FTL was released on Friday, and it’s a big chunk of rogue-like spaceship goodness filled with all sorts of wonderfully random events that can not-so-wonderfully destroy your intrepid crew, charged with blitzing their way across eight sectors of space to warn the Federation fleet of an impending Rebel attack.
Only it’s not just the events that make FTL so brilliant, but how they interact with the systems in your ships to create dozens of mini dramas, and we want to show you quite how wildly two runs through the same game can diverge based on both what we do as players, and what the game does to us. And so Phill strapped himself into the HMS Elephant, while Steve fired up the engines of The Central Perk and forced a terrified group of crew mates to re-enact his favourite sitcom while trying desperately not to explode in the cold vacuum of space.
A ship needs a name, and that name is important. It’s what the bards will sing when you make it back in one piece, strumming their holo-lutes and warbling through their auto-tune augments. Aim too high and you’ll never live up to it, and too low and you’ll be laughed out before anyone can even hear your tale.
Flying the Engi craft, a square torus of drone heavy firepower, aiming at disabling shields so robots can pew pew it from a distance, the HMS Elephant wasn’t wholly inappropriate; the sad grey mass of the Engi race has something elephantine about it, and original ship, captained by first Horatio Nelson and then William Bayntun, played more of a specialised, support role than a proper battleship, favoured for it’s shallow hull that allowed it to fight on rivers.
The Engi ship comes with a trio of crewmembers, two Engi and a human, which, through some twisted logic, was rather appropriate. The Engi were Nelson and Bayntun, whereas the human, relegated to managing the shields, could be George Parsons, the architect of the original Elephant. We were good to go.
The Central Perk
So no one told me life was going to be this way, charged with transporting vital intel across the galaxy, pursued by vicious rebel forces. My crew - Ross, Rachel and Chandler - prepare their trusty Federation ship, The Central Perk, for departure. It's FTL's starter ship, a decent all-rounder armed with a basic, shield-piercing missile launcher and a mark two burst laser. A more than capable vessel.
Ross takes the captain's seat, despite having being mocked in Season 7, Episode 22 (The One With Chandler's Dad) for being a slow driver. "It's a car Monica! Not a rocket ship!" he retorted in that episode, ironically. Rachel manages our shield systems, while Chandler is stationed in the weapons room. I can't think of clever reasons why that should be the case. I guess Chandler was good at maths, wasn't he? And Rachel. Well, she's defensive I guess.
With our crew of (three-fifths of the) friends prepared, we sail forth into the inky void beyond. Our missions begins.
On top of boosting whatever system is housed in the room you’re crewmember is in, they’re also able to instantly start repairing if it ever takes any damage, although with the flip side that they’ll also probably get injured in the blast. Luckily the Engi ship is swarming with healing nanobots, keeping the whole crew in ship shape. That’s a naval joke.
So with Nelson at the helm, Bayntun going a little nuts over quite how fast he could fire an EMP cannon, and Parsons in the Shield Room just trying to keep us from going down in a hail of asteroids, we set off to the very first system, completely blind as to what we might find there.
And come across another Engi vessel, being pursued by pirates. Brothers! Countrymen! Known affiliates! Naturally Nelson pulls hard to the stern and we intercept the pirates, blasting them to pieces with our attack drone after disabling the shields with our EMP. Bayntun preens, and the Engi vessel we saved looks at our drone, laughs, and gives us an upgrade. A Mark II to our Mark I.
Not that we can use it just yet, as it uses four power to run, and we’ve only got a Drone Bay capable of powering three. So first order of business is to upgrade the Drone Bay and the Power System so that I can run our brand new attack bot. Two more systems in, and a pair of pirate wreckages behind us, our Anti-Ship Mk II drone is up and running.
Between us and the exit of the sector there’s a shop, and we’ve got a few handfuls of scrap filling our pockets, which means we should see what’s for sale. And this appears to be one of those not-too-above-board shops, selling crewmembers rather than just the typical few bits of technology. And one of them is called Randy Walker. And he’s a Mantis, ferocious insect-aliens that are excellent in hand to hand combat. And I can’t afford him.
