Roguelike space simulator FTL makes permanent death compelling and that’s an achievement in itself.
The use of permanent death as a core mechanic can easily result in frustration, but it’s also easy to see why some players find it so appealing. After all, nothing replicates the feeling of facing an enemy knowing that that particular encounter could easily be your last. FTL is all about death, so when you meet your demise, you can’t take anything to your next playthrough. Nevertheless, each gaming session is a learning experience, so even when the money and equipment you’ve accrued is lost forever, you gain a much more precious item: knowledge. And that’s what makes FTL such a gripping roguelike.
At its core, FTL is a roguelike space simulator that uses an overhead perspective. In the game, you take on the role of the captain of a Federation starship as he commands an important mission. Since your ship carries data of vital importance, the Galactic Federation is constantly attacked by rebels and your duty is to defend the ship and carefully plan the route to success. So you and your faithful crew travel across the galaxy, moving from sector to sector before the rebel fleet catches on and destroys your ship.
The ship is divided into different sections and each of these sections represents a system or subsystem that’s installed, such as the weapons system, hull meter, shield level and so on. Your ship has the ability to jump from sector to sector, but to do so, at least one of your crew members has to be on the piloting system. Jumping consumes fuel and if you run out of the precious liquid, you’ll be stranded and unable to perform another jump. When you jump to a new location, a random event takes place. Sometimes you find a shop where you can upgrade your ship or buy supplies, sometimes you can help unfortunate travelers who are stranded in the middle of nowhere and sometimes there are meteor showers, to name but a few possible encounters. Most of the times though, you engage in fights against rebels.
Combat is simple to understand, yet hard to master. In order to damage an enemy unit, you use weapons. Weapons have a recharge time and you need to select the section of the enemy ship you want to attack. This is of vital of importance because damaging the enemy’s shield means that they won’t be able to defend against your attacks. On the other hand, damaging enemy weapons means that they won’t be able to fight back and so on. Likewise, the enemy can do the same thing to your ship.
Although the overall damage that your ship takes can only be repaired at specific locations, superficial damage can be repaired on the fly by your crew members. Naturally, the most crew members you have, the faster you’ll be able to repair your ship. When you defeat an enemy ship, you get money which is useful to buy upgrades, fuel, crew members and so on and so forth. But there are crucial times when it’s wiser to escape battle instead of engaging in it and being able to know what to do in those moments is usually the difference between life and death.
As you make progress, you also get points that are useful to power more systems. The more systems you have, the more prepared your ship will be against enemy ships. As your ship takes damage, the system icons become red to indicate that they are broken, Thankfully, your crew can repair systems, fight fires, fight rebels that board your ship and so on.
Although Faster Than Light does a great job of challenging the player, the game never becomes overly frustrating. On the contrary, FTL always gives the impression that you’re always learning something valuable and that precious knowledge will probably help you on your next playthrough.
Sometimes though, FTL can be brutally difficult, even on the lowest difficulty setting. The inclusion of permadeath, the fact that there’s no hard save and the inclusion of random elements can make FTL unforgiving. On top of that, the final boss is almost invincible, even on the easiest difficulty. I understand the need to make final encounter a climactic battle that players will remember long after finishing the game, but defeating the final boss is something that seems unattainable for most players.
Despite its high difficulty, FTL offers an experience that not a lot of titles are able to pull off. As unforgiving as the game can be, the feeling of thrill and gratification that FTL provides is something unique. FTL is definitely worth getting excited about.