Faster-than-light travel, often abbreviated to FTL, is the method by which ships traverse the vast emptiness of space between star systems. Advancements in technology can grant improvements to the range and speed of FTL travel as well as reduced cooldown/warm up times for every use.
Basic FTL methods
There are three starting types of FTL travel; an empire starts with one of the three basic types and may never access the others (though non-Hyperspace empires can research Hyperlane Mapping to understand the FTL routes and strategies available to Hyperspace adversaries). The starting types, from the simplest to the most complex: warp, hyperspace and wormhole.
Eventually empires may gain the Jump Drive, an advanced form of FTL that operates like a mix between all drive systems at once, but getting and using it presents its own challenge.
When a ship "jumps" to another system, its drive is put under considerable strain and has to cool down for a bit before performing another "jump" or even move, which along with the fact that warp travel is the slowest of the three FTL types greatly hinders the strategic mobility of a Warp empire, particularly when rapid movement over long distances is required, which is often the case when attacking an enemy empire or defending an extensive empire. In short, warp drives are recommended for empires that favor freedom of movement and independence from pre-established movement paths and can accept slow movement, long cooldowns, and limited overall range.
Research can increase range, increase speed, and reduce cooldown time by up to 100%, 40%, and 40% respectively. For a full breakdown of mineral and power requirements, plus multipliers/etc., see the table below;
|Warp Drive||Cost||Ship Power Cost||Warmup||Cooldown Multiplier||Speed||Range|
|Mark 1||5||5||.1||(Jump Distance * .55) days||3.5ly/day||50ly|
|Mark 2||10||7.5||.1||(Jump Distance * .44) days||3.5ly/day||70ly|
|Mark 3||15||10||.1||(Jump Distance * .33) days||3.5ly/day||90ly|
Ships on cooldown after using warp drive are unable to move in the System, start combat or initiate a new FTL travel. They are able to defend themselves if in combat while on cooldown. The cooldown scales with the distance, so making a jump to a nearby system can be beneficial. The cooldown time also scales with the distance from friendly territory.
A hidden network predates all other known construction in the galaxy. Its so-called "hyperlanes" connect the stars and they are only visible for those who know where (and how) to look. Those that don't can still research Hyperlane Mapping in order to grasp the layout of the network, and thus be able to predict the paths a hyperdrive-using empire must take and their likely strategies.
Ships with a hyperdrive can use these hyperlanes for quick and efficient travel between systems. Hyperdrive ships have among the shortest charge-up times. Hyperspace travel can greatly speed exploration and both military and civilian travel, but a major vulnerability is the limited number of hyperlanes and therefore limited routes to a ship's final destination. Travel between nearby stars may require a circuitous route through multiple star systems, and an informed enemy might fortify a number of systems to create strategic choke-points that block an opponent. A hostile empire may even fully prevent fleets from reaching large parts of the galaxy.
In short, hyperdrives are recommended for empires that favor relatively quick travel and a rapid naval response with minimal cooldowns, but at the cost of working with a limited and fixed set of movement routes.
- Hyperdrives are the fastest early-game means of travel, which can give an edge in sending ships out to scout for habitable planets and establish contact with other empires. Since all hyperlanes are visible to a hyperlane empire from the start, planning where to explore and grow early on is important.
- Keeping the entire empire safely linked up with secured routes through the hyperlane network is a strategic priority, as an enemy aware of the Hyperlane network may seek to cut these links and block transit through choke points by fortifying the arrival points through which the hyperspace fleet must pass.
- The bigger the galaxy, the worse travelling by hyperspace can get, especially if the empire is wrapping around or intermixed with other empires.
- Difficulty or inability to cross the voids between the arms of spiral galaxies due to having few or no hyperlanes can be a serious strategic problem. Wormhole stations and high-end warp drives can potentially cross the void, but a lack of hyperlanes can't be changed.
- Despite their movement restrictions, fleets with hyperdrive are notoriously tricky to intercept or trap. Hyperspace fleets can use their speed and quick warm-up time to evade an otherwise superior warp or wormhole fleet. Against equal level Warp or Wormhole drives they can easily outrun the enemy.
Empires with access to wormhole technology can create sophisticated wormhole stations at the outer edges of a star system. In contrast to warp bubbles and hyperlanes, wormholes create a temporary but direct connection between two systems.
Ships that use wormhole stations experience instant travel between star systems and, as a very small bonus, the wormhole modulator drive does not require energy or add to the cost of the ship. The only costs are in building and (cheap) maintaining the wormhole stations. There is also the benefit that entire fleets can use it to transit all at once, but the bigger the fleet, the longer it takes to fully generate a usable wormhole portal. The two important factors are jump cost and preparation speed: The "cost" or "Wormhole-size" for a single jump is 200 + the Fleet size. Another 30% penalty is added to that total, if the connection does not end in own or allied territory. This applies even if the target system has the station generating the wormhole. This cost is worked off starting with about 15-16 units/day (the exact figure is unknown and even the displayed time might not be 100% accurate). The jump takes modified Wormhole-size/Wormhole generation speed per day, rounded up to complete. For example, a single size one fleet at the start of the game it takes about 13 days to complete the jump into friendly territory. In turn, the travel time for a large lategame fleet can easily be in the months.
The wormhole generated does - in theory - allow two-way travel, but it collapses almost instantly after sending a fleet through. Even then, attempting to use a wormhole is suicidal for ships not equipped with appropriate modulators. Other empires can see a wormhole's exit point as soon at the wormhole starts being prepared but generally they won't have time to react in any way.
