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! Drama! Spaceships! This week, the final battle is upon us!

The Last Stand –  Rebel Flagship Detected

The Kestrel beams our authorization codes through the exit node, receiving clearance to jump to Federation-controlled space almost immediately. On arrival, things quickly become hectic; Admiral Tully, the highest-ranking Federation officer still alive, greets us personally from aboard the Federation HQ high-orbit station while all around us Federation cruisers take up defensive positions.

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The Last Stand.

The Admiral wastes no time with pleasantries – indeed, ever the military man, he homes in straight to the point:

“Did they take the bait?”, he barks, his holo-image staring at Downs.

Downs immediately snaps to attention at the sight of the admiral on the Kestrel’s holo-screen and replies in the affirmative.

“Then you know what to do”, comes back Tully’s voice, a split-second before his lips form the words on-screen, one of the annoying quirks of current-gen projection technology. His orders relayed, communications channels go into radio silence mode, no doubt to prepare for the battle to come.

Downs, adopting a more at-ease stance, turns and addresses the crew. They will be upon us momentarily, she says, and they will be trying to take the Kestrel down at all costs. Federation forces, the remnants of our once-proud military, will engage and attempt to distract the Rebels – all while we, the final hope for ending this war, must do all we can to engage and take down the Rebel Flagship. If this bitter war is to end, it must be destroyed at all costs!

And thus we come to the finale of this run, The Last Stand. This sector works a bit differently than any previous ones; we have nearly no “events” playing out at nodes, aside from the occasional hostile Rebel ship. Our goal: to bring the Rebel Flagship down, by taking it on in a three-stage battle, while trying to keep it away from the Federation HQ.

There is a unique “gimmick” to this sector – aside from the Kestrel, the star map will display two other entities – the Federation HQ (which is a static node) and the Rebel Flagship (which moves around the map in a similar way to the Kestrel, but at a slower rate).

Our objective is two-fold: prevail in combat against the Flagship in all three stages of the fight, while also making sure it doesn’t spend three consecutive “turns” at the HQ node. If we fail to do that, the HQ is destroyed by the Flagship and the game ends in defeat.

The rest of the nodes in this sector are either empty, contain encounters with Rebel fighters or are repair/shop nodes. At this point, it is much more preferable to engage as little as possible with the fighters, as any damage we take there is going to be a handicap against the Flagship. 

The initial layout for The Last Stand is good this time – we get two repair nodes within close vicinity of the Base node, which means we can easily retreat to a “safe” node and repair if things go south during any the Flagship fights. With that in mind, let’s go seek out the Rebels…

A few jumps take us through the battlefield that this sector is quickly becoming. Federation cruisers put up a valiant fight at every turn, allowing the Kestrel to slip by unnoticed, giving us a few crucial moments to get through the enemy’s lines, getting closer to the Flagship. Before long, we blast off towards the node nearest to the Flagship’s last known location and…

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Kestrel Vs. Flagship – Round 1…

A monstrosity of weapons and metal approcches the Kestrel as soon as we exit the jump node. The Rebel Flagship is upon us!

The battle is joined!

Downs urges the Kestrel onward, weaving and dodging around the laser fire coming from the Flagship. Plasma is thick in the space around the two ships, as both ships fire everything they have against their target. The Kestrel seems tiny in comparison against the Flagship, which bears the designation NTC Nemesis, but its size is also its advantage; such a small profile is proving difficult to hit with the Nemesis’ weapons.

Meanwhile, our sensors provide us a crucial detail; the operation rooms for each of the Flagship’s massive weapon arrays are separate from the main structure of the ship! Young Robert is the first to realize that, with our newly-installed Teleporter, we can take out these weapons without interference from the Nemesis’ crew!

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Robert, you will be missed…

Without so much as a second thought, Robert rushes to the Teleporter room and punches in a series of co-ordinates – almost immediately, he is beamed off towards the Nemesis, materializing in the missile array’s operations room. With a few quick surprise slashes, he takes out its operator who keels over, a mixture of panic and surprise in his features as life drains from them.

With the operator dealt with, Robert begins destroying the control interface for the missile banks – the effects are almost instant, as the Flagship’s missile launchers go silent, providing some much needed breathing room for the Kestrel.

