FTL: Random vs. Skill

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Oct 2, 2012

Filed under: Game Reviews 148 comments


In my previous post on FTL, I said the game was “dominated” by randomness. More than one person has pointed out that they can win 100% of the time, or nearly so. These comments don’t have the stench of strutting troll-swagger, so I’m sure these players are genuine. So the game isn’t dominated by random chance. Instead, I’ll say that the random noise is so loud that it drowns out the mechanics that a new player is trying to learn.

Part of my problem with the game is the apparent lack of choices. I can’t customize my ship at the outset. This makes starting a new game very boring to me. If I start a new game of Civilization or Master of Orion, I can spend time customizing my faction or picking a good start location. In FTL, you just begin with the same stupid ship* and go back to making the same arbitrary “right or left?” navigation choices. You’ve got to play for a while before you can get back to doing interesting stuff and testing your theories. “Is this strategy right? Am I doing better? Or was I just lucky this time? I guess I’ll just play six more games before I find out how wrong I am!”

* Until you unlock other, fixed-layout ships.

So the game isn’t random. If you play long enough you’ll discover it’s just grossly unfair, it doesn’t teach you what you need to know, and the difficulty switch should have a little trollface.jpg next to it.


There is strategy in there somewhere, you just have to dig for it. It’s like a game of Civilization where only the top two difficulty tiers are available, you can only play as one faction at the outset, you can’t choose your start location, and new players have to lose a bunch of times before they can even map out the scope of the system they’re trying to overcome. Also, at the end of the game if you try to capture your opponent’s city he magically gets a free military unit every turn until you lose and the game never warns you or explains how this is possible because screw you, player. People can and do beat Civilization on the topmost difficulty, so such a game would be possible. But it would also be daunting and slow to learn and only fun for a narrow audience.

FTL is still not a game for me. I would much prefer to have a bunch of difficulty tiers WAY below the ones offered. I would prefer to play through the game on ACTUAL easy or normal mode where I can get a feel for the game before this run comes to an end. I’d rather not spend twenty minutes just for a tiny peek at the landscape of this particular challenge. On easy I can survive a fight and realize I’d made a mistake without the game coming to an end and sending me back to the boring no-choice beginning. “Wow. I would have been killed if I’d been playing on normal! Let’s see if I can figure out what I’m doing wrong.”

As far as I can tell, most of the challenge in this game is built around hiding knowledge from the player and making them fail repeatedly in order to uncover it. I would much prefer the Master of Orion model, where you gradually optimize over the course of several long games, turning up the difficulty as you grow.

I’m more convinced than ever I don’t want to play this game. I took the time to write this follow-up post because FTL fans passionately stuck up for the game and were generally polite about it. Any game that can inspire friendly defense like this can’t be all bad.

Normally I’d shrug and argue that this is what you get when you design systems where learning is slow and painful. Critics are not morally obligated to put up with your bullshit, and if you hide the fun where I can’t see it, then eventually I’m going to stop digging and conclude it’s not there. If you make a game that runs new players through the wringer without offering them a safety valve, then some people are going to get bored and frustrated and quit. I can’t predict who will like the game or who won’t. All I can do is talk about my experience and let you draw your own conclusions.

Some people decry the “dumbing down” of games, how everything is too easy. But “only hard mode” isn’t somehow better than “only easy mode”. (And financially speaking, it’s worse.)

However, since FTL is the product of a very small team and since it has a devoted following, I’m writing this to correct my earlier assertion that the game is too random. The game has lots of strategy. It’s simply too obtuse, and it takes too many failures to get a feel for how it works and what you should be doing. Also the final boss is a heaping pile of lame cheating.

If you’ve got the perseverance for this sort of thing and you like a good challenge, you can get a DRM-free version of FTL from the website for just $10.


From The Archives:

148 thoughts on “FTL: Random vs. Skill

  1. Nick says:

    “to obtuse”


    Yeah, I can see where you’re coming from. FTL isn’t my kind of game either – my absurd difficulty game has been Frozen Synapse of late

  2. Thx for taking the time, Shamus. I was frustrated with yesterday’s post not because I’m an FTL fanboy, but because I thought that maybe I’d enjoy playing it, and I wanted to find out more if I would – however yesterday’s article just seemed to rant about randomness without properly making the point about why that’s the case, or how the game should be changed to fix the issue. Today’s post closes the gap. And I conclude that the game likely isn’t for me. Ten bucks and countless hours saved thanks to you :)

  3. silver Harloe says:

    It turns out not everyone has to be a fan of every kind of game, and sometimes even your favorite blogger will very much dislike a game you like, and that’s okay.

    This appears (I haven’t played it) to be in the nethack/dwarf fortress model of “dying is fun” games where you spend more time discovering ways to lose than ways to win, and gradually improve only if you stick to your guns and keep careful track of all the ways to lose and try to do the other thing. It would seem (though I don’t know his opinion of similar games) to be a style Shamus doesn’t like, but that’s okay. Everyone breathe. It’s going to be okay.

    1. Alex says:

      While Dwarf Fortress is known by its motto, “Losing is Fun”, you don’t have to play it that way. It warns you when you’re going to embark somewhere that might be more difficult, and you can always just choose a nice, peaceful forest to learn the ropes, with plentiful trees and shrubs and nothing trying to eat you. It does have a “first winter” problem in the form of goblin sieges, but it’s a mistake with an intuitive solution: set up a defensive perimeter early rather than waiting until your megaproject is underway.

      It does not sound like FTL offers the same safety net, if you’d want one.

      1. CTrees says:

        I actually just downloaded DF last night after AGES of meaning to and never getting around to it. And… yeah, two problems: 1) it crashes often and hard, and I’m not sure what changes are needed to make it work* and 2) I’m not entirely sure HOW to play it. Like, I need to find a tutorial on “what makes things do what they should be doing,” because simply having the controls plopped in front of me rather feels like the Penny Arcade strip where Gabe was convinced the Wii weather app was a game. It’s unintuitive at the start, compared to Minecraft’s obviousness (battling crashes doesn’t help).

        *I know the game requires a lot of resources, but I’m on an OC’d i7 with 16Gb of RAM – DF has not consumed any substantial amount of that by the time it has crashed.

        1. Skye says:

          And lo, the internet has heard your prayers and answered!
          Tilesets make dwarf fortress so much more understandable. That guide is out of date, but still a fantastic introduction to the game, and has a link to the version of DF it’s using. (The updates are substantial, but not related to the general UI, so you should be able to jump from here to the latest version pretty easily, with an occasional “Huh, what’s that?” as you encounter a new thing.)

          No idea about the crashes. But don’t call Minecraft obvious. Speaking as someone who didn’t realize there was a wiki, I challenge you to figure out the crafting recipes without outside reference. Also, who intuitively decides to punch a tree? or anything unless you’re attacking? It takes long enough to destroy things this way that it’s not immediately clear you can dig. I forget how long I spent completely unarmed and with no construction materials. I didn’t realize bows, fishing rods, or hoes existed, and thus didn’t spend any time randomly entering things into the crafting menu to try to get them.

          1. Tzeneth says:

            My preferred tutorial set if you can handle an accent is the Captainduck ones as he does updates for the different versions of DF. Here is Link

          2. Michael says:

            Speaking of wikis… Ctrees, Why not the wiki formerly known as Magma Wiki? There’s a quickstart guide there for both Fortress and Adventurer mode.

            Also, it’s a wiki; helpful hints abound! Some stats do nothing at all in adventurer mode, and it’s helpful to know how to min-max.

            1. Lord Nyax says:

              If you try all that but you’re still turned off by the byzyntine interface and the abstract graphics you should try out Gnomoria. It basically is Dwarf Fortress but with Gnomes, a simple interface that works off intuitive menus, and colorful, easy to interpret graphics. Plus they’re adding content regularly, so it should theoretically only get more fun as time goes on.

  4. zob says:

    I like FTL because it reminds me of old school adventure games where you have to feed a sandwich to a dog so that you won’t auto lose game 3 hours later.

    Oh and if anyone still doesn’t know about it, to defeat giant alien spiders you need anti-bio beam, boarding drones or anti-personnel drones. Otherwise you are risking your crew.

  5. Infinitron says:

    tl;dr FTL is a roguelike.

    1. Cybron says:


      I guess your initial expectations matter quite a bit. I came in expecting all this because the game was billed as having rogue-like qualities.

      Shamus mentioned Nethack earlier and how this was harder than it. To which I say: can you imagine playing Nethack without a guide?

      1. MadHiro says:

        I don’t know about other people, but I don’t plunge headlong towards Gehennom. There’s a kit of gear I prefer to have assembled before I go too deep. I enjoy hanging about Minetown for quite some time. If I reach a challenge that is beyond my current ability, clever use of what I’ve prepared ahead of time will let me survive, get away, and then come back later to obliterate it.

        I don’t really feel like I have analogues to most of these behaviours, most of these choices in FTL. What’s more, the choices that I do have feel constrained, limited.

    2. Khizan says:

      This is exactly what I get out of it, yes.

      Like any other roguelike, you die and die and die before you get good at it. I expected this from FTL because it was billed as a space rogue-like, and I’m always kind of surprised when I learn that others didn’t.

      1. Psithief says:

        In all the roguelikes I’ve played, there are fixed items that you can attempt to base your strategy around. ADoM even had quests that didn’t have the end impossible to reach before you found the start.

        You know what? Another way to look at FTL is to call it ‘incomplete’.

        1. Infinitron says:

          ADoM is very much not a typical roguelike, though.

          1. dubidoo says:

            Well, this is months late, but I wish to correct you on your assertion: ADoM is very much a typical roguelike. In fact, one might call it a prototypical roguelike, since it is part of the basis for the Berlin Interpretation of roguelikes.

    3. Susie Day says:

      actually, it’s more a rouge-like-look-alike. On the surface it seems rouge-like, but the real meat/mechanics of the game are far from that of Rouge.

  6. Xapi says:

    So the game isn't random. If you play long enough you'll discover it's just grossly unfair, it doesn't teach you what you need to know, and the difficulty switch should have a little trollface.jpg next to it.

    I love the fact that right under this comment is a caption of the game where the ship on the right looks like the game is giving the player the finger.

    1. StranaMente says:

      To be fair, as a player of the game I see many problems in that picture. All the crew is in starting position (the subsystem are not manned and probably weren’t from the beginning), the doors are not open to extinguish the fires. The enemy ship has not been shot, and no attempts at defense are being made (there’s enough power to shoot missiles still but they’re not charged), no one is repairing the systems. That situation is still not beyond hope, but I can surely tell you that as it is, it looks like Shamus put the ship like that to get this picture on purpose.

      1. Shamus says:

        Yeah, I didn’t have any screenshots of the game when I began the article. I needed some pics to fill the space, so I just plowed into a foe and let them pummel me until I exploded.

        1. Ghost of Ruskgarn says:

          What would you say to a game that was exactly like this but let you go where you pleased forgoing the whole “running from the the rebels” dynamic.

          Could you go with this if it were a space trading game? Would that not be a very simple overhaul?

          I, for one, would relish a game like this that had me building up currency and trading (Han Solo Style) between systems.

          Random dynamics within a system could be cool too. Say when I accept the abnormally large payment from the strange monk and his young friend…. Am I being chased by the local mafia? Or the Empire?

          1. GiantRaven says:

            Gazillionaire might just be the game for you.

          2. Michael says:

            Honestly, I’d probably love this if it was a little bit closer to Elite…

          3. Tav_van says:

            Well there was always freelancer…. i miss that game

  7. Kylroy says:

    It’s a bit of a tangent, but when you said:

    “…most of the challenge in this game is built around hiding knowledge from the player and making them fail repeatedly in order to uncover it.”

    I realized that you had just described the ENTIRE adventure game genre. And given how many fans of that genre are retro game fans, I’m wondering to what degree this process is, in fact, a draw for some old-school gamers.

    1. Jabrwock says:

      Of course, as Shamus has pointed out before, this is what *killed* the adventure genre. Repeatedly trying the same puzzle over and over, not until the solution “clicks” in your head (oh… MONKEY wrench! or Portal 2’s ending) but rather, you accidentally discover the twisted logic the programmer used.

      Making the solution difficult to find isn’t the problem. Every game has a learning curve. It’s when you’ve found the solution, and it STILL doesn’t make sense. Then the player doesn’t feel like they’ve accomplished anything.

      1. krellen says:

        I only had to take one try to beat Portal 2, but I did so largely because I just reflexively fired a portal when the opportunity availed itself.

