Finding Space to Call Home
Something I’ve noted before is happening again. Right now!
My gaming interests are taking on something of a theme. Generally, this comes as a result of playing one thing which reminds me of other things. At the moment, it’s No Man’s Sky having that effect on me. The theme is SPACE, and I’ve been led down the path of taking another look at Elite Dangerous and X4.
I figured I’d go back to Elite Dangerous when the Odyssey expansion came out. Odyssey was to give us space-legs! The ability to get out of your ship (or exocraft) and go walking around planetside and certain other environments, e.g., carriers.
Unfortunately… When it came out, it… well, it wasn’t very good.
There have been updates over the intervening year and a bit, including the recent Update 13, which pushes the end of the current alien threat story arc and paves the way to begin a new, seemingly more dire, one.
Odyssey aside, my feelings about Elite Dangerous are complicated. ED aims to be a lot more grounded in realism (or at least internal consistency) than many of its contemporaries. Space is big, and you are never allowed to forget this fact. NMS and ED both run at the galactic scale, sure, but in NMS, each individual system is hyper-compressed in the name of quicker gameplay. You might occasionally spend over a minute pulse-driving your way from one planet to the next in NMS, but that’s quite a quick jaunt in ED.
Not only that, but ED will give you a degree of throttle control while in travel speed, hurtling between intrasystem bodies. You can indeed overshoot your target and have to make the ‘loop of shame’, coming back at your target from the other side and slowing down more appropriately.
This philosophy carries forward in all areas of the game. Another example? Scanning planets in NMS is a matter of pointing your reticle at one and hitting ‘C’. In ED, you launch a series of probes at the planetary body in question, using gravity to sling them to the far side of the planet.
Suffice it to say, it’s a slower-paced game. That alone isn’t by any stretch a deal breaker, but I’m looking for something that will let me build up to ownership of something. NMS doesn’t allow that in terms of Space Stations yet, but planetary bases you can have aplenty, and the Freighter base improvements have been incredible. Still…
The X series is one of my favourites, at least since the X3 line of games. I had no idea they existed until X3: Reunion.
You’d be forgiven for looking at me skeptically about this claim, though. I’ve barely touched X4, nor X: Rebirth, which proceeds it. Although if you know anything about the series, you might forgive my lack of attention to X: Rebirth. Egosoft tried some things with that game, but, for the most part… They were not very well received.
The biggest of which being constrained to the piloting of a single craft for the entire game.
In X3, by contrast, you could pilot anything from the smallest of scout ships to the largest of carrier-class behemoths, able to launch massive fighter wings of their own.
X4 certainly launched in a reasonably rough state too. But as with Hello Games and No Man’s Sky — Egosoft update and patch the wazoo out of their games. X4 launched in December 2018 and is still getting significant work done. We’re up to version 5.10, which dropped in April this year. Now… Every time I’ve given serious consideration to jumping back into X4, I’ve discovered there was something just on the horizon. A new DLC and/or new significant patch, so I’ve held off.
It seems right now might be the ideal time, though, as from the 5.10 patch notes, Egosoft say:
We would like to reassure you that we’re not quite done yet with our vision for X4, but please note that the next item on the agenda for the game is a little further off, and that we won’t be able to get into specifics about it for quite a while.
In the meantime, we hope that you continue to enjoy X4, build your empire, explore far away systems, dive into the storylines, and let yourselves be immersed in the X Universe.
Thank you for your continued support!X4: Foundation Update 5.10 Release Notes (Apr 2022)
In terms of individual systems depth — X4 lies somewhere between No Man’s Sky’s arcade focus and Elite Dangerous’ ‘realistic’ approach, which I find appealing to start with… But what pulls X4 ahead so far right now is how far it goes down the road of player agency.
You can choose to play as a single, independent pilot – sure. Or maybe you want to jump up the totem pole a little, and recruit additional NPC pilots to form a mercenary squadron. Train them up, give them focus skills, be the best there ever was for profit or perhaps system security for your chosen faction.
Or, you can think bigger. Establish your own company, complete with space stations of your own design. You can contest systems for ownership, or head out to the fringes and try build up a new destination hotspot.
You can command a trading fleet, set miners to do their business — assign them a protective detail if they’re operating in risky systems.
And all this will carry on around you, not just for your own fleets and stations, but all interlinked into the wider universe simulation. Wars can start and end, whether or not you choose to participate — and heck, if you’re taking a slightly more pacifist run at things, you might still be able to profit from the supply chain shortfalls that result.
All this optionality comes with one major cost: Complexity and the resulting time to learn.
There are inbuilt tutorials for some of the things you can do in-game, but a series like this one — or just searching out the things you’re interested in doing as they come up — is probably going to be better for your sanity than trying to go it alone.
The X series is easily one of the more impenetrable series to get into without help, especially given the seeming desire of the Devs to prove that, Yes, you can make a UI even worse than Dwarf Fortress’.
Not sure when exactly I’ll jump in yet. I do want to finish the current No Man’s Sky expedition first (I’m essentially done with Phase 4 out of 5), but then… Then perhaps it’ll be time to really take X4 out for a test drive, see if I can’t get as much out of it as I did the X3 series. :)