After Action Report: the calamitous voyage of the Vagrant Badger, in FTL

Tom Senior

Welcome to the After Action Report , an account from one of PC gaming's varied, exciting battlefields.

FTL's creators wanted to make a brilliant Captain Picard sim, but Picard doesn't tend to die in a fire half-way through an episode of The Next Generation. Instead they've created a terrific roguelike that almost always ends in horrible death, but always spawns a neat little story every time you play. You control the crew of a spaceship as it zips across the galaxy trying to escape the laser beams of a pursuing rebel fleet. You meet pirates, recruit strange aliens and upgrade your ship to match increasingly deadly enemies. A juicy free update is about to add a load of new features, so I paid one last visit to the original version, to rediscover its brilliance, and try to reach the final boss.

First I need a ship. I choose the default layout, which I'm quite familiar with, and name it the Vagrant Badger, the ragged successor to previous vessels, which included the noble Space Badger (my most successful run), and the PCG Party Bus, among others. Next, I need to pick a crew—an easy task. At the helm, captain Samuel Roberts, editor of PC Gamer UK. On shield-management duty, dutiful section editor, Andy Kelly. Finally, on weapons, deputy editor Chris Thursten. Who will die first?

You have to move from left to right in each sector, hopping from beacon to beacon to reach the exit point. I spy a useful route across the top of the sector, which ought to take me through numerous planets before the red wave of the rebel fleet starts advancing from the left edge of the map.

Jump one. I fly into an automated ship flying patrols around a long-range sensor station. I attack it immediately, disabling its shields with a rocket and a triple-blast from my laser cannon. I salvage the machine's guts for ten scrap—FTL's currency—and discover a map of the system in the sensor station. I learn that the system is full of alarming yellow triangle icons, each indicating a potential combat encounter. One is positioned right next to a huge sun. That could be trouble.

Jump two. An Energy Bomber tries to charge me a fee to use the beacon. They want 15 of my 20 scrap. I respond with a polite missile to their shield generator, and follow up with a courteous triple-tap from my trusty laser. They respond with surprising rudeness, destroying my engine and setting fire to the ass-end of my ship. I open the rearmost doors and vent the flames into space, performing a petulant cosmic fart as my foe explodes. More scrap for me, and an extra missile. Onwards.

Jump three. "This beacon has been placed too close to a super-giant class M star!" Apparently the searing pain and massive doses of gamma radiation failed to deter the determined and insensible builders in this corner of space. The same poverty of self-preservation applies to the pirate ship that lies in wait near the beacon. It rakes my hull with a pair of sustained laser attacks, setting fire to my shield generator, taking out my oxygen supply and damaging my engine. I take the pirate's shields down moments before a solar flare tears through both craft. The pirate ship explodes and the Vagrant Badger massively catches fire. Chris repairs the oxygen supply and the engine, Andy repairs the shields and Sam stares vacantly out of the window, because I forget to give him orders. I jump out to avoid another flare as soon as the engine is repaired.

Jump four. The Badger is still quite on fire. I open all of the ship's side-doors and starve the flames of oxygen. Meanwhile a merchant is hailing us with a mission, apparently unperturbed by the panicked screams and sirens he must be hearing over comms. He wants us to take some drone parts to another part of the system. I accept with the imagined scream of "AAAaargh yeswhatever nyaaaarggh".

Jump five. Ship repaired, I sail to the next beacon and receive a distress signal from the heart of an asteroid field. I can try to help, or abandon them to certain death. I select the "try to shield their ship with yours" option, but they die horribly anyway. At least this way I get to loot the corpse. The Vagrant Badger hungers for sweet scrap.

Jump six. I've reached the nebula. Sensors are affected by the environment, which means I lose visibility of any part of the Badger not occupied by a crew member. I encounter another automated scout, who I dispatch easily after a brief laser exchange. After the fight Andy starts repairing some minor damage to the shield generator and I take a quick look at everyone's stats. Your crew gain experience in the systems they use, unless you're Andy, who has refused to learn anything about managing shields despite being in the same room as the shield generator for the entire adventure thus far. I start to see his refusal to learn as a form of passive-aggressive mutiny, but find myself distracted by the co-pilot section of the cockpit, which has miraculously caught fire.

While Sam flaps at the flames I send Andy into the dark area of the ship to investigate, and he almost dies in a hidden inferno in the neck of the ship. Both sections of the cockpit are now on fire, and Sam is not having a nice time. Andy and Chris do their best to stamp out the blaze, and eventually succeed, but the Badger is a wreck. The hull only has six points of health left.

Jump seven. An "especially well-armed pirate ship" approaches. They're slavers. They want one member of my crew, randomly selected, or they'll blast me apart. My mouse lingers over the "we will never surrender one of our crew to slavers!" option, and then look again at my ship's miserable health bar. Sorry, crew. It's time to roll the dice.

And so it came to pass that Andy Kelly, former officer and shield-managing-dude of the Vagrant Badger, entered a life of ruinous servitude. Sam and Chris live on, but what kind of life will it be without Andy's dry wit and giant hands, so useful for putting out fires?

Jump eight. There's an asteroid field near this beacon which I choose not to explore because, knowing my luck, there's a giant fire-breathing magma worm in there waiting to turn the Vagrant Badger into a funeral pyre.

