So I just beat FTL, on probably my 12th run, on Easy, using The Kestrel. I am now full of ideas on why I succeeded, and what made this run different from the previous 11 for me. There are no spoilers in this article (unless you count “enemies tend to use strategy X near the endgame” as a spoiler). Some of these tips are probably only valid when you’re flying The Kestrel (Engi, for example, is totally different strategically).
My FTL tips
Note: on 1/2/2012 I added an addendum by Jonathan Mills. Click here to skip to the addendum.
Take risks early, play conservatively later. This is probably true of all roguelikes. If there’s a possibility of a huge payoff at a high risk, go ahead and take it in Sector 1 or 2. I’m talking things like investigating seemingly abandoned stations, basically any story event where you send your crew off-ship and/or allow someone else to board. If it pays off, great. If you lose a crew member… just restart! You didn’t lose much progress. Conversely, toward the endgame you probably shouldn’t be doing risky story events (by that time, you should be upgraded enough that maybe 50% of story events give you a “blue” option anyway, so just take that). Once I’m past Sector 5, I never send my crew into story situations that I know (from past experience) have a chance of being fatal.
Get a big crew as fast as you can. If you aren’t leaving Sector 1 or 2 with four crew members, and Sector 3 with five crew members, you’re not doing well. By the time you’re on Sector 6 you ought to have at least six crew. You might ask what these crew members are good for beyond the first four, since they can’t man a station. Well:
- Redundancy. If a critical crew member dies, you can replace them.
- Repair. Repair is really important — if you have two extra crew members, even the worst hull breach will get fixed pretty quickly. If you have an Engi crew member, make them one of your repair floaters for even faster repair.
- Idling in non-manned system rooms. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lost because the Oxygen Room was damaged, breached, and on fire — and when the O2 room is losing oxygen, it’s almost impossible to repair. By idling a crew member there, the moment the room gets hit, that crew member is working to repair it. Same goes with all the other unmanned system rooms.
- Dealing with intruders. Ideally you’ll never have to move your shields/engine/weapons/pilot when you’re boarded. Extra crew makes that a reality.
Encountering slavers? Buy a slave. I used to make the mistake of killing slavers on sight. Sometimes this results in them offering surrender, in which case they give you an extra crew member. Excellent! But other times they don’t surrender, and you blow them up and get some scrap/fuel. The thing is, especially in the early game, every crew member you can pick up is really valuable. Far more valuable than any scrap you could get. Also more valuable than the amount of scrap the slavers are willing to sell you a crew member for. Also more valuable than your petty morals. If you encounter a slaver, especially in the early game, and can afford it: buy a slave. Otherwise, attack them for a chance of them surrendering and accept the surrender in exchange for a new crew member. Blowing up the slave ship should be considered a fail state if you currently have fewer than six crew members.
Name your starting crew functionally. I always call my initial Kestrel crew Pilot, Shields, and Weapons. I find it helpful later on when I don’t have to remember who is on what station.
Linger as long as you can in early sectors. This is where the game is easiest, so take your time. Go hang out in nebulae to buy yourself time. You should be practically dawdling in Sector 1. Just gather stuff. Gather crew. Gather scrap. Gather gear.
Don’t upgrade unless you have to. If you find yourself with 80 scrap you might be tempted to immediately spend that to upgrade your ship’s systems. But if you’re currently doing okay in combat, you should hold off and continue to gather scrap until you find a store. Once you’re there, you’ll have plenty of money to spend on, say, an expensive new weapon. The worst thing is when you find a store with something cool that you can’t buy. So hoard your scrap a little if you can.
Don’t have a single combat strategy. It’s easy to get cocky early in the game. You figure out an easy way to kill any ship in Sectors 1-3. Maybe you focus your fire on the shields, and once those are fully damaged, you hit the weapons system, and they’re sitting ducks. This will not work in later sectors. You should be gathering a diverse array of weapons and drones (yes drones, on the Kestrel, they’re important). Ideally you have a “turtle” defensive configuration and an all-out attack configuration. This might involve diverting power from your O2 or Med systems once you’re safe enough to go into attack mode. That’s okay, because O2 and Med only matter when you’re under attack and doing poorly. So the first part of the battle should be focused on making sure you don’t die, and slowly chipping away at the enemy shield system. The moment their shields are red, then it’s a good idea to switch on your more powerful weapons.
Take advantage of weapon timing. Auto-fire is great, but if you have an ion cannon that takes 14 seconds to charge and a burst laser that takes 13 seconds to charge, the laser is always going to hit before the ions. I usually keep the ion cannon on autofire, and then let burst laser charge. So the ion cannon fires first, then you manually target and fire the already-charged burst laser. Tweaking things manually like this can really turn the tide of battle.
Blast doors are important in the late game. Ships will try and board you all the time. Fully upgraded blast doors mean that they teleport in… and then they’re stuck in that room for a long time. This give you time to either flush them out of oxygen, or line up a bunch of people to send in at once and mess them up good. Blast doors also contain fires. I can’t stress how useful these are in the late game.
