One of the early reviews on SLC Gaming is of X3: Terran Conflict, a space combat and trading simulator for the PC. Back when I reviewed it, I enjoyed the game, but at the time wasn’t really into it. I’d yet to truly explore it and examine it.
A few months ago, I decided to buckle down, start a new game on X3 and stick with it. Though the game is often slow, playing a serious, contiguous X3 game has shown me why I really love X3 and the space sim genre.
#1: The Pace
While Virtual-On or Armored Core or Virtua Fighter might get my heartrate up and my adrenaline flowing, X3 is precisely the type of game I could play for eight or more hours straight. The pace is slow and things take a relatively long time to happen, but that gives me time to think and plan out my next move. While a game like Dead or Alive draws upon my instincts, practice, and muscle memory, X3 runs on brain power, and in a world where even the strategy games have become twitch-based, it’s refreshing to play a game that gives me time to process what’s going on and run things in my head before acting.
A game like X3 is the perfect kind of game for those lazy days-off with nothing important going on. It’s the perfect kind of game for those days where you can wake up on your own time and spend the day bathed in the light of your computer monitor, playing the same videogame for a third of the day as you fight pirates, transport goods, and build your corporate space empire.
#2: The Depth and the World
If you ever wanted to find a game with a truly living world, look no further than X3. With over two hundred sectors to travel to, a robust in-game economy, and a world that lives, moves, and changes on its own without the player needing to be there to witness it, the world of X3 is an absolute marvel to experience.
From the desolate debris field and space station ruins of President’s End to the vast stretches of empty space that characterize the Aldrin sectors. From the dense asteroid fields of Savage Spur to the bustling corporate industrial center in Legend’s Home. From the bustling hub sector of Argon Prime to the treacherous pirate-controlled sector Vestibule of Creation. From the majestic rings of Saturn to the high-security Earth sector.
The combination of a massive universe, an incredibly diverse set of environments, and most importantly, the freedom to explore, expand, and exploit anywhere you please gives the game a size, scale, and scope that’s unrivaled by most other games. In addition, the player’s choices, small and large, have a very real impact on the world’s economy.
Local mass driver factories not churning out enough of the things to properly arm the corvettes you plan on buying? Set an ore mine down on a high-yield asteroid, build a food production plant, find out where energy cells sell for cheap, and supply that weapons factory yourself!
Think that pirate base is sitting on prime space-real-estate for your yet-to-be-constructed wheat farm? Blow it up! Just make sure you have enough warships to defend it when angry pirates show up to avenge their station.
A particular area not active enough for your liking? Crew a trading vessel with a sector trader and send him in to stimulate the economy!
#3: The Challenge
When I first started playing X3, I honestly had no idea what I was doing. The problem was that I was playing in the wrong mindset. I was expecting the game to be much easier than it actually is. I expected it to hold my hand. I expected to be able to do the first mission in the ship they gave me to start with.
The great thing about X3 is that it simply dumps you into the universe and says “Go.” A five-minute flight instructor is available for those who are really new, but otherwise, the game lets you figure it out. The learning curve, however, is remarkably manageable. A lot of things are common-sense: Buy low, sell high; More money=more ships=more income; Defend your assets.
The further you get, however, the more there is to deal with. Aspiring space corporate magnates will need to devote more and more time to management of multiple space stations, scores of trading craft, and perhaps a corporate navy for those with a more militaristic doctrine. Bounty hunters will have to deal with bigger and badder adversaries, and perhaps police and military forces, for those on the other side of the law.
Though, even with the manageable learning curve, piloting skill is an absolute requirement. Whether you play with a keyboard and mouse, a gamepad, a joystick/throttle, or dual joysticks (Like I do), the ability to keep a spaceship under control is the primary thing between you and a lonely, pitiful space death from crashing into an asteroid, or flying just a bit too close to a space station, or gating out while someone else is trying to gate in.
4: The Risk
Should I buy this station transport or should I buy some fighters instead? Do I move into this asteroid-rich sector, even though it borders on pirate space? Do I move through this one densely-populated enemy sector or do I go around through ten friendly sectors?
The decisions in X3 are constant, heavy, and often involve risks. Money might be on the line, or maybe ships or stations, perhaps even the player’s own ship. Lost that corvette in a botched raid on a pirate base? That’s about 9.5 million credits down the drain, plus however much the weapons systems cost. That shiny new frigate get blown up by an alien swarm while moving through Xenon space? Say goodbye to about 35 million credits, plus the cost of weapons. Better hope you didn’t have any fighters in its hangar, because that’s roughly 3 million each. You could buy several stations for that much.
It’s recoverable, but boy does it hurt to lose an expensive ship to a risky decision.
#5: The Reward
X3 is easily one of the most rewarding games I’ve ever played. Coupled with the risk, there’s massive reward to be had in X3, and it all depends on the decisions you make. X3 encourages the player to invest time, explore, take risks, use skill, knowledge, and strategy to overcome challenges and minimize those risks and, in the end, when all is said and done and you’ve moved into that sector that borders on pirate territory, you’re rewarded with money, resources, empty space, and expanded opportunities.
Patience, skill, adventurousness, and risk-taking are all rewarded handsomely and, especially with risk, the reward fits the effort put in and risk taken.
If you get a chance to really sit down for a few hours and play some X3 and you’re so inclined, definitely do so. It takes a while to get into it, but that’s really just the nature of the game. It’s a game you can really sit down and get into, explore, and figure out. It’s always got a challenge to throw at you, it’s always changing and evolving, and there’s always something new to achieve.