Jump nine. There's a space station, mysteriously silent. Do I explore? I estimate that my odds of catching fire during this exchange are probably lower than the asteroid field, so I dock. There I see a "frantic person banging on the airlock door." He enters my ship and says "My... friends... They've gone insane... They're coming!" Then the rear of the ship is invaded by three foes with pistols. I think I'm outnumbered, but suddenly realise that the "frantic person" has joined my crew, and isn't a person at all. It's a Mantis warrior, a fast green alien that's excellent at fighting. I get everyone to hide in the medbay together and open all other doors on the ship. The invaders respond by taking out my O2 supplies, and then nearly asphyxiate to death reaching the only safe room on the ship. There Chris, Sam and the Mantis man called Dengler bond over a brief combat that eliminates all attackers.

Jump ten. I have FINALLY reached the exit to the sector. I wait for my FTL drive to spool up and dive into a Zoltan sector. I'm told the Zoltan are busy bracing the region for the coming war. I can expect to face tougher ships soon.

Jump eleven. I encounter a planet populated by "small, brightly colored, six-legged, horse-like animals". I could take them aboard the ship and sell them off to slavers, but I still feel a bit guilty about letting Andy go. I choose to "communicate peacefully." One of them responds by nudging me towards a crashed ship, where I gain some much-needed fuel, a missile, more scrap and an Engi crewmember. Yes! The Engi are cybernetic beings that are rubbish at fighting, but excellent at repairing things. Let it never be said that the tiny horse dudes of Random Backwater Planet 28A aren't a gentle and honourable folk.

Jump twelve. For the love of all things flame-retardant, I have found a shop. I blow all of my scrap on repairs and then feel sad that I'm 150 scrap short of a useful cloaking module, and 75 short of the crew teleporter. I'm not in bad shape, exactly, but I should really have more weapons, and perhaps an extra shield segment by now. If I hadn't spent 90% of my time on fire, things might be different.

Jump thirteen. Ugh, an asteroid field. Here constant pebble bombardments whittle down shields in seconds, and can take out vital systems if you suffer an unlucky hit. "A pirate ship hiding behind one of the larger asteroids attacks you!" Of course it does. I lose a few points of hull health defeating the pirate scum, and suck up more scrap from the wreckage. I'm still poor, and the game seems to be taunting me by placing two stores right next to one another. If only I could raid them. Instead, I must move on.

Jump fourteen. I detect a lone life form in a recently attacked colony. Magma worm? No, it's a lone survivor. I invite them to join my crew, and they gladly accept. I now have a crew of five. Not bad at all. Looking back, everything seems to have gotten better since Andy left. Sorry, Andy.

Jump fifteen. A slaver ship offers me the same choice as the one I encountered in sector one. Give up my crew, or be attacked. This time I have most of my health, four missiles, and five kick-ass crew members. I obliterate their weaponry with missiles and take them down to a sliver of health. They attempt to surrender, offering me a crew member for a moment of mercy. Instead I pick the "Surrender is not an option" option, and enjoy watching the slaver ship explode.

Jumps sixteen, seventeen and eighteen. A string of similar encounters follow. A rebel fighter confronts me, dealing a little damage to my hull. They try to surrender on the verge of destruction, but I say NOT TODAY, and destroy them for the extra scrap. Next, a rebel scout attempts to flee, but I missile his engine, then his shield generator, and dispatch him with a laser volley. On the third jump, I reach the exit, and plot a course into new a new sector, also owned by the mysterious Zoltan.

Jump nineteen. I'm desperately underpowered. The Vagrant Badger has been brawling beyond its means for the past few fights. Missiles have sustained me until now, but that surely can't continue. I need to kill as manty things as I can before the difficulty curve escapes me.

Jump twenty. My ship is swamped by ads offering fuel for missiles. I pass, and jump on.

Jump twenty-one. I find a refuelling station offering fuel for scrap. I'm running low, so I buy some up. I jump on.

Jump twenty-two. I find a Zoltan shipyard and "admire the display of hundreds of glowing Zoltan performing delicate exterior work on a massive transport ship." There's nothing else to do here. I jump on.

Jump twenty-two. "There is nothing here, save for vast swirls of gas reflecting rays from a distant sun." What is going on? I seem to have found the most peaceful sector in all of FTL. It's a sector of beautiful views and merchants, and no evil bastards at all. I need conflict . I need scrap . I need weapons and more shields and a teleporter. I curse the beautiful reflective gas-ray things. I curse them and jump on.

Jump twenty-three. I find a secret planet in a nebula. The surface boasts a "huge monolith visible even to the naked eye." This is weird. A Zoltan elder hails. "Through luck or intent, you have discovered the Great Eye. Look into its depths and receive your just dessert". This is really weird. I pull the ship in closer and a ship approaches. "And in the coming times, when the monolith speaks not with a man he has no future and must be left wanting." I have no idea what that means, but the ship has turned hostile. I fire off a few blasts at their shields, but they're an Energy Fighter. They have two barriers and a third shield with a bar that I have to whittle down before I can attack the hull. Before I even get started they disable my shields with an Ion blast, and then hammer me with the one thing I feared most: a really massive laser.

Things are on fire again. It's been a while since things were on fire, but my crew seem to know what to do. Sam battles the flames in the cockpit. Dengler does his part in the shield room. Chris and Charlie start mending the weapons bay. My shields are down. I can't shoot. I order Sam to the back of the ship to help out, but the neck of the ship is completely ablaze, and he dies on the journey. Editor down! Chris, Dengler, Charlie and my Engi repair as fast as their tiny forms allow, but it's too late. My hull is breached and the Vagrant Badger cracks apart. The voyage is over. It occurs to me that somewhere in this godforsaken galaxy Andy Kelly is probably still alive. Perhaps he is the real winner.

Bum. That's two losses from two After Action Reports so far. Maybe I'll have more luck with FTL Advanced goes live shortly.

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