        (Look Ma, no spoilers!)

        1. Deadyawn says:

          Yeah, I would’ve liked to take credit for being clever about that but I pretty much just did the exact same thing there.

          1. Alan says:

            True for me as well. That so many people did I think is testament to Valve’s skill in design. You’re told well in advance why it would work (although it seems like more random humor at the time). You do it almost without thinking. It ties everything up well.

          2. Trix2000 says:

            And to be fair, the context was set up pretty well to make the solution fairly clear. I know when I got there the first time I was like “I wonder if… HOLY CRAP IT WORKED.”.

            1. King Lysandus says:

              Same here… only there was that delay, right? So it was like: “I wonder if this will work… Damn. OH MY GOD! IT WORKED!”

              This, to me, was one of the more epic moments of gaming. Your mileage may vary, but the context was there, and the solution made total sense.

              1. guy says:

                What’s really great about the delay:

                It’s precisely the lightspeed lag between Earth and the Moon

                1. Jabrwock says:

                  Really? That’s AWESOME.

                  I have to admit I’d totally forgotten, ran around a lot, and then had a “wait a minute” moment.

      2. Deetviper says:

        Well, if you remember the part where Cave Johnson talks about making the white goop out of crushed moon rocks , then it’s not too much of a stretch to think you could put a portal on the moon.

        1. False Prophet says:

          Yeah, I think that’s what tipped me off too. Although I might have been spoiled by seeing the “Shoot the Moon” achievement somewhere before playing the actual game.

          1. Viktor says:

            On the xBox the achievement is titled “Lunacy: That Just Happened” until you unlock it. I saw that while checking a different one, so I had an idea what would be involved in the ending.

            What actually happened, though, was far more awesome than I expected.

  8. Irridium says:

    “Until you lock other, fixed-layout ships.”

    Shouldn’t that be unlock?

    1. Jarenth says:

      Given that they’re still no-customization, fixed-layout ships, there might be some truth to this misspelling.

  9. mdqp says:

    I never played the game, so I might be wrong, but I think the problem here is that the game is short, and they didn’t have enough “room” to place the random factor properly. What I mean is that if they reduced the randomness, all playthroughs would have looked too “samey”, while if the game was longer, they could have spread it, giving the player a longer experience with each spacecraft build, and thus giving them a chance to learn the advantages and disadvantages of upgrades and all the rest without necessarily resorting to hit or miss situations.

    1. Retsam says:

      I actually think the length is about perfect. (And if it were any longer, it’d be an even worse free time sink)
      I think the game does a good job spreading the randomness out so that each playthrough isn’t samey. I’ve been playing on Normal (I didn’t realize until Shamus’ post yesterday that its accepted practice to play on Easy), and always using the same, default ship, and each play through is genuinely different, because my strategy depends on what I find. Sometimes I find weapons and try to win on firepower alone, some games I make it a good distance without ever finding a weapon. Some games I get a bunch of new crew members and am able to use a crew teleporter to attack their ship directly. Some games I barely have enough crew to run my ship.

      For me, this is where a lot of the difficulty comes in. Normally I’m a planner; like in Civ, I’ll decide pretty early whether to focus on building wonders, quick expansion, etc. This game doesn’t let me do that as much as forcing me to learn to react and be flexible.

      1. mdqp says:

        I think I wasn’t clear enough. I guess what I meant was that this might have been the reason why Shamus didn’t like it. It’s not the randomness on its own, it’s how it gives him little room to improve from playthrough to playthrough (as I said before, I didn’t play the game, I am just making an assumption based on his 2 posts).

    2. Arvind says:

      I think your assessment is pretty accurate, but we also have to keep in mind it doesn’t have as much content as Civ or 4x games, so lengthening a single playthrough would mean you see everything there is to see in just a couple of runs.

      1. mdqp says:

        Of course I am not proposing to “fix” the game like that. It would certainly need some more content, and maybe some filler here and there, a few touches to the market mechanics (I think those are what put most people in a tough spot, depriving them of access to specific piece of gear at key moments) and stuff like that.

        But I was just trying to point out that the specifics of the game kind of pushed it toward a certain direction, making a few flaws more annoying to some players.

        I played a game called “Weird worlds”. I assume that the game is somewhat similar to FTL, at least in some aspects, but the difficulty isn’t so damning, although it is pretty random, and the fights are all nearly impossible (but you can simply avoid conflicts, so no real problems there, you get a score based on how well you do in different areas, including exploration and looting). I was wondering if anyone played both and was willing to tell me if I am right in thinking they are similar in some aspects.

        1. Noah Lesgold says:

          “Weird Worlds”, which I never played, was a follow-up to the older “Strange Adventures in Infinite Space”, which I played quite a lot of. My go-to description of FTL is SAIS + more explicitly roguelike behavior + Choose Your Own Adventure. SAIS didn’t have the control over systems and crew, but the “See the galaxy, meet interesting aliens and befriend/kill/be killed by them, probably die horribly” nature of the game is quite similar. I freaking love FTL. My wife and I have been playing a lot together – having a second person to keep an eye on your ship during combat can help a lot, especially while you are learning the game. We’ve played around 40 games between us, and today I won (on Easy) for the first time. Our initial joke was that the difficulty levels should be called, “Your crew will die in pain and terror” and “Your crew will die in pain and terror… more quickly”. I fully recognize that that isn’t going to be for everyone, but I thought that the devs and the press surrounding the game communicated its nature pretty accurately.

          1. Jarenth says:

            I still have Strange Adventures installed on this PC, somewhere. The Weird Worlds executable, too, though I haven’t played it yet.

            I wish FTL had the one-day space warp engine as an option. And those lightning discs, whatever they were.

          2. mdqp says:

            I see. I actually like Weird Worlds, but I think I had already got 95% of the whole content after 3-4 playthroughs, and it is pretty annoying how the randomness of it all plays a huge role in how easy the game is (seriously, you can get the warp engine, mentioned in the post above, almost immediately, if you are lucky, and that completely changes the time management of the game, turning it into a non-issue).

            Weird Worlds supported mods, though, and I have a few installed which enhance the longevity a lot.

            Does FTL support mods? It sounds like something it could do…

            1. Chargone says:

              i seem to recall reading that making it able to was one of the things they planned to spend that massive amount of extra money they got on.

              also looking into the possibility of some sort of co-op.

            2. Ranneko says:

              FTL has a lot of mods out for it (given the age) there is a mods section on the official forums. Basically just after it came out people worked out how to unpack and repack the data files (which are all XML) and a series of increasingly sophisticated tools have been created to help with the process.

  10. Zombie Pete says:

    On a semi-related note, does anyone know of a decently in-depth, turn-based, space-empire-building strategy game for the Mac?

    1. Philip says:

      Master of Orion 2 is available, as is the Civs and Alpha Centari, but other than that no luck. However Ambrosia does offer the interesting Escape Velocity series that is Mac only.

      1. Ateius says:

        The final instalment of the series, Escape Velocity: Nova, is available for both Mac and PC, and I highly recommend it to just about everyone. Love that game.

        1. Michael says:

          Also, the Windows Nova executable will run the datafiles from the original Escape Velocity and Override. So, while Nova is the only one with an official PC port, any of the games can be run on the PC now days.

          EDIT: As I recall, you still need the data files from Override and EV, and I can’t remember if you had to buy those games separately for the Mac, and transfer the .res files over or if Ambrosia actually released the .res files for players who own Nova…

    2. http://endless-space.amplitude-studios.com/ is getting a lot of good reviews and was very recently released for Mac. I haven't played it myself, so I don't know how 4X it really is.

      1. smejki says:

        Good you mentioned this one below FTL. ES is also very randomized and full of cheating design. The core of the game is very good but noone bothered with polishing balance of the system. At least that was the situation one month after release. I am the guy who gave it 60/100 “on metacritic”.

    3. Mediocre Man says:

      Try Sword of the Stars (http://store.steampowered.com/app/42890/). It is 4X space awesomeness!

      Though it did take me a while to understand that trade needed to be researched before you could start trading. So the wiki might be suggested reading. Doesn’t mean you can’t just jump in, and have fun, but you might lose a couple of games first.

      [sorry I couldn’t get the url bbc code to work]

      1. Jabrwock says:

        Says it is windows only. Too bad, it sounds like fun.

        I’ll probably pick it up anyway. I use bootcamp for any gaming that is windows only.

        1. Michael says:

          On the windows only front for 4x, there’s also Galactic Civilization 2, which plays a lot like Civ 2 in space, and Sins of a Solar Empire. Imperium Galactica 2 might have gotten a mac release at some point, but I’m unsure.

          Regardless, Sins and IG2 are both RTS games… Sins more then IG2, and GC2 is a turn based game, and on a flat chessboard…

          On the side of stuff I know exists for the mac, there’s Deadlock and Masters of Orion 2, though I don’t know that either of those got updated to Carbon, so they might not be playable anymore, unless you have an older mac.

          Deadlock is a single planet, but MOO2 opens up the whole galaxy to you.

          There was also a shareware title back in the late 90s, called Spaceward Ho!, though I’ve no idea if it’s even possible to obtain anymore.

  11. Cybron says:

    Much better.

    I’d personally say that not every game is obligated to make itself accessable – its not like there’s a glut of this sort of game in the market, after all. But your points are still fair. I do agree that the game isn’t good at showing you what you did wrong. It took me ages to figure out that engines were really good, for instance.

    I will note that there are mods which make the game easier floating around (and some that make it harder!) though I haven’t tried them myself. Those might be worth looking into.

  12. Xodion says:

    Re-writing your point of view using Civ definitely helps me to understand it, but I think I’ll just have to agree to disagree. It is hard to learn, as I said on the last post, but I didn’t think it took as long as you describe to learn things like tactics. I’ve not played many more than 6 games, maybe twice that, but I’m noticably better after every game, and I thoroughly enjoy the whole process. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of these ‘you’re clearly too stupid’ jerks – I’ve still not reached the final boss yet, and I struggle with the middle difficulties on Civ, which is why I think it surprised me so much that people think this is too difficult to pick up. Maybe I should be a starship captain? Or maybe it’s just because I personally enjoy the exact processes going on where others don’t.

    As I said previously, it could definitely be improved and fixed in some places, and while not every decision is as unforgiving as ‘you made a mistake, you die’ it is true that quite a number of them are. A lower difficulty would definitely be a good idea, and/or a sort of a sandbox/explore for testing things.

  13. krellen says:

    Shamus, since you already have the game and thus another try won’t really cost you all that much, could you give the game one more go, but with this mod installed? It removes the pursuing Rebel fleet, allowing you to explore each sector at your leisure instead of rushing to the exit. I think you may find the game much much more enjoyable then.

    1. rofltehcat says:

      Jay, now I like the game even more!

      I hope the developers release a FTL2 that focuses more on exploration etc.

    2. Confanity says:

      I’d actually recommend against removing the Rebels: if one of the things Shamus wants is more explicit (non-blind) choice, then he wants to keep the time pressure. It adds so many considerations to the map even when you don’t have long-range scanners:
      -Do I make a side trip to that shop for fuel, or answer that distress beacon? Only enough time for one.
      -Do I plunge into the nebula, fly without sensors, and risk a storm cutting my power in half, if it will slow the Rebel search and allow me to get more done in this sector?
      -Do I finish a quest in the far corner of the map, even though by the time I get back the exit point will be in enemy hands?

      You do remove a lot of the pressure, yes, and the extra scrap no doubt makes the ending boss battle easier, and depending on what kind of game you like that might be exactly the mod for you. But if you game to make meaningful choices, then turning off the Rebels doesn’t help.

      1. krellen says:

        No, trust me: I’m sure the time-pressure and the inability to back-track are big factors in Shamus’s dislike of the game.

        1. Duffy says:

          While you are probably right, and I will not begrudge the mod itself or Shamus’ dislike of the game. I would like to point out the mod does make the game ridiculously easy to stomp as there is a progression curve to the difficulty.

          Clearing whole sectors will unbalance the difficulty. I will wholeheartedly agree the game does not have quite enough feedback mechanics, but assuming you know the game in and out, the difficulty becomes laughable until 1/2 to 2/3 through the game if you aren’t using one of the more challenging ship layouts. Remove the time pressure and I have a feeling the only difficulty will be in finding one additional useful weapon upgrade before the boss. Not getting one is close to impossible if you can guarantee 100% exploration. (I would say impossible but I have no proof the game cannot say ‘meh no stores with weapons’.)

