a great sense of urgency.

Sector 5, the Engi Homeworlds. We are in a very weird place at the moment; while we are pretty decently equipped, I seem to have neglected the need for fuel – we are currently sitting at 7 fuel, which is barely enough to get us to the sector exit.

What’s worse, I have nearly no scrap in stock and, out of the three possible, two stores have already spawned near the entrance to the sector – this means they’re likely to become unavailable (thanks to the advancing Rebel fleet) before I can gather enough scrap and go refuel there.

Thankfully, I have just enough time to do one or two locations before jumping to the store, as well as a spare Beam I drone to sell if things don’t work out.

Our fuel running low, the crew decides to visit a couple of nav beacons in the immediate vicinity, in the hopes of salvaging some much-needed scrap to exchange for fuel cells at the nearby spaceport.

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Talk about bad store placement…

Alas, the next few jumps we make do not yield anything of use. Morale sinks even further as, slowly, the Rebel fleet jumps into the system and redoubles their pursuit. With no other course of action left, Downs proposes that we head to the furthest space trader and try to get some fuel by trading in a drone schematic or two.

Bad spawns are bad; turns out the third store has also spawned near the entrance and, even worse, all the nodes in between our starting location and the stores were empty; no encounters, no scrap, just a waste of our precious last drops of fuel.

Eventually, I am forced to sell off both our Beam I drones for some scrap at the third store, which at least gets me 5 units of fuel and some leftover scrap with which to upgrade.

This also means a change of tactics, as there are no longer any possible store nodes left to spawn further in the system. Barring any events that give us fuel, I now need to make a beeline to the exit and hope I can refuel in the next sector instead.

The crew’s mood is somber, even dejected; as the store bots board the ship and carry off the schematics for our Beam drones, we feel as though we had lost a member of the crew. Those schematics have seen us through thick and thin, and seeing them sold off in our hour of need is disheartening.

Fortunately, we were able to restock on fuel, giving us just enough leeway to get to the next sector. Still, we will be cutting it short, as Downs is quick to point out. “No exploration, no going out of our way, nothing unnecessary that could eat into our fuel supply”, she clearly states.

The gloomy atmosphere persists as we depart the station; however, our fortunes seem to change as we arrive at the next jump point.

An Engi ship hails us with an urgent request – a Mantis passenger appears to have become disoriented, attacking the Engi keeping watch over him. How exactly this Mantis came to be aboard an Engi vessel is anyone’s guess, but apparently they are keen to get rid of him.

Cubbin is sent to investigate and, upon his return, has a most weird tale to tell: the Mantis is from a nearby colony, having been sent there as an orphan of the Mantis wars, and has been raised as… a human! The “human” Mantis, who goes by the name of Robert Smith, has been hotly debating the topic of his humanity with the Engi, leaving them in a puzzled state and rightly so.

Thanks to Cubbin, the Mantis is now aboard the Kestrel, to be escorted back to his colony from where he fled wishing to join the Federation and fight against the Rebel fleet. As the colony is nearby, we can just about reach it with our emergency thrusters, without spending any fuel – therefore, the crew unanimously agrees to help Robert get home.

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Our new “human” friend, Robert Smith.

The colony, a deep-space fuel mining platform, quickly comes within range of our sensors. Their leader, a giant of a man named Grimm, thanks us warmly but seems loathe to take young Robert back. By his own admission, the boy would better serve as an ensign on a Federation ship as he has always had trouble fitting in with the predominantly human population of the platform.

This is one of the coolest little snippets you can encounter in Engi space; a human-raised Mantis that thinks it’s a human himself. The responses you can get are quite varied; having a human crew member talk to him is probably the best course of action, as it allows you to convince him to join your crew, but there are other “special” outcomes as well, some less beneficial but all of them equally entertaining to read through. 

My favorite, even if it’s technically a bad outcome, is one where you send a Mantis crew member to talk to Robert – while you’d expect them to convince Robert of his Mantis origins, he’ll instead freak out by seeing an “alien” and force the Engi guards to kill him.  This eventually “rewards” you with a handful of scrap, but it’s the writing that really makes it stand out.

Obviously, we’re recruiting Robert, as a Mantis crew member comes in handy if and when we get intruders on board, plus we can finally man either the sensors or door systems. As an added bonus, he’s also already leveled once in Repair and Engines.

