Backloggery Beatdown—FTL: Faster Than Light

THE SHIPS

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Old Ye Faithful. The Kestrel is the default and only ship unlocked at the beginning of the game as all other must be unlocked (pre-Advanced Edition). It comes with everything a budding captain needs, including every basic system, three crewmembers, a shield-ignoring weapon in the Artemis missile, and a shield-wrecking weapon in the Burst Laser MK II. It is not recommended to do so, but I have progressed as far as sector IV with just its starting armament (not recommended). If ballistic weaponry is desired in the long run (also not recommended), the Artemis should be traded in (sold) for a small bomb, the best “ballistic” weapon in the game. Boarding remains stronger than blowing ships to pieces, but the medibay may need to be upgraded sooner than sector 8 to expedite healing for another raid. I always prioritize Engi because they are my favorite race, but they are almost necessary on this ship due to the spacing of critical systems. If a Rock crew member joins, they should be sedentary toward the front of the ship from shields toward the cockpit.
I am fond of this ship to a fault. After all, I spent more time with this ship trying to unlock the secrets of FTL to be like the pros and have a successful run no matter how much RNGesus wanted to laugh at me. Yet even I have to agree with them: this ship is very average even though it is equipped with the best laser in the game. Simply put, the layout is atrocious. The medibay is simply too far from the teleporter—from everything! If anyone but the pilot, who should never move, gets hurt on the ship, it’s a long trek for healing. This means longer weapon recharge times, lower evasion, and the risk of having stranded boarders or asphyxiated crewmembers. Speaking of asphyxiation, herding enemy boarders around by opening the doors outside of the ship almost always causes them to head to the cockpit; again, because the pilot is not supposed to ever move, they will be a vulnerable fighter.
The Kestrel isn’t bad…it is not the worst ship, but it is just overshadowed by the other options.
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The Engi cruiser is traditionally the second ship that most players unlock yet it is considered one of the top tier ships in the game due to the Ion Blast MK II. At 3 reactor power, it only takes 4 seconds to charge with an untrained crewmember manning weapons. Set to auto-fire, it can completely disable the functions of an enemy ship indefinitely as long as it does not miss. Ideally, one should disable shields, exposing enemy craft to volleys from combat or beam drones.
The Engi racial ability to repair anything and put out fires at 2x rate is certainly a plus; systems will rarely be offline on this ship. However, the Engi fight like sissies, doing half damage in hand-to-hand combat, which consequently reduces their effective hit points* . An anti-boarding drone would not be a bad idea for the Torus, though hiring some Mantis to repel boarding tactics would be even better, especially due to the teleporter’s proximity to to the medibay, facilitating quick heals for jumping right back into the action. The medibay’s location next to the pilot is ideal 99% of the time, and that 1% that it is not ideal is when RNGesus consistently lands boarding drones into the cockpit as narrated in my introduction. After all, if an enemy boarding party is being particularly pugnacious, the layout of the Torus funnels the offending crew right to the medibay when decompressing the O2. The drawback to this tactic is the location of the O2 system in case a projectile rocks it, because then the Engi have a long walk through airless rooms to make a critical repair. The location of the drone system is also lacking, but otherwise, I would not change this layout.
With three slots for drones, the tendency might be to go drones exclusively—fun, but not smart, unless a Drone Recovery System can be located. Then going all-drones evolves from risky to foolish. They can be inadvertently shot down with crossfire as they revolve around the Torus, or disabled and destroyed through sabotage of the drone system. At the same time, no weapon fires at the rate that drones do. For the record, I would take the Combat Drone II over a Combat Drone I and Beam Drone, but always Defensive Drone I over II. I am not concerned about shooting down lasers—that’s what evasion and shields are for.
*(EHP a term that I borrow from DotA 2. Essentially, EHP takes into consideration stats like armor and evasion which are not directly reflected in health, such 1 strength point equalling 100 HP, but can be calcuated as “increased” health because of damage reductions via armor or missed attacks caused by evasion. In FTL, if Engi only do half damage compared to other races. In a 1:1 fight, they would sooner die than their opponent, hence, low damage means a “reduction” in EHP) 