This is one of the Flagship’s more easily exploited weaknesses – the four front-facing rooms, which house the weapons systems and the crew manning them, are isolated from the rest of the ship’s rooms. Thus, a well-placed crew member (Mantis being the best choice due to their higher damage vs. crew) can easily take out the crewman stationed there and destroy the weapon, taking it out of commission for the entirety of the fight (we will examine this below, but any of the Flagship’s dead crew won’t get replaced between combat phases).

In this first part of the fight, we mostly have to worry about the four powerful weapons the Flagship carries:

  • An Ion cannon that does 3 shots of 1 Ion damage each.
  • A Missile Launcher that fires 3 shield-ignoring missiles of 1 damage each (with a low chance of breaching hull or starting a fire).
  • A Laser that fires 3 shots of 1 damage each (again, with a low chance of starting fires or breaching hull).
  • A Beam that does 2 damage per room, but with a sizable range.

Obviously, taking out Missiles and Ion is my first priority, one that Robert helps achieve quite wonderfully. Beamed into first the Ion, and then the Missile room, he manages to destroy them and the crew that would otherwise repair them. 

This leaves the more easily avoided Laser and Beam weapons to deal with – since Beams only deal one less damage per level of shields on the target, as long as I can keep dodging/shooting down two out of three shots from the laser, I am relatively safe.

And this is where it kinda went wrong…

As the Nemesis’ weapons slowly power down, a sure sign that Robert is successful in his infiltration mission, the Kestrel begins pushing back our dreaded enemy. Volley after volley of laser fire punches holes in the Flagship’s shielding, allowing the Halberd beam to inflict massive damage upon the Nemesis’ hull. At that moment, tragedy strikes.

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Phase one, complete.

Sensing their imminent defeat, the captain of the Nemesis powers their emergency FTL drive and jumps off, but not without causing part of their ship to crumble under the stress of the jump. To our horror, the starboard side of the ship is left behind as the cowardly Rebels attempt to escape our wrath – the same side that Robert had been beamed to a few moments prior.

One final transmission, a scant few seconds in length, arrives from Robert – a last farewell and the declaration of pride at having served on the Kestrel alongside such remarkable crew.

Then, silence.

This was a mixture of bad judgement on my part, and extremely bad luck on the game’s part – I had left the Flagship at a measly 2 hull damage, waiting for my Teleporter to recharge so I could return Robert to the Kestrel before pushing the fight into phase two.

Unfortunately, just as I was ready to return him (and having queued the final laser/bomb salvo that would destroy the Flagship’s first form), a lucky shot from their lasers managed to get through my defenses, taking out the Teleporter and stranding Robert on the Flagship as it escaped.

Robert will be missed, but thankfully a store is right next to our current node; with the scrap gained from defeating phase 1 of the boss encounter, I am soon able to replace Robert with Rebekah, another Mantis crew member.

Admittedly, two Mantis crew would have been even better but, at least, this wasn’t the huge setback that my two previous losses became.

We waste no time in mourning our fallen comrade; the fate of the Federation hangs in the balance! We give chase to the Rebel Flagship, stopping only briefly on our way to intercept its course to repair at a nearby Federation depot.

 

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Cutting it way too close…

Admiral Tully is one step ahead of us in this – at his orders, a female Mantis named Rebekah is ready to join us at this depot, bringing our crew back to full strength. As she boards, she murmurs her condolences for our recent loss, assuring us that Robert’s memory will be well-honored by her people – if we succeed.

A quick repair later, we manage to catch up to the Flagship – this time, it seems to have activated a previously-dormant Drone Bay, which spews out a series of drones against the Kestrel!

Phase two is… difficult. The Flagship now has access to drones, which are a much harder threat to counter than the guns. Specifically, I see two major threats here.

Firstly: the Boarding drones the Flagship keeps sending – as we are low on crew, it gets harder and harder to pull people from their stations to fight these off before they take out vital systems. Secondly (and perhaps, more importantly), the Flagship now has an ability called Power Surge, which will spawn six drones split between Combat and Beam varieties, which will keep harassing the Kestrel.

The problem is that, without any reliable way to counter these drones (since they come from the Power Surge ability, they won’t go offline if I damage the Drone Bay), my shields will become less and less effective against the Flagship’s remaining weapons -Missiles, Beam, Lasers (the Ion gets destroyed during their escape in phase one).

