In The X-Universe, Massive Grinds Are Almost Frictionless

Good Golly, did I ever play a lot of X3 over the weekend.  It was split half between Reunion and Terran Conflict, as I learned I could pick up the v2.0 version of Terran Conflict for $10 from GameSpot as they made the transition to the $40 Gold version.

Compared to Reunion, Terran Conflict might still be an X3 game on the same engine, but it’s got about 4 years more features crammed into it.  Finding a exact feature list is hard, and that’s because it can basically be summed up in one word: more.  More equipment, ships, stations, factions, space to explore, and missions to perform along with various GUI improvements.

Majestic, Isn’t it?

I feel fortunate that I’m playing Terran Conflict a year after the game was originally released, because it was initially pretty bug ridden (whereas Reunion was fairly bug free).  Egosoft has been hammering out bugs ever since and releasing giant patches every few months.  As it stands today, the problems are minor – the worst would be occasional temporary lockups.

Here I thought I was addicted to Dragon Age, but something about X3 has exceeded even the attraction to well-crafted Bioware excellence, and I believe that is the promise of a truly epic end game experience.  The game starts you off as a fair nobody against a backdrop of a giant universe, but through regular diligence and heroics (and the almighty power of reloading saved games in the event of death) you can become the controlling entity of a a large armada.   Space battles can get really epic, and you can definitively shape the events of your X-Universe instance.

Dramatic “wooshing” sounds omitted.

Unfortunately, the building of said galactic empire takes a lot of time.  Starting anew with a small freight ship and a scout ship, it takes a several good trades (somewhere between 6 and 12 depending on the quality) to double my fortune adequately to purchase another freight ship.  That’s just my first two ships out of what will eventually be a personal fleet of dozens – even hundreds.   This is to say nothing for constructing space stations or raising marines.  While each thing you control is a potential workhouse to be exploited to generate even more credits, the task of generating enough credits to reach the end game remains monumental.

I did, at least, find a couple of good ways to cut corners:

  • A repair laser has been added to space suits.  Normally, a ship costs an amount to repair somewhat proportional to the overall ship cost versus the level of damage.  The repair laser does it for free (albeit slowly).  Paired with missions where you can buy damaged ships minus their cost to repair, the repair laser becomes a money gun that generates thousands of credits of value in seconds.
  • Another type of mission involves reclaiming stray ships which have lost their pilots.  Honest fellow that I am, I prefer to send these ships back to their owners.  However, sometimes that’s just not possible.  The solution?  Send that ship to the nearest dry dock and sell it for several times more than what you’re being offered to complete the mission.  Ethical enough considering it just gets blown up by the space cops when time runs out to complete the mission, but it does result in a hit to my reputation.

As damning as these might appear to the overall game balance, an odd 400,000 credits here is minor; this game is epic enough that even formidable-seeming shortcuts to fortune are minor in the grand scheme of things.

And trade, and trade, and trade…

I’ve found myself driving about in my scout performing missions while my Freighters are busily trading, and this is probably the way the scenario is meant to be played as it’s a whole lot more profitable than otherwise.  Most of the missions offer absolutely trivial amounts of credits, but the thing about the missions isn’t so much the credits you’re being paid as the opportunities they bring:

  • Finding something to shoot in X3 used to involve roving the space lanes frequented by pirates and hoping one appears.  You can still do that, but now you’ve also the option of taking a Fight mission (designated by red crosshairs) which brings (spawns) the enemy to you.
  • Trade missions (designated by a credit sign) include not only the aforementioned ship purchase opportunities but also trades you won’t normally find.
  • Build missions (designated by 3 green bricks) assure the dynamic growth of the X-Universe by instructing the player to see the difficult-to-program details of constructing new space stations through.
  • Think missions (designated by a light bulb) run a unpredictable gauntlet of odd jobs, including the aforementioned ship retrieval type.   I’ve found some good credits can made from the Asteroid scanning missions.  The covert missions are a good combat exercise.

Ima Chargin’ My Laser!

I hate grinds… or so I tell myself.  However, perhaps a large part of it involves having an adequate payoff, and something about the dynamic approach to X3‘s end game feels as though it has one.   Time will tell if this feeling is correct, as I could see things shaking out two ways:

  1. Hopefully, I’ll get to the end game and find that it’s constant excitement as I try to hold down my galactic empire versus the various threats that crop up at every corner, creating a nice Flow situation.
  2. However, it could be that upon my arrival in the end game I will find out the universe is completely uneventful, the computer-controlled alien races (my sole opposition in this single player game) are wimpy pushovers, and thus the entire game manifests as a whole lot of fluff and unrealized potential.

It’s too early to say for certain, but the early signs are encouraging.  The AI puts up a good fight, and there seems to be a whole lot more X-Universe than there is me.  X3:Terran Conflict is definitely a Mastermind‘s game, and I’m looking forward to playing more of it tonight.

One Response

  1. Compared to EVE Online, it’s single player, but you can control several ships at once (without buying multiple accounts and multiboxing) and the combat is actually the first person visceral cockpit-based combat that a lot of people wished EVE Online had.

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