Still no solution for our fuel shortage but hey, I’ll get my victories wherever I can.

It’s Kusy that first proposes the obvious: why not offer Robert a position in our ship? He’d always wanted to join the Federation and we could use another able-bodied crew member; Downs quickly agrees and the rest of the crew nod their assent. A few minutes later, Robert boards the Kestrel, no more a passenger but her newest crew member, promptly taking post at the sensor array module.

All parties satisfied with this decision, we bid the platform farewell and jump off to the next nav beacon.

Then, disaster strikes – in our hour of need, we became careless, and paid the price for it.

The nav beacon is home to a single refueling station. With our fuel shortage being what it is, Downs is quick to bring us within docking range; this is our first mistake.

Unsuspecting, we hail the station and dock. Cargo bots begin to carry crates of fuel to the Kestrel and then… mayhem.

The station is apparently home to a pirate gang, which have smuggled explosives using the cargo bots; the explosives do minor damage to our hull. This, however, was only a diversion as they use the confusion to beam four of their gang into the Kestrel!

Kusy is the first to reach the compromised bulkhead, with Robert, Fenn and Cubbin shortly joining the fray as well. The fighting quickly heats up; Robert, despite his insistence on being human, displays a ferocity that is quite Mantis-like.

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Spoiler: We really cut it close this time.

Bolts of super-heated plasma whiz through the air, as two Engi pirates try to fight off Kusy and Robert at long range; meanwhile, the other two pirates, humans by the looks of it, attempt to close the gap between them and Cubbin. Fenn, ever the strategist, attempts to flank the Engi while also keeping the two humans in line of sight.

As Cubbin smashes into a pirate, a bolt of plasma hits him squarely in the back, passing through him and taking out the pirate as well. Cubbin, a look of surprise in his eyes, falls over – instantly struck dead where he stands.

Seeing this, Fenn loses his composure and charges at the killer, taking him out with a single slash; this proves to be his undoing, as the pirate’s compatriot sees the opportunity for an easy shot and takes it. A brief flash of plasma flying through the air and Fenn meets the same fate as Cubbin, lying dead on the floor.

Fenn’s burst of rage has given the survivors an advantage, though, as the pirates have shifted their attention to their fallen confederates long enough for Robert’s claws and Kusy’s blaster to make short work of them.

In the aftermath of the battle, the bodies of the pirates are promptly vented from the Kestrel; our dead companions follow suit, as we cannot afford the luxury of time it would take to give them a proper cremation and send-off.

We have emerged victorious, but it is a Pyrrhic victory – with two of our crew lost, morale is all but shattered. What’s worse, with Fenn and Cubbin dead, shields and engines now remain unmanned, giving us a disadvantage against ships in the future. 

Thankfully, Robert is adept at engine maintenance, so he is quickly stationed in late Fenn’s post – this leaves shields unmanned but given the circumstances, it is the best we can do… for now.

I screwed up this time, and in a pretty major way; my initial plan was to asphyxiate the intruders, but the explosives at the start of the encounter had taken out the doors, rendering my plan moot. Having sent the nearest four crew to fight them off instead, I also failed to withdraw them to the Med Bay fast enough, leading to the deaths of Fenn and Kusy, as described above.

The loss of two crew is a pretty heavy blow – we lost our faster recharge rate for shields and, since Robert is now stationed in engines to make up for the lost crew member there, we also lose the extra sensor functions that we (briefly) had access to while he was stationed there.

To compound this, we also took about 4 points of hull damage and pretty much wasted the fuel it took to enter this nav point.

Them’s the breaks though. This was a major blow, but we can still recover from it, given some good luck.

We leave this sorry affair behind us, and our jump drive fires up – once again sending us into the unknown.

This next jump brings us in range to a Rebel auto-scout but, before we can take combat stations, we notice that it doesn’t seem to be receiving operational orders from the Rebel fleet. For all intents and purposes, this scout appears to be deactivated.

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A stroke of good luck, finally!

We quickly bring the Kestrel within sensor range, attempting to remotely access its data banks. A few minutes pass and then, with a beep of confirmation, the contents of the scout’s data banks is safely in our possession. With the data received, we proceed to dismantle the scout, getting a small amount of scrap and a few missiles, plus a spare fuel cell from its reactor.

