FTL Faster Than Light - Zoltan C

I've played FTL: Faster Than Light a lot, aiming to beat the game on Hard difficulty with all ship layouts. Most runs aren't particularly memorable, using the same standard tactics to work through the game, rack up scrap, and defeat the flagship. This run was different.

This was my second attempt with Zoltan C, the Cerenkov. I'm not here to go over the basic details of the ship layout and what it does and doesn't do, you can find that elsewhere online. I also didn't document this from the beginning as I hadn't had any intent to report on it.

We join the story somewhere in sector 3. The first access I had to any weapon was a second Charge Ion as a twin to the one the Zoltan C ship starts with. Interesting. The two ion weapons are enough to keep enemy shields permanently in stunlock, while the beam drone deals the damage and eventually makes the kill.

This plan is effective to win a fight... but not the game. It's too slow to kill. Problem is the beam drone doesn't do anything to disable the enemy ship or its nasty attacks. While the beam drone was gradually dealing damage at random, the enemy ships would be taking just as many chunks out of my own health. I'd take piles of damage from each fight this way, through sectors 3 and 4 and into 5. Not only that, but I was drawing terrible luck on encounters, damnably few fights and lots of blank beacons and events.

It just wasn't working, a classic doomed run falling behind the power curve in spending all its scrap on repairs instead of upgrades. I even had to run from at least two ships that were too lethal. Reaching Sector 5 without a third tier of shields is generally a harbinger of doom.

But then...

Holy crap indeed! A Halberd Beam from nowhere, instantly injecting new life into this run.

At the next store, I reworked my equipment loadout. Sold one of the Charge Ions, and swapped out the Beam Drone for a Combat Drone. Combat Drones are pretty much always better. The Beam Drone is win-more; if you can keep the enemy shields down, you can win by any method. The Combat Drone both penetrates shields and deals damage once they're down, a much more versatile resource. So now the plan was to pray we could get through just enough enemy shielding with the one Charge Ion and Combat Drone such that the Halberd Beam could deal the offense.

Sector 5 happened to be the Rebel Stronghold. Naturally...

I ran into the flagship construction event. This event gives you the choice to avoid the fight, which I probably should have done, but screw it. This run is doomed anyway. Let's go out in style with my mighty six hull points challenging the prototype flagship. Leeroy Jenkins.

Bad start. My ion charges and combat drone missed everything, while all three flagship missiles hit onto my Zoltan shield.

I was never able to pierce through all three shields, but multiple times did drop one by ion and one by combat drone so that the Halberd Beam could get through for 1 damage. So I landed a few volleys that way, but so did the flagship. Damage to my clone bay and piloting... survivable but now down to three hull.

I got one more Halberd Beam shot in, then this:

That missile is death, guaranteed. It is past the shields, so its hit check has already happened. So close, with my halberd beam just two seconds away from killing! But the only possible choice now is to jump away.

Okay, I've got 1 health left, barely workable weaponry, and terrible defense. Just for kicks, let's see how far this ship can limp along before dying.

The next beacon gave me a Breach Bomb II for free. I didn't get a screenshot as it seemed just another piece of junk, didn't have any idea yet how important this would be. You can see it in my loadout in the next fight:

Against this pirate. The Zoltan shield held off its missiles for a while and I landed a few Halberd Beam gashes. Lots of damage to its weapons... but that missile stayed there as its last active gun. And here it comes for the kill... BUT MIRACULOUSLY MISSED! My next beam shot did destroy its weapons and I won from there. And then...


Lots of stuff happened here. Hull repairs, of course. I sold out the ineffective Ion Charger for a Chain Laser, visible in the loadout at the bottom. And Long-Ranged Scanners which are always the solution to sparse encounter luck.

Oh ghod, the Rock Homeworlds, always populated with deadly missiles. How long can we last?

With that Breach Bomb, maybe a while, actually. The Zoltan Shield would always hold up long enough for me to get in one breach shot at the weapons and defang much of the danger. Penetrating the shields was still a no-go with just the two-shot chain laser. So what I had to do on each fight was breach the weapons two or three times until I was safe, then breach the shields. I still had 40 missiles in stock which could do this for quite a while, though not forever.

