I tried. I really tried to love X Rebirth. But a hundred hours in, I can’t seem to find the magic that existed in the previous games, and it’s almost as if the game doesn’t have any mojo. The problem I have with the game can’t be pinpointed or isolated to any single issue. First of all, there are the bugs. Some result in crashes which take you back to the desktop. Then there are the framerate issues and finally, there are the ludicrous design decisions undertaken during development. While I wrote about some things in my review of the game, I didn’t go into much detail for fear that my complaints were actually unfounded. Well, after giving the game a chance, here’s what I’ve found.

It’s a buggy life

First, I think we should deal with the bugs. I haven’t counted exactly how much time the multiple crashes to desktop due to some show stoppers when I’ve been doing innocuous stuff like traveling through space have cost me in my save files, although I would point out that one of my save files were corrupted beyond repair requiring a restart.

Now, I realise and acknowledge that the game is big, complex and ambitious in its scope for renewal and change. I am not going to fault the intention of the game and as a result, I have to expect bugs. At least the bugs are getting ironed out as a priority by Egosoft. The game is up to version 1.2X already and it’s barely been out for a month.

Unfortunately, one of the most annoying bugs had to do with your ship interior animations not activating, thereby preventing you from actually issuing orders or look at your galaxy map because it wouldn’t show up. It could be fixed by walking into a different part of your ship or getting off to a station, but this wasted even more time.

It’s like watching a jerky slideshow

Another issue with the game is the wildly inconsistent framerates on the computer. At least for me, the framerates aren’t actually too bad, although that might have to do with me deliberately avoiding going to areas where said framerate is catastrophically low. Fortunately, as the patches come through and better optimisation (which admittedly should have happened during development) is being built into the software, the slowdowns are happening less frequently and less conspicuously. The thing that still gets me about this whole deal is why in 2013 does a game like this not work on relatively high end hardware?

Station interiors add nothing to immersion

I applaud Egosoft in attempting to make the game feel like a living, breathing universe. However, they’ve made mistakes in their path to immersion and it feels like they really chickened out of it.

Quite apart from the repetitive station interiors, which I can explain away easily with future civilization requiring modular architecture and construction, it’s the people, and the lack of them in the stations that are the problem. The main issue with the stations is that there’s ambient noise in certain areas, but no people.

The worst example is where there is a bar on the station and there’s actually a lot of noise but no people actually present apart from the five or six trying to sell stuff or get a job with you. I’ll say this again, Mass Effect did very well with creating the illusion of a living, breathing universe on stations and planets because NPCs actually had dialogue with each other. Egosoft really needed to think hard about what the point of all this is.

Also, the people present have the worst manners and personalities known to humanity. Generally, when you ask people for advice or directions, they will try to help you if they can. If not, a “sorry buddy, don’t know” would suffice. In this case however, they just tell you to go away rudely with nary a reason. Bad design and execution, eat your heart out.

Stealing and shoplifting with no consequences

Future people must be terrible with their possessions. Case in point, you can walk up to any crates or lockers in stations and take whatever is inside them. No questions asked, even if there’s a freaking security guard posted right next to said items. I bet if you walked up to one of these people and asked for the security code to their ships or homes, they’d give it to you. I know, this is not a Deus Ex or Thief game, but seriously, could the programmers not think of some possible side effects to running around pilfering other people’s stuff?

These are not the ships you’re looking for

Then, there is the game’s main raison d’etre. Space ships. There are multiple problems with the space ships and they just don’t make any sense.

Firstly, I have to say that I don’t mind that you can only fly one ship. Seriously, that’s not a problem. I mean, I tried to fly one of the capital ships in the old X3 series games and I fell asleep before I made it to the first jump gate. They were slow, didn’t turn and the view was terrible.

But by far the biggest issue is that you can only buy capital ships and drones. I get the ability to upgrade your ship with drones which can add certain functionality such as scanning or shield buffs, but I can’t fathom the design decision to only allow capital ships to be bought.

I would be fine with that if there weren’t so many smaller ships floating around hauling cargo. It’s not as if they weren’t designed and present already. They’d be handy in the early game when you weren’t endowed with a large bank balance.

If you could buy the smaller freighters, it would allow you to trade with less hassle since the big capital ships are bugged. Mine won’t trade if I’m watching them. It’s like their union forbids them to do their freaking job when I’m around.

Further to this, you can hire pilots who are supposed to fly small ships for you, but because they can’t be purchased, you’re going to have to hope you get one when the pilot of a hostile ship bails. Which, in all my time in the game, hasn’t happened yet.

One big, glaring issue with the ships which ruins continuity is the issue where there are three shipyards which were physically and economically disconnected for decades, yet they sell exactly the same classes of ships to you. How lazy is that?! Even previous games had individual design philosophies for each race!

Bad AI programming means bad ship automation

Next, you can hire people to help you run stations you build and ships you buy. The problem is, the AI is incredibly stupid. For example, mining ships are programmed in such a way that they don’t go to the nearest type of resource you want them to mine. Instead, they just fly around in circles within a sector until they find something.

I have no idea who thought this was good AI programming, because it is the most shockingly stupid thing I’ve ever seen. The captains of the capital ships don’t know where asteroids are even though they’re directly in visual range. Nope, just wander around in circles and hope to meet something along the way.

Then, there are the capital ships which, apart from being assigned to squadrons, don’t actually do anything to defend said squadron, including you, or itself. They just sit there, looking big and menacing with over fifty expensive weapons systems that don’t fire at enemies. Why was this not even tested before release?!

The interface needs work

A lot of work. Let’s face it, when you’re flying around in a ship or plane, you need a kind of sensor grid to tell you where everything is. Planes have it and so would a spaceship. However, X Rebirth doesn’t give one to you unless you don’t need it. When do you get it? When you’re approaching or flying along in a highway where nobody can get you. What is the point of telling you where everything is when you’re about to leave?!

To make up for a lack of sensor grid, previously known as the gravidar, Egosoft puts all the icons of ships and stations in the edges of the screen. The problem is, you don’t know what kind of ship is which as every ship is represented by a triangle. That’s right, all of them. Capital ships, fighters, freighters, the lot. Previous games left you in no doubt what kind of ship was where due to each size class of ship having its own unique icon.

Then, there’s the actual interface. In some ways, the radial menu is an improvement, allowing new players accessibility of information. The issue is that veterans are left without the ability to assign hotkeys to important screens like the property owned screen. Actually, that brings me to another point about your owned property. You can’t rename your ships. What’s the point of buying numerous ships to help build your interstellar empire when you don’t know which one is which?

Where are all the aliens?

Now, I acknowledge there are some alien species in X Rebirth, namely some Teladi and Split from the original canon and the Xenon make a return. But…er…where are the Paranid and Boron?

I think I’ve bitched enough

X Rebirth is terribly disappointing. Yes, I like the new graphical direction. It brings a chunky look and feel to the game that is quite modern and different to what was in the X Universe previously. I even like the more realistic take on the immense scale of space and planetary systems in how sectors are now arranged.

However, in building a brand new engine and spending seven years in development, Egosoft have managed to take many steps backwards in features and functionality of the game, rather than make them better. I can look past bugs, since that is a hop, skip and patch away. I can’t forgive lazy AI, bad interface design and feature regression. It just doesn’t make sense. Who sat there and thought this was desirable in that office?

After writing all the previous paragraphs, I think I finally understand why I’m so disappointed; the feeling the game gives me is that this is an alpha version of  X Rebirth and what we, as paying customers have forked out our money for isn’t the real thing. We’ve gone on Steam and paid for early access during the development process. But, alas, that’s not the case. It really is that bad.

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