          I kind of want to watch Shamus play the game a bit to see how he’s playing. It might be possible he’s playing wrong and while that does not lessen his arguments it does show a failure area in terms of correcting player behavior through feedback from the game.

          And as many others have said the boss is total b.s. and I raged a bit when I discovered it was a multi-stage fight and died immediately in stage 2 after a long hard fight to beat the state 1.

          1. rofltehcat says:

            Stage 2 is complete BS. Sometimes, the drones get through really high evasion and a high shield even before you can fire your first salvo, let alone pierce the shield :/

            1. Chargone says:

              if you max your shields the drones and boss ship combined don’t have enough energy weapons to punch through. (on easy, anyway.)

              the missiles, on the other hand…

              missiles bringing down your shields followed by energy weapons to the face is a bad day <_<

              1. Duffy says:

                Just to give an idea of how I generally play (on easy anyways):

                Assuming I can get a third weapon somewhere before sector 5 or 6 I can almost guaranteed beat the game on easy with the Kestrel now. I tend to max shields, get at least 25% dodge from engines, and grab a teleporter at some point tho it is not 100% necessary, it just makes life easier. Cloak is also helpful, but not pivotal.

                When I get to the boss immediately full volley on the missile weapon system to try and knock it down while porting a pair of guys to the blaster. The beam and ion can be ignored at full upgraded shields. Port guys to each weapon system until all are down. Volley until jump.

                Round 2 is the same but full volleys are aimed at Drone Control while I port guys around to the weapons. If no porting alternate volleys. This is the riskiest phase generally speaking as the boarding drones can get annoying and the remaining weapon systems coupled with the drones can chew shields quickly if you don’t knock something out in the first couple of volleys. If you have defense drones it’s a lot easier. I have noticed a couple times that the drones the boss picks to use aren’t always the most effective choices, some rounds are easier than others.

                I have not died on round 3 yet but I continue targeting the remaining two turrets and then volley the ship to death.

                Personally the easiest boss fight I had was when I found another Blaster 2 and a Blaster 3 (total of 11 shots per volley).

            2. Blake says:

              I usually try to save up and buy a cloaking device primarily for stage 2 boss, at level 3 it takes too long to recharge to get each super wave of drones, but at 1 or 2 it almost always saves you from it.
              Just make sure you’ve teleported some people into their triple missile weapon compartment first because that thing is bad to you.

  14. rayen says:

    Okay, except for the final boss, I would assert the game is completely fair. Yes it is obtuse and hard to learn, but it isn’t unfair. It will put you in unwinnable situations, and it isn’t always your fault, but thats true of alot of things (examples; real life and NWN2). However it’s completely fair. It doesn’t have an awesome button, It doesn’t have a repair all button. It’s is excruciatingly hard but not unfair.

    EDIT;Also That pic is a bit misleading, If you aren’t directing your crew to put out fires and fix stuff, then you deserve to lose.

    1. Deadyawn says:

      I don’t know about you but I don’t think using neverwinter nights 2 as a favorable comparison is going to convince Shamus any.

    2. Loonyyy says:

      “Real Life is unfair”-but games should be. I’m happy to fail at a game when I’m less skilled, or potentially ignorant of a tactic which makes sense. But games should follow some form of internally consistent logic, and have a state where the player can succeed. Situations which are completely hopeless at random intervals through no intervention of the player, like, say, Solitaire, are not good design.

      Life isn’t fair. Games should be.

    3. Alan says:

      I’m curious about your definition of “fair.” “It will put you in unwinnable situations…” doesn’t sound very fair to me. It’s true that life does the same, but there is a reason “Life isn’t fair” is a cliche.

      My working definition for a single player game is, “Will be beaten the first time through by a player with exceptional hand-eye coordination, intelligence, and perception, but who has never played the game before, nor read any tips on play besides what is presented in the game or in the official manual.” By that standard, FTL is not fair at all.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        That’s completely impossible to apply to a roguelike. The whole point of a roguelike is the player gains experience and understanding of how the game works through repeated play, until you get to the point where you can finally win. A roguelike you beat on the first try wouldn’t be worth anything ;/

        1. X2Eliah says:

          Paraphrased: “The whole point of a roguelike is that it is unfair until you have died countless times”, no?

          1. Chargone says:

            which, if true, Does raise the ‘your problem is one of the core mechanics of the genre’ issue.

            and if that’s Actually the case, then i will point you to the saga of ‘reviews of Dynasty warriors games’. the games are average-to-good, and a solid money maker which is used to fund Koei’s more unusual offerings. review scores functionally work on a 5-10 scale. DW regularly gets sixes, at best. this is in part because it is a certen genre of game and reviewing it is Regularly assigned to people who range from having no interest to that genre to, in one memorable case, a guy who Hated the genre, and had played previous iterations, and hated them too, and said as much. (probably didn’t help that Koei didn’t spend money on advertising with those places, mind you. and the score would have been just fine if the scale Actually went from 1 to 10. but it doesn’t. it goes from 5 to 10 with 6 being ‘just barely not crap’, 8 being ‘above average to good’ and 9/10 being some combination of ‘the reviewer loves this game type/company and will forgive many minor faults’ ‘it’s pretty good’ and ‘they bought lots of advertising’.)

            none of which changes Shamus’s experiences or opinions, but it should be taken into account if you’re using his review as part of your decision making process as to whether to get the game or not (which i sometimes do.)

            1. X2Eliah says:

              Oh, I agree, a roguelike is definitely not for people who dislike unfarness. I’m just pointing out that it is entirely possible to apply “fairness” to “roguelike” – specifically, by saying that the latter doesn’t have any of the former. :3

          2. Stranger says:

            That’s generally what I get told when I criticize how tough I found Nethack, so . . . yes :)

            And I’ll keep beating my head against that wall . . . once a month. Any more than that I’ll ragedelete it again.

      2. Majyqman says:

        How does this definition even work? Any 4X game… one person wins first time through on difficulty 5/9, another loses on 5/9 but wins first time through on 4/9…

        Which of those difficulties was “fair”?

    4. Daemian Lucifer says:

      “If you aren't directing your crew to put out fires and fix stuff, then you deserve to lose.”

      Pffft,why waste crew when vacuum is all around?

      1. Khizan says:

        This, really.

        Assuming you could had storage tanks or some other way of replenishing air, the ideal thing would be to put all your crew in spacesuits of some sort and then vent/pump out all the air. Dramatically reduced risk of fires as well as no air to transmit force.

        And considering that everybody should be in a self-sustaining pressure suit of some kind ANYWAYS due to possible hull breach, there’s really no excuse for not doing this. :(

        1. doubLL says:

          Well, when you chose the engi ship, which has a crew that is almost incapable of winning any boarding confrontation, the default strategy is to begin by venting all mon-essential systems.
          You end up in the world’s raddest intergalactic space jeep.

  15. Hoffenbachager says:

    Well, you’ve definitely expressed a few of my frustrations with the game (although the main one is that you HAVE to beat the cheating boss to win).
    Still, I really like FTL, and while it isn’t the best game ever, it’s great to see tiny indie devs get so much support from the gaming community. And hey, they can’t all be Bastion.

    1. Christopher M. says:

      My view on FTL is that beating the boss isn’t the point. Much like NetHack, where beating Rodney and taking your place as the avatar of War isn’t the point so much as finding that black dragon scale mail, wand of wishing 3/3, or +5 Excalibur; FTL is less about beating the final stage and more about the victories, near-defeats, upgrades, and challenges along the way.
      So, as much as it’s a pretentious assertion: You’re playing it wrong!

    2. Chargone says:

      this might be a Little spoilery…

      boss is cheaty, but there’s a Lot of different ways to beat him. (example: note how his weapons areas Aren’t Connected to the rest of the ship? got a teleporter? yeah.) … well, the combination of ‘ways to kill him’ and ‘ways to not get killed by him’ is pretty large at least.

      simplest factor to remember: dodging means you don’t get Hit, means you don’t take damage, means you get lots of opportunities to shoot back. high engine rating, crew manning it, and cloaking all help this (believe it or not, lower level cloaking is more helpful than high level cloaking due to the length of a complete on/off cycle.) high shields are a huge help to get to the boss, but expensive, and not terribly necessary. level 1 drones don’t get distracted by beams your shields can stop … all sorts of things like that.

      still, you generally won’t beat the boss the first time you encounter a given stage. gotta figure out what it’s doing.

      there is one blatantly unfair bit though: killing all it’s crew turns it into an airless drone ship which then apparently fixes its damage automatically. Every Other Ship, killing all it’s crew means you win :S reducing it down to one crewman is still very good though.

  16. StranaMente says:

    “if you hide the fun where I can't see it, then eventually I'm going to stop digging and conclude it's not there.”

    I think the problem you’ve met with this game is here. In this game, like in Binding of Isaac and other rogue-like, the fun is in the discovery of winning mechanics, not in winning.* So it’s fun when you discover that you can do something unepected and win a battle, or get an unexpected outcome.

    From all your critics toward the game I know that this isn’t the game for you, and I will not try to convince you otherwise. I think, though, that’s unfair to present the game as something that it’s not and lamenting because it’s not like you expected.

    The obscurity is part of the challenge that makes this kind of games fun.
    The unfairness of the final boss is still something that has no excuse.

    But the ways you can win almost all the other encounters are so much that it’s thrilling to try new configurations just to exploit something.

    *I remember one night when by chance I grabbed an ion cannon and a fire beam. Could do nothing to the enemy ships, but I killed entire crew that way grabbing the ships intact. I made a perfect and fun run until the boss, where I couldn’t get pass even after the first stage and got obliterated. I can’t say I wasn’t frustrated for losing, but at the same time I enjoyed that playthrough very much for all the fun I had experimenting.

    1. Retsam says:

      Just wanted to say +1 to this.

    2. Blake says:

      I had a similar thing on my first run with the Zoltan ship, I had a fire beam, an anti bio beam, and a few burst lasers to take down shields. I had 2 scrap arms and could kill the crew of every ship I encountered.
      Until the boss of course, too many shields :(

  17. Zukhramm says:

    I saw this post when it has just nine comments and thought people really must have gone berserk with rage in the comments. Then I realized it was a new post.

    Somehow, the game is fun to me, as far as I played at least. Not perfect, but enjoyable. I haven’t faced the boss though, and it doesn’t sound very good. The game is more of a “deal with random backlash”-simulator than something exploration or strategy based. Maybe the space ship packaging sets the wrong expectations?

  18. Vegedus says:

    So yeah, that’s pretty much in keeping with the rogue-like genre. Which the developer themselves state it is. While I think this post is mostly spot on, I think the comparisons with Civilization is misplaced for that reason. It’s a whole ‘nother genre, and defeat means very different things in them. Civ takes much longer and you’re more invested in your game and in your civ. Losing sucks in that game. Here, you never lose more than hours of progress, much less if you use the restart gratiously.

    That’s not to say that it can’t be frustrating or that it’s a genre for everyone, but there’s something addictive and uniquely fun about the “grrr, dead again, one more try” style. Like Minecraft hardcore mode. Granted, most players don’t start on hardcore mode, so it’s more a test of already acquired rather than learning by dying, but the appeal is much the same. In minecraft you can also be snuffed at any moment, and at little fault of your own, by a rogue creeper.

  19. Paul Spooner says:

    The interesting thing (to me) about FTL is it’s an introverted rogue-like. Most RPG style games have a single main character. Occasionally, there is a group of characters (a party) who work together, extroverted play. FTL turns this idea inside-out, by having a single character (your spaceship) who levels up by containing other characters. It’s a nested party. It looks inward instead of outward. This is a neat idea, and game designers should use it more often.

    The problem with FTL is that it misses several crucial rogue-likes tropes. Rogue-likes are strongly themed, traditional RPGs, and having lots of content (see “Rogue” for a great example of how to do this right). They are this way for good reasons (which I won’t fully explore here), and FTL misses this. It does the roguelike badly in several ways (most of which you’ve already covered):
    * Instead of strongly themed levels, we have weakly themed zones (with little choice as to which to experience).
    * It forces players to keep moving (preventing the RPG style self-balancing behavior)
    * It compensates for lack of content by forcing players to work hard to experience limited content.

    I think the first is actually the most severe problem. In almost every rogue-like, the themed areas are the core flavor. You’ve got the swamp zone, and the acid zone, and the treasure vault, etc. This shows up in all the Megaman games, Linely’s Dungeon Crawl, and countless other places. When you get to a new zone, you’re treated with new settings, new powers, and new challenges to face. FTL tries this, but does it wrong. It adds too much variation in each sector. You can encounter any kind of ship in any of the zones. This robs the zones of their flavor, and makes the whole thing a semi-homogenous mush. There’s still some variation, but as you said, it’s drowned in the noise.