Eventually I manage to survive by the smallest of margins; I am left at four (4) hull when the final laser shot lands on the Flagship, forcing it to escape yet again. Talk about a close call…

The battle is fierce, but we eventually emerge victorious – a couple of well-placed shots make it through the cloud of drones and debris to tear through the Nemesis’ shields, forcing its captain to once again order emergency FTL activation. This time, it’s the port side of the ship that tears away from the forces of the jump, taking most of her crew with it.

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Most fortuitous encounter, ever!

Downs quickly initiates jump procedures, attempting to chase the Flagship before it can mend its wounds. Our attempts are halted, however, by the appearance of an unmanned drone – deployed, no doubt, by the Flagship’s captain in order to stall us long enough for repairs to be completed on his ship.

With 4 hull left, I am in no shape to fight the Flagship a third time. Since our store of scraps was spent on last-minute upgrades in the last sector, I can’t even afford enough to repair at the nearby shop, so I must make a gamble.

 I jump to a nearby unexplored node, hoping for an easy combat encounter against the Rebels, in order to gain enough scrap to patch up the Kestrel. The gamble pays off as we are engaged upon arrival by a two-shield automated drone – probably the best enemy we could have chanced upon, as it’s practically unable to damage me with it’s current weapons, all while I proceed to tear it to pieces.

I defeat it swiftly (and painlessly) and the resulting 55 scrap we gain as reward immediately go into repairing our hull at the nearby shop, before we move again towards the final confrontation with the Rebel Flagship.

It’s moments like these that are truly memorable – the kind of experience that only rogue-likes can offer. Gambles like this can often go bad in a hurry, but if you get lucky, it’s so worth it.

The automated drone is no match for the Kestrel and we soon emerge victorious; with a few pieces of scrap collected from the wreckage in a hurry, one more stop for repairs is enough to bring us back to good shape. Soon, we find ourselves against the Flagship in what feels like their last stand!

As the Kestrel emerges from FTL speed, the Nemesis comes into view – and what an ugly sight it is! The two emergency jumps it performed have left it mutilated. Both port and starboard sides have been reduced to metallic stumps, trailing the occasional piece of debris and wiring as the Flagship itself drifts through space, slowly bringing its remaining weapons to bear.

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Will you just DIE already?

More worryingly, the captain seems to have activated their last resort, a fully functional Zoltan shield! The green energy field, a by-product of Federation research assisted by Zoltan scientists, is the most formidable defense available in this part of the Galaxy!

The final phase is probably the most difficult one – the Flagship loses its Beam weapon, but gains a crew Teleporter, a Zoltan Shield augmentation and the Power Surge ability to either recharge the Zoltan shield or fire a volley of 8 lasers.

Zoltan shields have not come up previously on this run, so here’s a brief explanation of their functionality: the Zoltan Shield augmentation creates an additional, overlaying shield bubble over a ship (players can find one such augmentation very rarely in shops or from specific events, most frequently encountered in Zoltan systems).

This bubble will absorb any and every kind of object that tries to penetrate it, from shields to beams to bombs to even missiles and teleported personnel (though in this case, the player doesn’t lose their crew member(s), they are just unable to select the shielded ship as a teleport destination); once this protection is depleted (by absorbing a certain number of hits), the ship can be attacked and boarded normally.

Naturally, this means that I’m going to have to waste a lot of time bringing the shield down before I even start taking away the Flagship’s regular shields. Thankfully, while the Zoltan shield is a problem, I have at least made sure to neutralize the second threat; the Teleporter.

Throughout the first two stages of the fight, I’ve been systematically targeting the Flagship’s crew – aided in no small part by the Small Bomb – leaving only one enemy alive inside the Laser room (which, if you remember from previous phases, is isolated from the rest of the ship).

If you’re wondering why, it’s simple – if the entire crew dies, an on-board AI will take over repairs and handling, effectively increasing the Flagship’s efficiency (this is a feature unique to the Flagship, sadly). By leaving one person alive and isolated from the main body of the ship, I ensure that no repairs can be made to systems I target, that no crew is available to use their Teleporter and that the AI-activation event will not trigger.

Sans crew, I’m focusing on hitting the Zoltan shield as many times as possible to bring it down quickly; once that is done, it’s a matter of disabling as many systems as possible before the Power Surge re-initiates the Zoltan shield.

