FTL: Faster Than Light (by Subset Games) is more than just a wildly addictive indie title. It was one of the first games to prove that people love paying for things with no guarantee of it ever existing, as evidenced by its massively successful Kickstarter campaign.
FTL is a deceptively simple game that may seem easy at first, but quickly overwhelms new players as they get a few sectors in. Being a master of all things strategy, I’ve compiled a few tips to help you make it through the game without your ship ending up blasted into spacedust.
#1 Spend as long in each sector as possible
The biggest mistake that new players make is being a total pussy. “Oh noes!” you might say, “The rebel fleet is coming for me! I’d better get as far away as fast as I can!” This is actually the easiest way to ensure death by Sector 3 or 4. Each sector will be incrementally more difficult than the last. And each jump you make is a chance to destroy a ship for scrap, or rescue a new crew member from slavers, or get some new quest.
You may be deluded enough to think that you can make it to Sector 8 with your shitty little Kestrel and its single burst laser. Or maybe you’re suicidal. But I can guarantee you that every time you jump to a new sector, ships will have stronger weapons, more shields, and more assholes ready to board you. So unless you have some fetish about being blown up, you’re going to need better shields and engines to dodge them, and more weapons to break through their shields. Giving your crew a chance to level up can give you an extra edge as well.
Don’t be an idiot and blindly follow this tip, though. If you’re down to three fuel, or your hull is red, screw exploration – get to a store. That may mean having to jump to the next sector. You’ll also want to stock up on fuel whenever you can. Usually I consider twenty enough to guarantee I’ll have a chance to refuel before running out. Finally, don’t waste a jump going to a store unless you have at least ~75 scrap, or a lot of shit to sell. It won’t be worth it. If you’ve done everything right, you’ll reach the exit beacon one jump before the rebels do.
#2 Turn off auto-fire
I know what you’re thinking. “But Rabid, if I turn off auto-fire, I’ll have to push buttons! I’m a delicate hand model, and pressing buttons will hurt my delicate constitution!” Well suck it up pansy; auto-fire will trip you up much more than it will help you. First of all, you’ll usually want to fire all your weapons in a burst, even if they have different charge times. If you can lower their shields with one blast and hit their systems with every other weapon you’ve got, you’ll do much more damage.
Second: things can change awfully fast. Maybe you were targeting their shields, and at the last second a drone comes back online. You need to switch to the more important target, and if you had auto-fire on, you may not react in time. If you’re pausing frequently in combat, which you should be doing, you won’t waste any time – your weapons will still be going off every time they’re charged.
Finally, if you have crew members aboard the enemy ship, auto-fire is the worst possible thing you can do. You may end up hitting a room that your crew is in or worse, blow up the ship with your crew still on board. Pretty much the only time I’ll turn on auto-fire is against an automated ship with no shields.
#3 Missiles or Drones: Pick one
Both of these weapons require a resource other than power, and it’s rare to have enough of both to actually use them. Pick one, and try and keep enough of whatever you pick on hand. I usually find drones more useful than missiles, but it really just depends on whether you can get a decent launcher or drone to use.
Whichever you do pick, don’t just spam it mindlessly. If they have heavy shields, or you need to take down an extra weapon fast, do it. But if you’re in a safe position, there’s no point in wasting missiles to blow them up slightly faster.
#4 Prioritize taking less damage over dealing more
In case you forgot basic economics, let’s do a little review. It may seem like taking damage is no big deal, since you can repair it easily. But you’d only think that if you’re a moron! Every few sectors, damage becomes more expensive to repair. And it can quickly cut into your scrap enough that you can’t afford to upgrade.
That means you need to prioritize damage a little counterintuitively. For instance, you should only target their shields if it is difficult to damage them without missiles. Usually their weapons are the most important target, or drones if they have an anti-ship or beam drone strong enough to get through your shields. Once their weapons are down to the point that your shields can hold them off, then you can start targeting whatever systems will help you defeat them.
One thing that’s worth noting is that shields aren’t always the best thing to upgrade for defense. Usually investing in your engines is cheaper and more versatile, as it will help you dodge missiles. Blast doors are also a cheap and helpful upgrade, as it can really help against boarders and fires. That said, shields are great against drones and beam weapons. If you’re playing something like the stealth cruiser which starts with no shields at all, getting that first bar as soon as possible is crucial.
#5 Vent oxygen for fun and profit
If you open your airlocks and the doors linking them to other rooms, you can remove all the oxygen from a room. This is obviously good for putting out fires, but there’s an even better way to go about this. Oxygen doesn’t leave a room instantly, and the fire may cause damage before you can vent it completely. A good strategy is to leave every unmanned room vented all the time, which will make sure fires go out right away. You may want to leave the life support room unvented as well, unless you like watching your crew suffocate if it gets damaged. If you need to go to a vented room for repairs, it only takes about 2 seconds for the room to get enough oxygen to be safe.
This strategy can also help against boarders. When your ship is boarded, move as many people as possible into your med bay, and vent every other room. This will force their boarding team to fight you where you can’t lose, or die. If you have blast doors, you may even be able to just suffocate them before they can do any damage.
#6 Angling beam weapons
Even the smallest of beam weapons can do far more damage than you might think. You should always try to start and end the beam at the corner of some room. If the beam touches even the tiniest sliver of a room, you’ll do damage to it. Even the mini beam, which may seem like it can only hit two rooms, can do four damage per shot if the ship is laid out properly. If you have something like the hull beam, this can easily mean hitting both their shields and engines, as well as two or three empty rooms for double damage.
Pause the game and think carefully about placement every time you’re firing a beam weapon. You’ll find yourself doing more damage than you thought possible. This fact combined with shield piercing easily makes most beam weapons the strongest weapon choices in the game.