Cliffwalker's Examinaiton and Basic Modification Guide For X3:Terran Conflict.
Why this is an "Examination"
Before anything else, I should explain this is not a review, it is an examination. It attempts to present the facts that would encourage a person to play the game examined, regardless of how polished or not I believe a game is. What I chose to examine are games that are special to me in some way, that fit my idea of how video gaming can border on "art". However, many of these games have "flaws" that would have to be taken into consideration if I were to attempt to rate the game, even if I myself barely notice them. Furthermore, unlike a "review" I will be adding in explanations of the popular modifications of the game that I have used personally if such a section is applicable.
Examining X3: Terran Conflict.
X3: Terran Conflict is a game that was released by Egosoft in 2008 for Windows, though it is now capable of running on both Linux and Macintosh systems. In it you select one out of a number of starting profiles and then... do whatever you wish. Unlike many games out there, X3 is a true sandbox, and as far as I know is the best one out for fulfilling the fantasies of lovers of outer space. There is a fairly large galaxy to explore, a fairly in-depth trading system to run, the ability to pilot nearly any ship you can see, the power to control as large of a fleet of ships as you can get your hands on, and most importantly, nearly no restrictions on what you can do with all of the above. If you wish to become a smuggler, you can do that. Want to conquer the universe? Build a fleet and prepare for war! Desire to be a pacifistic trade king working with nearly every race in the universe? Quite a good option. It is nearly impossible to think of a path to power that X3 does not allow you access to.
Unless of course, you feel the desire to use your legs. The entirety of X3 takes place with you as the pilot of a ship. You may purchase(or capture) many others of various sizes and capabilities, but throughout the game you never relinquish control over whatever ship you are currently flying, even when docked at a station. Nor will you ever fly near a planet, as the atmosphere will destroy your ship long before you could touch the ground. The only time you leave your ship is when you enter another one, which is an instantaneous process.
However, while you cannot leave your ship, you probably will not feel much desire to. Space in X3 is quite busy and interesting, with six different main races and five "minor" factions, each producing hundreds of ships of war and thousands of trade ships to create a feeling of a living universe. The universe exists in something of a "cold war" like state, with the six primary races either allied, or at least at peace with each other most days. While peace usually reigns, at any time there can be conflict between races, and sometimes in surprising places. To take an example from my own experience, I once discovered a trio of Split warships attacking Weavers Tempest, the capital sector of the a major pirate group known as the Yaki Syndicate (and about as far from Split-owned space as you can get). Before the Yaki managed to wipe them out, they destroyed nearly half of the stations in the system, stations which I had built a small complex near with the sole purpose of fueling their production, and so nearly all of the profit I had been generating from that complex dried up in a single hour.
I could have defended that system if I had so wished. The Yaki were not so badly outnumbered that having an additional frigate(all I had at the time) would not have turned the tide in our favor. However, this was one of the moments that X3 shines for me: a moment in which I chose to sit down, think things out, and decide on the best course of action even if it was not the most obvious one. Such moments are nearly non-existent in most games, even other sandbox games. In most, the simple idea of "kill what's bothering you" will be the best option every time that it's a possibility. But in this case I chose to refrain from getting involved, lose my profits temporarily, and so keep the Split from tagging me as a major enemy. This in turn allowed me to continue trading with the Split, secured the safety of my traders from possible Split raids, and prevented me and my trade-ships from losing the routes through Split space, causing me to likely have lost far less in the long run.
But this randomness is not the only way that X3 helps itself feel unique and alive. The game's artistry and scale work together to help each race and each ship feel unique. Each of the main races possess roughly twenty to thirty unique ships ranging in size from tiny scout ships to the massive destroyers, many of which are over one hundred times the length of any kind of ship you might start out in. The feeling of awe you get when you first pass near a Boron Ray or a Teladi Phoenix can not be overstated, and the realization that you can purchase, fly, or even build a fleet of these monsters is almost as astonishing. And all of these ships are not only huge, but visually distinctive, both compared to the ships of that race and others of the same class. There's rarely any chance you will mistake any two ships larger than a freighter, and even among the smaller classes there's a reasonable level of character given to the fighters
It's a pity that the stations did not receive as much love in the base game as the ships did. There are simply two types: those belonging to the Terrans, and those belonging to the "Commonwealth" races. And while it does make a certain level of sense that the five races of the Commonwealth utilize each others designs, it does hurt the uniqueness of each sector. Even more unpleasant, while station-building is something that is heavily encouraged as a permanent source of income, stations complexes are almost impossible to make appealing to look at in the basic game. Unless constant saving and reloading is done before and after placing each section, a complex will quickly become a massive metal spiderweb with several stations tied up within it. However, this is a fairly minor issue and can be solved either through the utilization of mods, or by utilizing the extensive AI command system to cause your freighters to continuously supply the goods your stations require.