    Forcing the players to keep moving is a good idea, but it’s also a mistake. It creates a sense of tension and urgency. Unfortunately, it also negates much of the benefit of the RPG leveling elements. As you go, your ship grows in power and abilities. New players probably would spend nearly their entire game toodleing around the starting area, slowly growing into an unstoppable battleship before plowing to the end boss and stomping him like a hermit crab. I’m guessing the developers saw this kind of behavior in testing and wanted to stop it. Sadly, they don’t understand their own medium well enough to make it optional. This is actually what “easy” mode should be. Take away the fleet chasing you, and the RPG elements will shine.

    Lastly, there is not that much content in the game. Oh sure, it’s fun and varied, but when you come right down to it it’s a small scoop of pie and icecream; Tasty, but unsatisfying. The game tries to compensate for this by spreading the content out, making it impossible to experience it all in a single play-thru, and forcing the player to repeat the experience over and over again to taste it all. This makes the game feel like there’s more to it than there really is. A good idea to draw in new players, but a bad idea to retain them.

    I think the developers (a small team) made an excellent game, and only a few mistakes. Luckily for them, the real world is not like their game. They can go back and fix these mistakes instead of continuing to run from their problems, frantically hoping the solution will show up in a shop, and they’ll have enough scrap to purchase it. I’d love to see FTL grow into its true potential. The flaws are not central to the gameplay. It could still grow into something wonderful.

    EDIT: Since I can edit my comment, let me take this opportunity to apologize for the lengthy essay. If my ideas were better thought out, they would be shorter. I’d also like to acknowledge that you’ve covered these issues several times and in several places on your Blog already, and that your thoughts and comments shaped my own; It’s only right to give credit for that. The fact that these issues have irritated you before may contribute to your lack of tolerance for them here (and rightly so).

    Thanks for continuing to share your insights!

    1. Ateius says:

      Very well-written. I can’t help but agree with your major points; however …

      “You can encounter any kind of ship in any of the zones. This robs the zones of their flavor, and makes the whole thing a semi-homogenous mush.”

      This is slightly unfair, I feel. Yes, it’s possible to occasionally encounter a Mantis ship outside Mantis space, but it’s rare compared against the encounter rate inside Mantis space. It’s also typically a small one, whereas inside their space you can run into big ol’ cruisers, and the text introduction sets a far different tone. The same goes for Rock, Zoltan, etc, and usually if you run into them outside their territory they’ll have pirate markings and a mixed crew instead of just Rocks. Slugs are perhaps the best example; I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a Slug ship outside a nebula system (their territory).

      The difference in encounters is strong enough that I consciously try to avoid Mantis-controlled space unless I have a full crew complement. Those guys are a nightmare to deal with.

      Maybe more accurate is to say that, art style aside, there’s not a lot of variation in how encounters with different species’ ships plays out. I haven’t noticed any real variation in weapons loadouts or combat tactics (with a few small but fun exceptions that I won’t spoil). Fighting an Engi is like fighting a Zoltan is like fighting a Pirate, I mean.

      1. Alec W says:

        Zoltans have zoltan shields and heavy weaponry
        Drones have no air and high dodge
        Mantis ships any larger than a scout will always board you

    2. Nidokoenig says:

      The self-balancing behaviour thing is actually something that really annoys me about RPGs. I’m a very mechanically minded gamer and like to find the most efficient tactics, but I also don’t like to miss out on doing story, flavour and unique item missions if avoidable, so I hate the way many RPGs force me to choose between being challenged but laser-focussed on the man quest or being a living god who goes everywhere and does everything without difficulty.

      This tends to mean that well before the end I have all the tools from levelling as well as all the skills from knowledge of the game unless I consciously and deliberately handicap myself, which is about the most effective way to neuter the big threat I can think of and utterly ruins immersion if I’m supposed to take them seriously according to the story and setting.
      Forcing me to get a shuffle on and not do every bleeding thing, or even just forcing me to choose between mutually exclusive options goes a long way towards stopping me from blasting through the end-game in a blaze of max level, Infinity+1 Sword quad-wielding glory and actually makes a narrow victory a realistic possibility rather than just me showing off.

      For me, the ideal purpose of levelling up is to let me choose what I want to upgrade based partly on what’s happened and which new toys the enemy has gotten since the last level-up, and partly on a hopefully poorly informed guesstimate of what will happen before the next one.
      This usually means my focus is more on currency, skills and items than levelling proper, but increasing power is increasing power. From the sounds of it I should actually get round to playing FTL because it’s specifically designed to scratch this itch.

      I’m not saying a sandbox mode with all the ships unlocked and no rebel fleet shouldn’t be an option for practice or simply for the fun of a sandbox, what I’m saying is the option to curb-stomp the final challenge of the main game by over-levelling is not a universal good, and removing it, especially as is done here to add to the atmosphere and sense of accomplishment, is a perfectly valid decision that improves the game for many.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        I agree that it increases the tension, and even makes the main plot more believable. After my first few games I commented to my wife that the enemy fleet was really forcing me to try harder than I normally would. All I’m asking for is that it be optional.

        The game play issue I believe you should be addressing is that the end boss waits for the main character. If there was a real time limit and the end boss really was going to destroy the planet with his giant hammer (or whatever) then spending time perusing side-quests wouldn’t be an option. You really would have to choose between saving granny’s dog, and saving the continent of Innocentia. I would much prefer this kind of real stakes (the bad guys aren’t going to wait for you to level up) to the standard approach. The FTL method of kicking you along every step of the way is (in my mind) an imperfect compromise.

        For example, say there’s an invisible count-down to when the enemy flagship reaches the base. At first you won’t know how much time you have, you’ll probably spend too much time leveling up, and by the time you reach the end stage the imperial fleet has been totally destroyed. You can still fight the rebel flagship, but the war has already been lost. Your foes should not be standing around waiting for you to show up when you’re done organizing your materia and collecting eagle feathers. They should have already conquered the world by then. I think this kind of solution would strongly re-enforce the story and setting of any game.

        The choice doesn’t have to be between RPG leveling and real challenge. We just need to think a bit more flexibly about games and what we expect from players.

        1. Chargone says:

          the final sector Does do this, actually… but there’s no real reason not to go straight for the boss in that sector, so ultimately it just punishes you for choosing the wrong flight path/having to repair between stages of the boss fight (to the point where, if i get that far, i just fly straight at the boss as soon as possible, then straight to it again, and again, without bothering to patch myself up.)

          the below is spoilery, but the comment editor doesn’t tell me how to tag it. read at your own risk. (not that plot spoilers in this game mean much.)

          also, story wise, the boss is IN the fleet that’s chasing you. you’re a courier. the bizarre bit is that you get to the end, report to the federation fleet that the boss is somehow the rebel’s Weakness, and their immediate response is to turn around and tell you to go kill the boss ship for them. The first time i read that i was like ‘ummm…. what?’ … so, yeah, if you get caught by the super dangerous rebel fleet and don’t escape, not only do you blow up, but the federation Does lose, because they don’t know about the boss (and you don’t kill him).

          ugh. i’m not explaining that well. you’re right, game mechanics wise, mostly, but also not…sort of?

          1. Paul Spooner says:

            Yeah, I would have been glad if there was more incentive to farm stuff in the last sector, and wait until the last possible moment to attack the flagship. My point was mostly that it would have been nice to have an option to not be the courier and just play with the game mechanics.

            It would also have been interesting if, when you deliver the information about the weakness, the game does a quick calculation on the abilities of your ship and if you’re too weak says “Thanks for the info, now we’re going to send this OTHER guy to blow up the flagship.” Then it’s a race to get to the flagship before the rest of the fleet and be the one to land the killing blow. Or you could just wait around for the rest of the fleet to shoot down the Flagship, but you don’t get the “won the game” achievement if this happens.

            Oh well, they still could add a bunch of this stuff. Hopefully they will!

      2. blood says:

        I am pretty sure this is a dead thread, and for that i apologize. But i have only recently started playing FTL after getting it free from a friend. And after reading dozens of comments just like yours i needed to respond to one of them.

        First, sometimes i don’t want to take the end boss seriously because i legitimately think they are a joke and honestly i need the satisfaction of crushing the toughest thing in the land like a bug because no one around me will realize my true potential otherwise. But enough about the elder scrolls. Your point was that a narrow victory, not being overpowered, is more enjoyable than being an absolute marauding monster (as far as i can tell). Sure, you are right. While i occasionally find shredding blood dragons with a single hit from my dragonbone axe fun i do tend to consider the hard fought and drawn out battles of games like panzer elite more rewarding. But FTL is in a completely different realm. The battles throughout the game can range from increadibly easy to total downhill drags or outright unfair slaughters. It is rarely ever about actual strategy. Once you learn the basics of how to deal with ship damage, intruders, and the effects of the weapons it comes down to getting the items you want or need. And the endgame boss isn’t just a challenge, it is in the “outright unfair” category. An endgame boss, even on a supposedly rouglike game, should never be so difficult that it inspires several polarizing debates about how bullshit it is, or require a guide and an extremely lucky item drop to even have a chance of killing, or be so difficult that even when you get all of those items you still have a good chance of loosing if the RNG decides to tell you to fuck yourself. Even diablo and baal in diablo 2 weren’t that difficult, all they required to beat were a few pointers and some common sense.

        Lastly, and this was the point i wanted to make all along before my brain shat all over my comment. It isn’t more realistic or visceral, having a boss like FTL’s (or even some enemies). It would be, if you were a commoner, or an engineer, or scientist, or anything other than a soldier of some sort. But you are entrusted with supposedly vital information and a refitted federation warship. You rampage across several large sections of the galaxy performing supposedly grand feats of battle killing several infamous bandits and creatures. And they entrust you with taking down a vital enemy, implying that you have the best chance out of any other nearby ship of killing this crucial target. Yet you can still be swatted aside. So yea, i guess it does make it more realistic, if you want to feel like an outclassed peasent who shouldn’t have even been apart of this mission to begin with. And if you enjoy that fine, I however will continue to enjoy feeling like a hero when i face down fifty shermans in my pz 4 with faulke division to try and stop the american invasion. Because as bullshit, drawn out and hard as that is, It isn’t unfair. And it doesn’t invalidate all of your past accomplishments, it adds to them.

  20. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Maybe Im wrong here,and I dont want to sound offensive,but Shamus,maybe you are just too old for the game.

    I remember that fallout 1 was exactly like this to me the very first time Ive tried it,and Im not sure how long I would endure if I got to play it for the first time now.And many,many other games I used to play back when I was young were exactly as brutal,or even more so.Heck,the very first civilization I played was civilization 1,and I had a faulty amiga back then,that wasnt able to save.So I had to play it from the start,every time,and eventually play for 18+ hours in order to win,and I enjoyed it.Or how about the original x-com?Ftl is peanuts compared to that.

    With ftl,I play 1,maybe two games that last half an hour or so,before I go and do something else,and I usually listen to some podcast while doing so.Even when I was ironing myself with I wanna be the guy,I was playing for half an hour tops,before switching it off to do something else.And I am younger than you,and not married,so I have much more free time.

    1. Ateius says:

      “I remember that fallout 1 was exactly like this to me the very first time Ive tried it,and Im not sure how long I would endure if I got to play it for the first time now.”

      If you’re anything like me, the answer is “not long”.

      However, I was holding the Fallout games to a different standard. I was expecting progression and gameplay more akin to, say, Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights, not a series of (what felt like) “gotchas”! On the other hand, I knew going in to FTL what to expect: Roguelike, lots of death, whims of the RNG etc, so when the “gotchas” started coming I was prepared for them.

      Mind, I still didn’t invest in the kickstarter or consider buying the game until RPS’ lovely game diary was produced. They made it sound much more enjoyable than the developers themselves did.

