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! Explosions! This week, we prepare for the final challenge…

The Seventh System – LV-4A15, Engi Fringe System

We drop from FTL speed hard and fast, the Kestrel quickly coming to a halt at the entrance node to this sector. Post-jump checks are quickly completed – the sense of urgency renewed with the knowledge that the final hour is close at hand.

The sector we find ourselves in is largely Engi-controlled; in our immediate jump range, we get readings on a ship bay, where we are sure to find someone to repair our damaged hull. More importantly, two beacons within one jump of our location are broadcasting emergency distress signals, putting us in a dilemma: where to go next?

Tough choice, right off the bat. On the one hand, I really, really need to repair the Kestrel as soon as possible; having our hull integrity drop below the 50% mark puts us at a disadvantage versus any encounter we might have to escape from (since in any such scenario we’d still need to take hits while our FTL drive charges up).

On the other hand, however, it is much more efficient to do the distress signals first, as it’d give us extra scrap and/or items to sell, as well as save up on fuel; after last sector, I’m also worried that I won’t get another chance to visit a store before the final sector.

The crew decides, after much deliberation, to respond to the closest of the two distress beacons before heading to the shipyard for some much-needed repairs. We quickly charge up our jump drives and blast off towards the beacon’s location.

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The final stretch, and it’s a good one!

In the end, I’ve decided to try for at least one of the distress beacons. It’s risky but, barring an extraordinary stroke of bad luck, it’s probably going to be just fine…

We are immediately hailed by a Federation ship, parked within an asteroid belt, as soon as we emerge from FTL. They identify themselves as the UFSC Andromeda – a deep-space research vessel on a top-secret mission.

The source of their plight is immediately apparent: their engines have been taken offline by a wayward asteroid from within the belt, leaving them unable to dodge and evade the oncoming space rock. Without our help, they are sure to suffer catastrophic damage to their hull!

Kadreal is the first to spring to action – he heads to the drone bay adjacent to his shield generator station and types a few commands in the drone control mainframe. Moments later, our Defense II drone springs to life and blasts off towards the battered science vessel.

Downs is quick on the uptake; she immediately figures out Kadreal’s plan and starts maneuvering the Kestrel so that we soon find ourselves adjacent to the Andromeda. As we approach them, the drone’s AI begins targeting and destroying asteroids left and right, leaving only showers of space dust in its wake.

Meanwhile, Kadreal explains his plan to the rest of the crew via intercom. As the Defense drone is programmed to protect the area around the Kestrel, rather than the ship itself (calculated via some advanced spacial extrapolation algorithms that scan for solid objects within the drone’s radius), he figured out that if we were close enough to the science vessel, the drone would assume that it was now part of the Kestrel – and would protect it as if it were protecting us.

The crew is quite impressed by this amazing feat of logic and they state as much, but their chatter is soon cut off abruptly. As the asteroid belt thins out, a wayward chunk of rock manages to smash into the drone, destroying it and scattering unrecoverable parts all around the two ships. With the drone gone, the Kestrel takes a slight beating; our sensor array is knocked off alignment and another asteroid’s impact manages to start a fire in one of the empty compartments to the aft of the ship.

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Our final setup for this sector – looking good!

Thankfully, this is to be the belt’s parting shot; the drone has valiantly thinned the asteroids out enough for the immediate area to be safe. We move to make repairs and put out the fire, while Downs hails the Andromeda – their captain, profusely thankful for our assistance, immediately sends a cargo drone over with a large quantity of scrap and, upon hearing of our mission, a prototype Hull Missile weapon module ripped straight from their own weapons bays.

This was probably the best outcome we could hope for in this event. The “Asteroid Belt Distress” event has a lot of different outcomes, some of which are more beneficial than others – thanks to our Defense II drone, however, we got access to a blue dialogue option that gave us a large quantity of scrap and a weapon in exchange for 4 pts. of hull damage.

The Hull Missile is… probably not the most useful weapon we could’ve gotten, but it’s not too shabby either. It can do two damage per shot, has a small chance of starting fires or hull breaches (which drain away oxygen in a room) and also has the special ability to double it’s damage output if you target empty (no systems in them) rooms.

If push comes to shove, we can always sell the Hull Missile, and the scrap we’ve already received are going to come in handy when we jump to the shop.

