If there’s one thing you need to know about FTL, it’s that it’s a fantastic game. A very close second thing you really need to know is that it’s about as unforgiving as that one extremely tough grade-school teacher that never gave anyone a break. Don’t play innocent, we’ve all had one.
So, while we here at 148Apps wholeheartedly endorse you rushing to the App Store to purchase FTL for your iPad immediately (seriously, go do it if you haven’t already), we also understand that you may have some trouble starting out. Or just in general. That’s why we’ve put together a list of tips, tricks, and strategies to hopefully keep your ship and your crew functioning that much longer. Due to the random nature of sector layouts, encounters, and shop inventories there’s no way to guarantee success, but we’re certainly going to do our best for you.
Your crew is just as important to account for when it comes to the mission. Every single species can perform the same general tasks and make use of the ship’s various systems, but they all have different specialties that make them ideal for different situations. Some of them will even have an effect on random story encounters, so it’s usually a good idea to have one of everything - if you can manage it.
Human - Humans are your all-rounders. They don’t excel at any one thing, but they aren’t terrible at much of anything, either. What they lack in specialities they make up for in adaptability and the way they can improve their skills faster than any other species.
Engi - The Engi aren’t great in combat. In fact, they’re horrible at it. However they can repair your ship incredibly quickly, which could mean the difference between life and death in a heated battle.
Mantis - The Mantis aren’t all that great at repairing stuff and you’re probably better off tossing just about anyone else on system maintenance. But while they’re pretty bad at repairs, they move quickly and do lots of damage in battle. Take them into a fight and they’ll cut your enemies down with a disturbing amount of brutal efficiency.
Rockman - Rockmen are decent when it comes to repairing and learning skills, but they’re incredibly slow when moving around the ship. Don’t simply count them out though - while they’re not the quickest species you’ll come across they are immune to fire and have the most health.
Zoltan - The Zoltan are about as good in a fight as the Engi (worse, even), but that doesn’t mean they can’t be an invaluable member of your crew. Simply being in the same room as one of your ship’s systems will allow them to generate their own power for it, regardless of overall output. And as an added bonus of sorts, they’ll explode when killed and injure your enemies.
Slug - Slugs don’t excel at repair, learning, or combat. Instead, they specialize in telepathy. What that means is you’ll be able to see rooms and lifeforms on enemy ships even if your sensors are taken offline. They’re also immune to mind control, which is a major boon if and when you encounter ships with one of those horrible, horrible devices.
Having a top-notch crew is very important. Having well-equipped ship is just as important, if not more so. Certain systems will be absolutely vital to the success of your mission - and consequently the survival of your crew. Others will definitely help as well, but none of them will do you much good if you don’t know how to utilize them properly.
Shields - Every two levels of shields gives you one added layer of protection from enemy attacks. Not all of them, mind, as some weapons ignore shields entirely. Still, they’re really good to have.
Engines - The more power you give to the engines, the faster your FTL drive will charge. Better engines also increase your chance to dodge incoming enemy fire.
Medbay - If you find your crew taking lots of damage, you might want to think about upgrading your medbay. The more juice you give it, the faster it heals everybody.
Life Support - Without oxygen, pretty much everybody on board, regardless of species, will eventually suffocate. There’s nothing you can really do to prevent this critical system from taking damage, but the more you upgrade it the faster it’ll pump air around the ship - and the less likely your crew will croak.
Weapons - Your ship’s weapon systems are extremely important. They’re what determine what you can and can’t use in combat, as well as whether or not any of it works in the first place. You won’t earn any sort of bonus for allocating different levels of energy, but you also won’t be able to power everything if you aren’t prepared.
Piloting - The helm is absolutely vital when it comes to making FTL jumps and dodging attacks. At first you’ll need to have someone stationed here in order to make it work, but after an upgrade or two the ship will be able to handle things on its own.
Sensors - If you want to see what your enemies are up to, you’re going to need some good sensors. I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly vital system (at least not as vital as most others), but it’s great for knowing where the enemy crew is hiding and keeping track of their weapon charge levels.
Door System - Doors are definitely something you’ll want to upgrade at least once as you play. With each level of improvement, they become more difficult for enemies to break through. Whether or not you focus on internal defense is really a matter or preference, of course.
Reactor - This is what generates power for the whole ship. It can’t be targeted like most rooms, but it can be affected by ion storms that will temporarily reduce its output. Whenever you upgrade a system, you need to make sure you have the power to allocate to it.
General Tips & Strategies
Pause all the time. Seriously, never neglect the Pause option. Pause when you need to issue orders. Pause as soon as your ship is hit with a volley from the enemy’s guns. Pause to use the restroom. Just don’t ever forget that it’s there. It makes planning your moves a lot easier when you aren’t under quite as much duress.
Queue your attacks. While you’re busy monitoring that Rockman trying to break down the door leading to your shield generator, you don’t want to forget to attack. This is why it’s important to queue up your attacks when you can. Even if your weapons aren’t fully charged yet, you can still designate targets for them.
