I wanted this game to be the next step of the X series. It has been the case that with every new one, it offered the same core as the last one, but with better and more features. So it was from the first one, all the way to X:AP. From what we were told it would be, we expected the end of “tubing” our stations to make it a complex, the end of gateways were out ship were colliding with others coming out, and of course better graphics.
Instead, we received a game that only has the same races and a few other references to the previous universe. Everything else is working differently, making this not the next X game, but another game set in space. Graphics in space are beautiful, but everything else is awkward, ugly, repetitive and annoying. Trade mechanics started broken, and to a great extent remain as such, but even if they are ever fixed, trade takes an age to complete, and without advanced autopilot commands, are hard to provide enjoyment.
A graphics user interface built around the needs of the least common denominator (which in this game is the Xbox controller) means that the keyboard and joystick are severely limited by design, and it took only forum remarks to get the developers to promise to add a few keyboard commands, while going off and apologizing that those will not be included in the Xbox controller. While the gamepad incorporation should be an option for those that want to use one, it should always be handled as having the most important commands and controls and not a way to work everything in the game, as that leads (as it has) to a very simple interface for a very complex game. This means that previous complex menus in X games are now gone and to do anything you have to go over many more steps than before! Yes, the previous menus seemed complex, but that was only because the game itself was complex, it was complex, but not complicated. The menus were very well designed to offer control and everyone that ever loved the game had an excellent understanding of how the menus worked, because they loved all the complexity the game had to offer. Having a steep learning curve was never an issue for his game, it had to have it, because it had so much to offer once you were on the other side.
New additions to the game to deal with previous problem areas are equally not well thought out. The simplest one should have been travelling between sectors. The problem in the past was that every one had to go through a jump gate (something like the stargate of the Star Gate franchise, only much bigger) to go to the next sector, and that introduced problems like big ships entering through that gate would interferer with the small ships coming out (or the reverse) causing AI path-finding problems and crashes between ships. There were even some mods introduced that basically made all incoming traffic jump in a sector from another point, not the actual jump gate of the sector. It worked, but of course was not as pretty as it could be. The “solution” introduced by X-R is a highway system, that is fast, one way, and involves a mini game based on being caught in the wake of another to speed up in the lane. Aside from this being laughably wrong as there is no “wake” in space, one could just not use that mini game, however, as there is no autopilot to tell it to take you to that system or that station, you have to fly manually and wait while you get there and make notice to get out in the right area or the trip will just continue until the end of the lane.
First of all, why no autopilot? There always was an autopilot, X-R doesn’t have one.
Secondly, there is one element that makes sense, one way travel, but that would be all the solution needed for the problem. Introducing one way gates would solve the single problem that existed with the gate system.
Thirdly, where before we entered and exited the gates in one or two seconds, we now have to wait to fly between sectors, and unless you want to play the minigame, the travelling can become long and extremely boring.
This means that lanes offer the solution to the previous games, while introducing new problems we never had before. Good design this is not.
There are further design choices like this made throughout the game. Big stations are great and beautiful, but to get every detail about them you have to fly extremely close to every single module of a station and on the correct side of the module, as that is the only one offering the magical ( i ) icon, which I assume would point to the only antenna on the module that allows communication to your ship’s scanners so that you can get the information. If that is not clear; you literally have to fly within a few meters of a very specific point of the module, otherwise you get no info about it. So gone are the days of scanning a station from 25km away (or longer if one had triplex scanners) and learning all there was to know, now we are reduced to a few meters of scanning range for one module that has to be facing us correctly. There is no reason to do something like this in any space game I have ever played – or hope to play. Scanners have NEVER been so limited in any space game and it just boggles the mind to understand what the design choices were that lead to this. It almost feels like another minigame… as during the process, some of the modules may, as well as the information of the module, reveal special discounts about the complex. Seriously, who thinks this up?
Maps in the game are big unwieldy things, as if they were designed to be seen by someone still playing of a PAL (or NTSC if you are American) monitor. In this day where an HDReady resolution is considered extinct for any gaming PC monitor, the maps are so big that waste screen real-estate and become nonfunctional. Bind this together with a control system that is again not the right one, and figuring out the maps becomes a hassle.
The same low density that exists for the game maps continues to your assets listings, quickly filling up with only a few of them when the X games were typical of the player having many hundreds to track and monitor, providing another step back from previous games, also not being helped by the control system. Should the rest of the mistakes of this game be fixed, this one would pose a very serious and significant hurdle in managing an empire as big as the ones we could easily get in previous games.