Thanking the captain of the Andromeda, we prepare to jump to the shipyard, with the intention to trade our newly-acquired scrap in for some much-needed repairs.

Even more tough choices – as it stands, we have around 90 scrap to spare, not counting another potential 16-32 depending on which of our two missile launchers we’ll be selling. My problem in this case is that a full hull repair would cost 80-odd scrap, and this shop has a lot of things I’d love to buy, chief among them a Pegasus Missile and yet another Halberd Beam.

I quickly rule out the Halberd, as it requires 3 power and with my current setup I can’t power both Halberd weapons and another weapon to take the enemy’s shields away reliably. The Pegasus is a harder choice: it has the unique ability to shoot two missiles for the cost of one unit of ammunition, effectively doubling our stockpile of missiles.

The problem is, once again, its power cost – for 3 power, we can’t charge a Pegasus and a Halberd at the same time, which puts us at a disadvantage against enemies that are protected by Defense drones or have high evade rates, so eventually I decide against buying that one either.

There are also a few systems available here, but the Cloaking one costs 150, way above our current scrap balance, while the Crew Teleporter is barely affordable at 90 scrap, but we’d be sacrificing some crucial repairs to get it.

One other option remains, and I eventually decide to go for it: a Small Bomb weapon is also available for 45 scrap. Bombs function a bit differently than other missile weapons; they cannot be shot down by defense drones and do not deal hull damage as a regular missile would. However, they excel at doing systems damage, which would help me take down enemy shields, and can deal a moderate amount of damage to crew (a tactic that will come up again in the final “boss” fight, if we make it).

Trading in both my missile weapons (Artemis and Hull), I can just about afford the Small Bomb, a full repair, and two or three units of fuel to help me explore the sector a bit more. I also briefly consider selling the Drone Recovery Arm, but quickly decide against it – for now. If we happen to find a second store in this sector, I might just sell it off, since it’s usefulness greatly diminishes during the finale.

Our visit to the shipyard is short but fruitful: we go through a major refit, making use of the missile launcher the Andromeda has furnished us with to barter with the store owner. The Kestrel undergoes repairs, its hull integrity restored by the yard’s repair bots, which also install our newly-purchased Small Bomb.

With our business concluded, we jump into the unknown once more.

Our next jump brings us close to a space station, the source of the second distress signal we received when we first entered the sector. As soon as we arrive, we receive an urgent message from the station.

“Stay back! I don’t know who you are, but we are not in control of our base’s defenses! If you come any closer it’ll target you and we can’t do anything to stop it!”, barks the voice, clearly in distress.

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In outer space, glitches still manage to mess everything up…

Making sure the Kestrel is parked well outside their weapons’ range, Downs and Kusy start communicating with the station; their security chief, a female Rock named Ruby, explains that a glitch in their base AI has sent their automated defenses in an uncontrolled frenzy, targeting friendlies and hostiles alike.

More problematically, the glitch has also caused their oxygen generation systems to malfunction and, the control units being situated on the outside of the station, they could not send in any repair crews for fear of being annihilated by their own defense systems.

“The way things are going”, Ruby says, “we have maybe another two or three hours before our oxygen supply runs out and we suffocate.”

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Blue to the rescue!

Kusy quickly comes up with a solution – we ask Ruby to have a repair team ready to deploy and then, bringing the Kestrel within weapons range, we fire upon the defense system with our Ion Cannon.

Our plan works – the ionic interference caused by the Cannon is enough to take the base defenses offline for a few crucial minutes. This gives the repair crew enough time to reach the control unit and reset it, which returns both the oxygen generators and the defense systems back to normal operation!

This is a great stroke of luck since, thanks to our Ion Cannon, we have received an excess of 80 scrap and some fuel/missiles for practically nothing in return. Usually, getting this event without any of the blue responses is risky – you get a chance of receiving hull damage if you fail – and the default rewards are mediocre even if you succeed.

Fortunately, by using either the Ion Cannon to disable the defenses or an Engi crew member to remotely hack it (both blue, “special” responses), you can bypass the dangers of failing and get a nice pile of rewards at zero cost instead.

Ruby is grateful and shows it, both verbally and materially – a cargo shuttle deposits a large amount of scrap in our cargo hold, along with a couple of fuel cells. With a last message of thanks, we engage our FTL drive and jump once more towards the nearby nav beacon.