  21. Ringwraith says:

    I suppose there is a limit for how random something can be before it’s not longer fun from being difficult.
    I just came off the back of beating Persona 3, and that’s a game which is hard, and often throws you into situations where you need prior knowledge to survive, which isn’t the best way of doing it as it often becomes a bit too much trail-and-error. Although quite often mercifully gives you a save point right before so you can back out and adapt your setup before going in again.
    Though sometimes you still get messed up by some random encounters with nasty combinations of abilities, or just random chance on instant death/status effects, and lose a chunk of progress if you don’t manage to survive long enough to flee, although there is a spell for guaranteed escape if you plan so far. Although special mention has to go to the enemies with instant-death spells at around level 10, when you won’t have their weakness available to exploit, and it’s one of those games where if your main character hops the twig you lose automatically. Though most of these things can be countered simply by being properly prepared, and that kind of eliminates the random chance aspect a bit, even if you do have to intentionally get wiped by most bosses at least once so you can know what you’re up against. Not having permadeath I suppose is another massive factor there.

    Persona 3’s regular difficulty is also rather well displayed by its remake adding an Easy mode to it.

    1. pneuma08 says:

      Hrm, I don’t remember Persona 3 being all that difficult. There were a few boss fights that were especially tough, but most can be handled with general planning and strategy – it’s very possible to recover from nearly any setback (early-game instant death being an exception). I feel that the earlier SMT games were much harsher. (I recall once in DDS getting ambushed and nearly wiped before I got a turn…) Nevertheless, it’s extremely rare that any of those games simply bring down the “you lose” hammer.

      Still, I kind of like that; I think it keeps me on my toes and engaged (as opposed to random encounters balanced in a game like any of the Final Fantasies, which rarely if ever threaten your party). Even the instant death attacks, once you get into the mid game, there’s just enough homunculi that it hurts to lose them but it keeps you in the game (to the uninitiated, they prevent one instant death just by sitting in your inventory).

      1. Ringwraith says:

        Oh, Persona won’t seem that difficult if you’ve played earlier SMT games, as they’re the easiest games to use that battle system, but they’re still not easy.
        There are just some bosses who seem designed to ruin your day. Sleeping Table is horrific due to how early he pops up and how much damage he does, making the actual plot-required boss that comes after look like a cakewalk.
        There’s also just some brutal random encounters, Jotuns mostly, I remember fleeing from one type at every opportunity after once seeing them nearly kill everyone in a single turn.

        Although the battle system does lend itself to be a bit “all or nothing” due to the getting extra turns for exploiting weaknesses, as sure you can probably wipe an encounter in a single turn, but if they get the first move, they can easily do the same to you.

  22. King Lysandus says:

    “It's like a game of Civilization where only the top two difficulty tiers are available, you can only play as one faction at the outset, you can't choose your start location, and new players have to lose a bunch of times before they can even map out the scope of the system they're trying to overcome.”

    So it is like Total War: Napolean then?

    1. StashAugustine says:

      Whelp, glad I grabbed Empire instead over the weekend.

  23. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Great,I edit a comment and it gets marked for moderation.Should avoid adding in x-com next time.

  24. Alec W says:

    Much more accurate Shamus.

    I still feel you are exaggerating the learning curve – it’s tough but nothing like high Civ difficulties. I learned the game completely in ten or fifteen hours – nothing like the joyless, useless head banging on granite wall that would be playing Civ on Emperor or something as a new player.

    That said, even with my ‘~100% win ratio’, the boss I totally agree with you. That guy is bullshit for new players and he nearly made me quit originally!

    1. Retsam says:

      It might actually be a good thing that I’ve been playing on Normal. I’ve played for a fair bit of time, and I’ve never actually gotten to the final boss to be enraged by it, since the rest of it is difficult enough. By the time I get to the final boss (even if I hadn’t read this thread previously to know what I’m getting into) I won’t be a “new player”.

  25. SleepingDragon says:

    Personally I enjoy FTL, in, relatively, smallish doses, but I hear a lot of what you say. I suppose, like a number of people here, I’m not put off by the whole “unfairness” because I was expecting it the moment I heard the word “roguelike.” I’m still banging my head repeatedly against Dungeon Crawl and while I sometimes get frustrated I usually get back to it after a little time has passed. Actually, I wonder if rebranding the difficulties up a step (as in: making “easy” into “normal” and “normal” into “hard”) could help with the general perception of the game.

    That said, what I’d really like to see is someone taking roughly these ship management mechanics, expanding on them a whole lot and making a semisandboxy space exploration game in the venue of the Star Control series…

  26. JPH says:

    I hate games that heavily feature random chance. I hate games that punish the player for things out of his control or understanding. I hate games that don’t spend the time to teach you the mechanics properly. All signs show that this is a game I would utterly despise, just like Binding of Isaac, and just like most roguelikes.

    And yet, I’ve spent 15+ hours in the game, and I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly. I honestly can’t tell why.

    1. Sumanai says:

      Details affect a lot on how something feels. The theme or the way the combat works could be what’s doing it for you. My attraction to the game, from what I’ve been able to tell, is the fact that there’s ship management. Adjusting powers from different parts, using different weapons, aiming different parts and so on.

  27. radio_babylon says:

    im a little late to this, judging by the volume of comments, but im kind of surprised to see these two posts. i got the game on a lark saturday, and NEARLY beat it the first game i played (the boss beat me on the second “omg drones!” encounter)… i have, since then, played maybe 10 more games, and while i havent won yet (get pummeled by the end boss every time), ive only failed to get to the end once out of those games.

    im not saying im super good at the game or anything, clearly im not since i still cant manage to “win” it, i just didnt realize it was considered to be so hard. i suppose its not impossible ive just been stupidly lucky, but i find it unlikely, across 10-ish plays. i think maybe its the way players approach the game that heavily influences how difficult they find it.

    it also probably helped that ive played the hell out of games like weird adventures in infinite space, which are very similar, so i was already accustomed to the kinds of decisions i would have to be making, and how to optimize my play to give me the best shot at winning (or, playing longer, at least)…

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Well,my first encounter with the boss was on my second playthrough,which is when I got the engi ship.5 more tries with that one,and I got my first win on easy,and a difficulty ramp up.After the victory on normal,I decided to focus more on getting all the other ships.So its not just you,but a bit of luck is needed for much of the game(my first win against the boss had me at 2 hp left).

  28. Strange guy says:

    I’m honestly a bit surprised by the complaints about FTLs difficulty. I’ve beaten it 5 times in about 40-50 runs all on normal, which since I’m not that great at rogue-likes seems pretty easy to me. For instance I’ve only ever collected 1 rune in all my Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup play and died hundreds of times. Closest to a major rogue like I’ve beaten is DoomRL and only on the two lowest difficulties. The unchanging boss that doesn’t allow alot of strategies, or at least not for all stages, is a bit of a problem though.

    I have found myself beginning to get annoyed each mistake I make and each time the game screws me over, but I think I’ve just overplayed it.

  29. Confanity says:

    Clearly it’s almost entirely a matter of what you’re used to playing. I’d been playing a lot of Spelunky before picking up FTL. And compared to that reflex-based sudden-death fest, FTL doesn’t strike me as “random” or “obtuse.” Instead, it strikes me as thoughtful and deep.

    No, there is no hand-holding; you need to play through a given choice or situation at least once in order to figure out how it works and then remember, and I can see how that can be frustrating. You have to be observant: it took me a little while to work out different strategies for using (and countering) missiles, beams, boarding, Zoltan shields, etc.

    For me the real meat of the game isn’t in trying to win, though; it’s in trying to unlock all the stuff. Some is easy (the beam weapon achievement needs nothing but two beam weapons and basic competency in their use). Some requires planning and luck (I picked up two of the three Zoltan ship achievements on one run by somehow ending up with six Zoltan crew). And some requires trial-and-error (several runs through the dialogue tree before I got the Zoltan ship at all). And yes, sometimes luck just isn’t going your way so you have to be flexible enough to change your tactics and goals partway through.

    In short, FTL feels to me like a series of delightful thought problems of varying levels of difficulty. It’s kind of like Roguelikes, and it’s kind of like Limbo; it has some luck, some trial-and-error, and a lot that’s not on the surface. Clearly that’s not for everyone; I wouldn’t recommend it to someone whose primary interest was racing games or FPS games.

    I do feel, though, that the characterization of the game as “obtuse” is still a little unfair: the term implies deliberate obfuscation for no particular purpose. When in fact, the game hides things because most of the fun is in finding them.

  30. rrgg says:

    Ugh, the ship unlock system is one of the major problems I have with this game. Keeping that much choice from the player before they’re invested is pretty terrible design no matter how you look at it. If you really want to play around with the different ships but don’t have the time to grind unlocks though, then someone has already made a tool to let you change that without affecting your stats.

    Other than that I’m sorry to hear you’ve entrenched your position, but I still disagree. It seems like your argument basically boils down to “I hate Tetris, the pieces won’t fit together properly!”
    Now FTL, obviously a bit more interesting then Tetris, but in either case your complaint probably shouldn’t be the thing that actually makes it a game.

    And I am fairly certain that FTL is not nearly as hard to understand as you make it sound. You could easily tell that sending your crew to fight a bunch of giant alien spiders is probably pretty dangerous and risky long before anyone tells you what the right answer is. It’s pretty intuitive to take down the enemy shields with your laser before firing your beam weapon, you send more crew into a damaged room to repair it faster, shuffle boarders inbetween airless rooms or cycle your crew in and out of the medibay to fight them. On my first playthrough I made it to the second stage of the boss before dying (ran out of missiles), it took a while to get back to that point but even then I kept learning: don’t vent anything important if your O2 generator is down, fires in the medi-bay are very very bad, remember to keep your weakest crewmen healed before they get iced by a stray missile, stop firing your lasers when you board an enemy ship. Eventually I made it to the boss a second time before dying to boarding drones in the second phase (a defense drone that also shoots at laser bolts can be easily distracted), and finally, the third time I made it to the boss I had no problem chalking up an easy win.
    It was an exciting first afternoon.

    Maybe the problem is that since you’ve thought about the concept so much, you’ve picked up some preconceived notions about how a game like this should be played. Sort of like when Shepard played chess (er, not that I’m trying to insult your intelligence or anything).

  31. LegendaryTeeth says:

    To me, FTL is about playing with the hand you’re dealt. You don’t get to craft an optimal strategy and execute it, you have to run with what you get and hope it’s enough. It very often isn’t, which is one of my favourite parts of the genre. Unlike almost any other single player game, you aren’t basically guaranteed to win.

    I think the biggest problem is that there isn’t enough stuff or depth. There should be more weapons, and you should be thinking more about which ones you keep rather than just hoping you find something. There should be more events, and they should change based on your equipment more often, and not just in a “blue=good” way. You should be able to customize your starting ship to a certain degree. And the last boss is a bit dumb, it would be nice to have different types of endings.

    Certainly worth the $10 though.

    Also, my experience is that easy is actually relatively easy, though obviously YMMV.

  32. Chargone says:

    FTL is billed as a ‘rogue-like-like’ so… yeah, from the sounds of it this is about what would be expected? not that i’ve played others, but just from reading the comments here. fair enough that you don’t like it though.

    oddly, with the difficulty? Civ etc i would never get past the first couple of difficulty levels without getting horribly frustrated at hacky behavior and general AI cheat-y-ness and giving up. most games i play on normal just to see what the difficulty is like and Very Quickly find myself abandoning that for the lowest difficulty just to not get slaughtered at every turn, often for no obvious reason i can see. FTL is damn near the FIRST game i’ve not been having these issues with. i played on normal, before discovering that normal is ‘stupidly hard’. … never won, but figured out the mechanics pretty quick, had great fun getting further almost every time, got some achievements, and came out feeling like i’d at least got better at it. (eventually i got sick of not unlocking ships and played on easy instead. (which my brothers had been doing the whole time to their benefit) while it was easier to get further, i also actually had more instances of majorly problematic negatives coming out of nowhere and screwing me over. i could usually see Why i lost on normal. … on easy i actually won the boss fight pretty much by Accident on one occasion. which was ridiculous. a couple of other times i wasn’t set up right for it and got smashed. that said, there are a bunch of different solutions to dealing with the boss. it helps to remember that dodge is better than block, among other things)

    so… yeah, kind of baffling. because the complaints your leveling at it are usually things i would hate too, to be honest… but am not experiencing here… puzzling.

    that said, GW2 is eating my time now. (the Sylvari(sp) starting area is Very nicely balanced. only the Krait are a bit of a struggle sometimes. the Asura starting area is just one unbalanced event after another. standard Human is rather bland. Explosives are Crazy fun (engineer? Win! dive-roll, drop explosives. watch the enemy chase you and explode… wheee!) went for a wander at level 20 and got to a level 30 area before i couldn’t keep going due to enemies on the road (got a lot of xp helping with fights on the way, too. bombs rock.)

