I’m gonna say one thing right off the bat before getting to the meat of this preview…I suck at roguelike games. I love them, love the hell out of them, but wow do I stink at actually playing them. I think this is due to my natural impatient tendencies. Roguelikes are typically not kind to their players, and FTL is no exception. I played several sessions of FTL for this preview, and how many did I win? None. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Did I have fun while I was on the run? Keep reading, my friends…
First off, I need to thank Saxman_72 over at Broken Forum for offering me his extra beta key. While I did contribute to FTL’s successful Kickstarter, it wasn’t enough to get beta access, so thank you again Saxman for generously offering your extra key.
Now, to the heart of things. Whereas most roguelikes have you following a plucky hero through several levels of fantasy dungeons, FTL is a little different. Alright, it’s a loooooooooot different in all but the most basic ways — random levels, loot gathering, random encounters — from traditional roguelike games. First, your main character is your ship. You start off with one available ship, but more can be unlocked for future games as you progress, and your ship has stats for all of its subsystems — i.e. engines, weapons, life support — that can be upgraded by using scrap, the game’s currency.
Your ship also starts with three human crew members — male or female — which you can name, along with naming your ship. This gives a lovely little bit of connectiveness to your ship and crew as you flee from the onslaught of the rebel fleet, which is the main purpose of the game. See, you have these plans you’re supposed to get to your superiors, but the rebels sent a huge, HUGE fleet to stop you, and you need to escape. You might not want to take the straightest route, however, as FTL encourages exploration and discovery.
Besides exploring, FTL is also a game of ship and crew management. Your crew begins with no stats of their own, but can also gain experience over time. The main screen you’ll see all of the time is your ship’s layout, and here you can move crew members to different areas. While a crew member always needs to be at the helm, you can move the others around at will. While systems will function automatically on their own, if a system is damaged, if a fire starts, or if your ship is boarded, you need to send a crew member there to deal with it…most of the time. In certain situations, you can also open certain doors to vent compartments into space, extinguishing fires or sucking out intruders.
Once your crew is set up properly, it’s time to hit the sector map and choose your next jump point. Each jump uses fuel, of which you have a finite amount but can purchase at stores, along with missiles, drone parts and so on. Certain sectors can also have special events like distress calls, which you will see on the map. Jumping to a sector is like going into a new room in a traditional roguelike, as you never fully know what to expect. While you should be heading toward the exit point, you can also traverse nebulae to slow the enemy fleet down and do some more exploring if you like. It’s all very flexible.
When you jump to a new sector, a few things could happen. For example, you could find absolutely nothing, you could find yourself in the belly of a space monster or you could meet a friendly ship willing to sell or trade something, but more often than not, you’ll find someone who wants to blow your keester up. This is how much of the game takes place, with the player juggling energy, damage control, crew health and so on in real-time. It can be a bit complicated at first, truth be told.
However, it’s also GOD DAMNED thrilling. Seriously, watching a fire erupt in your engine room and deciding to let your crew member fight it or shuffle them out and vent the compartment to space in a brief span of a moment is thrilling. Also, what if your door control has failed, and you can’t open them remotely, what then? You send more crew members to fight the fire, or send them to the door control room to fix it? It’s all about moment to moment choices, and the situation can change in an instant.
In combat, you can focus your weapons on specific subsystems, like weapons, oxygen, helm and so on, and your enemy can do the same. This makes combat a very chaotic yet focused affair. Thankfully, if things go well, your enemy will either surrender if they’re smart, or die if they aren’t. This is where the funness of loot comes in! The game has several finite items you always need, such as fuel, missiles and scrap. Winning a battle usually results in attaining one or more of these items in various quantities, as well as extra crew members or items. New crew members are truly the highest prize of all, I think, as they can help better maintain systems in battle or repel intruders more effectively. Winning a crew member typically happens more often when a ship surrenders, it seems.
When you have enough scrap, whether through battle or other means, you can use it to either upgrade various systems on your ship, or spend at a store for more missiles, fuel, crew members and so on. Scrap is likely the second most valuable resource in the game — after crew members, I think — as it can be used for such a variety of improvements. Scrap needs to flow constantly, both into your coffers and into your ship.
Eventually, you’ll run out of space in a sector to safely explore before the damned rebel fleet arrives, so you’ll want to move to your next sector. Here you’re presented with a choice of what type of sector you’d like to go to next, and these can vary wildly. One could be in the middle of a nebula, while the other could be filled with pirates (my advice? stick with the nebula, it slows the rebels down). Each sector is randomized, of course, and hold their own beauties and dangers. In one game, for example, I found myself inside a space monster! Thankfully I could jump out immediately. Whew.
Eventually, the further you go, the tougher and more varied the enemies get. They’ll use drones to target specific subsystems or beam intruders aboard to sabotage your ship. This makes things even more frantic as you shuffle your crew hither and yon to fight the mess these bastards are making. Eventually, as has been the case for me many, many times, it’ll be too much, and you’ll get just a SADDENING view of your ship breaking up into various pieces.
So in my dozens of games of FTL, I’ve yet to get far in any of them, nowhere near close to the end. I’ll tell ya though, I had a FAN-FREAKING-TASTIC time even when losing. This game is hectic, it’s scary, it’s brutal, and it’s unforgiving, but overall, it’s GORRAM FUN. Seriously, this game is a blast from top to bottom, and even in its current form I didn’t have one crash or glitch that I could see. Apparently since my last play through, a patch has been released that adds save functionality, among other things, but I’ve not had time to try it.
Overall, FTL is a VERY fun time. Even though I really, REALLY suck at it, I had a great time with the little adventures the game put in front of me. I’d say if you have any interest in rougelikes, games that involve crew management, or just are wanting a different type of space game, keep an eye out for FTL when it hopefully gets released next month. Thanks for reading my preview, I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and I also hope you enjoy all the screenshots I took for this article below. Have a great day!