I was now noticing that this Breach Bomb actually does more than the advertised 3 system damage. It's virtually at least 4 since the breach has to be repaired before the system. And of course 3 system damage can often actually knock offline 4 power worth of shields or weapons. 4 effective system damage for 2 power is very good indeed, even at its moderately slow 17 second charge. I've never used this weapon before, but this run would make it my new favorite.

Next store. By the Great Eye of Zoltan, do I want that Flak II. But... just couldn't do it. Oh, I could afford the weapon by selling out the breach bomb or chain laser. But the problem would be no scrap to upgrade the weapons to 6 to use the flak and halberd beam together. Neither alone could win fights, of course. Hated to pass on the Flak II, but had to. Also, I need to put that 60 scrap into repairs anyway.

Another couple jumps and fights later came another store, that finally sold me a Defense Drone... JUST in time for that huge missile launcher on that Rock ship there. And this scrap payout was finally enough to go to tier 3 shields. Which I needed, because:

Getting to that store had carried me past the exit. Gotta get through an ASB fight to escape. This usually isn't hard later in the game. With engines level 4, you get out after just a single ASB shot. And cloaking guarantees dodging that ASB shot, but I didn't have it.

The good news: that ASB shot missed! But the bad news: that missile is going to hit! Thanks to that defense drone getting distracted by a flak chunk. But it's aimed at the battery, which is survivable, and I jumped out intact.

Sector 7 served up a scary looking automated scout with a bomb, tons of lasers, a drone, and four shields.

And my breach bomb missed...

not once, but twice...

before it hit.

But. Look at how much that one hit turned around the fight. Now I'm immune to damage, my three shields against only its three-shot burst laser. I had read this but now saw it confirmed live: breach damage to an automated ship is permanent. Auto-AI cannot repair breaches, and a breached system cannot be repaired, therefore it can never repair that system.

Next I finally got the Engi that had been missing from my crew all along. Seven sectors and before this I'd only been able to add a single human to the starting Zoltan crew. I also got a Rock shortly later.

Another auto-scout fight yielded a map reveal:

You gotta be kidding me. There is ONE ENCOUNTER LEFT IN THIS ENTIRE SECTOR? Wow.

With time to go before the next store, I put that scrap into weapons level 7, to finally run the breach, chain laser, and halberd beam all at the same time. This actually worked shockingly well:

Breach the shield system, drop the remaining shields with the chain laser, then gash with the Halberd Beam for massive damage. The Zoltan Shield and defense drone would pick up incoming threats. Follow up with a beam shot to the weapons, and suddenly I was in pretty good business here.

That fight was actually at the distress beacon, and actually yielded a double payout. Then the one visible encounter, then the store...

HOLY MOTHER OF ZOLTAN, a PRE-IGNITER, when I have JUST enough to afford it! Now, I know it's said that the pre-igniter isn't super hot for the flagship fights, that are long enough such that a single pre-charge is fairly marginal. But a pre-ignited breach bomb looks gigantically powerful to help rip through everything else to get there.

Like that. OK, this loadout is still a flawed cobbled together contraption. The chain laser can miss, leaving the halberd beam unable to connect. But, the chain laser recharges quickly for another try - notice it doesn't have to wait for the breach bomb, as long as the enemy shields are still limited to 2 tiers thanks to breach repairs delaying their system repairs.

That was my last fight in sector 7, so here goes nothin.

When a pre-ignited breach bomb works, oh hell it works.

Nice map, two repair nodes in easy access. I took that fight to the north first.

And another, and another. Now to the repair node.

CRAP, pressed my luck one notch too far, the Rebels got the second repair node! Worse, that wall of Rebel nodes means I have to get through an ASB fight to reach the base!

But as long as the ASB doesn't hit the piloting, you're OK. I escaped, to the base before the flagship in order to have time to repair that.

Here's the before-and-after of my final upgrades for the boss. All I can do is incremental stuff to engines, drones, power, and doors will be absolutely necessary for the final form invasion. Here goes nothin.

