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FTL suffers for having a final boss

Posted: Wed Dec 19, 2012 4:57 am
by Kalir
So, I've had this game since shortly after its release. Played it a ton, just gifted it to a friend of mine, it's good fun all around. It does a very good job of capturing that space opera feel without putting too much emphasis on the laser-firing battle that most other games of this ilk build around.

Until the final sector, that is.

The final boss is, without question, the worst part of FTL, and leaves a sour taste in not only my mouth, but that of anyone I know who has played the game to that point.

At its core, FTL is a roguelike. You explore levels that have zero compunctions about killing you, with randomly generated content and rewards, and if you die, you go back to square one. Having a final boss at the end of the game really only works under the assumption that you can restart just before the boss, and learn the boss' capabilities via trial and error. Roguelikes never do, and the number of roguelikes that really make final bosses work can be counted on one finger (The Binding of Isaac).

Even outside of being bad on terms of being a roguelike, the flagship is a bad boss for breaking almost every rule in the game. Some of these breaks are more forgivable for whatever reason (four weapons rooms are acceptable because each one is easier than a central weapon room to disable) and some are just flat-out terrible (power surges, AI control upon crew death, power surges, multiple phases even if you disable the systems that would allow escape, power surges, power surges, power surges).

Only problem is, what then, if the game does not have a final boss? Without some exciting conclusion, the game would end abruptly and in a dull fashion, and suffer for it just as much.

Me and a few of my friends discussed this a bit, and came to the conclusion that while most roguelikes don't work well with final bosses, they DO work well with final levels, where you're doing the same things you did for the bulk of the game, only they're cranked up to 11. NetHack has the elemental/Astral planes, Crawl has the realm of Zot, Brogue doesn't even give its final levels a special name, nor does it need to. Point being, the tactics you used for the whole game, not just the ones for killing monsters, can and will get you to your objective and help you win.

How could this be translated into FTL? Well, outside of ship battles, the biggest things are (quickly) navigating the sector, making choices at events with benefits for having specific gear, and answering distress/quest beacons. One possibility is merely making it through a sector where every beacon is a Rebel-tier ship challenge, but that's the easy way out and doesn't sound very fun to play, not just because the optimal strategy becomes MAXIMUM ENGINEDUDES.

If the flagship remains central, then one good option is to axe the multiple phases and give it all its capabilities from the word go, BUT delay its ETA sharply and add multiple quest beacons around the sector. Visiting one would have a weaker ship, still very difficult, but more within reason, and before fighting it, allow for a number of blue options. Clearing the quest beacon would remove a given capability from the flagship. For example, say there's a Rebel Engi ship attempting to hack the drone control system, but is in turn being attacked by an ion-specialized ship. If you have the Reverse Ion Field, you can interpose yourself between the Engi and their attacker to buy time to disable the drones, otherwise you could just straight-up fight the ship. Either way, the flagship, once you do fight it, loses drone capabilities. This one still has the final boss, but as the flow of gameplay becomes more similar to what players have been doing up until the final sector. It also lets players take on the final boss on their own terms, so their optimal strategy has some wiggle room.

Really, I do like this game. As much as I hate the flagship and final sector, everything else about the game is good fun and highly enjoyable. I'd really like to see the final sector changed, because that would take this game to a completely new level of excellence.

Re: FTL suffers for having a final boss

Posted: Wed Dec 19, 2012 6:50 am
by boa13
I'm not bothered by the boss so much, but your idea about traveling around the last sector to unlock events that weaken the boss is quite an interesting one. :)

Re: FTL suffers for having a final boss

Posted: Wed Dec 19, 2012 9:21 am
by EdenNov
Now that you mention it, I don't think tBoI has a good last (last [last {last}]) boss. Until the last boss, tear ups are the best stat upgrade there is (more dps that can be spread across many enemies, unlike dmg ups, and also more tear effect usages like poison or freezing) but against Isaac/BlueBaby, it's the worst thing you can have, which pretty much means you have to avoid tear ups and tailor your run from the beginning to fight them. This goes against the rougelike-ish nature of the game.