The data store is a treasure trove of information: a star map of the immediate vicinity allows us to plan a relatively safe path towards the exit beacon, while short range scans lead us to an otherwise unnoticeable wreckage drifting aimlessly through space. 

A basic Ion Blast (mentioned below) isn’t anything to write home about but it offers a major advantage for the 1 point of energy we need to power it up: when hitting shields, it will automatically disable one point for a short amount of time. 

As previously stated in this series, the Halberd beam does crazy amounts of damage, so long as the target is at one shield point or less – so, having another weapon in our arsenal that can strip a target of its shields will further augment our efficiency.

We quickly salvage the wreck, gaining even more scrap and a basic Ion Blast cannon; with this windfall safely stored in the Kestrel, we jump off once again.

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Holy crap indeed.

Through a series of short jumps, and a couple of relatively minor engagements with pirate ships, we reach the exit beacon for this sector. As we wait for the FTL drive to charge up, we receive a distress signal from a nearby civilian trader. The reason for their distress quickly becomes apparent, as a pirate ship comes into sensor range in close pursuit.

Downs debates leaving them to their fate; after all, we have taken heavy casualties and cannot further risk the mission’s success on heroics. We nearly decide to hide, waiting for the FTL drive to charge, when Robert stands up defiantly.

With a strange fire burning in his stare, he proclaims that Fenn and Cubbin would not have stood idly, letting the pirate scum prey on the weak like this; they would not, he says, have wanted their sacrifice to have caused more innocent people to suffer. His passion is such that the other two crew members change their minds, first Kusy and then Downs, more hesitantly.

We join the battle, making short work of the pirate ship – even their boarding drone not enough to save them in the face of our assault. A few short burst of the Halberd are just enough to cripple them, while the barrage of laser fire brought forth by our Burst Laser disables room after room.

Before long, the pirate ship explodes, leaving behind a field of debris and a good chunk of usable scrap we can use to upgrade our systems with. Even better, we are pleasantly surprised to receive a visitor to the Kestrel from the civilian ship. The Engi, who calls himself Kadreal, explains that our show of valor has inspired him, and requests that he be taken on as crew!

Another chance encounter, another gamble; thankfully this time around, we got the better part of the bargain. Engi aren’t that great of a race overall – they are weak physically, and the only benefit they bring at the table is their increased repair speed.

Their real benefit, however, is that a lot of encounters have special responses when you have an Engi crew member – these are almost always way more beneficial than the default ones, so if we’re lucky, we can get a lot out of Kadreal.

His request granted, Kadreal takes up the late Cubbin’s station, manning the Kestrel’s shield generator. With his mechanical expertise and the scrap we managed to scrounge throughout the sector, we also have enough to jury-rig an upgrade to the shield system.

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Fully crewed once more!

Finally, the FTL drive switches to 100% capacity mode; with one last glance back at this sector, which claimed two of our own, we jump off into the nebula ahead; rushing onward, a battle against the clock to deliver our cargo to the Federation HQ…

The post-mortem for this sector is particularly annoying to write; if not for that one major screw-up with the ambush, I would’ve called it a very successful sector 5.

As it stands, we did manage to recoup our losses (with Robert and Kadreal joining our crew in this sector), but our fuel levels are still woefully low – although we at least managed to exit the sector with as much fuel as we entered with.

We are doing way better on the ammunition front, with a combined total of 20 “special” ammunition; this will afford us a few more options when we go on the offensive in later sectors.

Scrap levels are also satisfactory – we have just about enough to upgrade and power a third point of shield, although I am saving it for now, in the hopes of getting a store spawn as soon as I enter sector 6.

Our major goals (mostly) reached, I am now setting my sights on something a bit different. I am hoping to give the Stealth system another shot, in order to boost our survival rate, as well as maybe invest in an augment or two, ideally a defensive one such as Reverse Ion Field (50% protection vs. ion damage) or Shield Charge Booster (15% faster shield recharge). Our secondary goals are to get some upgrades for our weapons, perhaps a Flak Cannon or an Ion Bomb to complement our arsenal.

Next time: The Sixth System – Unknown Location – Uncharted Nebula

 

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