I recently completed the game and unlocked the Federation Cruiser. I have previously unlocked the Engi and Zoltan cruisers, playing mostly using the Engi. I have only played on "normal" difficulty setting.
Selecting the Federation Cruiser as opposed to the Engi or Kestrel cruisers seemed to greatly increase difficulty but I have not been able to find any documentation on this (wikis) so my question is:
Is there some additional difficulty setting that is applied when selecting the Federation cruiser -- or perhaps second tier ships in general?
I realize that different ships call for different strategies. That's not what I'm talking about. What I'm referring to as 'difficulty' here is the strength of enemies and the likelihood of good things happening. My perception is that enemies are far stronger earlier on in the game when using the Federation as opposed to the Engi cruiser, e.g. a Zoltan cruiser with three weapons as first encounter as opposed to a no-shield scout with two weapons.
I am not complaining about the difficulty, I just want to understand what I'm in for. I never chose easy, enjoying the challenge of 'normal'.
I understand that ship selection does not alter THE difficulty setting (the "EASY/NORMAL" toggle switch) I am assuming extra pain is being metered out in addition to the user difficulty selection.
My suspicion is that the ships are organized in tiers, as the Zoltan cruiser in the same column as the Federation seems to unleash similarly levelled enemies. Would like to see it confirmed or denied, though.
There is no difference in the "difficulty" (number/frequency of enemies, pickups, etc.) when playing with different ships. The only effect that the ship itself has on the difficulty of the game will be due to layout of the ship (e.g. not starting with a shield can make the stealth cruiser tricky to play with; conversely, I've always found the Crystal Cruiser to be a very strong ship).
Remember that large parts of FTL are randomized and so the difficulty will be different for each play-through -- some play-throughs will reward you with good drops and some will punish you with more difficult encounters.
FTL does increase the difficulty of ships from sector to sector -- ships you encounter in later sectors will (on average) be more difficult than ships you encounter in earlier sectors.
Some ships are easier to start with than others due to how they are configured, but there is no hard-wired "this ship makes the game more difficult". I think both Fed Cruisers have solid to strong starts.