    Dwarf Fortress, on the other hand, drives me mental. the terrible interface and my tendency to learn the Logic of a system, or something, rather than the command sequence for a given action (and having to slog through that to get information to base decisions on), means that it Feels random and stupid and i can never figure out the mechanics and i stall on the amount of effort it’s taking to even Experience the game, let alone enjoy it, before i even Get to ‘dieing is fun’. … the interface will apparently never be worked on because the creator has no interest, but it’s pretty much the one and only reason i Cannot enjoy the damn thing. Love reading stories about other people’s games though. hilarious, that.

    *shrugs* fear the ramble.

  33. harborpirate says:

    A friend of mine mentioned this and I thought it was interesting enough that I’ve stolen it to post it here. (Also I agree with it 100%)

    I really wish FTL had a seed system like Brogue.

    A seed, used to generate all the procedural content (or at least the sectors, planets, and encounters in the case of FTL), could be used for two critical purposes:

    1. Playing the same “map” more than once, to allowing a noob player to determine what mistakes they are making and how to correct them.
    2. To challenge other players to a known map by providing the seed, which lets players confirm whether they were just unlucky or truly suck at the game.

    1. Blake says:

      This would be really good actually. Perhaps disable achievements if you were using it or something, but could be quite good to replay particularly fun runs or try other choices.

  34. Bandreus says:

    “As far as I can tell, most of the challenge in this game is built around hiding knowledge from the player and making them fail repeatedly in order to uncover it.”

    That. And the process is supposed to be fun, you know.

    “Some people decry the “dumbing down” of games, how everything is too easy.”

    You don’t get it at all. FTL IS designed the way it is supposed to be played.

    The player is supposed to enjoy the process of getting how stuff works on his own.

    Losing might actually be fun in its own right you know? As long as you get some useful bits of knowledge from it (which you would too, if you just stopped bitching about the game being unfair).

    But no! “Game is too random”, “Ok, game is not random, but it is hard as f**k”. Do your homework man! You can’t get better at anything in life if you don’t try hard.

    Ofc it might just be the case FTL is not a game for you, which is perfectly fine!

  35. Greg says:

    I think that this follow up post is generally scrupulously fair.

    The only thing I’d take issue with is the civ comparison, since a game that’s predicated on losing a lot and learning from it is better where it’s shorter, I can’t imagine anyone’d have learned how to play FTL well if it took as long to lose a game of it as it does to lose a game of civ.

    There’s a lot of comments along the lines of “but that’s what roguelikes are like” but I’m not sure these criticisms could be so easily levelled at other roguelikes. I wonder if there’s a more general comment on game design and roguelikes here. Though an initial difficulty cliff that hides a good game (see dwarf fortress) has been common and is almost considered traditional for this stlye of game that doesn’t make it desirable. I think binding of isaac was doing something right where it decided to start off relatively tame and made the players successess add additional items, monsters and levels to the game. FTL has all of its “Get this wrong and lose” options there from the get go, perhaps it’d have benefited from making them more backloaded.

    I can imagine how the game designers did this though. After months of working on the project playing effectively must have become second nature to them and the easy difficulty is laughably easy once you get the hang of it. Perhaps there was a failure in playtesting (or listening to tester feedback)? Or perhaps the fact that playtesters are often made to play the game a whole bunch of times made them develop the same blindspot?

    It’s a shame because once you get past that bit at the start there is a fantastic game in there.

  36. Eric says:

    Hey Shamus, can I ask, how long did it take you to get a handle on Civ? Because my guess is the answer is “dozens of games” and “played on the easiest mode”, not to mention “across several sequels.”

    Almost every game uses failure as a teaching device. The only difference is that FTL (and other roguelikes and roguelike-likes) is that those games do not feature the same sort of forward story progression and smooth difficulty curve that means you can make lots of mistakes but still win until a certain point where you really have to know your stuff (though to be honest, most modern games are still extremely forgiving).

    FTL can “feel” random until you actually take the time to understand what the different upgrades and equipment do, how to best distribute your crew, etc. This takes time and experimentation. If this game hadn’t been built as a roguelike, you’d be able to make a dozen screw-ups and still progress, and you’d have big happy tutorial pop-ups telling you exactly what to do all the time, and NPCs would congratulate you and give you gold stars for doing exactly what you were told.

    1. Shamus says:

      “Hey Shamus, can I ask, how long did it take you to get a handle on Civ? Because my guess is the answer is “dozens of games” and “played on the easiest mode”, not to mention “across several sequels.”

      Are you trying to make a point here, or just sneering at me because I’m not 733t enough for you? It took me many tries in Civ. Yes, I played on the lower difficulties. (Not the EASIEST, but if it makes you feel better you can go ahead and think that.) This meant I learned as a process of optimization and not through shut-down failure. Realize then when you lose, the game starts over, and you have to work for a while to get back to the bit where you start learning again. This slows down learning, which is why I’m not a huge fan of this type of game.

      FTL *is* random – others have played through the game and said so.

      Having said that, I have enjoyed roguelikes on occasion. The difference here is that FTL is SO random you can’t just focus on one area of knowledge. I’m just getting the hang of the teleporter. Then I die. Then I start a new game where I don’t GET a teleporter, and instead I get some other gizmo. But before I can figure it out, I get a game over, lose some time, and begin again.

      In Nethack, I choose character class and alignment. In Oregon Trail I can hand-pick my team and buy supplies. In Dwarf Fortress you can pick your Dwarves, pick a spot, and decide on all kinds of other starting parameters. In FTL I can… name my pre-determined crew.

      As I said, I HATE starting a new game here. All your choices are taken away and you’re back to rolling dice until you get a couple of systems in. I would like this game so much better if I could choose my initial loadout and experiment with different systems. Then those first couple of systems would be spent learning: How is this missile-spam game comparing to my beam-spam run last time?

      “If this game hadn't been built as a roguelike, you'd be able to make a dozen screw-ups and still progress, and you'd have big happy tutorial pop-ups telling you exactly what to do all the time, and NPCs would congratulate you and give you gold stars for doing exactly what you were told.”

      Strawman. Snarky, insulting strawman.

      Note what I said above: I am not obligated to put up with a game’s bullshit. I’m also not obligated to like it just because you do. People asked what I thought, I said so. That’s the way it goes, and being a jerk to me isn’t really making me want to give the game another go.

      1. Eric says:

        “Are you trying to make a point here, or just sneering at me because I'm not 733t enough for you?”

        Not at all. I’m serious. I’m not very good at Civ myself, I’m not trying to prove anything (except that Civ is probably a bad comparison to make in this case).

        “In Nethack, I choose character class and alignment. In Oregon Trail I can hand-pick my team and buy supplies. In Dwarf Fortress you can pick your Dwarves, pick a spot, and decide on all kinds of other starting parameters. In FTL I can… name my pre-determined crew.”

        In FTL your starting ship (which I admit, probably should not have been so restricted from the start) makes a massive difference in play-style. Choosing between even the basic starter and the second ship you unlock, with its focus on drone combat, is actually a pretty significant thing.

        “Strawman. Snarky, insulting strawman.”

        Okay, I was being snarky, but not trying to be insulting. Sorry you took it that way.

        Let me put things this way: the difference between FTL and a strategy game, or even another roguelike with more choice involved, is that you have to be a bit more responsive to the threats you face. There *are* counters to a lot of problems you will experience, and tons of trade-offs to make which *can* be made intelligently. Although the ending demands that you fight a big bad boss, the route you take to get there can vary a lot.

        In other words, the experience is basically reactive. In Civ, you start out with a set of traits, a starting zone, etc. While your start determines a lot about your strategy (big or small, military or economic focus, etc.) you also have a lot of control over the path you take, and the decisions have less impact on the grand scheme. Waste a few turns on a building you end up not needing? Not nearly as big a deal as losing a few cities. Unless you are extremely experienced and have your strategy down pat, games will pretty much never go as expected.

        In FTL, you make all sorts of choices, but you have less control over the context for those choices. You can get more crew or more guns, but that option might never be open to you. You can focus on improving shields or dodge chance to get different sorts of effects. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think FTL is 100% random. It does carefully hand out upgrades and opportunities, it’s just not predictable which ones you will get and therefore you can’t start the game thinking “I want to be a sneaky stealth ship that uses missiles” and expect to stay that way the whole time.

        Almost every time in FTL that I have lost, it’s been because I’ve rushed ahead too quickly or made dumb decisions. In retrospect, all of these choices were obviously poor and were usually impulsive and not the result of me taking my time to consider how to best play. My best games have been the result of careful planning and consideration, making sure to time my upgrades properly with the threats I faced. This is consistent with basically every roguelike I have ever played.

        Obviously this is the kind of thing that takes many repeat plays to understand and master – but that is the point of the game and I understand fully why some would not like it – and frankly, I don’t think I’ll be hooked on the game myself for very long, as it becomes a bit simple at a certain point and doesn’t have enough content at this time. I also want to say up front that I think that introducing the boss at the end was a stupid design choice that forces you to play the game in a very specific way as you get close to the finish, and I also think the lack of alternatives to combat hurts replayability and strategy.

        Once again I apologize if I came across as rude or offensive, as that wasn’t my goal.

      2. Kian says:

        I don’t understand what you mean here by not being able to keep learning until you reach a certain point. I’ve found that the very beginning is when I learn the most. The first few combats in easy mode are simple enough that you can work out how your starting equipment works, and with such a small crew you have to make careful use of them. You should be using this time to figure out what your priorities should be.

        The thing to understand is that every shot counts, especially at the beginning. Yourpriority is to shut down the enemy ship before they can shut you down. This means I tend to target weapons first in the beginning. But you can’t just spam. For example, the stealth ship has a laser with two shots and a beam. I began with attitude on, but found in the first few fights that the shields regenerated too quickly for my beam to do anything. I quickly learned that to make the best use of the setup i had to disable autofire, let both weapons charge up, and the fire the laser, wait for the shots to travel to the enemy ship, pause the instant the shields went down, then fire the beam.

        With my ion ship, on the other hand, i let the ion guns on autofire so i could keep the ship locked down all the time.

        Most of the strategies you learn are things that in retrospect are kind of obvious. After i realised i needed to sync my weapons to do the most damage i wanted to kick myself. But I didn’t lose a fight for not knowing this. Your ship has a very generous amount of hull, and that’s your learning margin.

        In my experience, after the first couple of sectors your ship is outfitted enough that you so learning because you settled on a strategy already.

    2. zob says:

      FTL is random.

      It’s easy to see by using Stealth-B on Normal difficulty setting.

      1. hborrgg says:

        Really? I seem to remember a lot of Civ games ending several hours in when the game suddenly decided “Ha ha, eff you! Turns out you spawned with absolutely 0 of the late game resources you need.”

  37. Loki J says:

    Your 4th and 3rd last paragraphs (preantepenultimate & antepenultimate?) could be lifted out word for word and fit well with criticisms for a game I play, a Free-to-Play space-shooter called Moon Breakers.
    It’s pretty brutal on rookies; doesn’t give you much training, gives you a pair of mediocre starter ships, and every lesson, trick, and tactic is hard-earned.
    It’s a lot of fun once you get the hang of it, but many new players try, get brutalized for a few matches, then leave, often complaining about “Pay to Win”. All ships & upgrades are available free with time & effort, but you can get all ships immediately by paying some money (not advised). This leads to ships with better stats, but rookies have no experience to fly them; they die just as fast as those in the starter ships.
    Many of the experienced players have compiled extensive training notes and advice for rookies, but many can’t be bothered to check them out because they’re already too frustrated with the game and often never return.
    The devs understand the issues and are working to correct them, but it’s a very small team working on some big problems…
    The plus side; you don’t have to pay anything, ever, if you don’t want to.

  38. Langwulf says:

    So glad I caught some of this before checking the game out. I think I just lack the tolerance for self-abuse. Learning from mistakes is fine. Learning rules from failure is fine. Some randomness within the rules is fine and keeps the replay value up. But random punishment for choices you couldn’t make, or for preparation you didn’t have available, is awful. “Rocks fall! Everyone dies!” awful.