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The Osprey is the first “secret” ship in the game, usually unlocked by taking out the Flagship prototype in an event. Note that it comes equipped with the powerful Burst Laser II, but no missiles like the Kestrel. Instead, a bonus weapon unique to this ship, the Artillery Beam, is part of its payload. This beam autofires,  penetrating all layers of any shields but those found on Zoltan ships. Combined with a whopping four crewmembers of four different races (put the Rockman on the wheel—s/he’s too slow to be moving around), one may mistake this ship for an assault cruiser. On the contrary, take note of its design inspiration:
Enterprise
You see the resemblance, don’t you? DON’T YOU?!?!
Yes, the Enterprise is an explorer vessel that only engages in combat as a defensive mechanism. I recommend this approach with the Osprey; the early stages of the game should focus on shields and evasion while patiently waiting for the Artillery Beam to charge. On other words, just “turtle.” It might be tempting to upgrade the Artillery Beam to reduce that 80-second cooldown to 30, but that is too expensive in the earlygame (don’t forget reactor points). Playing peek-a-boo turtle is boring, but effective.
For balance purposes, the shields and weapons have been placed away from the “heart” of the ship where the engines, cockpit, and Artillery Beam are located. Repelling boarders is a nuisance, because they typically appear in the bays next to the Beam or where the teleporter would be, and decompressing the O2 tends to funnel them toward the cockpit rather than the medibay. Finding more crewmembers is a plus on any ship, but the sheer length of the Osprey makes the additions even more significant. Otherwise, the three that are not the captain will find themselves running all over the place, which is an efficient way to lose the game due to unattended or unrepaired systems.
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I think Subset Games got this one wrong: the Slug ship is called the “Man of War,” but that name should really belong to the Mantis’ default ship. With a whopping three Mantis as part of the starting crew, boarding this ship would be a foolhardy act of bravado due to their 1.5x attack damage and 1.2x move speed that is further augmented because of the Mantis pheromones augmentation. Simply put, boarding is what this ship does best, because it is not very good at much else. With only one Engi, any damaged system anywhere could be crippling since Mantis suffer from a 50% repair deficiency. At any given time, half the starting crew should be raiding any ship that is not a drone, so leaving unguarded stations in the first few sectors is not awful.  However, I recommend trying to acquire another Engi at all costs—there should be one in the cockpit and one on engines. Weapons do not matter as much on this ship; they are mainly for penetrating Zoltan shields to render them vulnerable to raids, or disabling enemy ships so that they cannot FTL jump away as the raiding Mantis do their thing. The starting Small Bomb is arguably the best “expendable” weapon in the game due to its short c/d of 13 seconds, and its lack of vulnerability to defensive drones. The Dual Laser also isn’t too shabby with two shots per charge, but its usage will quickly fade after the first two sectors when enemy shields become more plentiful.
Unfortunately, the Mantis suffer from a racial extra scrap penalty when upgrading weapon slots. That’s hard balance, but it still hurts since eventually more powerful weapons will be needed to offset the stronger weapons that will be faced later. The Mantis are one of the few races that begins the game missing a standard subsystem, sensors, which is another balance feature that has players teleporting blindly into ships, not knowing the crew makeup. That should not matter however because the Mantis destroy everything except other Mantis. If the enemy has a medibay, disable it with a Small Bomb and teleport into it or another important room that only holds two people. The idea is to prevent the AI from repairing the medibay and rotating crew in and out of the room with the fight. Because the Gila Monster can only teleport two crew at a time, never engage in a three or four-man room. As the game advances into the later sectors, one might rotate boarding crew into more critical systems after they have been disabled with an opening volley. Systems can’t be repaired when the crew is fighting.  
Lastly, I encourage upgrading the medibay and the teleporter one unit each sooner rather than later due to the physicality of the crew aboard the Gila Monster. Luckily, these two systems are not too far from each other, yet they are on the opposite side of everything else, so keeping the support crew alive and systems repaired from breaches and damage might pose a challenge.

