X REBIRTH 3.5: CURRENT STATE OF THE GAME
With the release of X Rebirth 3.0 the game finally reached the state it should have been in at its initial release in 2013. There are still a few rough edges and design decisions that some might find mind-boggling, but overall it is a great space game that can be polished with the use of a number of mods, some of which bring back 'classic' X features such as automated galaxy traders and miners. (as of the 14th of March 2015 some mod makers are still updating their work for the new moddable UI, some mods are temporarily out of action).
When considering buying X Rebirth is important to keep in mind that Rebirth is a fairly ambitious game for a smaller studio, as such there are always going to be the QA problems relating to small teams that have the ambition to make big games, like bugs working their way in, and lacks of resources meaning change doesn't happen as fast as gamers would like. To give Egosoft credit, they have adopted extensive community beta testing for each patch so the game is tested on as many different rigs as possible. On my most current playthough started at 3.2 I haven't found a single plot stopping bug, in more general freeplay I rarely find a bug, let alone one that blocks me doing what I want to do.
There are still some annoyances in the game such as expected bread and butter features missing from the vanilla game (a lack of FOV adjustment is a pertinent example). But these things, as illustrated by the addition of a great new gravidar, new menu system, and external camera system, seem to have been identified, working their way back into the game as Egosoft move from bug squashing to remedying design oversights. You can now do things like transfer freight and drones between ships, and build stations in empty space, creating a new zone with 7 build points that you can rename. Now, many modders seem to be finding their feet. As the engine is tweaked for performance, and bugs are squashed, it looks like X Rebirth might be headed towards a golden age of modding (if current offerings are anything to go by). The Teladi Outpost DLC brings back more classic exploration, kind of like exploring some of the rim sectors in Freelancer which is a welcomed addition to the X Series. Also the new music in Teladi Outpost is awesome, 1980's inspired synth-pop goodness, perfect for a space game.
The AI can still be a bit flakey at times, but is improving with every regular patch. Commands for capital ships are still a bit limited: You either set them off on an automated task, or give general orders such as "attack this", "fly to zone", "fly to my position", "patrol" etc. The closest I can think of is it operates a bit like Nexus: The Jupiter Incident (without the GUI)—you give the commands to an NPC captain through comms, or if you use the Co-pilot conversation mod, through keyboard shortcuts. There are a number of significant mods in alpha state at the moment that look to improve AI behaviour (in addition to Egosoft's on going work in this area).
The economy is running well. New trade software means you can lock in more trades, and a mod like Yorrick's YAT (yet another trader), adds the option of automated galaxy, system, and cluster traders and miners. These all seem to run fairly well with a miniumum need for any micro. The economy is simulated but not 100% real, so the AI still makes use of a number of crutches, but this really doesn't affect the game much, at most it means the player can no longer make obscene profits for doing not much at all. That said, I still make plenty of credits in my most recent game start to keep expansion running smoothly, and the economy is flowing along well. However, if the AI using a crutch is a big deal to you there is a mod that removes the wares from ships spawned by the AI.
GAMEPLAY: ASPECTS I ENJOY
One part of Rebirth that I enjoy is the set up: slowly building an empire, amassing stations and capital ships, setting patrols, essentially minmaxing an empire. If anyone remembers playing with lego as a kid, it's kind of comparable to that: you set up a cool base, build lots of vehicles, get a crew together, then muck around - it is a similar kind of ethos involved in the X series but with the level of interactivity we expect from PC games.
At the moment I have about 10 stations that all support each other while producing wares to keep the galactic economy running, I have top of the line freighters and miners assigned to each station, and defense fleets that patrol my territory protecting my assets. I have named each ship and station individually with all the most well crafted names I could think of (and some stolen from famous Sci-fi and fantasy), prefixed with Iain M. Banks designations of GSV, GOU etc with a few of my own new designations. The little things like setting up an empire in this detail are what makes games of the X series fun.
If this kind of empire building appeals to you then you will like Rebirth. While my empire is building, I do missions, capture ships, place trade agents on stations, increase my rep with factions, get achievements, role-play and so on. With Litauen's 'Capital Ship Bridges' mod I often sit on the bridge of a frigate ordering profitable trades as it escorts one of my galactic freighters. Then at other times it's just enjoyable to sit back, parked up in one of the zones occupied by my stations and watch the empire hum along. Personally I think if you are expecting a straight-up fighter combat space sim you will be a bit disappointed (there is still lots of fighter combat but it is not the primary focus), the wider aspects of Rebirth such as the empire building are where this game shines.
Even if you decide to not follow the plot the feeling of flying around in space just exploring, seeing new places, and observing the galaxy going along with its business around you is incredible. A number of mods can improve this experience such as 'Ency's mod'* (link at bottom of review) that modifies planets, and adds nebula to create breathtaking vistas and lighting.
Personally I get okay performance, my set up is:
Nvidia GTX 760
8 gig of ram
24" IPS @ 1920 x 1200
I run adaptive vsync at half refresh on max settings in game, including all the driver side bells and whistles from Nvidia control panel, it sticks at 30fps. Some people might like higher frames but as long as the framerate is consistent and the game looks pretty I'm fairly happy.
KEY TO ENJOYMENT: EMBRACE MODDING AND STEAM WORKSHOP
A good idea when approaching X Rebirth is to embrace modding. The support of Steam Workshop means you can easily pick and choose features, removing things you don't like about the game and picking up new features generated by modders. Check out my curated collection of mods below for a number of improvements that save time and improve the game by adding handy new features, immersive changes, and the removal of annoying ones. One mod I can't support enough is the capital ship bridges mod—simply brilliant.
Remember there is no such thing as a "modified" tag in Rebirth, modding doesn't ruin achievements and Egosoft intentionally made the game easy to mod and added Steam Workshop support, they almost expect us to mod our games and personalise our experience, this means Egosoft can realise their artistic vision of what Rebirth should be and the gamers can have ours—we all win.