A decent time sink game slightly compareable to Mount & Blade. Depending on your chosen player start you have almost nothing and slowly build up to bigger ships, factory complexes and trade empires.
Sadly there's really no real reason or end-game goal to the game, f.ex. like conquering Caldaria in Mount & Blade for yourself or another faction.
The trade system is pretty bare bones (prices only change depending on whether a factory has more or less wares, their "competitors" don't affect them and companies can never go out of business), the stock exchange they added in Albion Prelude is outright broken (you can buy shares at their minimal price and they NEVER EVER go lower than a set value), and there's no real reason to wage war against factions, unless you're aiming for money early game through piracy or want to capture certain unique ships. Once you get one of the end-game destroyers the game quickly loses its charm as there's no real reason to use it on anything, other than to create random havoc.
The war between Terrans and the other races they added in Albion Prelude is extremely lackluster as it never spills outside certain "war sectors". It's completely avoidable, it doesn't affect the market or race politics in any way and there's no way to "win" the war for either side save for a seperate long quest that isn't really about waging war. Even if you wipe the enemies from all war sectors they'll just spawn more units and factories out of thin air once you exit the sector and the same is true for other races as well.
You can't really interact or change the game world in any meaningful way and the world itself is extremely static where nothing mentionable occurs unless the player takes a mission, which usually involves spawning a number of enemies out of thin air, depending on the player's fighting rank. Even in those the failure only affects your reputation and rewards, but doesn't f.ex. lead to full-scale invasion or the invaders setting up shop even if they hypothetically wiped out everything in the area. The other missions like taxi service, transport etc. also consist of hauling people and objects that appear out of thin air. There's no actual cause and effect which makes NPCs offer these missions and there's no competition to try fill their needs either. It's more of a randomized theme park
for the player rather than an actual sandbox with a living world where everything doesn't simply revolve around you.tl;dr
The "from rags to riches" portion of the game is enjoyable and offers hours of gameplay in form of exploration, battles, space piracy and empire management and you're given free reins on how to approach your goal to glory, but the actual "sandbox" part of the game is virtually nonexistant and you'll see the limits of the game the moment you actually get powerful enough to hypothetically "influence" anything in the universe.