Have You Played… FTL: Faster Than Light?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

FTL is a Star Trek episode generator. You are in control of the crew of a spaceship and forced to race across the galaxy. Each new system visited brings with it drama, tough choices, high comedy, and the very high possibility of death. It’s thrilling.

But mainly, it brings stories. Arriving in a new system might see your ship immediately beset upon by an enemy vessel. ‘Give us one of your crew,’ they say, and you decide to refuse and fight them. One of their lasers causes a fire in your engine room and disables your ability to run away, and so you send in one of your crew – named after a friend, no doubt – to brave the flames and repair the equipment. You survive the encounter but just barely.

The next system will bring a different kind of encounter: a derelict ship with a potentially crazed person on board you can rescue or abandon; a slaver ship from whom you can accept slaves; a station, which you can use to restock fuel, repair your battered hull and install new weapons; or any one of dozens of other sci-fi plots. They’re simple little stories, but the decisions make them yours and the last-second escapes, desperate sprints into vacuum-exposed rooms, and crushing defeats make them memorable.

Whenever I read about FTL these days I read about people who are disappointed with its balance. There is, I’m told, only one real strategy possible if you want to beat the game and defeat its ultimate enemy. To not follow that strategy is to willfully play the game poorly. I sympathise, but I’ve never completed the game and have no desire to do so. FTL to me is a little thing I boot up for 15 minutes so it can tell me a story. It’s a game I’m glad I’m bad at.

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45 Comments

  1. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    So true. Tis a great game, and one I’ve only ever completed on Easy. Whatever that ‘one true path’ is to ultimate glory is beyond me. If anything I wish it didn’t have the constant pressure to move right and played out more like a traditional roguelike or exploration game, but still, it makes for some humourously bad choices to be made

    • yusefsmith says:

      There’s a mod which removes the constant fleet.

      search for [MOD] Disable Fleet (FTL)

      • Marr says:

        That mod saved the game for me. I understand the purpose of pursuing fleets, hunger management, giant ghosts and other such hurry-up timers in roguelike games, but it still sucks away all the joy for me. I want to be learning the game’s world and systems, not endlessly dying to learn how much exploration will be punished with death, that’s for the challenge run.

    • Premium User Badge

      Eleven says:

      I’m not sure that everyone will agree on a ultimate strategy, especially given the new options in the Advanced Edition expansion. For me, the uber strat is lots of cheap burst and heavy lasers, plus cloaking for avoiding the boss’s cheap attacks.

      That said, the beauty of FTL is that you aren’t guaranteed to get any of those systems, and winning is about getting creative with what’s on hand.

      • Marr says:

        Burst lasers are its biggest weakness, I think. The shield mechanics make rapid fire guns so much better than every other class of weapon that it’s hardly worth continuing a run if you haven’t found a pair of decent ones by the halfway point.

    • CMaster says:

      It’s not so much that there’s one strategy that guarantees you to win. You’re too much at the mercy of RNG in many ways for that.

      It’s that there a several strategies that perfectly viable for everything except the final boss. Which is really frustrating. Especially when I don’t think there’s an “endless” mode instead.

      • Premium User Badge

        Eleven says:

        That’s true. You can win a lot of fights by killing off the enemy crew, by fire, suffocation or just teleporting aboard and punching people, but these tactics arbitrarily don’t work on the boss.

        • CMaster says:

          Beam-heavy loadouts tend to work pretty poorly against the boss too.

        • Karyogon says:

          If they did those would be the singular strategies every player would build towards, so it’s anything but arbitrary. It’s not like boarding is underpowered on its own anyway, and if anything the increased rewards alone make boarding essential enough as it is even when balanced by the frequency of automated drone ships.

          • Cenon says:

            Owning early teleporters is the most viable strategy to me. Altough fighting with crew possesses its own risks, their style is very easily calculable since crew doesn’t miss, do critical damage or anything with dice. The damage they do/receive is just plain damage over time. Plus you get more scrap for intact enemy ships.

            Another big thing about teleporters are their use in random encounters. Very many encounters involve using teleporters for something, and usually it means getting more crew. Your ship could easily be stacked with full crew in 2 sectors if getting lucky.

            Last thing is that with combined arms, many otherwise difficult encounters might turn out very easy. Even the boss gets a lot manageable when you can take down the lone sideturrets with your hijackers without having to pierce the shields.

      • Marr says:

        The Captain’s Edition mod adds an optional endless mode. link to ftlgame.com

      • jalf says:

        Yeah, that’s definitely true. I love the game, and I’ve spent a crazy number of hours on it, and I’ve killed the boss a good handful of times now, but yeah, it has a flaw, and this is exactly it. There’s just a mismatch between “strategies that work against the boss” and “strategies that work against everything else”, and that’s a shame. It’s still a great game, but this is something that could have been a lot better.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      There absolutely is not only “one true way” to win at FTL. I have beaten the game on normal with a pretty big variety of setups, and can do so moderately consistently – I’m not gonna win every run on anything above easy, but I CAN win. People who claim there’s only one right way to play if you want to win are simply wrong.

