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I'll type up something more comprehensive later this week, but for now, I just wanted to say that our user impressions of the game's difficulty and its curve across zones might be biased, since we're totally in the dark with respect to the final zone, facing The Thing Below.

Whether that final stage hits like a sledgehammer or feather-duster remains to be seen (or rather, felt). Lotsa roguelikes require the player keep in mind that final skill check, as it were. This usually means deft tactical maneuvering on the player's part towards some end-game, end-boss viable build (*ahem FTL*).

Final Boss aside, though, I'd say the difficulty curve feels pretty good for a one-setting-fits-all build. Lotsa small interactions and cues to learn and streamline into a best-practices mindset. Not sure how much room there is for individual experimentation without just feeling suboptimal.

I tend to hit a sweet spot, usually in the middle of the second area, during which my confidence in the that runthrough's odds surges as I feel the build coming together.

Again, I'll pen a longer and more specific, itemized account of my experience so far later on.

Yep, you're totally right. Without playing the boss, you're definitely going to be missing the final punch. I'm trying to tune it towards "a solid final challenge" but not "the place where your otherwise perfect build is now useless". Success in FTL always felt a bit luck-based and arbitrary (maybe because I never figured out the end game), so I'm definitely hoping to avoid that.

Yep, I think there's a respect to which this game will end up a little "here are your cards, now play them right" rather than "here are your cards, how do you want to play them", at least at high skill levels. I think I've made my peace with that; there's certainly no changes I can think of that will clearly disrupt that.

A prime influence for me is nethack, and I think my ideal curve is influenced by that, a challenging (but low investment) early game, that eases a little when death is scarier, but with sharp "do this right or die" moments punctuating the regularly. How close I can get to that remains to be seen.

Thanks a lot for the insightful commentary so far. Looking forward to your fuller account!