Downs quickly recovers from the shock and acts on instinct; the Kestrel jumps forward with a sudden lurch, dodging the initial laser salvo from the Nemesis. Kusy begins bringing our own weapons to bear; slowly but surely the Zoltan shield begins to fade, the sickly green hue surrounding the Flagship dissipating under the combined firepower of our arsenal.

Eventually, the shield completely shuts down – the crew is ready for this, with both Rebekah and Kusy teleporting to the Nemesis’ engine room; from there, they manage to wreak enough havoc to the nigh-unmanned ship to bring the engines and shield generators down!

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The Kestrel’s final stats.

Defenseless, the Nemesis is now at our mercy – with one final salvo of laser fire, an explosion rends its hull asunder, splitting the remains of the monstrosity in two. Rebekah and Kusy are safely beamed back at the last possible moment, the Kestrel finally emerging victorious!

The destruction of the Nemesis is slow, befitting a ship of its size and importance – a series of explosions rips the hull to pieces as large chunks of metal fly off in all directions. One final explosion obliterates what remains of the Flagship’s hull, the final exclamation mark in the bloody conflict that nearly destroyed the Federation.

Eventually, I manage to bring the Zoltan shield down; with it gone, our victory is a foregone conclusion. Teleporting the two least-useful crew to the now-unmanned Flagship allows me to quickly take out their shields and engines, lowering their defenses to near-zero.

It’s kind of anticlimactic, I know, but in rogue-likes it often pays to take the less glamorous, but more effective options in order to win.

Epilogue

With the Nemesis gone, the Rebel Fleet was immediately immobilized- thanks to the neural links established with their Flagship, its destruction sent out a catastrophic neural cascade that blew out every single system in every single Rebel ship across the Galaxy, leaving them as easy pickings for the Federation forces.

Within a year, the Galaxy was firmly back under Federation control – peace once again restored and rebellious elements quelled.

The Kestrel was enshrined in a museum on Terra Prime, our homeworld, now a part of history itself. It would remain on display for many, many years, a proud example of the tenacity and willpower of a select few individuals that changed the course of history.

As for the crew itself…

Downs, the fearless captain, remained in service and quickly made it all the way up to Vice-Admiral rank, directly under Admiral Tully’s command; upon his retirement, she went on to become the youngest Admiral the Federation had ever seen.

Kusy, the tireless weapons engineer and operator, capitalized on his experience with weapons systems and was immediately commissioned by the military to help spearhead their R&D efforts; even now, the newer Federation Cruisers coming into production all carry improvements designed by him and his team.

Kadreal, with his technical know-how, returned to Engi Prime where he retired from public life, spending his days as a simple shield mechanic in service of trading ships passing through his space depot.

Baars, the brilliant Zoltan engines specialist, eventually found employment as engineer and co-pilot of experimental low-orbit racing schooners. He eventually met his end trying to optimize a schooner’s engine output while it was still racing.

Rebekah, the hand-to-hand Mantis specialist that joined as at our last stand, made good on her word; she made sure to collect young Robert’s personal effects, taking them to the Mantis Home Worlds and giving him a hero’s send-off. After that, she enlisted with the Federation again, going on to become one of its most highly decorated officers, eventually rejoining Downs aboard the Red-Tail – an upgraded version of the now-retired Kestrel class of ships.

This concludes the series of Let’s Plays for FTL – it was a very enjoyable experience, writing the fiction behind the Kestrel’s adventures. A post-mortem style post will be coming in the following weeks, where I’d like to give my thoughts on writing this type of mixture between fiction and analysis.

For anyone interested in statistics, this playthrough was done on Easy difficulty (for higher chances of actually reaching the end), and took an average of 3,5 hours to prepare per post, over a period of 7 weeks –  for a grand total of 25 hours, ~17500 words and around 30 screenshots. My actual time for the run was around 3,5 hours, slightly longer than my average owing to having to take screenshots and keep notes for writing these posts.

So, what’s next? I have absolutely no idea, though I am interested in perhaps doing another sub-genre of rogue-like. Maybe a new column on a different genre altogether – I’d love to do a comedy piece or perhaps return to that forgotten Sorcery! playthrough like I’ve been meaning to for a while now.

Hope you enjoyed this series as much as I did; the only thing that remains now is to explore the stars – and perhaps, with enough luck, get that damn Rebel Flagship down on Normal difficulty for once!

Next time – Who knows? The stars remain…

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