The next few locations are relatively peaceful; a Mantis ship, apparently allied with the Rebels, engages in combat – thanks to our superior firepower and crew experience, they are quickly disposed of. We collect any salvage we can find from the wreckage and blast off again. Our next destination, yet another shipyard.

This time, the crew gathers to discuss our options. We are getting close to the Federation HQ and, with the Rebel Fleet’s pursuit not letting up, we have to consider the very real possibility that we might be endangering the Federation by leading our enemies right to our home.

Downs takes a deep breath; she reaches for her holographic display, presses a few buttons and inserts her authorization code. With a flicker, the holo-displays in front of the other crew members start displaying schematics – this is the data we’ve been carrying to the Federation HQ, the secret weapon against the Rebel forces!

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Final stats before jumping to The Last Stand.

The light of understanding shines in the crew’s eyes; the Kestrel was not acting as a courier of top-secret information – instead, we are bait, meant to lure the Rebel fleet to within the Federation HQ sensor range! We have been leading the Rebels into a final stand, one last confrontation between the two forces that will decide the fate of the Galaxy!

The reason for this subterfuge is soon revealed – apparently the Rebel fleet has one big flaw inherent in the design of their ships. This is why the Rebels have been so effective at combat from the start, why Federation has been fighting a losing battle.

The Rebel Flagship, the seat of their power, is neurally linked with every single Rebel ship in the Galaxy.

This explained everything; their ability to gain knowledge from all theaters of combat in a single moment, their superior tactics formulation on the fly, their response speed to any and every trouble zone… The thought is quite horrifying to the crew.

But such technology comes at a heavy price. In becoming the brain behind the combined might of the Rebels, the Flagship has also become their biggest weakness. After all, Downs explains, take out the head and the rest of the body will surely crumble.

Thus, the Kestrel was chosen as a decoy, the final gambit of the Federation against its’ foe. With a few rumors spread about a new “prototype Rebel ship-killer”, we managed to worry their leadership enough for them to send the Flagship itself to stop us.

With renewed purpose, the crew returns to their duties – we now need to prepare for our final destination, the showdown between Federation and Rebel forces!

The shipyard’s stores have little of interest to us, save a Teleporter module for our ship. We end up purchasing it; a few hours later it has been installed in the Kestrel, along with a few minor upgrades to our sensors courtesy of a passing Engi repair ship.

Buying the teleporter is a bit of a gamble, so close to the end of the game. I can barely field enough crew to use it efficiently; when used, it will teleport up to two crew members to a room of my choosing at the enemy ship.

Naturally, this means that two positions will remain unmanned for the 20-odd seconds that it takes for the teleporter to recharge, depriving me of their crew bonus in their respective rooms.

However, the Rebel Flagship also has a unique layout: its four weapons are housed in individual, isolated rooms of the enemy ship, which means that sending a couple crew to kill their operators separately will take those weapons out for the duration of the fight.

Still, it’s a risky move, which I hope will pay off.

Our visit to the shipyard complete, we immediately jump off to the sector’s exit node. Our anxiety is palpable; the final hour is upon us, one last, great battle between Federation and Rebels for survival.

Downs nervously opens communication channels and hails the beacon’s auto-operator. We receive confirmation almost instantly.

Our next stop… End of the line: The Federation Base

This is it. The big test. Every decision I’ve made is potentially coming back to haunt me once we make the jump to the Last Stand. Every bit of good luck and misfortune will add up; the Kestrel and her crew’s fate up on the balance.

I am reasonably confident about our chances – between our Burst Lasers, Halberd Beam, Small Bomb and Teleporter, we have a good set of tools with which to try and outplay the Flagship. Shields could have been a little higher, but the cost in upgrading them would have deprived us of a lot of our other tools, so I guess it couldn’t be helped.

Another one or two crew members would also have been highly beneficial (since we are now fielding a Teleporter), but at least here the fault for that sits squarely on my shoulders – and makes the loss of Cubbin and Fenn all the more profound.

All in all, I am glad that this run went as well as it did; an average run through FTL does not guarantee reaching Sector 8, with bad luck being equally at fault as bad decisions.

One last sector to go…

Next time: The Last Stand – Federation HQ vs. Rebel Flagship

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