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As I said with the Mantis’ Gila Monster, the Slug ship name, “Man of War,” is a paradox. The basic loadout of the ship is designed to disable shields so that the Anti-Bio Beam can do its work by exterminating the on-board crew without destroying the integrity of the ship. With the Dual Laser, it might be possible in the first two sectors to delay enemy FTL drives long enough to kill the crew without taking attrition damage, but by the third sector, the Anti-Bio Beam will need to be sold for something more potent (along with the weaksauce Slug Repair Gel aug). Like the Gila Monster, the Man of War lacks sensors, but the Slug racial ability negates this “deficiency” through detecting the location of enemy crewmembers on the other ship.
Without a doubt, it is more effective to simply have a teleporter to board and perform the same function as the Anti-Bio beam, but more directly. Slugs do not suffer from HP or damage penalties like Zoltan or Engi nor do they benefit from the enhancement of those stats like Rockmen or Mantis—they are much like Humans. For that reason, I feel that the true flaw, or balance element, with the Man of War is that it begins with only two crew. The layout of the ship makes it possible to heard any enemy boarders into the medibay, but additional crew members should be a priority lest the Slugs be overtaken by sheer numbers.
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The irony of a ship that comes equipped with both a five-shot absorbing non-rechargeable Zoltan shield (unless Advanced Edition is activated), a missile, and one of the most powerful beams in the game is not lost upon me, nor is the fact that the Zoltan shield would be useful to beginner FTL players who have difficulty to get things going in the first few sectors, yet the Adjudicator must be unlocked. Honestly, shield augmentation looks cooler than it actually is in action, because in later sectors, enemies with high payloads (or a single Flak Cannon in AE) can blow through these shields in a single volley. There enlies its usefulness: Zoltan shields are a defensive version of the Weapon Pre-Igniter, the offensive augmentation that is only useful at the beginning of a battle. Rather than deal the first blow, the Adjudicator can be on the receiving end of a volley without fear of heavy damages.
FTL is a game of choices where the wrong one can end the game, and the Adjudicator is no different. The first thing that anyone should notice is that this ship comes with only one level of engines. That is just jacked up! Keeping them unupgraded is certainly an effective way of losing in the first sector because the number of shields the player has is irrelevant if the AI never misses. This deficiency is an easy fix at 15 scrap, but that small investment puts the ship behind pace in other areas such as offense. While the Halberd Beam does half damage per room through one layer of shields, it will be necessary to acquire a laser weapon to take enemy shields down low enough so that the the beam can do its work. I would not recommend jettisoning the Leto missile, but instead exercise discretion between sparingly and necessity as one would with the Artemis on the Kestrel.
The Zoltan racial ability to provide one unit of energy to the system corresponding to the room in which they occupy is one of the best racial abilities in the game, however the HP penalty from which they suffer as a balance mechanism is more noticeable than than the physical damage reduction of the Engi, because at least the latter can participate in combat longer, stand in fires to put them out, and remain in decompressed rooms long enough to restore critical systems; the Zoltan are physical invalids to the degree that they combust when they die, dealing damage to any enemies in the same room. Actually, Zoltans pop in a miniature explosion because they are made from pure energy, but that fact does not negate the other fact that they are physically sissified, so avoid melee combat and boarding actions at all costs.
Then again, not getting into fights may prove difficult; the layout of the Adjudicator is even worse than the Kestrel, and possibly the worst among the A-ships. Practically every critical system—engines, weapons, shields and drones—are in adjacent, 2×2 rooms. This, combined with the awful positioning of the decompression areas in the rear and head of the ship, increases the possibility for boarders to severely damage if not outright destroy a critical system before the lack of oxygen could route them into the medibay herds them out. Adding additional crewmembers of different races is a plus in any other ship, but for the Zoltan, it is a necessity. After all, any Zoltan not standing in a room that requires power is a radiclal waste of their greatest strength. This means that acquiring a pilot (Rockman preferable) should be a top staffing priority in order to get all three starting Zoltan in a position to save (a minimum of 60 scrap) in reactor units.
Because of the Zoltans’ natural penalties to HP, if given a choice, I would prioritize Stealth Camoflauge over a Teleporter. A cloning bay (AE) might even be more useful on this ship than a medibay since one could use the Zoltan combustion death as a “grenade” against boarders.

