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Birth Is Messy, Nevermind Rebirth

After playing with it for a couple solid days now, I feel it's a fair opinion to say that X Rebirth, in its current state, is not very good.  The issues are more than minor; it seems Egosoft largely left skeleton code in place in many areas, giving the players inadequate in-game explanation how to utilize many of the game systems or how to complete the next step of the campaign.

Worse, some vital things were downright inoperable at release.  Freighters following their trade queues had a tendency to stall out when it came time to exchange goods, so the "trade" portion of the whole "trade, build, think, fight" mantra of the X series was largely inoperative.  Capturing ships absolutely required destroying components that engineers were unable to repair in the release build, meaning any captured ships were essentially just floating trophies.  Both these issues have been patched into semi-functionality, but that they happened at all suggests that Egosoft just ran out of time and pushed forward with a release anyway.
That tiny screen in the lower right is just not enough for everything that needs to be done.
Aside from that, my primarily laundry list of complaints goes something like this:
  • The engine needs optimization.  Some areas of space are choppier than others, but my framerate jitters around so randomly that I'm pretty sure what's being rendered is not the primary cause.  Oddly enough, Egosoft has reported that they are getting reports of poor performance from players with newer computers, so my new video card may actually be a point against me.  I think I would be able to humor a lot more of what's wrong with X Rebirth if only I did not have to deal with the spotty performance
  • It crashes and suffers the occasional show-stopping bug.  For anyone who has ever had to experience lost progress because they were unexpectedly forced to reload an old saved game, the fault of this is self-evident.
  • The GUI is overly simplified.  I stand by what I said that streamlining is not necessarily a bad idea, but there's a certain line in which simplification becomes oversimplification, and Egosoft has crossed that line.  In making the X Rebirth's controls simple enough to be manipulated with a gamepad, they neglected to properly support the flexibility afforded by a mouse and keyboard interface.  In avoiding a cluttered interface, they limited most of the vital information to a single screen in the lower right window of your cockpit, and it proves woefully adequate to deliver enough information quickly enough.  There's also a larger screen, accessed when the pilot turns to the right, but the information to be found there is also too spartan for my needs.
  • The virtual world economy is being hidden from the player.  The previous X games made the supply and demand extremely visible: you target a station, you hit the "info" button, and the complete economic situation of that station is there at a glance.  In X Rebirth, it's a chore to ferret out a station's current supply situation, and the impact this has on demand is invisible.  If rival freighters are capable of stealing the best deals (as they have in previous games) then all the fluffy cosmetic traffic makes them too hard to notice.  If the virtual world economy is even still here, it's something I have not been able to find in 20 hours of play.
  • The campaign is problematic.  It's mostly the pacing: the campaign drags the players around from place to place so rapidly that you really don't get a good sense of how to make your way in the game.  Worse, they quickly force you into the bad graces of the foremost major faction in the game, so you're pretty much under constant attack, and that's not exactly a comfortable experience for a new player.  Currently, I'm stuck on a stage that has me deliver 300 food to a station because the ship I have been given for the task has no jump fuel and I have no idea where to acquire some.
Despite these issues, I almost feel as though X Rebirth deserves a half-hearted recommendation on the basis of what X Rebirth almost accomplishes outweighs what it does not.  It's a downright gorgeous game that promises some remarkable depth and interesting systems once Egosoft works out the bugs...
This freighter I'm supposed to escort got itself tangled in a station.  An example of X Rebirth's, "Improved pathing!"  I guess I can't complain, as it did manage to get out and to its hangar somehow.
... but currently X Rebirth is not something that can be recommended to many types of gamers.  In the current state, I would say that the only type of gamer who might appreciate it is a specific kind of geek who is willing to invest a great deal of the time and sheer anal retentiveness into seeing through this game's idiosyncrasies.

I'm somewhat that geek.  Say what you will about the virtues of simpler games, I still would rather have a unpolished diamond than the polished turds that pass for triple-A titles these days.  Yet, I can't help but think that even I would be better off waiting for Egosoft to work out the kinks in X Rebirth, otherwise I'm just going to burn out on the imperfect version of the game.

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