X2: The Threat Preview
The follow-up to X: Beyond the Frontier will have new features inspired by the classic simulation Elite.
German developer Egosoft is hard at work on the follow-up to the well-received 1999 space simulation X: Beyond the Frontier. The new game is intended to be a sort of spiritual successor to the classic simulation Elite and may bear some resemblance to Digital Anvil's acclaimed 2002 game Freelancer, in that it focuses both on trading and on blasting your way to fame and fortune.
"X2 has sort of evolved from initial influences like Elite," says design team member Darren Astles. "I still have fond memories of playing that game on a small microcomputer with a tape drive; negotiating docking and hoping a large cargo ship didn't suddenly decide to leave." As Astles explains, playing Elite often led him to formulate a "wish list" of other features to add to that classic game, including advanced graphics and sound.
Different items on Astles' wish list make the new game a quantum leap from its predecessor, which was a cult hit in Europe but never really caught on in North America. The storyline is set in the same universe as X: Beyond the Frontier, although some two decades have passed since the events that it chronicled. Most importantly, humankind is now facing "the threat" of the Khaak. This alien race, which, according to Astles, is "intent on the utter destruction of the universe," eventually turns you from a mercenary to a hero who has to assist in the defense of the known worlds. Fans of the first game will recognize many familiar characters in the follow-up. But most key figures return in slightly new roles, since they have "aged and moved on" in their lives and careers. Even the test-pilot-gone-astray protagonist from the original game, Kyle Brennan, will be making a return appearance, albeit as a non-player character who plays a major role in the war against the Khaak.
But don't expect this conflict to absorb all of your time. X2: The Threat is being developed with an emphasis on open-ended play. While you do assume the role of a Han Solo-styled space trader with a criminal past, and you do have to fulfill specific objectives over the course of your adventures that lead to a showdown with the Khaak, Egosoft is promising that you will have a lot of freedom. The universe in X2: The Threat will be more than twice the size of that featured in the original game, which was pretty massive in its own right. Nearly 150 star systems are being included, featuring dozens of mysterious alien worlds to visit and exotic alien goods to sell. Around 20,000 different objects will be in action at any given moment. Vessels will ply trade routes, space stations will turn in orbit around planets, and police ships will play cat-and-mouse games with pirates while you go about your own business.
Economics will continue to be a major factor in the game. X: Beyond the Frontier was more about exploration and making money than it was about dogfighting, and its successor is supposed to follow in those footsteps. While you will start the game at the lowest rung of the ladder with just a single vessel and very little money, you have the opportunity to become a tycoon. Along with trading goods, you'll be able to hijack rival freighters and steal cargo, mine resources, set up factories, construct expensive goods based on your own raw materials, and even build massive fleets consisting of hundreds of vessels. Money matters are being based on some basic principles, however, so Astles says that you won't need an economics degree to figure everything out.
Supply and Demand
"The economy is based upon supply and demand. Each of the five major races has a pyramid of products where basic items are at the bottom and the advanced and more profitable wares are at the top. Some products are race specific, whereas others are common, but there are always a few products that are unique to a race that another race needs for their own production chain. We set out with a plan to create an economy that was believable, but in such a way that if you didn't know it, it would be transparent to the player."
Of course, you can upset this orderly system. Specifically, you can play as a pirate. Astles notes that unscrupulous players will get to "knock out" cargo vessels on the way to purchasing resources, an act that will cause their factories to send out more ships and order replacement vessels from the shipyards--all of which means you'll be able to benefit not only from stealing cargo ships and their cargo, but from supplying these vessels to your victims. Prices can also be driven up in this way. Prey on ships transporting the unique items of a particular race, and you'll drive their prices on the common market through the roof. Speculate appropriately, and you'll get rich quick.
"Players will discover that they are influencing economics, and some may decide, if that is the role they wish to play, that removing the competition of a product--either by a price war or a real war--can be done. Economic manipulation isn't a prerequisite to fulfill the plot, although there are some missions to ease you into this area of the game. However, credits are required to purchase more ships and weapons, unless of course players simply take what they [want] for themselves. Acquire these credits by fair means or foul--it's your choice. The plot missions provide you with some nice items to assist in the future missions, but some players prefer to take more than this into the fire and will acquire more assets before embarking on the later plot missions."
And speaking of "into the fire," X2: The Threat will be about more than just playing the market. You will also have the option of being a little more aggressive with your money-making endeavors. You'll be able to climb aboard one of about 70 different vessels, including a range of all-new Khaak ships that can be seized during battle. All are customizable, with different weapons systems, shields, and so forth. Expect to sit in the cockpits of tiny snub fighters and pace the bridges of massive capital ships that are miles in length. Big engagements will be colored by your ability to start off at command central giving orders to your fleet and then leap into the fray in an interceptor, guns blazing.
Finally, Egosoft is making sure that you experience this space opera just as if you had gone to the final frontier in person. At this point, the graphics seem spectacular, even though they're powered by an updated version of the same engine that was used for X: Beyond the Frontier four years ago. Along with the now-expected cotton-candy nebulae and the immense capital vessels is a lot of unique ship design. The Khaak, for instance, are trying to destroy the universe with crystalline "cluster" ships that can be grouped together. Khaak interceptor, scout, and fighter vessels can link up and break apart on demand to better engage the enemy. Look for X2: The Threat to hit stores in November.
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