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Also known as “Stealth A,” the Nesasio, in my humble opinion, is straight IMBA. Where do I even start? Level four engines, level two sensors, free long-ranged scanners, and a free cloaking system. That’s at least 210 scrap worth of items (minus the reactor costs) that most players would naturally purchase during their runs, again, for free. FREE if I wasn’t being clear the first three times!
A few pages ago, I established that damage mitigation is a key skill to master in FTL. On any other ship, I’m scrambling to save up for and find a Defensive Drone at a shop to shoot down incoming missiles (and against the Flagship, boarding drones) before I reach the third or fourth sectors, and just pray that missiles don’t smack me in the mouth too hard until then. With the Nesasio, I can just watch the AI ships’ weapons charge up and then dodge their opening salvos with the cloak. Return fire to disable weapons. Repeat for duration of game.
For offense, the dual laser is enough to lower shields and let the quick-charging mini beam to do its work. All the scrap that might be spent to make repairs can now be invested in more advanced weaponry. Choose wisely: the Nesasio only has three weapon slots! Because of this, a crew teleporter for boarding action is highly recommended for some extra offense.
Some players might say, “Are you CRAZY? How is this ship IMBA? It does not start with any shields!” True, but the option to buy shields on the Nesasio will be more frequent than the option to buy stealth on any other ship, and the money saved in repairs due to the AI missing its first salvo and then immediately disabling its weapons can be invested into shields. It is much easier to experience a rough start due to lack of shields and restart than to play halfway through a run, acquire cloaking, and get rocked anyway.
The flaws of this ship (besides shields) are in its layout, which is similar to the Adjudicator, yet more condensed: the decompression zones are located at the head and core of the ship but unlike the Adjudicator, the cockpit’s proximity to one of these zones will deter boarders from entering into this part of the ship, and offending crew are more likely to be herded to the medibay. From the other side of the ship, however, boarders will need to be corralled through the cloak room and slowly flushed out of shields, drones, and engine room before they double-back into the medibay. Could be worse, but could be better, too.

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I have to admit that the Bulwark is the least exciting ship for me to discuss. I’m an ion and lasers and beams (and hacking and boarding) kind of guy, so I am trying to trade-in (sell) the hull Missile ASAP because the key to succeeding in FTL is to subdue crews, leaving ships intact. The hull missile has the opposite effect, though it is nice to have a weapon with relatively high resale value to start the game for dealing massive damage when merely defeating the crew is not an option.
I must say that ship layout is one of the best: there are multiple rooms to delay boarders when doors are secured; the decompression zones placed on both ends of the ship and partitioned by small rooms allow for quick oxygen depletion or replenishment; the medibay is next door to the teleporter for quick healing and returns. This layout also accommodates the Rockmen’s reduced speed while moving from room to room.
I think highly about Rockmen as pilots; their immunity to fire and HP bonus of 50 (for 150 total) keeps them in the cockpit during combat like…a rock. They also make for decent boarders, especially when paired with the “pocket” racial strategy of spreading fires on enemy ships and then occupying those rooms  as a deterrent to their extinguishment. Nevertheless, Rockmen are soooo sloooow. I would much rather have Engi zipping about the ship extinguishing fires and making repairs or Mantis sprinting around to quell uprisings rather than wait for a Rockman walk from even one room to the other to perform similar tasks. It is comical to board a Rockman ship, for example, with Mantis and just running back and forth doing damage as any remaining crew give chase helplessly.

