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How to survive in FTL

FTL guide thumb

A little while back I read Tom Francis’ excellent compilation of Spelunky tips. I suck at Spelunky, but after reading those, I sucked marginally less, and now I’m going to do the same thing for you, only with FTL.

Like Spelunky, FTL is a simple but brilliant roguelike built around risk/reward calculations. And like Spelunky, following a few simple principles can improve your game a lot. I’ve been playing this game since it was an IGF entry, so I know a thing or two about how to survive in space. So listen up Captains, because it’s a cold, hard universe out there.

General Tips

Take your time – The game gets harder with every sector, so it’s best to farm as many resources as possible before moving onwards. Ideally you should hit the exit at the last possible moment.

Save your scrap – It’s tempting to buy upgrades as soon as possible, but that’s actually a bad idea. You might spot a store with a nice item, or find a cool weapon you need to upgrade your systems to use. It’s better to save up your scrap for a while, especially in the first few sectors. Unless you’re in serious danger you should wait until you’re at 70-100 scrap with no stores in sight before spending.

Time your shots – Shields regenerate and systems get repaired, so don’t fire everything as soon as it cools down. Instead fire several weapons in a burst, knock down their shields, do as much damage as possible, and then wait until you can do it again.

Explore homewords – If you see a sector called ‘homeworld’, you should go there. All the events that give you new ships are in the homeworld sectors, Even if you’ve unlocked that ship already the quest will still be around, and will reward you with excellent loot. I won’t spoil anything for you here, but if you want a full guide on how to get each ship and what they do, you can go here.

Flush them into space – Opening your airlocks has a lot of benefits, like putting out fires and damaging boarders, just make sure you don’t kill your own crew in the process. Upgrading your doors can help trap boarders while they suffocate.

Fight in the medbay – It’s really hard to die in your own medbay, so that’s the best place to fight boarders. You can lure them there by opening the doors for them. or just punching them a couple of times and running away.

Upgrade everything – If you have spare scrap, upgrade things like the cockpit, medbay, doors, sensors and oxygen, Eeen if you don’t intend to use them. Upgrades increase a system’s durability, and one cheap upgrade will make them last twice as long before shutting down.

Give no quarter – Most ships will offer to surrender on low health. This is almost always not worth it, you’ll generally get more loot by destroying them. Unless they’re offering something special, like a weapon or crew member, just blow them up.

Learn to love nebulas – I hated nebulas when I first played this game, now I love them. Slowing down the rebel fleet is a godsend, and although plasma storms are evil (they halve your power supply) they’re actually pretty rare.

Micro like hell – You can pause FTL at any time and issue orders, which means you can do a lot of micro-management to help yourself out. For instance you can pause the game when the enemy fires a missile to shunt power from your shields into engines or drones. You can also keep a boarding party constantly moving to keep them alive while your teleporter recharges.

Systems

Shields – Upgrading your shields quickly is a sound strategy. Getting two shields in sector one or two will let you shrug off a lot of damage. There’s no point buying one shield upgrade, save your scrap and till you can buy both at once, plus any power you need.

Engines – Engines benefit the most from crewing, so it isn’t as important to power them up early as shields. However your pilot and engineer will get experience for every successful dodge, so they’ll train faster the more you invest.

Weapons – Never upgrade these unless you’re aiming to power a specific weapon, it’s just pointless. You don’t always need to run all your weapons at once. Switching from missiles to beams when shields go down is good strategy and saves on scrap.

Cloaking device – One of the most powerful optional systems in the game. Activating cloak gives you a massive evasion bonus, over 100% if you’ve got half decent engines. Time it to avoid volleys of fire, especially missiles, which will tear your shields apart. One of the best ways to beat the end boss is with judicious cloaking. The stealth weapon augment makes this even better.

Teleporter – Teleporters are powerful, but tricky to use. They cost a lot of scrap to buy you’ll need good melee crew members to take advantage of it. If you do plan to use it, get both the teleporter and your sensors to level two as fast as possible. Killing the enemy crew by boarding will generally get you a better reward than blowing up their ship, making this incredibly useful in the early/mid game. Never teleport aboard an unmanned ship though, there’s no oxygen inside.