    1. Chargone says:

      “But random punishment for choices you couldn't make, or for preparation you didn't have available,”

      closest i’ve experienced to this is that there are a couple of encounters where, if you don’t have the right equipment, it tells you you don’t and thus they’re functionally the same as the encounters that say ‘the system is empty’ or whatever.

      there’s a number that give you two options, and each option has a random chance of producing one of two results (the options it choses between are different based on what you chose, though.)

      there’s a number of encounters where, whichever you pick, one of the results is nasty (and the other pretty good), where if you’ve picked up the right things there’s a ‘no risk’ good option (blue).

      but for every ‘but i never GOT that weapon!’ there’s a different way of spending your salvage to compensate. can’t get the anti-missile drone? get repair drones/tougher crew/boost your engine so less missiles hit, or the enhancement that gives a chance that they do no damage. getting hit by beam weapons a lot? well, you can get missiles to take out their weapons control, though that requires finding the right shop. or level two defense drones, likewise…. or just dump your salvage into shields. enemies bording you? well, tougher crew (mantis and rock) help with that… ooooor, you can just spend salvage to upgrade your doors to hold them out longer then vent the atmosphere in the area they’re in. (also, fighting in your medbay when possible is a ridiculous advantage, so long as it’s Working.)

      it’s not complicated, and the majority of the info needed is in the tutorial. (not the medbay thing though) the only real issue is when your random encounters involve fighting too many enemies in a row without a chance to patch yourself up. something that’s true of… *thinks* the vast majority of RPGs ever, actually. (and the ones where this happens and it’s NOT due to random encounters are worse still, because it becomes ‘do it again, stupid’ with no chance of getting through intact if your oldest save is too recent.)

      as for the boss fight: say whatever you want, it’s better than Deus Ex: Human Revolution, where the entire game’s set up for stealth, limited ammo, and ‘one shot one kill’ where possible and doesn’t even have the Ability to aim and move at the same time…. then puts you in a mostlly open space against an enemy you can’t melee, or ambush, if you stop to aim he throws grenades at you, if you move you blaze through your ammo and don’t even hit him…. etc etc etc. FTL’s boss has the distinct advantage of actually being from the same genre as the rest of the game and not needing any particularly different strategy from anything else to beat. doesn’t make you jump through any insane hoops to expose weaknesses or anything, and you’ve encountered all it’s abilities on other ships before, so you should know how to deal with them by then. (well, except for remembering that killing ALL the crew is a bad thing. but i’ve yet to encounter another ship that didn’t blow up before i pulled that off.)

      1. Eric says:

        Just wanted to say I agree with everything here, and it’s nice that you provided a detailed counter-point with clear examples.

  39. Kian says:

    After Shamus’ previous post on the game I decided to form my own opinion and watched a Let’s Play of the game. I found one of a guy’s first playthrough, so it only taught me the very basics. By the second death I was screaming at the YouTube video ’cause the guy wouldn’t turn on weapons or did things I could tell were wrong without having ever played the game yet :P

    I immediately bought the game. The DRM free version from their website. My first playthrough I reached Sector 5 before my crew suffocated. A Mantis boarding team destroyed my O2 system before I could kill them, and I lost too much air trying to vent the rooms they were in. My crew managed to fix the damage, but air levels had dropped too far. On retrospect, I should have sent them to the medbay to keep them going until O2 levels stabilized.

    My second playthrough I used The Torus, an engi ship I managed to unlock. The Donut (how I renamed my ship) ws a completely different beast, but not really that much better overall. The ship had a rapid fire ion gun and an attack drone. I had to adjust my strategy to the ship’s capabilities. I eventually got a second ion gun and a crew murderer beam, and my strategy became shutting down a ship’s systems while the beam murdered the crew inside and the drone dealt damage.

    The ship got me all the way to the boss. While the battle was very unfair given the number of new concepts it presented, The Donut managed to win (barely, my last battle was on the Federation base beacon).

    Third game I couldn’t finish it. I started a Federation Cruiser (which again ran very different to the two previous games) but after about four hours of gametime my computer decided to download an update and restarted. It shut the game down without saving and the ship was lost :(

    I did manage to unlock an engi stealth ship though. I christened it Normandy SR1, crewed by Shepard, Joker and Chakwas, and set to save the galaxy from the Reapers. The combat with it was pretty complex. The ship has a stealth drive but no shields. This was the first ship with which I died before reaching sector 3. It took me a couple of tries before reaching a point where I had enough crew, and shields. Curently the Normandy is in about sector 4, and going strong.

    From this experience, I have to say that I don’t agree with Shamus’ opinion that the game is ruled by chance. The game does demand that you pay attention. I spend more time in pause mode than with the game running, and my first win with The Donut took me like eight hours, give or take.

    What I’ve found from running these four different ships is that there is no right way to play the game. I think that’s a bit why they don’t make a more detailed tutorial. To do so would shepherd a lot of people into a single playstyle. That’s also why the ships are fixed in design. Each ship will favor a different set of strategies. I can imagine that if you were allowed to customize them, people would try to create a single design they’re comfortable with and is “the best”.

    The game doesn’t want you to be comfortable. Which isn’t the same as wanting to punish you. The game wants you to adapt to the situation. That’s why the pressure of the rebel fleet is so important.

    1. Eric says:

      I think it’s really important that you mentioned the whole rebel fleet thing. The game’s meaning comes entirely from the fact that you are on a timer. I know a lot of players don’t like timers much, but in FTL it is what drives you forward and what makes you consider every choice you make much more closely. If you want to rush through and just take things as they come, you will probably lose, because you will make the *wrong* choices and then not have a way to make up for them, which is different from most other games. There are multiple ways to handle every problem in FTL and if you are always relying on *one way* to do something then that’s probably why you end up losing.

    2. Cybron says:

      “I can imagine that if you were allowed to customize them, people would try to create a single design they're comfortable with and is “the best”.

      The game doesn't want you to be comfortable. Which isn't the same as wanting to punish you. The game wants you to adapt to the situation. That's why the pressure of the rebel fleet is so important.”

      Very solid analysis all around. Especially these two points.

  40. Will says:

    Shamus, I beat the game once with a Kestrel cruiser. Type A. The weak ship you start out with.

    I was just trying to unlock the Type B Kestrel Cruiser. But I had learned from multiple failures (including the rather cheap trick for maxing out your crews skill levels, which still requires you to luck out and find the right kind of weak opponent to fight against), and…well, luck had to play some part in it.

    I finally won, I completely crushed the Rebel Flagship (Well, actually that crazy laser weapon the third stage had)

    I feel a lot more confident in play this game.

    …but I’m still kind of unsatisfied that I’m pushed and prodded along in what’s purportedly a “Space Exploration game”. That rebel fleet wrecks everything.

    The game is designed to be like an old school NEW platformer title, where the replayability was in just the pure difficulty of getting through the level. If nothing else, theres also the fact that the absolute power cap of your ship is so tight, and the game is designed for it to be tight.

    It has a final boss and pushes you toward that boss at breakneck speed, when really you should have the freedom to explore this galaxy a little.
    But the system is made to be small. I mean, if nothing else, the speed at which you gain the ability to retreat with the FTL drive is just not meant to be leveled infinitely.

    I think I know a way around it, its just, well, its just something that developers making games full of long-lasting simulation-adventures/careers usually don’t have the balls to implement.

    Level decay.

    Let’s say there isn’t a big hurry, or even there’s a ridiculous number of mysteries and Skyrim-like questlines everywhere, maybe with some of the factions going to war with each other on an on-again, off-again basis like in Mount & Blade, with certain factions becoming stronger over time, and YOU CAN GO BACK TO EARLIER SECTORS WHERE YOU KNOW WHERE ALL THE SHOPS ARE. You can take your time, and so long as you don’t get your ship blown up by fighting stupidly, you can have a very fulfilling space exploration career. You don’t just have to pay a lot of scrap to level up (like usual), but you need to pay UPKEEP on all your upgrades. That is, battle or just the passage of time causes your systems to de-level (maybe you can prevent this from happening by finding a sufficient amount of scrap to keep the system running, or maybe the need to RE-purchase the upgrade when it breaks counts as the “upkeep cost”.)

    The problem is, your ship will still get damage and you’ll need some of that scrap to repair it. Or if you indeed have an “invincible” ship, its upkeep will be quite outrageous.

    Now, the placement of higher level ships in a real “Go anywhere” galaxy would be kind of difficult to factor, but worldbuilding-wise, any super ship would either:

    1) be retiring soon (especially if they were space pirates originally driven to piracy out of desperation. Even the greedy would sooner or later call their pirating career a success and move on to safer businesses.)

    2) on the brink of falling into disrepair (NPCs degrade too!)

    3) Part of some large and well financed organization that can get them the resources they need. (The Rebel Flagship’s very EXISTENCE can only be explained through this. Sadly, by the looks of the story, the rebels put all their eggs into this one basket and if you beat their superweapon, you’ve basically foiled their entire offensive on the Federation.

    …Not that the federation doesn’t deserve to lose due to how little they help you. Fuel and repairs are the VERY least you could do, and for the latter you still require me to go out of my way! If you want me to Luke Skywalker this thing, can I at LEAST get some crew members? experienced ones? To replace the ones who DIED on the way here? What about some ammo? I know between all those ships in the background you can scrounge up a little excess stuff to turn my tattered bucket of bolts into something that has a chance to survive this mission, and even if its awesome, I still could some backup mechanics/badass space marines just to on the safe side?)

  41. Keili Olsen says:

    I haven’t clocked this, so the following statement may be silly:

    Do people really only play on easy mode? I have only played about 8 ships, but at no point did I consider switching to easy.

    Perhaps I’ve been lucky, but so far I get further each turn with the exception of one particularly unlucky round and one particularly lucky one. From this I assume that I’m getting better at the game which surely precludes the idea of this game just being pointlessly unfair?

    1. Kian says:

      I play on easy. I heard so many horror stories that i figured I’d save myself some grief by playing on easy, which was still challenging. I’ll probably give normal a try when i finish my current game.

      What i want to know is, how long do battles take for other people? I find they’re pretty long, but other people seem to run several quickly.

    2. Cybron says:

      Saying everyone only plays on easy is a bit of an exaggeration, but I certainly started there.

      There’s no point in throwing yourself against the wall when there’s a mode better suited to learning available, in my opinion.

  42. Soyweiser says:

    I found it a bit ironic that you called yourself a critic but didn’t understand the roguelike genre. One of the ideas of that genre (by my interpretation, I know there are a lot of discussions about “what is a roguelike”) is the high difficulty and the unclear mechanics (the depth, some would say, others would call it obtuse).

    Try crawl for example. (nethack and slashem are a bit outdated in the GUI department, crawl is waayyyy better imho). Winning that is a huge accomplishment.

    But calling yourself an critic while not knowing much about the genre was a bit like a film critic complaining that the new ShootyMacShootyActionMovie had to much explosions in it.

    Or the computer games critic complaining that the level up mechanics in borderlands are not actually roleplaying. (As crpg’s have little to do with traditional rpgs).

    But still, sad to hear it was not for you. I quite liked it. And found it rather accessable for a roguelike. (A bit repetitive perhaps, and like you said, it contains a few paths that always lead to defeat).

  43. RCN says:

    I know this is going to sound a whole lot pretentious and elitist, but… I won the game in the first play through.

    NOW, before you start booing me and calling me a hack or any other rude actions towards my person: I’ll be the first to admit this first play through involved a LOT of luck, including getting the best Beam weapon right before the jump to the final section (and I’ll tell you a 3 damage beam weapon is a monster), and even so, I delivered the final blow to the final boss at precisely the same moment it finished pummeling me to death. Still, the game at least acknowledge this as a victory, so it has that going for it.

    Since them I’ve been playing on normal and I’ve finished it a couple more times (once with the drone ship, which is ridiculously easy to use once you get to a drone recovery arm, and once with the battlecruiser, which has a nice big laser and starts with a diverse crew). And here too I’ll say it’s not been easy. And I agree that the game really, really should have some lower difficulty settings. I’ve only stuck with it so far because I have the right things completely WRONG with my head to keep at it. Either way, I like randomness, I like how the game is very different each play through. I like, most of all, that it isn’t an experiment into conditioning you into memorizing a route or the precise command to do at the precise time. I like it that sometimes you’re facing with a battle that you can’t win and you can identify it ahead of time by seeing what the enemy ship has and what you have and focusing on surviving long enough to bolt. And I do get frustrated when the RNG Gods make star signs shaped like hands flipping me the bird, but on the other hand I feel like space exploration should be a bit like this. You can never really know what’s ahead.