That command system is in fact one of the most impressive parts of X3, especially when the official bonus pack is installed. The system is a little dense at first, but even someone fairly new to the system can set up sector and universal traders, freighters that automatically search for the best trade options within their range and utilize them, or order their scoutships to explore an area or even the entire universe automatically. Someone willing to spend the time to tinker with the system however, can set up automatic supply chains that cross the galaxy, or design a series of overlapping patrols for their military ships so that a sector of space is nearly perfectly safe.
And safety can sometimes be a bit of a trick in X3. As previously mentioned, if someone wishes they can successfully become wealthy and powerful without even owning any weapons, but it is not easy. There will always be two hostile races that need to be avoided, as well as pirates who even if treated well still might chose to attack you. While you can settle deep in Boron or Terran space and be reasonably safe, it's likely you will want to expand into more dangerous areas of the universe, or start up trade with someone who may not be able to protect themselves. In this case you will need to dip into X3's combat, which while it can have moments of intense satisfaction and is visually appealing, is not particularly deep when the player ship is the only one involved in the combat. It does however become significantly more exciting once more than one player-controlled ship is in the system.
However, while the out of combat AI is impressive, in combat the AI can become quite poor, requiring either a mod like Litcube's Bounce to reduce collision chance, or a wealthy player who is willing to repeatedly replace any missing ships. The AI is also easily outwitted by players who are willing to take advantage of its weaknesses, such as its inability to fly effectively fly near stations or aim at a strafing character. There are multiple mods that can solve this, and the combat can still have moments of tension and shock even with the enemy's idiocy, but it does hurt the experience if left unfixed.
The Expansion and Major Modifications.
And so it is quite interesting that X3 has so very many ways to edit it! With one official expansion, at least three primary player-made overhauls, and a staggering amount of smaller mods, X3's replay value is extraordinary. A few of the most amazing modifications I've used are listed below, but these are just a few of the hundreds out there.
The Official Bonus Pack and Albion Prelude.
There are two Officially supported evolutions for the base X3 universe, Albion Prelude, and the Official Bonus Pack. Albion Prelude is the official expansion of Terran Conflict, and adds in a few new sectors, a stock market, a war, several new campaigns, and quite a few other additions. It is fairly small, but what it adds in is rather nice. Meanwhile the official bonus pack is a set of small player-made modifications that Egosoft has decided fit so well into their universe that they should be considered as part of the base game, and are downloadable from both Egosoft's website and through Steam.
X3 Rebalance Mod is one of the largest three mods on the forums, and its goal is to enhance the playability of the basic X3 universe. It does this by adding in new systems, new ships, changing the speed and capabilities of the current ships drastically, creating a more warlike universe, and more.
X-Tended however is a monster of a mod. It is something of a total conversion for X3, and while it takes place in the same universe, every single system is brand new. It attempts to enhance on the base game's atmosphere in multiple ways such as a news system, racial variants of stations, and more without overly changing how the universe as a whole works.
The newest of the three enormously popular overhauls, Litcube's Universe starts out similar to XRM by providing major changes to most ships and weapons as well as multiple other gameplay changes, but the primary addition are two new enemies designed to give those who have built an empire a serious threat.
X3: Terran Conflict can be bought bought from either Amazon or Steam, and is well worth the price for anyone who enjoys any aspect of outer space.
So after all of this you might still be wondering what X3 actually is. The answer is that it is the type of game that you will love if you like a bit of everything. If you all you want to be is a fighter pilot, X3 may scratch that itch, but it will not amaze you. Nor will you adore it if all you want to do is conquer the universe. The type of person who will likely place X3 at the top of their gaming list is someone who wants the freedom to do both. The person who wants to create this massive trade empire, but also mix it up in a dogfight or two along the way. Or hunt down thousands of bounties while ruling the stock market. Or perhaps control a perfectly pacifistic smuggling ring. X3 is for the person who wants a bit of everything, even though it won't all be perfect.