SHIT SHIT SHIT I FORGOT TO CLICK THE WEAPON ACTIVE TO PREIGNITE. Holycrap what a fuckup. I could give the fight a shot anyway...

... but my defense drone managed to get itself SHOT by the very missiles it was supposed to be defending against! ... and ...

there's the hacking drone headed for my shields. No way. I had to jump out and come back to try again.

There was no free beacon adjacent, so I had to go through another ASB fight, but the ASB missed and so we're back in business, pre-ignited correctly this time.

There it is, a preignited breach bomb, the chain laser missing one but hitting one, leading to a blunted but still potent shot from the Halberd Beam.

Incidentally, the flagship's guns are not actually weapons. They are artillery, like the Federation Cruiser's. They even say "artillery" when you mouseover the system icon in the flagship's window there. What this means is partial damage doesn't knock out one of these guns, but does slow its rate of charge. Dealing damage right away to the missile artillery like this significantly slows its firing rate.

At any rate, here comes the hacking drone...

OK, hack my doors. No threat unless some remote system gets damaged, like drones or some such. Let's make that not happen.

My second breach bomb also struck true, wiping the shields completely and opening up a massive gash from the Halberd Beam. I won quickly from here, and on to phase two.

I'm not sure why, but for some reason this time I decided to breach the missile weapon first. Still landed a bit of damage on the shields anyway, with the combat drone and chain laser hitting enough so that the Halberd got through for one point. Great start.

Here comes the drone surge...

Holy crap, SIX beam drones! That's either awesome or horrible. Either the shields hold and they don't do anything... or the shield gets pierced and they wreck me.

The shields held!

Another breach + beam sweep ensued. Then a third, just as the second drone surge launched. This time it had more shield-penetrating combat drones...

but my Halberd Beam fired just in time to end the fight ahead of the drones. Two down, one to go.

Sixteen hull left going into phase three. I feel this fight always depends on cloaking. I'm always confident with it to skip the laser power surge, but feel like I always get wrecked without it. But here we go.

My preignited weapon volley got halfway through the flagship's super shield. I waited for the combat drone to do the rest in order to launch a full weapon salvo ASAP. That came just as the flagship's first laser surge fired.

Damage report: one to an empty room, one to the shields. That could be troublesome with the mind controlled guy in there blocking repairs. Time to launch my own salvo...


I waited five eternities while it charged up again. It hit and so did the rest of my weapons. Incoming laser surge #2, as I frantically stabbed for the cloaking button that wasn't there...

OUCH. Damage all over the place. But the weapons remain untouched and I have a chance. Damage to the drones can be worked around by micromanaging back and forth between them.

One more breach + beam combo raked for massive damage, including destroying the missile weapon. Three hull left on the flagship. Five on me.

Now it's a mad race between the next laser surge and my weapons for one more recharge. Who will win?

The good old COMBAT DRONE struck true on its last three shots for the victory. Phew.

What a game. The most incredible comeback I've ever had in FTL. From a doomed run far far behind the curve, reduced to running in terror from the prototype flagship, a single missile miss away from death, with a totally makeshift weapon layout, and none of the power plays in cloaking or hacking or flak... all the way back to a victory over the flagship by a margin of about three seconds. I was STOKED on that win. I finished it late at night (of course), and took a good two hours to calm down enough to get to sleep. Wow. This is why we play these games.

And the stats. Holy crap, look at those low numbers. 27 ships defeated is horribly horribly low, as is 1376 scrap. Typical numbers are more like 40 ships and 1800 scrap on Hard. I've never come anywhere near cobbling together a winning run on such weak resources. 99 beacons is perfectly normal so it's not like I was navigating badly, my luck on finding encounters was just horrible.

Every single piece of this was necessary. That Halberd Beam, Breach Bomb, Pre-Igniter, even the Long-Ranged Scanners without which I'd never have achieved even those meager amounts of scrap. I played this game to perfection, and every bit of that perfection was necessary. FTL on Hard is the tightest balanced game I've ever seen. You will win with perfect play, and nothing short of perfect play.

Thanks for reading. I'm not sure I'll ever have more FTL adventures this memorable to write up and share, but they'll be here if I do.