So I settle for a human called Cremity instead, and cast him into the Engine Room.
The Central Perk
The first leg of our journey sees us face a series of harrowing trials. Automated, AI rebel ships lurk in almost every system we jump to, their persistent attacks testing my crew's fire extinguishing abilities, while Rachel's efforts in the shield systems room ensure that the Central Perk's hull survives the sector relatively unscathed. Manning system rooms gives that system a bonus - in the case of shields, Rachel brings them back online slightly faster than they otherwise could.
We encounter a slaver ship and steadfastly refuse to hand over Chandler, an act of defiance that enrages the pirate scum. In the ensuing battle, we disable their weapons systems, declawing the enemy craft and forcing them to surrender. Our prize is a fresh slave: a Rockman named Shirai. Rockmen are slower than human crew, but they're immune to fire and carry 50% extra health. He will be known as 'Joey', and will be tasked with keeping the engine room not-on-fire.
Buoyed by the presence of our new crewmember, we carve an aggressive path through the rest of the sector, aiding imperilled civilian ships and earning a new missile launcher. We even encounter a second slaver ship, whereupon we're appeased with a further crew member. We unofficially dub him 'Gunther'. Using the scrap we've amassed, we upgrade our shields and power core, affording us an extra layer of defence against laser-based attacks.
Rachel looks thrilled. "Hooray," she probably says. She loves shields.
Before jumping to any sector, you’re usually given at least a little choice. The sector map is a branching flow chart that eventually channels you into the final destination, but it’s your choice where to go; nebulas, home systems, hostile and friendly sectors all feature, and they’ve all got their pros and cons. Cons usually being literal, as there are a lot of pirates in FTL.
We head into a Civilian Sector, which is typically more docile and less dangerous, although those terms are extremely relative when applied to this kind of space, and quickly debunked after we move through Rebels pursuing Federation scouts, pirates holding up civilian transports and Mantis ambushes. Somehow we come out on top, and find ourselves at a shop to repair and upgrade, picking up a Repair Arm which converts a portion of any scrap received into hull repairs. It’s not a big sexy gleaming gun, but it’s pretty useful nonetheless.
We move into the next sector, and come across a transport vessel in the throes of a giant space spider, injecting smaller, but still pretty giant, spiders into the interior of the ship. Nelson is a man of action, and order the ship to aid the civilians, and as a man of action, he heads in first, leading Bayntun and Parsons behind him. They grab as many civilians as they can, pulling them back onto the ship. Quick headcount. We were one arm and two legs short, Nelson apparently having expired during the rescue, no doubt dragged back to some giant space web to be space-guzzled by the giant space spider.
A human offered to join our crew in replacement, and that’s when the captaincy of Elnubnub began. He’s fresh, but he’s been inspired by the valiant sacrifice of Nelson, and that’s got to count for something.
The mood on the ship is sombre as we move through the rest of the sector, picking up a Heavy Ion Cannon from a Federation cache and upgrading the ship so we can run it. Things are looking a little more uncertain, but we’ve got a bigger gun, so at least that’s something.
The Central Perk
In the second sector we use some of our remaining scrap to hire Kadreal, a terrifying Mantis woman with giant scything arms and gnashing mandibles (Phoebe, unofficially - it's a real shame you can't rename new crew members). A technologically unaccomplished race, the Mantis people are aggressive and warlike, making poor technicians but excellent soldiers. As all the mannable stations have now been taken, she's stationed somewhere near the middle of the ship, ready to scythe in twain any intruders who might attempt to board The Central Perk.
A series of encounters with weak, AI rebel ships furnishes us with plenty of FTL's scrap-currency, so by the time we encounter a black market dealer offering a mysterious new item for 65 units of the stuff, we leap at the chance. Of course, the inhabitants of this uncharted nebula aren't to be trusted - they renege on the deal and, with our pride at stake, the crew of The Central Perk retaliate. The enemy are armed with a dangerous looking ion cannon, which temporarily disables systems without damaging them. Our shields are repeatedly snuffed, frazzled by blasts from the ion cannon, though the increasingly competent Rachel is able to bring our defences back online before the enemy's volleys of laser blasts can reach our ship. Bested, the black market trader finally surrenders.
