The X universe in all its depth has probably only been explored by a relatively small percentage of gamers. A pity as the universe is one of the most complex and rich ones you can find in any sci-fi game to date. X3: Terran Conflict is the most recent instalment in the series, and even this latest entry in the series has already reached version 3.0 due to the fanatic support of its developer, Egosoft.
X3 is difficult to explain to people who haven’t experienced a game of this kind before. It’s essentially a space-based combat and economy simulation. You start in a spaceship which you directly control, with only a few credits to your name. The real goal of the game is determined by you as the player, as the game is essentially a giant sandbox. Most players will aim to make as many credits as they can in order to buy more, bigger and better ships.
The game also features an economic model with space stations in different sectors and from different races requiring certain resources to produce their products. The entire economy works on a supply & demand basis and a player can earn a lot of credits by trading. It’s one of my personal preferences, and using a fleet of transport ships to ferry goods all over the universe is a great way to make a lot of credits.
On top of this players are also able to build any of the stations in the game themselves, be it mines on asteroids or full-blown weapon complexes. A complex is essentially multiple space-stations linked together, forming a much larger space station connected by tubes. There is no limit to the amount of stations you can connect this way as long as there is space available in the sector and your hardware is capable of rendering it.
Stations within a complex obviously don’t need to have their products transported back and forth, so it’s efficient, economic and much safer. Safety is important as the universe is a very dangerous place filled with pirates and some very aggressive alien races who don’t warn before they start shooting. I’ve seen people post complexes with over 400 stations connected to them on the official forums, which is a truly epic undertaking when done in the unmodified game.
The X3: Terran Conflict universe is extremely rich and diverse – containing several distinct alien races and factions:
- Terran – Humans from Earth / The Solar System (and a lost colony called Aldrin)
- Argon – Humans
- Boron – A friendly, water-based species with ships that resemble fish.
- Split – An aggressive race with a family structure (quite Klingon like in that sense) with very fast ships.
- Teladi – The mandatory trade oriented race.
- Paranid – A very reclusive, paranoid race who don’t like outsiders.
- Khaak – An insect-like alien race, extremely aggressive and stars of one of the main plot lines. One of two races which are permanent enemies and cannot be befriended.
- Xenon – An artificial-intelligence species, extremely aggressive and the other race which cannot be befriended.
- A ton of other minor races, including Pirate Factions, the hippy Goners, etc.
Sectors are extremely diverse as well – some including full-blown planets, tons of asteroids, nebulae, etc. etc. There are several sectors which regular players will recognise instantly, despite the universe being HUGE. And I do mean HUGE. Let me stress this again, the universe is fucking HUGE – just check this X3 TC Map.
The game can be played in any way you like, but there currently are 9 major plot lines + a whole range of different corporate missions for different corporations, and hundreds of other randomly generated missions. You can literally play forever if you would want but the game has developed to keep people busy for a long, long time. As an indication, the current game I am playing through has 56 hours on the clock and I’ve only finished the Terran plot. I’ve clocked 141 hours in X3: Terran Conflict since I bought it on Steam and played X3: Reunion for over 250 hours prior to that. (TC is essentially an updated engine of X3: R, with different main plot – I’d suggest you go straight into TC.)
It’s rare that we specifically speak about a developer during a review but for this game it’s absolutely worth doing, as it’s extremely relevant to the value for money aspect of our score. Egosoft is absolutely unrivalled when it comes to supporting their games and we don’t state this lightly. The community has an enormous influence over the game and their feedback is taken incredibly seriously. Terran Conflict is now at version 3.0 which hasn’t been released *that* long ago, despite the game being over 2 years old now. We’re not talking just patches or fixes either, but regular addition of new content and new plot lines. It’s very refreshing that a developer doesn’t do this through expansions or DLC, but provides this content completely for free to people who already own the game.
On top of that, there is a massive modding community with Egosoft taking the most prominent mods which aren’t game-breaking or unbalancing to the vanilla experience, and releasing these in the form of a Bonus Pack. This Bonus pack can be downloaded for free, and provides a signed version of these mods without breaking your vanilla game and giving you a ***modified*** tag. This is important for players who wish to upload their statistics to the official website and be ranked among other players on various aspects of the game. This bonus pack is currently already at version v4.1.01.
It’s worth devoting a little section to the type of ships you can fly and own in X3: Terran Conflict as well as it gives a much better idea of the scale and scope of the game. Please note that unlike other games of this type your ships CAN be controlled by the AI so you can own and operate entire wings or fleets if that is your wish. Transports can be automated to perform specific tasks, military ships can patrol sectors, and fighters can be assigned to wings – either your own or entirely separate ones. This can be anywhere in the universe so it is possible to own thousands of ships all across the universe if that is your fancy.
The various ship types;
- M5 – Very fast, small scout ships.
- M4 – Fast fighters.
- M3 – Heavy fighters.
- M8 – Bombers.
- TS – Freight Transport Ships
- TP – Passenger Transport Ships
- TM – Military Transport Ships, capable of carrying a handful of fighters.
- M6 – Corvette ships, the largest ship which can dock at stations.
- M7M – Missile Frigates.
- M7 – Frigates.
- TL – Large Transports, large enough to transport entire space stations.
