At first you can only pick the Kestral, which is a standard ship with no advantages or disadvantages. Later on when playing through FTL, you can unlock 8 other ships that you can pilot in new games. Each ship can have an alternate layout unlocked by earning 2 of 3 achievements that are specific to each ship, which completely changes everything about the ship, from how the rooms are organized and even different starting crew members and weapons. Two of them can be unlocked by simply advancing through the game, while the others require you to get lucky and find them while out exploring. All of the ships that you can unlock come with a different set of crew members and a ship bonus, such as the engi ship being able to heal anyone no matter where they’re at, or the slug ship automatically repairing breaches in the hull.
Ships have a variety of systems inside of them that you must keep together in order to be successful and stay safe. Most systems will gain a bonus if you have a crew member attending to it, though the piloting system requires someone at it to be functional. You start out with most of the basic systems, but later on you can buy more advanced systems such as cloaking or the personnel teleporter. Some of the important systems are the engines which allow dodging and weapons that allow your powered weapons to be functional.
When you acquire enough scrap, you can upgrade your ship at any time that you are not in combat or any other dangerous situation. Additional upgrades cost an increasing amount of scrap and it clearly details exactly what each upgrade does. Some upgrades that you can get include better engines that increase your dodge chance or shields that allow them to get hit more times before coming down.
All ships are made of up crews from different races of people and aliens, each having different advantages and disadvantages. The basic humans have nothing special about them, just a simple crew member. Other races are more unique, such as the rockmen who have a lot higher health and are immune to fire, or the engi who can repair a lot faster but deal a lot less damage to enemies.
Any race can do the same jobs on your ships, even earning experience to increase their performance. When a crew member is placed on some systems, they will gain a bonus according to the crew member’s current skill level. They will earn experience at their stations in certain situations, such as engine experience when you successfully dodge and weapon experience every time you fire. Damaged systems and hull breaches will automatically be repaired by your crew if they are in the same room as it.
Other than your crew and the systems inside of your ships, it is possible for your ship to get filled with hazards. Rooms may sometimes get a breach or fire inside of them when hit by enemy weapons instead of just simply doing damage to you. Breaches simply make it so the oxygen will quickly get drained from that room, while fires can spread from room to room doing damage to crew members and systems. One unique aspect of FTL is that you can control all of the doors inside your ship, so you can deprive fires and enemy units of oxygen, or opening doors next to breached rooms so the oxygen doesn’t run out as fast.
Ships can equip three or four different weapons, depending on what ship you start out with. Laser weapons will shoot out one or more separate laser blasts that can do small amounts of damage. Rockets can go through shields to directly damage systems and the hull, though they can be shot down by defense systems. Beams are very powerful weapons that can damage multiple system and hull areas, but are pretty much useless if they hit an enemy shield. Ion weapons don’t do actual damage, but instead shut down shields and other systems for periods of time. Teleported bombs can completely negate shields and and defense systems, as they’re directly put into a room without having to travel through space.
Alongside weapons, you can get the drone system that allows you to deploy a variety of offensive and defensive drones. Most drones float out in space either around your ship or theirs, depending on whether they’re shooting lasers or destroying incoming rockets. Other drones are units that can walk around inside ships, such as the repair drone or another that you can shoot into the enemy ship to attack it from the inside.
Your ship can equip up to 3 augmentations that will passively improve different aspects of it. Such augments include increasing the amount of scrap that you can find, to causing your medbay to heal your crew no matter where they are at on your ship.
While exploring or defeating enemy ships, you will acquire different types of resources that you need to keep an eye on. Fuel is required for every beacon jump that you do, and running out of it will cause you to have to wait turns before a ship appears to sell you some or engage it in combat. Missiles allow you to use your weapons that use missiles as ammo, since you won’t be able to use them if you don’t have any. Drone parts will be needed to deploy any of your drones, in similar fashion with missiles. Scrap is quite possible the most important resource, as it is the money used everywhere and will allow you to upgrade your ship as well.
When you engage another ship in combat, you have full control of your ship deciding on how much power each system gets and what weapons or drones to arm. As you exchange blows with the enemy, you will need to maintain your ship to make sure by putting out fires and repairing damaged systems. If a shot hits your ship instead of the shield, damage will be done to its hull as well as any system that was in that room. It is possible for enemies to send their own crew onto your ship, where you will need to either deprive them of oxygen or fight it out with your own crew. Combat ends when either you or the enemy ship has been destroyed, you accept their surrender, or if the situation looks dire you can just jump away if your FTL drive has charged. FTL being a rogue-like means that your ship being destroyed by any means will force you to start over in a fresh ship.