Unlike the other two FTL types, wormholes transport ships to their destination without crossing the intervening space at all. What this functionally means is that wormhole travel disregards borders, allowing the user to 'leapfrog' fleets over intervening opposing forces or an intervening neutral entity without having to persuade them to grant military or civilian access.
There are a few important constraints for wormhole empires;
- One end of the connection must terminate in the same system as the station. This limits the mobility of fleets when operating on the offensive, unless construction ships are brought along to build stations in occupied territory.
- A single station can only generate a single connection at a time. In order to adequately keep up with high volumes of traffic (such as multiple separate fleets incoming or outgoing for attacks, patrols, or retrofits), building multiple wormhole stations is a must. Loss of wormhole stations can force a fleet to return with emergency FTL.
- For very small or very large fleets, the system is somewhat inefficient. It will always take at least 15 days to generate a wormhole at the basic level, or at least 10 days to generate a wormhole with stations fully upgraded. However, it can take well over a month to generate a wormhole large enough for a single massive fleet awaiting transit.
While wormhole range is long, it is not unlimited. Physics research topics allow an increase in both the range of wormholes and speed of wormhole generation. The range can be increased by up to 100%, and the wormhole generation speed by 50%. Fully upgraded wormhole stations are the longest-ranged basic FTL method as a result, with a range of approximately 130 light years.
- Wormhole stations are cheap, extremely low-maintenance, quick to build, and most important of all they can be built in enemy territory, which is essential for maintaining flexible fleet mobility when on the offensive and when occupying enemy territory for extended periods.
- Building wormhole stations in all colonized systems of an empire provides a quick way for a fleet to defend those planets, as it can travel into any system within a large radius with a single jump. It also helps to prevent disruption of ship traffic if a few stations are lost.
- When fighting against a wormhole empire, one of the most effective and dangerous strategies is to use fast-moving raider fleets to take out as many of their wormhole stations as possible. This will cripple their fleet mobility and potentially leave some of their fleets missing in action.
- Wormhole travel bypasses intervening borders and territory, so careful positioning of stations can freely 'slingshot' or 'longjump' fleets over intervening empires.
- Given the time it takes to generate wormholes for massive fleets, it may be more time-efficient to use several smaller fleets along with a surplus of wormhole stations; two stations can allow two 200-cap fleets to jump out in 30 days, instead of one station requiring 45 days for the combined 400-cap fleet.
- Empires with Wormhole Drive T3 have a significantly increased chance to get Jumpdrives, over other Empires (in earlier versions basic jumpdrive was even restricted to them and the Psionic Techpath).
Described as an experimental "extremely fast ship technology", this has the potential risk to create a crisis by "boring a hole into another dimension" populated by an empire of energy beings called the Unbidden. 
Jump Drive technology operates somewhat like a mix of all FTL systems at once;
- It allows free movement from system to system, unbound by hyperlanes or the need to establish wormhole stations - like the Warp Drive.
- Its warmup and cooldown times are relatively short - like Hyperlanes.
- Finally, it has long range and transit is essentially instantaneous regardless of distance - like Wormholes.
Jump Drive technology is the only kind of FTL travel used by Fallen Empires, as they have reached the pinnacle of technological development; Spiritualist Fallen Empires utilize Psi Jump Drives, whilst the other fallen empire types use (salvageable) standard Jump Drives.
There are three ways to access Jump Drive technology;
- Research up to Zero Point Power. All basic FTL types may access it, but Wormhole users who have the highest level of wormhole generation ( Wormhole Containment Fields) have a higher chance of the technology appearing.
- Defeating the Dimensional Horror in the Leviathans DLC.
- Salvage it from a defeated fleet from an enemy that possesses the technology; like the Unbidden.
There are reports that it might be caught by FTL Inhibitors along the path, rather than only those at the target system
A more advanced version of the Jump Drive called Psi Jump Drive is also available. It is identical in cost and energy requirements to the standard Jump Drive but offers a 50% increased range. It is obtained by completing the Psionics branch of research, but has low appearance chance. This is modified by traits such as Maniacal, Psionics Specialty, scientist level, and ethos (increased appearance chance for spiritualists, but much lower chance for materialists).
The Psi Jump Drive can also summon the Unbidden; owning both forms of Jump Drive technology drastically increases the chance of the Unbidden appearing, but only one of the two is required to initially trigger the crisis countdown (assuming no other crisis has yet occurred).
|Jump Drive||Cost||Ship Power Cost||Warmup||Cooldown Multiplier||Speed||Range|
|Psi Jump Drive||30||10||15||5||Instant||150|
Whilst it is expensive to keep fleets out of dock, it's also important to remember that the restriction on jumps out of gravity wells mean that rapid response fleets can jump to respond to situations much more quickly if stationed beyond the gravity well where they can immediately begin a jump when needed.
There is one exception to the 'jump within gravity well' rule, and that is the Emergency FTL used when retreating from battle. Whilst this is effectively almost instant, there are several drawbacks:
- It can only be engaged when in combat with an enemy fleet and after a few days cooldown. Snare fields can drastically increase that time.
- The fleets will be missing in action for some time, depending on the distance from their empire's borders, until they reappear at a port.
- Ships in the fleet may be damaged or lost due to the emergency FTL. They will be damaged, with 25% of their maximum hull points being taken from their current hull points. For example; if a ship has 400 maximum hull points, then it takes 100 damage whenever it retreats from battle. Ships can (and will) be destroyed if their current HP would be reduced to zero as a result of this damage. There is a 20% chance to survive even if they otherwise would not, but those that do will have only 1% of their hull left.
- All ships no matter how undamaged have a chance to be lost. But it seems that the chance is very slim.