Re: FTL suffers for having a final boss

Posted: Wed Dec 19, 2012 11:38 am
by More Dakka
It's far shorter and faster-paced than most roguelikes, so the cost of starting a new game and reaching the boss is /much/ lower than, say, Nethack or Angband... and the final battle is /always/ the same in terms of enemy setup (no variation in abilities, no chance of enemy assistance -- not like Morgoth summoning various unique enemies you hadn't met let alone killed yet, or the battle waking up everybody in a nearby graveyard, no map randomness, etc).

Re: FTL suffers for having a final boss

Posted: Wed Dec 19, 2012 12:10 pm
by Megas Domestikos
This game needs a Pacifist run :)

Re: FTL suffers for having a final boss

Posted: Wed Dec 19, 2012 5:49 pm
by spacecadet13
Seriously? Without an uber-difficult boss, FTL would be less than half of what it is now. If you have made it to the last sector, you have already beaten pretty much everything the game can throw at you, and, up until you meet the boss, the game is now unbalanced in your favour. The AI will never employ tactics as effective as those used by human players - weapons volleys, repeated targetting of critical systems, co-ordinated (and repeated) weapon/boarding attacks - so even with an inferior ship, human players can defeat the AI easily, and more often than not, by the last sector the player's ship is more than a match for anything the AI can throw at it. Without a significantly overpowered boss, what challenge or test remains? What has the game been leading up to? What climax? You say it yourself:Without some exciting conclusion, the game would end abruptly and in a dull fashion, and suffer for it just as much - and then you argue that it SHOULD end without an exciting conclusion!

(Spoiler alert) Its worth noting that the boss employs NO special abilities in the first stage; that battle is the opportunity for the player to negate/minimise the effect of the abilities in the following stages. Being able to take those abilities away from the boss without actually having to fight the boss? No thanks. Same for the ability to restart just before the boss - you have to EARN it. Besides, its not like the game takes hours and hours to get back to the boss battle

Being difficult and dishing out cruel and unfair permadeath often - and often sooooo close to victory - is much of FTL's charm. Take any of that away, and it's not half what it is now IMHO.

Re: FTL suffers for having a final boss

Posted: Wed Dec 19, 2012 7:00 pm
by Kalir
FTL taking a shorter time to play through does not excuse the final boss being as brutal or rule-breaking as it is. You still have eight full sectors to blow through, each with at least three or so encounters (unless you're lucky or speeding through, neither of which is really an option). Hell, even if I'm being lenient and saying each sector only has two ship battles, that's 16 ships you'd have to blow up before you get to the flagship.

Even besides that, you are guaranteed nothing in the game aside from the things you start with, so you can't even rely on running into a shop selling a Cloaking system, even if you have 150 scrap to burn. Which means the final boss should be beatable with any kind of equipment loadout you'd reasonably have by sector 8, and it isn't remotely possible for a lot of loadouts.

And I have heard people complain about map generation on that one. It doesn't happen as often, but FTL can and will generate maps that make the final sector much harder than it really deserves to be.

Most importantly, though, I'm not arguing to cut an exciting conclusion from the game. Confusing "exciting game conclusion" for "final boss" is a stupid mistake to make, and there's plenty of other examples of games that make that very same mistake. Spelunky, one of FTL's inspirations, has this same problem, because its final boss requires you to play in a way that's completely different from the game you've been playing up until that point. And it damn well knows that making it play in a conventional method like the high-tier enemies you've encountered before (Ol' Bitey, Alien Lord, Yeti King) won't work, because you have things that can oneshot any of those enemies, which means it has to break rules simply to make a final boss work at all. Much like how FTL has to break a ton of rules to make the final boss an actual challenge.

