Egosoft's X series is arguably the closest thing we have that's a successor to Elite and Wing Commander: Privateer, two pioneering free-form sims that differ from most space sims in that they let you follow your own path at your own pace, whether it be as a trader, an explorer, or a fighter. The X series has its dedicated fans, though it's never broken into the mainstream. With the newly announced X3: Reunion, Egosoft is looking to broaden its audience. X3 represents the first cross-platform game in the series (as it's also being developed for the Xbox and PC), as well as the first X game to feature a tightly integrated storyline. We got one of the first looks at X3 recently to see what Egosoft has planned.
The X games have always been about being able to explore, fight, and trade in space. Though you start out with a single ship, it's possible to build up an interstellar empire consisting of factories, merchant fleets, and trade routes. Since economics play as large a part in the game as combat, earlier entries in the series have featured economies that scaled depending on supply and demand. However, X3 will take that idea to a whole new level, as it will introduce a fully dynamic economy. The difference between that and a simple supply-and-demand economy is that a fully dynamic economy gives you a lot more potential power and influence. In fact, so much so that it would be possible to even cripple the galactic economy if you cornered a key resource or monopolized a major industry. Still, that sense of power is one of the key differences in X3.
Undoubtedly, longtime fans of the series will be a bit unnerved to see it going multiplatform. However, Egosoft sees plenty of benefits, aside from the larger potential market for the game. For example, the company has completely redone the user interface to make it simpler to use, a necessity to Xbox gamers using a gamepad instead of a keyboard and mouse, but also a requirement to lessen the game's steep learning curve, which was a detriment to the series' growth. Therefore, X3 will feature simplified quick-menu systems, easier targeting and identification systems, and a context-sensitive menu system. In other words, it should be a lot easier to play than its predecessors.
The previous X games were extremely open-ended, meaning that while there was a framework of a story to follow in each one, you didn't have to follow it and could do whatever you wanted. However, the problem with this setup was that it lacked structure for the player, which is a steep hurdle when it comes to casual gamers, who expect structure. So X3 will rectify this by introducing a story written by a professional scriptwriter. However, the developer wants to let you have your cake and eat it too, so the open-ended nature of the series will remain in X3, so you can veer away from the story at any time to explore and trade at your leisure. The idea here is that the story will be there for those looking for a story, while the free-form gameplay will also be there for those who just want to set out on their own. There will be an interesting mix of missions to keep player interest high. In addition to the plot missions, there will also be optional side quests to explore. Some missions will take place the traditional way, with you sitting in the cockpit and flying around, while others are geared for action. One example is when you have to man the turret gun of a fleeing spacecraft, blasting enemies as you scream through canyons of skyscrapers on an alien world.
The story will pick up with you playing as Julian Brenner, the same character from X2, as well as the son of Kyle Brenner, the main character from the original X. Details regarding the rest of the story remain scarce, though the game will feature multiple characters you can unlock over the course of play. Many of the familiar alien races from the earlier games return, such as the boron and the split, but these races don't include the different factions and corporations. With so many potential sides to join with, your reputation will carry a lot of weight, as you will affect pricing and availability depending on your relationship with a certain faction.
While it's being developed for both the Xbox and PC, it doesn't appear that Egosoft is hobbling the graphics in favor of the lesser platform. Like many current games, X3 will take advantage of advanced shaders and other graphical eye candy. There will be more than 100 ship types, and there's supposed to be a lot more character and variety throughout the game. Egosoft also plans to support X3 with downloadable content after launch, but that's something that won't happen until the end of the year, because right now, the company is eyeing a fall or winter debut.