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The AE-only Kruos is so balanced that it is mediocre, and excels at almost nothing.
The ship’s starting loadout seems like a cross between the Kestrel and Torus but the ion stunner and chain laser are bootleg versions of the burst laser MK II and Ion Blast II. The length of time for the Chain Laser to charge its first volley is so excessive that it completely undermines the hacking system, which requires a drone part per hack, and only lasts 8 seconds at level one. The Chain Laser’s first charge takes a whopping 16 seconds! The Ion Stunner would have charged twice in that amount of time, but it often does not make sense to fire it because the ion damage it does is insufficient to keep a system down long enough to stack the ion effect such as seen on the Torus’ Ion Blast II. In fact, the Ion Stunner is theoretically most effective when the enemy’s shields are completely down, and a crew member is in the targeted room. That crew member will get stunned, preventing them from making repairs. If I have the arsenal to reduce enemy shields to zero, that means I have superior firepower, and I’m using a beam weapon as a finisher rather than an Ion Stunner.
The Lainus’ racial ability to not just survive without oxygen, but also deplete rooms of oxygen, like opening layout, is cooler than it is effective. I have tried decompressing every room but the cockpit, and of course, that sends any boarders immediately toward the only room with O2, meaning I have to invest in blast doors sooner rather than later. Additionally, this tactic also makes for a hostile ship for any non-Lanius crew that want to join. The Lainus are also slow (but not at slow as Rockmen), so moving around the ship to conduct repairs or fight in compressed rooms takes time.
I just do not like the cloning bay. It is too reactionary. It is most effective when the crew actually dies (and suffers an experience penalty) so that they can be regenerated. But when the crew barely survives an encounter, the heal between jumps is negligible without upgrades. The Kruos is my second-most losingest ship, and many of those failed runs can be directly attributed to my Lainus dying immediately after being boarded, and then my ship suffering to many damages to systems before my crew can respawn in the cloning bay.
The ideal strategy with the Lainus is to get a crew teleporter and immediately destroy the enemy’s O2, then move from room to room depleting oxygen while damaging systems. Because the AI will not enter into a deoxygenated room with the exception of the actual O2 system room when the entire ship’s oxygen reserves are running low, the objective is to blitz the 2×1 rooms before invading the 2×2 rooms where multiple defenders will unite.  

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There are people who have invested over 100 hours into FTL and have yet to unlock the secret crystal ship, the Bravais. The combination of needing favorable RNG to trigger a series of events that can only be found in certain sectors, the beacons therein being accessible before the rebel fleet can catch up, and generally being successful during a run by defeating ships while taking minimal damage is tough! The few, the proud, who are able to experience such a streak of luck will gain access the strongest A-tier ship in the game.
FTL problems
Some FTL vets be like….
The Crystal Burst MK 1 and Heavy Crystal MK 1 are only half of what make the Bravais OP. Ignoring a single layer of shields, the first two sectors should pose no problem whatsoever while targeting whatever systems are preferable. Even when enemy ships begin showing up with two tiers of shields, one can just fire the Crystal Burst first, followed by the Heavy Crystal for greater damage.  By the time this combo begins to wane in potency, more weapons and systems should have been accumulated, though I would never sell the starting weapons because ignoring a layer of shields is still relevant—even when the enemy has four layers of shields, only three really count, for example. Still, the Crystal weapons are not perfect; they are still susceptible to misses due to high evasion and cloaks, and they can also be shot down by Defensive Drones.
The other half of why the Bravais is OP concerns the Lockdown ability of the Crystalmen. Creating a crystal wall that blocks units from exiting or entering rooms, the Crystalmen are the ultimate (anti)boarders, blocking enemies from exiting decompressed rooms or trapping them so they can catch a beatdown. Yes they do suffer from the same movement penalty as their Rockmen cousins, but they also benefit from the increased health, making Crystalmen great “siege” crew once a teleporter can be acquired.
The Bravais does have a wonky layout. The placement of the teleporter to the northwest of the medibay isn’t bad, but the distance between engines and weapons is considerable, so expect to hire non-Rockmen, non-Mantis crew that will be running back and forth across the ship to address repair and health concerns.

When FTL flashes the middle finger

The next time I write on FTL, it will cover the B-class ships such as the one getting flipped the bird above (seriously, SCREW YOU GAME!!! /rage). Note to newbs: ships with Zoltan shields up are immune to boarding, and I am weapons-free. 

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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