Each sector has a certain theme about them, and you can choose which ones to go to when you reach the exit in the current one. Nebula sectors will have most if not all of the beacons a nebula, so don’t get too dependant on your sensors. Alien race sectors will mostly have ships of the specified race, so if you don’t want to engage a certain type of alien be sure to avoid that sector.
When you’re not engaged in a battle of some kind, most of your time is spent looking at the sector maps. You can’t spend too long in each sector however, because a rebel army is close behind you and will make it difficult if they manage to catch up with you. Unless you have a special augmentation on your ship, all undiscovered beacons in the sector will have almost no information displayed about them, and you will just have to press your luck. You have to be careful in making sure you don’t run into the rare dead ends, as they may allow the rebel army to catch up to you. Some beacons will have markers when you are next to them, such as stores that allow you to buy and sell equipment, distress signals that have a good chance to be rewarding, and quests that you recieve from an earlier engagement.
While exploring and running into hostile and friendly ships, you will be looking at a lot of dialog boxes with multiple choices to choose from. These choices dictate how the current encounter will play out, such as attacking a mercenary ship instead of hiring it, or helping civilians from the danger that they have encountered. You will sometimes run into very rewarding choices, but they aren’t always guaranteed and can sometimes cause you to take damage to your ship or even lose crew members. If you have certain weapons, alien races, or even enough upgrades on your ship, it is possible to get blue dialog choices that are almost entirely guaranteed to work. Upgrading your med bay or simply having a slug in your crew will allow you to safely obtain a new crew member if you ever get that encounter.
While exploring you may run into space hazards. You might appear too close to a sun and fires will at times start in random rooms on your ship. Nebulas will cause your sensors to not work as well, and sometimes causing you to only have half as much power. These beacons will prevent the rebel army from detecting you as easily, increasing the amount of time you can explore the current sector. Asteroid fields will cause small rocks to occasionally hit your ship, depleting your shields or possibly hull damage. Luckily, all of these same events will affect enemy ships that you are in battle with.
Exploration and the rewards that you can obtain are highly influenced by luck. Every time that you go to a new beacon, it is possible for one of many different events to happen there. The success of your current game can go from doing really well to suddenly losing on the next encounter. Finding scrap, ammunition, and even weapons and augmentations are all possible to find.
There have been a number of successful rogue-likes released over the years, but not with a space theme. Some examples are Dungeon of Dredmor, Don’t Starve, Rogue Legacy, and Binding of Isaac. They may be a good alternative if you don’t like large amounts of luck dictating how well you enjoy the game.
There aren’t a whole lot of available options, though the game is simple enough to not really need them. The only graphical setting is how you want the game to fit within your screen. Graphics themselves are very simple, but they aren’t ugly because of it. Sound is the strongest non-gameplay element of FTL, as there are over 20 songs and there are tons of queues that let you know when something is going wrong.
Not a negative about FTL directly, but sometimes rogue-likes in general just have too much luck involved in them. Even if you are the most skilled person, the wrong unlucky move to a beacon can easily disrupt your perfectly designed ship. Other than the luck aspect, nothing else sticks out as being negative gameplay wise.
If you don’t like games that rely heavily on luck, Faster Than Light might not be the game for you. There is an easy setting, which will cause you to collect more scrap and run into easier enemies, but there is still a lot of luck involved and the last battle will still be a challenge. Every battle only lasts a minute or two, and everything else is done in dialog screens so anyone with a tight schedule will be able to fully enjoy FTL. You can save and exit at any time as well so if something urgent does come up you can leave whenever.
Anyone that likes challenging games, or luck filled rogue-likes, will undoubtedly enjoy FTL. Managing your ships and putting together the correct arsenal will require the best of pilots. If the game ever feels easy on the easy setting, you can also bump it up to the normal setting where you will acquire less salvage and run into stronger enemy ships. Along with defeating the boss ship at the end of the game, the 8 other ships that you can unlock will keep you busy for some time, especially since luck is required to get a bunch of them. There are also achievements that you can earn for accomplishing various things.
FTL: Faster Than Light costs 10 dollars with a soundtrack that costs 4 dollars. If you enjoy playing rogue-likes and don’t mind the amount of luck that is involved, it is well worth the money.