FTL diary: one desperate battle in a brilliant spaceship management game

Tom Francis at

FTL: Faster Than Light is a realtime roguelike spaceship-sim that launched on Steam yesterday. Head over to the FTL Steam page to pick it up or read about our previous close-encounters with the game.

For some weeks now I’ve been the captain of a small spaceship, managing both crew and systems as it jumps from star to star in a randomised galaxy. Each arrival is a random encounter: an enemy, a ship in trouble, a wreck, or something stranger. As you hop around, you can use the scrap metal you find to upgrade your ship or buy new weapons, equipment and crew.

We’ve written dotingly about FTL before, but the new version I’ve been playing is massively expanded. Now both your crew and your enemies can be from any number of weird alien races, from vicious mantis-things to psychic slugs. You can get wrapped up in long story quests and unlock new ships to fly. And there’s now an end to the game – but I won’t spoil that here. Instead, this is the battle report of one extraordinarily tough fight, and how I got into it.

My problem in previous adventures was that I’d got good enough at not getting hit by lasers that getting hit by missiles was almost always my downfall. And there was only one good way to avoid getting hit by missiles: defence drones.

This time, I vowed, I would get defence drones. New game!

Almost immediately, I find a defence drone. This is excellent news, for reasons I hope I have thoroughly explained. But it’s no use on its own: I need to install a drone bay to launch it. You can only get those at shops, and not every sector has a shop on your route to the exit, and not every shop has a drone bay for sale.

Almost immediately, I find a shop with a drone bay for sale. This is not as excellent news as it might sound, because I’ve encountered this rare deal so early that I can’t actually afford it. Worse, I can almost afford it. This is worse because it could easily lead me to do something stupid, like sell my only missile launcher to get it.

I have sold my only missile launcher to get a drone bay. The good news is that I can now launch defence drones that make me almost completely safe from missiles. The bad news is that now, all my enemies are similarly safe from me. My main laser is decent, but if any enemy has lots of shields, I’m almost entirely impotent against it.

At the next shop, I buy a halberd beam: a devastatingly powerful laser. This is not as fortuitous as it might sound, because the halberd requires three spare bars of power to your weapon systems, and I only have one – the perfect amount for an efficient, shield-penetrating weapon like that really useful missile launcher I sold.

Pretty soon, I meet a double-shielded enemy. It’s an unmanned craft guarding a weapons cache. I already have more weapons than I can power, so I definitely shouldn’t engage it just to get that.

Long story short, I engage it, and it is difficult. My laser fires a triple burst, so if every shot hits, I can take down both his shield layers and do one point of damage to one system – pathetic. Most of the time, at least one shot misses and I do no damage at all. The only thing keeping me alive is the fact that he’s just as feeble: his nastiest weapon is a missile launcher, but I don’t know what kind because my defence drone has shot down every missile he’s fired.

Through sheer persistence I manage to whittle him down. The weapon cache he was guarding contains a pike beam – just as power hungry as the halberd and even less useful against shields. The only way this would be useful is if I find a shop to sell it at.

I don’t find a shop to sell it at. It’s getting bad. Double-shielded enemies are the norm now, and triple-shielded ones are starting to pop up. All I can do is try to survive long enough for my jumpdrive to charge and let me escape.

Eventually, all my scraping-by pays off: I’ve earned enough to upgrade my power systems to bring the halberd beam online at the same time as my burst laser.

I bring the halberd beam online.

An Engi distress call! The Engi are friendly aliens who fly weird boxy ships and are usually generous with their rewards. I jump to their location to find a weird boxy ship, bristling with guns, and full of space-mantises.

It opens fire.

It’s triple-shielded. It’s got two heavy lasers, and two heavy ion cannons. It has no missiles, so my main defence is irrelevant. OK, halberd beam, time to earn your obscene expense and power usage.

My burst laser takes 11 seconds to charge, my halberd 17. And there’s no point in firing one without the other: the best the burst laser could do is drain all three layers of their shields, dealing no damage to the ship itself. So it’s going to be a long wait.

But not for them: in scarily short order, I hear the boop of an ion blast.

I pause. A thought has just occurred. If an ion blast hits your shields, it disables the shield. Bad news if your enemy is currently charging two heavy lasers. In fact, it’s worse to lose your shields than almost any other system. But I bet the AI doesn’t know this. I bet the AI is aiming for something much less important, like our life support. So I could actually take my shields offline and let this shot go through.

To the imaginary shock and bafflement of my crew, I order them to take our shields offline. A second later, the ion blast hits... our engines. Attention all hands: lol! Also, put the shields back up now please.

Their heavy lasers hit, and my shields soak up both shots. I am doing excellent captaining. My burst laser is charged now, but like an excellent captain, I hold fire while the halberd charges. Wait for it...

Two mantises teleport into the cockpit. This is not at all what we were waiting for.