- M2 – Destroyers, large capital ships with extremely powerful weaponry.
- M1 – Carriers, behemoths which can carry several complete wings of fighters.
- M0 – Mother ships: extremely rare and not possible to acquire as a player.
All of these ships are scaled very well, so when you are flying your little M4 fighter class ship past a M2 destroyer, you will know your flying past something very large indeed. Owning one of these giants yourself for the first time is a truly momentous occasion. The screenshots below show the scale of an astronaut (me) vs. a relatively small passenger transport ship, through normal perspective followed by a more zoomed out view:
As a comparison your little fighter hull can be acquired for 300,000, possibly even 100,000 credits at a push and a decent space station (a large mine for example) can be purchased for under a million. That M2 is going to set you back around 100 Million without any weapons or equipment, so it’s quite an achievement. Of course there are alternative ways of acquiring them, such as piracy, which is why the game has such appeal to many players: you can truly play the way YOU want and the universe will respond accordingly.
Graphics / Sound
The graphics in X3: Terran Conflict are absolutely lovely. Some of the sectors are absolutely stunning, space stations are very well detailed and visually different from race to race in most cases. Stations and ships include moving parts, such as radar dishes, rotating sections (for gravity, think Babylon 5) and moving turrets.
Ships are fantastic, the models are visually different between the races and an experienced player will identify most ships fairly easily. The size and scale of some of the ships and stations is immense – especially when you visit the Terran sectors for the first time. (The ring at Earth is just mind-blowing).
The sounds are generally very good – weapons and explosions sound as you would expect. The verbose computer is able to pronounce most ships and targets, as well as weapons and ship upgrades. It’s slightly irritating after you’ve played for a VERY long time, but then you just switch Betty off. A lovely touch is the station announcements, which provide an additional level of immersion as well as the greeting messages when you dock at a station. Based on your standing with the faction which owns the station, the greeting can be quite different.
The music is in an entirely different league. I *love* the music in X3, and the sectors of the various races have quite a different atmosphere as a result of their background music. Some specific or special sectors have special sound tracks and some of them are plain fantastic. As I’ve mentioned, between X3:R and X3:TC I must have played over 400 hours and I still play with the music on. I don’t think I can give a bigger compliment to the composers.
This aspect of X3: Terran Conflict is much harder to review. Let me start by saying that the game doesn’t have a great interface. There – I said it. It certainly is functional and a lot of the UI choices are actually very good, at least when it comes to piloting your craft and interacting with the ships around you. However, managing your galactic empire and your other crafts can be quite a pain. To give one of your other ships located in another sector a command, you first have to find the ship in your assets list. This luckily has tons of sorting options, but it’s still not the best interface I’ve ever used. Once located, you have to click it – and open a menu which contains TONS and I mean TONS of commands. For a new player, and even for more advanced players, half of these commands make no sense without specifically knowing what they do.
On top of this – the available commands are limited to what software you installed in your ships. To make things worse, some of these upgrades can only be found in specific locations/sectors/race equipment docks, meaning you really need a lot of experience to get ships to do exactly what you want. To give you an example, to start a trader which operates on its own within certain sectors you need Navigation Command Software, Fight Command Software Mk1 and Trade Command Software Mk3. It helps to have a Jumpdrive as well. This upgrade system is one of my biggest annoyances with X3, as equipping new ships for a specific duty can become quite the epic undertaking.
This happens to some extent with weapons/shields as well, but at least the player can build factories to produce these themselves. Ship upgrades can only be acquired from those specific locations, so you need to ferry your ships around. Worse, they cannot be bought in bulk as they are not transportable goods, you must install them in the ship which is going to use them, at the location where they can be purchased. There is a trick to somewhat circumvent that, using a carrier with fighters carrying the upgrades and then transferring these upgrades over, but that’s a huge pain in the arse for something that should be a lot easier.
I would also have liked the station and complex construction to be more intuitive, with better visual aids. Equally, management of said stations should have a much easier and slicker interface, as that would have really increased the appeal of the game massively.
That said, this game is HUGELY complex and discovering which command does what is part of the journey you go through when playing X3. You simply don’t play this game without consulting the official forums, guides and other available information as there’s just too much to see and do. There’s a huge universe, hundreds of different ships, dozens of weapons, missiles, ship upgrades and more management commands than I even know about. And that’s before you start looking at mods.
X3 is the kind of game you will either love or hate. For those people who like their space simulation, who enjoy the odd bit of trading, combat and immensely in-depth gameplay – X3: Terran Conflict will be a game you will enjoy for hundreds upon hundreds of hours. There’s so much content available, and so many different plotlines and activities that I can honestly say one game can easily last you for 200-300 hours. And your game experience can differ significantly based on your relationships with all races or the type of activities you carry out. Elite, Privateer, Eve – they’ve got nothing on the sort of depth that X3 offers.
Is the game perfect? No, it does have it’s flaws – but once you’ve finished vanilla, got your achievements on Steam and uploaded your statistics on the official website (if you’re into that kind of thing), there are hundreds of fantastic mods coming from one of the best communities that can be found online, which will extend the life of your game even further. There’s something for everyone, so if you thought specific elements of the game needed changing/upgrading/removing/adding, there’s undoubtedly a mod for it.