Backloggery Beatdown—FTL: Faster Than Light

FTL

Among the most critical skills that I have developed while playing FTL is damage mitigation. I mention this one first because it is the most important. Obviously, maintaining health is important in any game; in FTL, one might be tempted to spend scrap on repairs despite such expenditures being the most inefficient use of scrap in the game. Even the items considered low-tier such as the FTL Recharge Booster or Shield Charge Booster provide some continuous benefit despite the purchase. Repairs on the other hand offer nothing but an increased health bar, and a good FTL player should be spending scrap on items and upgrades that will avoid, rather than fix, damage.

The Wiff

FTL determines if a projectile will hit or miss once it reaches the outer layer of a ship’s shields. If a missile passes the threshold of the shield without a “miss” notation and wiff sound, cringe and prepare for incoming damage! (Yes, beat all three phases of the Flagship with this setup.)
While it is obvious that one should upgrade shields, far too many players neglect upgrading engines and training a crewmember on them ASAP. On average, a player might be able to upgrade shields twice before the 80 and 100-scrap tier four shield becomes cost prohibitive. Alternatively, take note that the highest tier of engines is more expensive than the highest tier of shields at 120 scrap. The designers of FTL did not make a mistake. While the most expensive thing is not necessarily always the best, it oftentimes is; the sound of the wiff from a shields-penetrating missile missing is much more pleasurable than all the lasers and beams fired uselessly on several layers of shields, and the only way to ensure this “wiff” is to upgrade and power the engines. The less the enemy can strike true, the less money the player ends up spending scrap on repairs, and the more scrap that will be available for upgrades, bribes (a certain Rock ship scenario comes to mind), and other miscellaneous scenarios that occur throughout the game. I am not saying to never spend scrap on repairs. If the first few sectors happen to be rough, it is better to repair at a store for 2scrap/hp rather than 3 or 4scrap/hp in the later sectors. The increasing expense of repairs is by design, of course. It is balance mechanic and also a subtle way of telling the player that something is wrong if most scrap goes into repairs.
FTL features situations designed to teach players the importance of engines; they are called asteroid fields. In the early game, these are devastating for players overly dependant on shields, because they have a high percentage to hit, and if the player’s ship is absorbing asteroids with its shields, it will be more vulnerable to enemy fire. This applies for AI ships too,  of course.
Decompression
The next important skill to practice in FTL is reactor management. Typically, one will have more systems available to power than the reactor permits, so one must decide where to allocate power. In my noob FTL days, I felt that I needed to have everything powered with a minimum of 1 unit, and would upgrade my reactor to keep my medibay, teleporter, or cloak online. Now that I am much more experienced, there are times in the early game when I will take my O2 completely offline to power an additional weapon to dispatch a ship before it FTLs away or I suffocate. I might power down a level of my shields and power up a defensive drone as the enemy ship shoots a missile to shoot it down. Then I will power down the defensive drone and allocate those two power cells elsewhere. If I do not have a defensive drone, and the enemy is more missile than laser heavy, I will power down a level of my shields, power up my engines, and pray. I try to constantly keep my weapons on, but sometimes I might be awarded the coveted halberd beam which requires four reactor units to activate; because upgrading the weapon system is the most expensive system of all, I would rather power down another weapon to give the halberd the juice it needs once I incapacitate the shields.
Like asteroid fields, ion storms are a built-in mechanic that both annoys and also teaches players how to git gud. Reducing unlocked reactor power in half, one has no choice but to decide between fight or flight, allocating power where necessary. There is no single solution to these situations; being adaptable is essential.

Awesome setup but lose anyway

I had all of this by sector 3 during an Engi run and still got handled by phase 2 of the Flagship. I was such a noob back then!
The key to a good start with any ship equipped with bombs or missiles is to use them sparingly and intelligently: do not fire missiles at ships with a defensive drone (but bombs are ok); always fire at a system that is online (not red); if a ship is down to 1 hull, it is unwise to fire a missile that does 2 damage unless that ship is still capable of damage damage (and if it is down to 1 hull, I would ask why its weapons are still functional).
Make sure to cross as many rooms as possible with beam weapons. The more systems that are in orange, the more that the AI crew will be scrambling to make things right. 

Beam weapons

This is the optimum number and types of rooms targeted. Yes, I have said that I like to prioritize engines to lower evasion, but beam weapons are irrelevant if shields are online. In this photo, the shields are about to come back up, so the player should be targeting from shields up to the cockpit, not from the cockpit to shields, because the beam will travel in the direction of the first click. 
Store Screwed

 When the map shows this much spite, may as well hit up both stores before doubling back to the exit beacon. Make sure those engines are upgraded for a fast FTL charge away!

Lastly, a good FTL player takes calculated risks. Never ever send crew members to fight off alien spiders because they are no joke, indeed. However, owning a cloning bay might encourage me to put on my Battletoads-sized boot for some arachnid squishing. After acquiring a defense drone, I find myself picking fights more aggressively, knowing that I will be taking minimal damage from missiles. With a strong reactor and lots of shields, I will frolic in asteroid fields, though I do not recommend going into nebulae without Long Range Scanners. From time to time, I have an enemy surrendering for 5 fuel, 7 missiles, and 20 scrap—better overall than just destroying the ship for maybe 1 fuel, 1 missile, and 30 scrap—and I opt to not finish the fight. Acquiring a teleporter to board the enemy ship is even better. Basically, FTL encourages bold play.

 

 Please continue to Page 3 for ship strategies!

Maurice Pogue

Since picking up an NES controller in 1985 at the age of 2, Maurice and video games have been inseparable. While most children aspired to be lawyers, doctors, or engineers (at the behest of their parents), he aspired to write for publications such as EGM, PC Gamer, PC Accelerator, and Edge. After achieving ABD status in English at MSU, Maurice left academia and dedicated his writing to his lifelong passion. He is currently the Video Game Editor at Geeks Under Grace.

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