My crew turns to Ross, who gives an (imagined) imperceptible shake of the head - The Central Perk does not suffer thieves and scoundrels. Chandler routes power to the missile launcher, landing a surgical strike on the enemy ship's FTL drive and pinning them down long enough to finish them off. In the debris we find the item the trader had attempted to deny us, an Automated Reloader. Weapon recharge times are reduced by 15%.
“Could we be any more ruthless?” I imagine Chandler might remark.
While some sectors are clearly labelled as Nebulas, others can have a good portion of their regions blocked off by those space storms, forcing you to fly blinder than blind, with all sensors disabled, along with power systems, more oft than not. And the sector we’ve just moved into has a nebula taking up a good two thirds of it, forcing us to immediately brave the storm.
Elnubnub is unphased. The example of the heroic Nelson hovering in his mind, he pulls hard on the keel and heads directly into the purple crackle of Ion lightning.
The first encounter is a rolling storm, but our improved engines, boosted by Cremity’s now expert hands, allows us to outrun them and straight into another storm, this one housing an angry looking rebel ship. With half our power out, we have to cut power to shields, oxygen and med bay just to fire the Heavy Ion Cannon, punch through the shields, and allow our drone to do the damage.
The plan works, but in the shieldless, oxygenless process a breach occurs in the Engine Room, and Cremity suffocates trying to repair it. The Rebel ship breaks up, but not before a lone Engi prisoner escapes and joins the ship. We fire power back into the emergency systems, patch up the ship, take a breath, and move on.
Only to be boarded by a nearby pirate station. Four humans with angry grimaces come surging through the ship, and while the Engi are great at repairing and running systems, they’re terrible at fighting; that’s what comes from having USB sticks for hands. The fighting is fierce, mostly taking place in the Med Bay in an attempt to keep the health of my crew topped up, but Bayntun goes down, leaving Parsons the only remaining original member.
We make it out of the nebula with just three crew members and enough scrap to upgrade our power systems, giving us a pair of Ion Cannons. Then we head for the exit, a little more battered, but a little tougher, all the same.
The Central Perk
As you progress through sectors you encounter enemy ships with more powerful weapons and technology, such as the ability to cloak. You also tend to discover some more exotic locations, such as electrified plasma storms that halve your ship's power output and randomly disabled parts of your ship. So it was that upon arriving in sector three (in my game, The Zoltan Homeworlds) The Central Perk found itself almost immediately besieged by a cloaked ship in a plasma storm.
Plasma storms force you to reroute your remaining power to the most vital systems. The medical bay tends to be the first system to go - it's only required if any of your crew are injured - and, assuming you're confident in your ability to swiftly resolve a battle, your ship can survive without life support for a matter of minutes before suffocating. I take both offline, sending the freed up power to Chandler's weapons systems and affording him the energy needed to fire off a few devastating laser rounds in the crucial few seconds during which the enemy ship is forced to decloak.
The battle won, we switch life support back on and flood the ship with precious oxygen. But quite literally before the crew could catch their breath, we're boarded by hostile forces: three human pirates, quantum-catapulted from a nearby pirate base, arrive in the engine room. Intruders will attack and disable the ship's systems, as well as attempt to murder the crew - though there's a curious, exploit-y way of dealing with incursions. I move Phoebe, Joey and Rachel to the medical bay, where they receive constant healing, while Ross and Gunther hide out in the cockpit. With my crew secure, I open every other door and airlock on The Central Perk, venting life-giving oxygen out into space.
This rapid decompression of every area of the ship forces the pirates to face Phoebe's venomous mandibles in the medical bay, where thanks to her regenerating health she's effectively invincible. With Joey and Rachel's help, she makes short, bloody work of the intruders. With the airlocks now closed, the three wait in silence for the oxygen systems to slowly breathe life back into The Central Perk.
Shaken, but closer than ever, the crew eventually return to their posts. The next sector awaits.
Drama! Intrigue! Mantis men! As our ships venture ever farther into unknown corners of the galaxy, who knows what perils await? We do! And we'll tell you all about them in Part Two, coming soon.