Drones – Drones require a lot of investment to be viable (unless you use the ship that starts with them) but can be very strong. Defence drones are a great way to stop missiles, while Attack drones can really help your damage output. Boarding, Repair and Anti-Personnel drones generally aren’t worth it, as your crew do the same jobs better. Drone repair arms are excellent if you’re going this way.

Artillery Beam (Federation Cruiser) – A randomly firing beam weapon that pierces all shields and usually does good damage. If you have this, you already beat the game once, so you probably don’t need my advice, but I think you should upgrade it as soon as possible, even ignoring the general rule about saving to do so.

Super Shield (Zoltan Cruiser) – A five bar shield that stops absolutely everything, including teleporters, but doesn’t recharge until the next encounter. This is incredibly useful, giving you a good window of opportunity to hurt the enemy without taking much damage. If you’re using this invest in engines instead of shields, as misses won’t degrade the super shield.

Weapons

Burst lasers – Generally the most useful and versatile type of weapon. Burst lasers strip shields fast and do good damage. There’s no real defence against them. They work well with anything, but a couple of them paired up is seriously scary.

Beams – A well targeted beam can devastate an undefended ship, but does absolutely nothing against a well shielded one. Useful, but must be supported by ion, missiles or burst lasers in the later game. Those that do more than one damage per room are the best, as they can pierce some shields. Also good against super-shields.

Ion – Turns off systems and shields but doesn’t destroy. In theory enough ion will let you turn off the oxygen and choke a ship’s crew to death. In practice it’s hard to pull that off, but their extremely fast fire rate makes them good at supporting other weapons.

Missiles – Probably the most tactical of all the weapons. Missiles pierce all shields (except super shields) making them great for knocking out systems and making a ship vulnerable. Their bane is defence drones, which render them near useless. You can also use a cloaking device to avoid them, but the AI isn’t smart enough to do this.

Bombs – Bombs are a lot like missiles. They go through shields and cost a missile. The difference is that bombs don’t do hull damage, but instead knock out systems and kill crew, but can’t be shot down. Missiles generally do more damage, but bombs often have exotic effects like ion damage, starting fires, or healing your own crew.

My ideal weapon setup would probably be a pair of burst lasers, a decent missile or bomb and a beam.

Crew

When crewing your ship, first make sure you have a pilot. After that put someone on engines, then weapons, then shields. Once all stations are manned consider floating fighters/repairmen.

Humans – Humans don’t do anything special at all, so then tend to fill the gaps left by other races. They can help Engies fight or help Mantises repair. The fact that you usually find them early means they’ll probably be manning stations. They make good pilots, because it doesn’t take anything special to be a pilot.

Engies – Great at repairing, crap at combat. Engies are at their best as wandering repairmen. Keep them in the centre of the ship and rush them out to fix things and put out fires. It’s best to avoid putting them on a station, as they’ll just abandon it when they need to repair something.

Mantis – Amazing fighters, terrible at repairs. Mantis should be used to either board ships or defend your own. Like Engies, they shouldn’t man a station if they don’t have to, as they’ll be rushing about a lot. Don’t let a Mantis try and put out fires, he’ll probably burn to death before he can stop it.

Rockmen – Very tough, immune to fire and very slow. Rockmen are good in a fight, but their low speed means Mantis are generally a better choice for combat. Their durability makes them decent at manning stations, as they can put out fire and repel boarders without needing much help.

Zoltan – Fragile, but add 1 power to every room they are in. Hands down the best race for manning stations, but you’re unlikely to find enough early on for a full crew. it can also be a little annoying to see a room lose power when you have to run one into the medbay, but at least he’ll power it himself.

Slug – Let you see enemies on their ship through telepathy. This ability isn’t quite as good as level two sensors, but it is close, and it works in nebulas too. They are the best choice for pilots, and are also decent at manning stations. Having more than one slug doesn’t really provide any additional benefits.

