Reviewed: January 3, 2006
Released: November 5, 2005
Hardly anyone will contend that the X universe has always been filled with great concepts, the problem has always been in execution. With X: Beyond the Frontier and to a greater extent,X2: The Threat, everything an aspiring space mogul could hope for is present, it's just clunky, bug ridden and hard to enjoy. The sheer amount of things to do in turn gave way to a very steep learning curve, not at all helped by the shoddy interface.
Thankfully though, X3: Reunion aimed to fix those problems and it didnít fall to far from the mark. Itís nowhere near as polished as it could be, but it does what many gamers have been asking for since the early 90ís; an Elite or Escape Velocity style game in beautifully designed 3D universe.
The first things to note though are the bugs. Thankfully Egosoft has a good history of continually releasing patches, but out of the box the game is close to, if not completely, unplayable. I couldnít even get into the game until I disabled some of my video codecs, something thatís not necessarily the gameís fault, but after I did manage to get a game started I would be kicked to desktop several times within an hour, and between crashes Iíd be treated to very shoddy framerate in-game.
Iíll be the first to admit my computer is no beast anymore, but if I can play F.E.A.R. satisfactorily in medium settings, I should be able to at least play this by setting everything down to minimum. Upgrading to the 1.2 patch reduced the frequency of crashes, but did not improve my framerate. Upgrading to the 1.3 patch, however, vastly improved my framerate and Iíve only had one or two crash to desktops in the last 20 or so hours of play.
With that in mind, I seriously recommend not even trying the game until updating to the current patch (1.3 at the time of this writing), and the game will be reviewed under this patch.
X3: Reunion starts off with the option to play through either the storyline, or start off in a sandbox type game as one of three other characters: Assassin, Merchant, or Explorer, each with their own starting ships and credits. After playing for a while, youíll be able to unlock even more play modes.
If you elect to play through the storyline mode, you reprise your role from X2: The Threat as Julian Brennan, son of Kyle Brennan, the protagonist in X: Beyond the Frontier. Having had all his previous factories and ships destroyed by the Khaak, Julian must now allow assistance from an old contact, Ban Danna, to get himself back on his feet.
After completing the first mission, youíre pretty much free to play around in the universe and begin recreating your empire or follow the story missions. Despite the hype of using an actual scriptwriter to do the story, the plot itself seems rather weak with sub-par voice acting, unskippable cutscenes, and frustrating bugs that can at best disorient you and at worst force you to replay a mission.
X3: Reunion has total mouse control available, and for anybody who has played EVE: Online, it has similar contextual menus that pop up when you click on ships in the universe, filled with options such as follow or add to monitors, which is very helpful. There are many keyboard shortcuts as well, but to take advantage of the cooler stuff, like control another ship, you need to buy upgrade packages.
X3: Reunion contains a more forgiving form of Newtonian physics; you still continue to drift if turning sharply, but not as much as you would if you didnít have the little navigation Ďjetsí that help you steer. Smaller ships appropriately respond better than larger ships, although both can be improved through upgrades you purchase at stations.
Small ship combat is similar in style to most space-faring shooters, probably most accurately described as a cross between Freespace and Independence War. Starting with the standard straight line fire, you can purchase upgrade packages for your ship which allow you to auto target, allowing you to just point in the general direction of the enemy and let your ship do the rest. Larger ships that have multiple turrets allow you to either manually control individual turrets or set the AI to fire on particular targets whilst you fly.
The AI is much better this time around; gone are the kamikaze enemy pilots that plagued X2, presumably wiped out by their own tactics. Enemy pilots (or yours on autopilot) will roll, evade, and lead their fire much better than before.
Pirates and smugglers also have their own little niche in this game. There are illegal upgrades for your ship at pirate stations, several commodities that are profitable yet illegal if scanned by the various police or customs ships, and if youíre really good (bad), you can actually gain enough notoriety to get lesser NPCs to eject and surrender if you hail them and demand it.
The remote control feature is a handy little addition that makes controlling your fleet from several sectors away easy. Whether youíre a trader controlling your ships that are off buying and selling for you, setting some fighters to protect said ships, or telling a ship you just captured to go the nearest shipyard to remote sell it when it arrives, youíll use this feature a lot. Starting up your own freight enterprise is a very real possibility as you can own a limitless amount of ships and stations churning out goods and having Universal Traders buy and sell for you while you plan your next move. Universal traders are a godsend for those who donít like to micromanage, since once you set them up theyíll deal directly with trade issues, improving race relations along the way.
The ability to eject from your ship and float around in space is also an option. While itís mainly used for ejecting out of your ship if itís about to explode or to claim derelict or abandoned ships, itís a nice little addition to already massive game. Later on you can even buy a transporter to beam yourself between your ships if floating in space makes you nervous.
The graphics in X3: Reunion are jaw-dropping. Screenshots can not do justice, and more than a few minutes are going to be spent just admiring the different ships and stations. Planets have continents and weather patterns, ships are beautifully rendered and designed, and space itself is a joy to fly in. Imagine looking at the solar panels in a power plant where the reflection of your ship clearly shines back at you, while through the breaks in the panels, extending kilometers in either direction, you can see the continents of the planet below while it spins silently out of sight. Now thatís detail.
The only negative to X3: The Reunionís graphics donít necessarily lie with the quality at all, but rather the way the universe is designed. Each sector is an enclosed area with jump gates at each Ďwallí. While sectors donít encase entire solar systems, such as those found in EVE: Online, theyíre at least a lot larger than what was previously found in X2: The Threat, and the majority are designed relatively uniquely. There are usually only a handful of stations in a system, not cramped but enough to trade between and when you start building your own stations you can join them together with tubes to make a big complex.
The music in X3 is standard space opera fare; there is nothing too fantastic or anything really downright boring or annoying. Different sectors usually have different themes, and the storyline has its own musical cues.
The voices however, are a completely different story. Voice acting is rarely above par, and sometimes even downright awkward to listen to. Even the ship itself uses a standard female computer voice which quickly gets annoying when it reads out every targetís name when cycling between them.
My opinion? Turn up the music, shut off the voices, and enable the subtitles.
X3: Reunion is an excellent sandbox game. The game contains everything it needs to be a top notch space sim, yet the storyline mode will almost never be worth finishing to completion except as a curiosity. There is no multiplayer, sadly, as the X universe would do well on a Freelancer style server setup.
There are however many sandbox scenarios to unlock and play through that should keep any interested space fanatic busy for a long time. Additionally, when considering the initial below average cost for the game, X3: Reunion remains a very good value.
The best part of X3: Reunion is ultimately doing your own thing in space. There is a lot to do; you can conquer the Universe in a sense and build a trade empire, have dogfights with pirates and hostile aliens, or run/build custom scripts to modify the game. The late game empire building has always been the strength of the X series, and it is even more so now.
On the other hand, there are still the bugs that can at times cripple the game, and during fleet battles or group commands the interface tends to be clunky. Since the 1.3 patch, a lot of the initial problems have been addressed and a brand new manual is available for download from Egosoftís page which one can take as a reassurance that the gamer will not be forgotten.
If you can set aside all the bugs and issues, be patient for the patches that will inevitably come and focus on the game play, X3 is easily one of the deepest space sims ever made.