In the final sector, don’t necessarily go straight for the Flagship. Take some time and hit up a star system. You’ll enter combat but honestly if you’re equipped properly to take on the Flagship, these ships shouldn’t be a huge problem — and when you defeat them, you usually get a bunch of supplies and sometimes hull repair. This means that when you fight the flagship you’ll have so many drone parts and missiles that you won’t even be paying attention to how many are left.
In the end, I have no idea what a good build for a Kestrel looks like. But here’s the one I beat the game with. I had maxed out my reactor.
ADDENDUM, by Jonathan Mills
My friend Jonathan Mills has provided the following update to my little strategy guide. He’s logged about 25 hours of time in FTL and has a lot of interesting things to say, so here you go:
I’m going to be argumentative with this one: never buy a slave. Staffing up early is important, but in my experience you have to make the most of every encounter. Unless you’re hopelessly outclassed, there are three likely outcomes to a slaver encounter: gain crew but lose scrap, gain crew, or gain scrap. Provided you don’t suffer much hull damage from the encounter, the first option is the worst. In each of the other two you should have a net gain. Most of the time you should be able to receive the crew member anyway. I also don’t agree that crew is necessarily worth more than the scrap you spend. Everything costs scrap in the game, and a new weapon or shield upgrade could be the difference between limping along taking hull damage every battle or dominating the entire sector.
I don’t want to be too critical — it’s still very important to have a lot of crew, but I think once you hit six you can coast. I think this is still true when using an aggressive teleport strategy, because the teleporter tends to introduce more crew events into the run. On most of my better runs I end up having more opportunities to receive crew members than capacity to take them all. Even only five beings should still be able to help with most encounters, provided you swap the characters out regularly. During a boarding event it’s not uncommon for me to put everyone I can fit in a given room and then swap them around with someone else waiting outside. It’s good to have floaters, and it’s good to keep crew at their posts, but in a pinch you may need to take an “all hands on deck” approach. More often than not, a fire, repair, or boarding event should only take 1 or 2 combat cycles, and pulling someone off their console for that period shouldn’t be the end of the battle. I also don’t rely on upgraded doors: sometimes the boarding party will jump into a key system, and if you abandon that to the invaders it could mean the whole battle.
It’s true you should be more conservative later on than earlier, but weighing what’s at risk in a given event is also important. If you have a fully upgraded crew member and you have the opportunity to lose them on an away mission, that’s probably not a good idea. On the other hand, if the only thing at risk is a little hull damage and you might get a good weapon out of it, that’s usually a deal worth taking even in the late game. As mentioned above, every encounter is an opportunity to gain or lose resources. Playing it safe has its own risks.
Something else specific I would add from my experience: when I do well, it’s when my primary armament goal is bringing down the shields. There are a lot of powerful weapons out there that are useless if you can’t get the shields down. I loved using the Engi ship for the first 3 sectors, but eventually the ion cannon just wasn’t strong enough on its own and it became useless. Speaking to personal preference, multiple-shot lasers are ideal. In early sectors they’ll punch through a shield on their own, and then in later sectors they can still help when combined with other weapons. Because they run on reactor power they’re more reliable than missiles and drones, and if you save up the gear at the beginning you’ll have a lot of missiles and drones for support near the end. They’re easily the most versatile weapons in the game. In contrast, most of the time I can’t stand Beam weapons — they require a lot of coordination to use effectively because they’re weak against shields on their own. (That said, I picked up the Glaive Beam late in a run and quickly shifted around weapons to accommodate it. I had enough other weapons to get the shields down so it worked out well.)
The way you unlock ships is one of my favorite things about FTL, though in some ways it’s frustrating. As with Spelunky, there’s a steep discovery curve, where early on everything is interesting and eventually the scripted events seem, well, scripted. The challenge of unlocking ships (and the Type B variants) has helped me stick with the game. Because unlocking ships usually requires certain systems or crew, I’ve been trying to outfit a ship specifically for that purpose. If the map doesn’t cooperate or I can’t trigger the event, then I’ll stick with it to try to make the layout work. The frustrating part is that trying other ships is one of the best way to learn specific game components. For example, the Slug Cruiser and its Bio Beam are a great lesson in attacking crew instead of the ship. To figure out that strategy organically I would have had to invest in crew weapons and sensors. Most of the starting ships also have major weaknesses, so you have to Because there’s a lot of variety in starting crew members, weapons, and even room layout, playing those other ships is a great way to learn all of the strategies that are available. Many of the ships aren’t too difficult to unlock, but I think the game might be a little easier to get into if unlocking ships wasn’t so laborious.
One of the challenging things about FTL is weighing planning vs. improvisation. I guess this is a big part of the appeal of roguelikes. On my near-perfect run earlier today I bought weapons and augments only to swap them out for something else a sector or two later, and invested in a teleporter I rarely used. I think that’s part of why I scaled up well, though, because I didn’t use missiles at all for the first two-thirds of the game and then loaded up on powerful missiles for the endgame. I was able to adapt the ship to what it needed to be on a sector-by-sector basis. By contrast, the times I’ve played with the long view in mind I didn’t prepare enough for my immediate needs. For example, I once bought a powerful gun at the store even though it required reactor upgrades I couldn’t afford, and since I didn’t use that scrap to upgrade engines or shields, I dumped all of my future earnings into hull repairs. The ship was wrecked before I could install the fancy weapon.