      There is a right way to THINK though. You don’t need any one specific THING to beat the final boss – no matter what anybody tells you there is no single piece of equipment or upgrade that is absolutely essential. The only exception might be a high level of shielding but honestly even that is debatable. What you need are means. Responses to the boss’ abilities and attacks. For each of the things the boss can do, you need SOME kind of answer or safeguard, or at least a backup plan that does the best possible with what you have. Crucially, there is no SINGLE right answer to any of those situations. The boss has lots of scary weapons, you need to disable them. Do you use teleporters? Bombs? Ion weapons? The boss has a lot of shielding, you need to get past it. Same deal. The boss can do terrifying amounts of burst damage with some of its abilities, you need something that’ll let you survive that. Cloaking works. So does maxxed engines and shields. I could go on.

      As if that wasn’t enough, the game’s Advanced Edition addon is free, and it adds so much more of EVERYTHING that now there are even more ways to tackle the boss. Hacking, creative use of brainwashing, the new drones, the new amazing weapons, etc. (It also adds some new tricks to the boss itself, of course…)

      Trust me – learning to semi-reliably beat the game has nothing to do with ticking off boxes on one hyper-specific shopping list. You don’t always need, say, a cloak, or a teleporter, or whatever. You don’t need specific items. You need general answers to specific problems. Once you learn to identify those problems and seek out those general answers, you’re good to go.

      • MajorLag says:

        Until I read your post I was gearing up to write basically the same thing. I have beaten the original edition with every ship on hard, and while I had my preferences for how to deal with the boss there were lots of alternatives and I just ran with whatever I could get from the RNG god.

        I think the game did brilliantly at making you understand how to use alternative means to deal with problems because you couldn’t always get the thing you wanted in every run.

    • MajorLag says:

      I felt the same way about the pressure at first, but after many many runs began to really appreciate the mechanic. Without it, your run is a leisurely stroll through the galaxy where you can take your time and don’t have any really difficult decisions to make and can much more easily acquire your favorite pieces of kit. The perusing fleet forces you to make decisions and live with the consequences.

      For instance, what if I find a teleporter at a store, which I really really want, but I can’t afford it? The fleet forces me to make a decision now, do I skip it and hope for the best, or do I sell something to get it? Without the fleet, it’s no problem, I just fly around some more and get the extra scrap, or at least some junk to sell.

  2. Gandor says:

    300+ hours on this. Still play it to this day, managed to beat it on hard once, and on normal with every ship.

  3. Kefren says:

    Brilliant game – I’ve completed it on normal once or twice. Different tactics each time too – there is no “one true way”. :-)

    The only thing that annoys me is the way it unlocks things. I’d like to be able to tick a setting on install, to have everything unlocked. Generally I install a game from GOG, play it, then uninstall it. I just have my current game installed. The problem is, this resets my progress every time. I normally play a few games with the same starting ships, complete the game, then uninstall. I’d love to be able to install and immediately unlock things so I could begin with different ships and layouts, rather than the same ones all the time. It’s a dislike I have of anything that locks features behind a need to complete the game first (an annoyance going back to Resident Evil 2).

    • sleepisthebrotherofdeath says:

      But FTL is only about 73k fully installed

      I exaggerate, but still, any game under a 1Gb these days is barely going to make a dent on disk space. Unless you have an SSD from 10 years ago or are concerned about filling up the start menu or something else odd.

      • Kefren says:

        Nothing to do with disk space! It’s just how I organise things, keep my Start menu and HDD tidy etc. It’s like me putting things from my desk at the end of the day so it is tidy, even if I’ll use some again the next day. Probably to do with focussing only on one or two things. Or closure, perhaps – I quite enjoy ripping each page out of my diary/planner as they’re completed. Done, wiped, move on to the next thing. If you don’t have that sentiment then you won’t understand it, which is fine. :-)

  4. njury says:

    I started playing this again yesterday!
    I usually play on Easy but have beat the game on normal, and with vastly different setups.
    The Captains Edition mod is a must have by now though.

  5. Laurentius says:

    I have! Steam says I’ve played for couple hundred hours. It took me years of playing but I’ve beaten this game with every ship and every layout on easy, normal and hard. It’s an amazing game, it was fantastic on release but with Advanced Edition it is simply masterpiece. Despite playing so many games for so many years I came to conclusion that this is my favourite game of all time.
    Don’t belive people saying smack about balance an all, it’s skill based masterpiece.
    Also music by Ben Prunty- so good.

  6. Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

    I played FTL, and enjoyed it… for a bit.

    Unfortunately FTL is what i call a ‘bullshit’ game. Now before the pitchforks come out, allow me to qualify that statement: quite often in games like this, and Darkest Dungeon, you can be easily be defeated by something that no degree of skill could possibly have surmounted. I don’t find it very fullfilling to play a game that can defeat you no matter how good you are. Bullshit reasons, if you will. Not that I don’t see the appeal in games like this; some people like the stories that they generate. Dwarf Fortress isn’t popular for no reason, and it’s probably the only example of this particular genre that i truly enjoy.