In case you’re wondering, my ideal crew would be three Zoltan on the stations, a Slug pilot, two Engies on repair and two Mantis to fight.

Follow these tips and you should reliably get to the final boss. Beating him however, is another story.

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13 thoughts on “How to survive in FTL

  1. peads0 says:

    Great article!

    Have you ever managed to find a “Crystal” crew member? They’re meant to be an early form of Rockman. They’ve got better health, but lower speeds. However, they have a great ability that lets them “Lockdown” a room: they shoot crystal onto all the walls to prevent intruders from entering. This wears off after a while, and the power has to recharge, but they’d be great to put somewhere like Weapons, or even O2.

    Also, hadn’t thought of Engines as more important than Shields… will have to think about that. You reckon dodging is better than recharging shields then?

      • ouglaaa says:

        it comes with the event where you get to choose between a weapon and scrap, or a disable med pod, then afterwards you get another event where some dude offers to repair the pod and you get a crystal crew member

      • peads0 says:

        Yeah, they’re really hard to get. I found a damaged cryopod in an abandoned spaceship during one those “search a nearby asteroid field” missions. It got added to my ship as an augmentation, but I had to find a research facility and give to them to open up. I then got the dude, but he said he wanted to go to the Rockman Homeworld… which I was about to miss!

        Not sure if you can get them any other way. He said he’d give me something if I took him there… maybe the mystery ship? Or is that gained some other way?

    • Ben Rae says:

      About the engines and speeds, I think he simply meant that when the enemy fire a missile, you could divert power from shields to engines (since the shields are useless against missiles anyhow), and gain a slightly greater chance of the missiles missing.

      It’s not much effort on account of the pause function, although I’m not sure how it would work in practice, with most ships seeming to have lasers as well as missiles. You’d have to time it perfectly!

    • cscarlet says:

      About the engines and speeds, I think he simply meant that when the enemy fire a missile, you could divert power from shields to engines (since the shields are useless against missiles anyhow), and gain a slightly greater chance of the missiles missing.

      It’s not much effort on account of the pause function, although I\’m not sure how it would work in practice, with most ships seeming to have lasers as well as missiles. You\’d have to time it perfectly!

    • Matthew says:

      found one on my third run of the game ever! (SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER) take the stasis pod to the people who run expiriments

  2. Foundation says:

    Excellent guide. Hopefully enough to get me past the first couple stages of the flagship (fingers crossed).

  3. BuckRodgers says:

    Manning the engines gives you a +5% dodge rate, manning the shields gives you a +10% recharge rate. Those are the values for unleveled crew. The +5% dodge is going to help you against every single projectile coming up against your ship, the 10% recharge rate will only really help against separate weapons fired at different times, and then only laser/beam weapons. So its a personal choice but the author feels that having the dodge is better against missiles and multiple shot weapons than having your shield back up a little faster after they get hit.

  4. Great Article. Are you planing to write a guide how to beat the final boss? I tried so many tactics, but in the end he will sloly destroy my hull and i get killed.

  5. nanu says:

    has any one taken over the boss ship with teleporters on the first stage? i just got down to one guy left to kill before he destroyed my ship. i used 2 mantis, one crystal and one rock man. and if you have the level two sensors and missiles you can lure 4 guys to the med room by hitting it once, then hit them again when they are repairing. if your first team are second level you can lure 2 out and repeat. by then your second team can work on the weapons rooms, get the missiles first that will save you a lot of trouble.

    • An AI takes over on the ship if you kill everyone apparently… best thing if you’re using teleporters, I think, is to leave one guy alive in one the weapons rooms πŸ˜›

      Someone I know did quite a good trick though. On stage 2 (when drones are the big problem), he took a Crystal and a Mantis over to the drones room, and locked it out using the Crystal! They then destroyed the room and went back πŸ˜›

  6. Matthew says:

    Regarding “Time your shots.” Best strategy ever. get a mark II Kestrel. 4 sets of the same weapon=Ever-synchronized shots! Also turn on autofire

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