    A few things I’ve learned about the inner mechanics (I’ve never checked the forums. I like to learn the mechanics myself with time, even if the game doesn’t make it easy for me. As I said, there’s something seriously wrong with me):

    Try to make your crew as diverse as possible. This is a really nice message overall, but I really like that the most diverse your crew is, the greater the chance of surviving the game. Though I’d like if they avoided the “Humans are average” trope. Humans are literally useless in this game compared to everyone else. They don’t have any bonuses and they never give you extra options in encounters. So it is more “The most diverse alien crew as possible avoiding humans like the plague” than truly diverse… It is really not hard to get a diverse crew. Even if you’re screwed by the RNG and never get one to join you by events or kicking the butt of slavers, buying them in store stations is easy and relatively cheap.

    Crew Teleporter. Buy one of those the earlier you can. Saving that, buy some non-hull-damaging weapons like Bio-Beams or firebombs. Killing the enemy crew gives you better rewards in general. But the crew teleporter is more useful. It can really turn around battles and put you on top. As long as you’re CAREFUL. Make sure the enemy medbay is down if they have one before teleporting. Make sure there’s stuff their crew should be worrying about besides your boarders. And finally, make sure you’re not teleporting anyone into a ship with only 2-1 hull left or that’s about to make a jump. It is the easiest way to lose crew. Having upgraded sensors helps immensely. Especially watch out of antipersonnel drones. They’ll chew on boarders. It helps that you only need to diverge energy to the teleporter if you’re going to need it, like the medbay. Oh, and one final icing on the top: it makes the final boss battle a lot easier. Transport a couple of crew members to the isolated weapon platforms one at a time and you can take them all relatively easily. I recommend taking the Ion Weapons first, since they shut down your shields hard, but the missile platform is a good target too if you don’t have defense drones. I’ve been trying to defeat the final boss by boarding, but apparently an AI takes over once you deal with the crew. I wonder what happens if you take down every system…

    Finally, try to make a route that will get the most jumps before the next sector. ALWAYS buy fuel in stores unless you have more than 20, the RNG Gods must hate you and all of your lineage to make you fail by fuel when you had more than 20. I really wish the game was programmed to always have at least 2 routes to the exit, but alas it is only one, so only go through routes you THINK might get to the exit at your own risk. Fighting the rebels is tiresome and expensive.

    Just some tips I’ve learned the hard way (AGAIN, because there’s something horribly wrong with my mind/brain), here for anyone who’d care to listen. Not to Shamus, he’s made clear enough he’s done with the game. And I don’t blame him. I just notice the number of space-based games he should’ve loved but hated continues to grow… Sins of a Solar Empire comes to mind. Maybe there’s something wrong with you too. I can only say for a fact for myself.

    (Oh, and avoid encounters that can get your crew killed like the plague UNLESS you have the crew to spare, they’re generally not worth it)

  44. Silfir says:

    “As far as I can tell, most of the challenge in this game is built around hiding knowledge from the player and making them fail repeatedly in order to uncover it.”

    This is plain untrue.

    I think the lack of customization is a fair bit of a problem. Getting to sector five isn’t too hard and gets you the Engi A – but then there’s a fairly huge gap until the next ship. The Engi A introduces you to ions and drone warfare, and the Kestrel A introduces you to missiles and lasers. Crew teleporters, cloaking and beams were fairly mysterious to me too for a good while. There was a bit of a gap when I got kind of annoyed playing only the Engi A or the Kestrel A – after one try with the clearly terrible Engi B. I managed to get through when an Engi A attempt finally ended in beating the boss, and I got the Federation A, Rock A and Zoltan A in fairly short order.

    The thing is; all weapons state quite plainly in their descriptions what it is they do, and how they interact with the other battle mechanics. The sequence of events you go through may be mostly random and unknown, but the combat system is not. And that’s where the game is won or lost.

    The Kestrel A has very straightforward weapons fully capable of handling any foe at shields two or lower that comes at you in the first three, maybe four sectors. That means you get a certain amount of scrap, fuel, missiles and drone parts. Some of the missiles are used up in battle (if used as necessary, not too many) and some of the scrap ends up used for repairs. The drone parts stay, the fuel should sustain you on average.

    What you use the remaining scrap for is fairly important, though – and the upgrade screen is where most of it goes – and happens to be completely non-random.

    Not much experimentation is required to tell that the upgrade to two shield layers at 50 scrap pays for itself almost immediately in avoided hull damage. Power should only be gotten as strictly necessary – you don’t need to keep the medbay powered at all if you don’t use it, you don’t need to have energy in life support for the entirety of a battle, and you can afford to run less than maximum energy on the engines if your enemy can’t get past your shields in the first place. On the other hand, if your enemy has one laser and rockets, you should definitely run max engines, but you can drop the second shield layer. Weapons shouldn’t be used when they finished charging, but when they can do the most damage.

    It seems that the beacon map with its random events has managed to obscure the actual meat and bones of the game – the combat – for you, to the detriment of your enjoyment. Maybe you’ve read the wrong discussion with the wrong people – if all the people you talked about only play on Easy, you probably simply haven’t talked to someone who actually understands the game well enough to correct the misconception that the important parts of FTL strategy is picking the right beacons or right choices in the events. That’s maybe about 10-20%. The important bit is the combat, and spending your scrap to get the highest return so you can do even better at combat.

    Whatever it was that got in the way for you, it didn’t for me. Maybe you haven’t had the “a-HA!” moments in time, or maybe you don’t thrive on them as much as I do. FTL was anything but obtuse to me and I enjoy just about every aspect of it.

    But then – I also enjoy playing (some forms of) solitaire. According to some voices in here that makes me some kind of freak – but both solitaire and FTL are about facing random hands using non-random strategies and resources, and deliver interesting challenge that way. Sometimes winning is harder than other times, but if you make the most of what you have, it’s fairly easy to do. Getting to that point is a journey, and it’s not one everyone finds enjoyable, or has to.

  45. T/W says:

    Well, just wanted to chip my two cents in.

    I was supremely disappointed by FTL, mostly because I’d imagined it would be so much more. I can’t really accept the excuse that it was only a small team, because I’ve been in the rogue community since back when it wasn’t called Rogue, but Moria. First – I don’t know where you are all hanging your hats about ‘it’s not about winning’ ‘rogues* aren’t fair’ and all this other malarky. Hang your hats in shame and slink back to whatever propagandists you came from! That was of course a joke, but one made in spite and woe. Apologies, it’s just horrible to see a hobby you love being stomped in the gutter by people who claim to love it.

    First off – yes, when you first beat the Balrog, finally get that Wizard good or climb up all the levels of Steamband, that feels incredible. In the Rogues* most people are familiar with, there isn’t too much plot besides what you create for your character/s there. Some of my favorites have taken steps to rectify this, but honestly one of the weaknesses of the genre is that if the game isn’t replayable, there isn’t much to it besides dungeon crawling and finding new things. In a game that’s short and sweet, like Weird Worlds, that’s fine even when you’ve found pretty much everything. In a game that’s tough as nails but has loads of things to do – like Ivan (Iter Vehemens ad Necem) or perhaps ADOM (not so tough, but very large) that’s fine too.

    The problem is – as some have already said – this game is pretty sparse. A lot of the things don’t make sense, and the content for stars and exploration is pretty same-y. I’m sure there are a few real mysteries buried away in the game; but to me one of the defining things that make Roguelikes – hell, rpgs and most specifically games about exploration in general – wonderful is that thrill of finding something new. A new combination of weapons, a new quest hidden away, a new item… Or just revisiting an area and realizing how much you missed.

    There’s a reason most games don’t feature you on the run from a vastly superior and unbeatable force – you can’t explore. In FTL you get shepherded along a very narrow path. Although this solves the old problem of grinding in roguelikes, it also makes it impossible to really care about anything. Tell me about the Zoltan, the Engi, the Mantis. Make me care, get me invested. If writing is beyond you, have someone throw an interesting item or quest our way. As it was, I found myself facing boredom the first time through – a terrible sign in any game, but especially rogues.

    My first run went great – the RNG, or random number god – was with me, and nothing was a challenge until the end boss – which was completely unbeatable with my current setup. What some people have listed as a ‘strength’ – that there are a very few winning combinations for the final boss – is a horrible glaring weakness. Didn’t find something that synergizes well? Restart the game. Getting too many crew-kill weapons? Restart the game until you get at least something that reliably damages hull. And gods help you if you have an early-game crew composed of HUMANS. (Really, developers?)

    Rogues *ARE* fair, at least the ones I grew up playing. They aren’t easy, but a roguelike is fundamentally about exploring and learning so much that you can take any situation and come out okay – there are few, perhaps no ‘unwinnable’ situations. FTL is a game where pretty much any round can derail into unwinnability, especially for newcomers to the genre – and to us old hands, it feels perhaps too static, too bland.

    Instead of sticking with a half-remembered nostalgia that never was (that losing is somehow fun, and can be a substitute for good gameplay, plot, or exploration) I was hoping FTL would be a very modern rogue. As is, I can’t see this bringing anyone in for more than an evening, at most. I don’t know, perhaps I’m just bitter that these developers got 200,000 to work with and crapped out one of the most subpar products I’ve seen an indie developer make.

    For those who’ve read this far, to end on a postive-ish note:
    George Moromisato’s Transcendence is far more true to the spirit of roguelikes and exploration while being free. Oh, he’s had one hell of a longer time to work on it – but it doesn’t change the fact it’s simply superior in every way. For those with a more fantastical bent who don’t mind the weird humor, I was pleasantly surprised by Elona. It makes death very cheap – at first – but has a preponderance of things to find.I’ve heard good things about Cataclysm, though it looks like it’s heading too much in the needless grinding-ness sphere to be enjoyable for most of the readers here – but to those who crave a more fantastical bent, Tales of Maj’Eyal is back and better than ever. With all these great free games out there, it’s just… Why couldn’t have this been awesome?

    I really wanted to like it. Crews? In roguelikes? Something that mashed together Star Trek, maybe mixing in a little Galactic Express and Firefly for good measure? It sounded too good to be true. And unfortunately, it was. I can’t rightly explain why it was so disappointing; to me it was both cakewalk and cake – too easy, and too light without any real substance. I guess I’m glad I supported the developer, but I can’t help feeling that the graphics and music took precedence over world building, plot, game balance… Most anything.

    If by any chance said developers are reading this – I know it’s rough, and I believe this is your first game; that you weren’t intending to make a strict roguelike, and that’s fine. Please though – I know I’m not the most eloquent speaker, but please consider what I have to say. That’s all, I guess. Well, later everyone.

  46. Jim says:

    The real problem with the game is the random difficulty. If you can invest 30 minutes into a game and then have a random encounter that completely annihilates you because you didn’t have enough time to prepare, then that just means the game is poorly designed. It has nothing to do with player skill.

  47. Gal says:

    Game totally overrated. Everything is simply random – even shop storage. Skill? NO SKILL. It is like casino. And no NG+ with Your ship. Sorry, but is it not good game, it is – I must say – shit.

  48. Dreadjaws says:

    Finally got to play this game today. At the two hour mark, I uninstalled. Everything you say about it is true, and I don’t buy many of the defenses this game receives. I checked on the Steam Discussions and there was someone saying something along the lines of “Of course it’s not easy. It took me 30 hours to reach my first victory!”

    30 hours. Please note that this isn’t a game like, say, Deus Ex, in which you have a 30-hour long campaing. It took me up to one hour to reach the final boss (this counting, of course, many restarts). And this guy, who’s praising the game, is saying he needed 30 hours to defeat it. How? How does people put up with something annoying for so long before calling it quits? Is it pride?

    Let me tell you, once I reached the final boss we got to a stalemate. It couldn’t kill me, but neither could I. I figured that the only way to do something was to flee from the fight, get some more scraps and upgrade my ship further. But every single place I moved to had another ship that was just as undefeatable. Again, I was resilient enough to shrug off their attacks, but I could do no damage to them either. Basically, I could do nothing but waste fuel.

    And that is what killed the game for me. Reaching a point where I can progress no further because of trial-and-error decisions I never even knew I had to take is painfully unfun. Your comparison to solitaire is on point. Only in solitaire only takes you a few minutes to realize your game is unfinishable.

  49. jellyjones says:

    The only argument I need is this. In FTL, what governs whether the player scores a hit or avoids damage?
    The answer is the RNG. Not understanding the enemy’s attack pattern and utilizing quick reflexes, but the digital equivalent of a coin flip. The game is a slot machine disguised as a space simulator. I don’t care that it was critically acclaimed on steam. It only proves that the average gamer can’t tell the difference between an addictive game and a well designed game.
    Stephanie Meyers made bank on the Twilight series. It doesn’t mean she’s a good writer.

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