    That said, I don’t feel robbed for having purchased FTL. I had a good five or six hours of fun with it, and i want to support developers who are doing interesting things but unfortunately the fun wor off for me when i realised the random nature of it could just outright ruin you for no good reason.

    • Antongranis says:

      You are right, to some degree. However, I have played hundreds of hours of FTL, and can tell you that you do get better and unwinniable occor less often then before.

      I can def see why the randomness that is there could be a turnoff tho

      • MajorLag says:

        This is very true in my opinion. FTL is fantastic at making the player learn to deal with not getting everything they want. When I was at my peak I found there were very few runs where I felt completely hopeless to take on the final boss.

    • dagnamit says:

      To each their own, I find the possibility of an unwinnable scenario one of the best aspects of the game. You know you’re going to run into one sooner or later and it’s that tension that keeps the game fresh. The flip side of that (and with games heavy on random elements, in general) is that you’ll also find yourself randomly with a God Mode ship, crushing all before you. You also know that will happen sooner or later and that’s what keeps you hitting the restart button.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      TRULY unwinnable situations are very rare in FTL, honestly. It’s very, very unlikely that a given battle will utterly destroy you AND you won’t have had the ability to identify that and run before things went south.

  7. Dudeist says:

    I never beat this game, they should add micro transactions! :D

  8. AlexClockwork says:

    I really like it, and actually backed the Kickstarter, but I must say the boss is a pain in the ass. In my last run I was going though whole sector without taking a single point of damage, but then found myself unable to do anything against the boss’ second phase. There was just no possible way to beat it with my loadout.

    I get that you need to take into account the boss when preparing your loadout, but I must say I just don’t enjoy it that way. Wish it had an endless mode, though.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Andy_Panthro says:

    I only ever beat the final boss by cheating (gave myself a lot of extra scrap, so I could afford upgrades, but even then it was bloody difficult!).

    Enjoyed it a lot though, but it’s a prime example of why I hate boss fights in games.

  10. Syrion says:

    I’m still hoping for an android version, as this is a game I want to play on the go the most out of any game I’ve seen. And no, I don’t see Out There as an alternative.
    Alas, it doesn’t look like it’s happening any time.

    This is basically the android equivalent of Read Dead Redemption on PC. Buh.

    • Antongranis says:

      They, the developers, actually talked about a mobile port. They could not properly adapt the interface to small screens.

    • Kowie says:

      Amen its confounding, surely a Android version would have made them just as money as the ipad version.

      • Marr says:

        Nope. iThing versions are more profitable, that’s why they always get priority. Apple device == more disposable income, as a general rule.

        • TeePee says:

          I don’t know if it’s that so much, more that the oceans and oceans of crapware on the play store mean that unless they know exactly what they’re going on there for, people tend to stay away, whereas Apple’s tighter leash on their store means that people are more inclined to browse, as they’re less likely to get lost in three million flappy bird clones. :P

  11. Premium User Badge

    zapatapon says:

    I spent many hours on FTL and still count it among my favorite games of the last 5 years.

    There is one aspect of the design that makes me really unhappy though. While there is no unique strategy to win, there is clearly a general state of advancement of your ship that is desirable for each stage, particularly for the boss fight. Falling behind tends to snowball and is very hard to recover from (chiefly because you take more hits when you are under equipped and as a consequence, must either flee more often, thus missing out on a chance to get scrap; or spend more scrap repairing your hull rather than investing in equipment). Inversely, being ahead of the difficulty curve tends to make further progression easier.

    I wish there would be more options to recover from a bad start. This design choice results in a contradiction: the most exciting FTL runs are the ones where you are constantly on the edge, but then you have very few chances to finally win at all (a good example of this is Alec’s FTL diary ). The runs where you have a good chance to win tend on the other hand to be more boring.

    • Marr says:

      Yeah, this right here is why I disable hurry-up timers on Roguelikes if I can. Good runs are still good runs, and recovering from desperate situations becomes plausible. It makes for fewer aborts and more good stories.

  12. mattevansc3 says:

    I like this game but I’m finding it to much of a casual, short intense bursts gaming experience to really dedicate that much time at my computer desk for it. (My son’s cot is in our bedroom and the PC monitor wakes him up).

    It’s gutting that they stopped development before bringing over the touch controls from the iPad version. I’d love to play this on my tablet on the couch while my wife watches her stuff on the TV.

  13. Rituro says:

    What a wonderful game — and an early Kickstarter success, too. So many great little moments and when you finally do beat the game, that feeling of accomplishment is so tangible you could season a stew with it.

  14. HorzaPY says:

    What other games would people recommend on a similar tip?

    I’d personally recommend Dungeon of the Endless, possibly one of my favourite games of the last few years. Any others?

  15. Karyogon says:

    It doesn’t sound like you actually ever really played it if you believe people who tell you there’s only one real viable strategy to beating the boss, Graham. Advanced Edition made things even more infuriatingly interesting. Not sure why you’d be content to never play the more interesting ships and layouts in one of the more interesting games released this decade but to each their own.

  16. idan says:

    I too have encountered plenty of people who claim there is only one viable path for victory. Interestingly enough, each of them claims it to be a different path.

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