Space station walking is also pointless and akin to an FPS of the previous decade regarding how moving around it feels, and of five years ago on how it looks. This is not a comment on the aesthetics of the models, but on the technical accomplishment of the engine for interiors. The fact that every single person you meet is just so ugly and so similar would make for a good lore item of how cloning brought the species to this state, but this is not offered anywhere, and the strip clubs on stations do not seem to agree with a cloning reproduction society. Space station walking is just irrelevant, and every one is the same as the other, as there are only three or four models reported as available (although to me it felt more like two different ones). Instead, the space station walking feature becomes a treasure hunting game, as you go about every inch trying to pilfer whatever you find, much like any RPG/adventure game where you just take it because you can. The purpose of this? To get something for free to sell it when you find someone to buy it so that you can make some money. Because trade is…
Trade is also completely new. Not only can you buy and sell items to people in stations when you walk in there, but now you can give commands to big trade ships to buy and sell between stations. The problem is that this is too slow, too little. In previous games, the trader ships could fit any product or raw material in the universe. The only thing you had to worry about is how many cubic meters the storage capability of the craft was (when it came to cargo considerations). Not so in this one, as they are specialised You cannot load beef to a craft that takes only energy cells – and that is pretty much how all craft works from what I saw. Maybe there are others available later or some place else that I have not seen, but even then, using the trade ships is extremely slow, as you have to wait for them to dock (10 minutes or so), load (anything from 1 to 3 minutes), fly off (another 10 to 20 minutes depending on position in the sector), travel to the next sector (which is another 5 to 20 minutes), dock (10 minutes), unload their goods (another 1 to 3 minutes). All this must be done in real time.
I had heard in the past that Egosoft was not pleased that gamers used S.E.T.A to let the game work on its own and make them money (more on that later). As if to drive the nail home, gone is S.E.T.A. which might have salvaged something from how long it takes a trade to happen. S.E.T.A was basically like a time distortion field, which allowed a ship (basically the player) to experience time faster, so everything else around him happened faster. A S.E.T.A. factor of 10 meant that for every minute spent in game, 10 minutes were passing for every other ship and entity in the game. It shortened travel times and even helped to pass the time. It does not surprise me that it came time to drop S.E.T.A now, nor that further comments have been made from Egosoft that it will NOT be coming back at a future date. Real Time is the name of the game, but this is a single player game and not a multi-player platform where time needs to be kept accurate for the sake of the community. This is a design decision that says Egosoft wants us to experience their game in real time, as if being afraid that using S.E.T.A. would make gamers bored after having finished their game so soon. Only that a true X game cannot end, as the end is only defined by the player, not the available options given by the developer.
I fully acknowledge that this may have been intended as a new type of game, in which case it is not something I like and cannot recommend to anyone. If this is supposed to be the next X then I still do not like it as it is completely different to anything that ever made the X game what they were. Space is beautiful though!
On S.E.T.A.: I do understand Egosoft a bit. It is rather easy to exploit the game with time acceleration. X games had some ways to deal with it though, such as NPC patrols coming close to you and scanning you for contraband. That broke S.E.T.A., and it was commonplace. Provided the player kept within the normal sector, this fixed any exploit. But of course, players would just ride out very far and sit there. No patrol, and no break in the accelerated time. The gamer’s empire kept on ticking and made them money fast.
But here is the point: for one thing, a gamer has the right to do that. It is a single player game and if the gamer wants to deprive himself of the pleasure of working out his money, that is his own fault. We all have been tempted to use cheat codes in a game, but when the cheat code is actually a valuable asset of the player keeping his head and not dying of boredom, then this is no longer the responsibility of the developer to fix. if you want to ruin the game for you, go right ahead. There are those of us that use S.E.T.A. to cover long travels, especially at the start of the games when we have to move from sector to sector in a slow ship, go explore a 100km by 100km by 100km and assign that to the autopilot and would rather NOT wait for the next 4 real time hours to do that. There are other ways that S.E.T.A. maintains a healthy relationship with the player as well.
And the worse of them all, is that if you DO let S.E.T.A. run while you are off sleeping, then there is the very high probability that when you wake up, your empire will have been wiped out (or a significant portion of it) by a random spawn of a pirates, or Khaak or Xenon, which forced your forces to engage them, and then (if you were in sector) maybe even hit some other forces, which enraged them, and attacked, and then that whole other race just turned hostile and all your stations were attacked, forcing more fights and all your traders were attacked, and basically your entire game was screwed up. Now load the last thing before going to sleep, and that will teach you to S.E.T.A. again like that.
This happened so often that I doubt anyone has had any real exploitation with S.E.T.A. in their games. But despite all that, S.E.T.A. is just gone. When all it would have taken is something like an auto feedback; every one hour of game time (not real time) something happens and S.E.T.A. at that point is deactivated. Like a mission offer, or something. It is not difficult to consider really. Instead, S.E.T.A. is just gone.