Maintain a well-balanced crew. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but bears repeating. There are certain random story sections that will really benefit from having specific species on board. There are also certain instances where having a certain type of crew member will open up new options for some encounters. Plus they all have specific strengths that you’d do well to take advantage of.
When faced with a random encounter, neither success nor failure are a guarantee. Even if you’ve had similar encounters on previous playthroughs, you never quite know how they’ll all turn out. The danger of losing one (or more) of your crew is very real, certainly, but so is the possibility of gaining a new ally or finding powerful technology to bolt onto your ship. Exercise caution, but don’t let past experiences dictate your decisions all the time.
You can’t explore everything, so don’t bother trying. Make peace with this fact, because there’s absolutely no way you’re going to be able to stay ahead of the Alliance fleet and investigate every single signal. If you try, the fleet will catch you.
Be mindful of your path through each sector. You may not know what each signal will lead to, but you know where you start and where you need to end up. Make sure to keep an eye out for paths that lead to the sector’s exit, because the last thing you want to do is get trapped in a corner by the Alliance fleet after going to check “just one more” distress beacon.
Always keep one eye on your fuel. Every single jump costs one fuel, and if you aren't careful you will run out. Chances are you'll be able to collect enough to keep you going for a little bit, but if you rely on random adventures as your primary fuel source you're going to find yourself on empty at the worst possible moment.
Always, always, always assign crew to the ship’s systems. Unless you don’t have the manpower there’s absolutely no reason for you to not have at least one member of the crew hanging out around each of the ship’s systems. Not only will they be close by in case the system is damaged, but they can also boost its effectiveness in combat. And the longer they spend working with it, the better they’ll be at using it. Readying your weapons much faster is only one of the notable benefits.
Upgrade your doors. I know I’ve touched on this already, and that it sounds silly, but this is very important. It won’t take long before enemies begin to beam aboard your ship, and the more durable your doors the longer it will take them to break through. Meanwhile, as they attempt to force their way into the life support systems you can (potentially, depending on ship layout) open a path to the airlock and vent all the oxygen in that area of the ship into space. It will take a while for the intruders to suffocate, and some species can actually do without air, but it’s a handy alternative to direct combat that could injure your precious crew. Which reminds me…
Fight fire with space. If a fire breaks out it will inevitably spread and damage your ship, so you’ll want to take care of it quickly. However, if your crew is too busy fighting a boarding party (or, say, fixing life support), using the vacuum of space to extinguish the fire is another viable option. You know, so long as you don’t suffocate your own crew in the process.
Do not underestimate drones. They’re small and generally don’t do much damage, but they can pick away at your shields and otherwise make an encounter tougher that it should be. The little buggers are really good at subtly weakening your ship if you ignore them, which leaves you open to enemy attack. Of course the same can also be said for your own drones, so keep that in mind.
Try to specialize rather than be a jack of all trades. I know it’s tempting, but if you spread your focus too wide you’ll end up with a bunch of sub-standard systems and be forced to watch helplessly as enemy weapons practically chew through your hull. I’m not saying you don’t want to be prepared for anything that will come your way, but maybe you don’t need quite so many missile launchers?
With a teleporter you can board the enemy, too. By now you’re probably tired of all those boarding parties. Well if you’ve got a teleporter, you can take the fight to them instead. It requires splitting your focus (nothing the Pause feature can’t help with), but it can be both satisfying and very effective to send your own crew over to the enemy ship and keep the crew distracted while you target vital systems from your ship. Just remember two things: your crew can’t heal while on the enemy ship, and if the ship is destroyed while they’re on board they’ll blow up along with it. So, you know, remember to bring them home before dealing the final blow.
Upgrade, upgrade, upgrade. Finding a super-powerful laser is great, but it won’t mean much if your weapon systems can’t manage the proper energy output. The same goes for pretty much everything else you’ll find. Make sure you spend some of that precious scrap upgrading your ship, otherwise you’ll quickly find yourself at a major disadvantage.
Find the ship that’s right for you. The default ship, the Kestrel, is a good place to start, but there’s a good chance that one (or more) of the unlock able ships will suit your preferred play style much better. It might take some time find that special vessel, but rest assured it’s out there. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find what works best for you. Just be prepared to also find some that don’t work well for you at all.
Pay attention to layout variations in the hangar. Unlocking new layouts is an admirable goal and give you plenty of replay incentive, but these are more than simple room reassignments. Not only will the overall internal structure of the ship change, but so will its starting weapons, crew, and systems. Really it’s like playing with a whole other ship - because it pretty much is.
Don’t get attached. Remember, FTL is a Roguelike at its core, and as such you’re going to fail. A lot. Maybe your ship will get blown up when you stumble upon an Alliance vessel that’s just too much for you. Maybe you’ll mistakenly sell off one of your weapons in a trade only to realize that your new armament requires more energy than you can afford. Maybe your favorite crew member will end up getting left behind on a space station infested with horrible spider-like monsters because “it all just happened so fast.” Point is, don’t get attached.