The best roguelikes understand that making you fight something bigger and stronger than anything else in the game doesn't play to the strengths of the rest of the game, especially because the answer to something bigger and stronger than you is never a straight-up fight to the death, but rather finding a clever way around it. There's a reason pacifist runs of many of those games are completely viable. The reason having a final boss in Binding of Isaac (maybe, EdanNov raised a good point) and Desktop Dungeons (which totally slipped my mind) works is because those games are specifically built around fighting bosses. FTL really isn't.

Re: FTL suffers for having a final boss

Posted: Wed Dec 19, 2012 8:00 pm
by spacecadet13
OK -" confusing "exciting game conclusion" for "final boss" is a stupid mistake to make" - so what EXACTLY is your exciting game conclusion? All you've suggested is giving players the ability to take away the boss's abilities before they even reach the boss. In what alternate universe is that an "exciting game conclusion"? Making the boss much easier makes the game better? No, it makes the ending the same as the rest of the game, and that would just be lame.

And what rules does the boss break? I ain't seen no FTL Book of Rules. Wow, the flagship has abilities and powers nothing else in the game has? Isn't that the very definition of a game boss? A boss that DIDN'T "break the rules" wouldn't be a boss. Kill Diablo and your mirror matchups in his Realm of Terror, he still takes you back to the Crystal Commode (whatever its called), where you have to face all his abilities, that no other NPC has, for the third time. (slightly related off-topic note - FTL deserves to sell way more copies than Diablo 3)

FYI, the whole game is effectively you building up your ship and crew to face the boss. You know that starting out. Like most games, you're going to face tougher and tougher foes as you progress. What do you need other bosses for?

In a typical FTL run, If you make it to sector 8, your ship has to be signficantly more powerful than what you started with - if it's not, you can't get that far. And if you've gotten that far, your loadout is usually - not always - good enough to a least give you a chance against the boss, with the same weapons and tactics that got you there. A lot of runs, you don't get what you want - or even what you need - before the boss.Which is fine. Doing the best you can with what you do get is the whole game! You're looking at FTL like victory is the only satisfactory outcome, which is total B.S. Some of the best games are where you get just get further than you should. Struggling the whole way through to the first or second or third boss battle with a way less than optimal loadout and going down in flames is better than getting a "perfect" loadout early on and cakewalking to victory.

Re: FTL suffers for having a final boss

Posted: Wed Dec 19, 2012 9:23 pm
by UltraMantis
The Boss does break the rules in that it behaves in a way that no other ship does. Particularly the superweapons that cannot be disabled despite the player being lead to belive so.

The preceeding game teaches you many skills and tricks that can be used in combat, but the Boss is unique and only by fighting this ultimate battle can you learn how best to win it. There's nothing wrong with that, but it can be very crushing to lose a long game due to ignorance when it's not even your fault for being ignorant.

Once you have beaten the game a few times you find that the Boss fight is fairly easy compared to the randomly generated enemies that can often be deadlier. But those first few failures can be dissapointing.

Re: FTL suffers for having a final boss

Posted: Wed Dec 19, 2012 9:59 pm
by More Dakka
UltraMantis wrote:The Boss does break the rules in that it behaves in a way that no other ship does. Particularly the superweapons that cannot be disabled despite the player being lead to belive so.

This -- the drone swarm will still happen even if the drone subsystem is destroyed, the wave 3 laser spam cannot be prevented short of destroying the flagship. It's also the only ship which can recharge its Zoltan Shield during battle, the only crewed ship which fights on like an auto-repairing AI ship if you wipe out its entire crew, and the only ship which lives on after you "destroy" it -- making it possible that unaware players will sacrifice too many expendables or take too much damage, not having planned for the subsequent waves.

Of course, it's also the only crewed ship that actually has completely isolated weapon bays, and despite its decent size it has a purely human crew that isn't THAT large (at least, not in numbers that it can bring to bear -- the gunners can't join each other or the rest).