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The sprawling space sim X Rebirth, in spite of its fine heritage, was not good. It was so bad, in fact, that developer Egosoft apologized for the whole thing, and to its credit has put in considerable effort trying to improve matters. A major step in that direction will be taken with the launch of the X Rebirth VR Edition, slated for an Early Access release in the first half of 2017. But likely even better for fans of the series is word that a new game, X4, is also in the works.
"X Rebirth VR Edition is a super-exciting development for us," Egosoft managing director Bernd Lehahn wrote in the latest X-Universe newsletter. "Playing this with a VR Headset feels like finally playing space games the way they were meant to be played all along,"
The VR version will be significantly changed from the original, with a new graphics engine, redesigned economy, and updates to the UI, pace, and balancing. Unfortunately, all those modifications mean that existing saves won't be compatible with the new release: If you want to play in the VR space, you'll have to start a new game.
As for X4 (which is what I'm really more excited about), Lehahn said it's too early to talk about details, and the game doesn't even have a proper name yet. But Egosoft is "making good progress," and he wanted to clarify what's been happening, and what fans of the series can look forward to.
"When we worked on X Rebirth we needed to make a lot of simplifications. We removed some features in order to be able to concentrate on others. But when X Rebirth was released, many fans expected it to be an 'X4,' a game with most of the key features of the X3 games and then some," he wrote.
But it's just not possible to create a game of that scale that within the limitations of X: Rebirth, and so those features, "along with the foundations laid by all the work and feedback that went into X Rebirth, have been the basis for the big project that we have been working on for the last few years: a real X4," he wrote. "While I cannot say much about its features yet, what I can tell you about it so far is that it will allow you to fly many different ships, it will give you an all-new interface to manage large fleets, and it will give you full freedom when building stations from individual modules."
Lehahn said Egosoft will have some "really cool things" to reveal in 2017, but even without the albatross of X Rebirth hanging from its neck, it has a big task ahead. The earlier X games were quite good, but they also existed in a time before Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen. Is there room in such a niche genre for another wide-open space sim—especially once that doesn't have the benefit of being filled with real people?
The X Rebirth expansion Home of Light is now available, as is the 4.0 update, which brings even more changes to a game that's already undergone quite a lot of them since its troubled launch two years ago.
Troubled, of course, is a nice way of saying bad, but I have to give full credit to developer Egosoft for persevering in its efforts to make the game playable. The latest update adds a bulletin board system to keep track of missions, makes big changes to the external views, enables Orders for multiple selected ships, adds a Trade Deals menu that shows profit estimates, enables time acceleration with SETA, adds new tutorials, and makes a number of other changes that will, hopefully, make the game more of a pleasure to play.
The 4.0 update will be free for everyone who owns X Rebirth. Those who don't mind spending a few bucks more can also snag the $10/ 8 Home of Light expansion, which brings three new systems to the game, including the titular Home of Light, and its massive economy to profit from. The expansion also includes specialized warehouse stations, new game starting points, new missions, and the possible return of an old and forgotten enemy, although I suspect that its mention in the update notes indicates that it's actually pretty likely to happen.
It's interesting that while the comments on Steam in response to the launch of the 4.0 update aren't quite universally enthusiastic, the Home of Light user reviews are almost universally positive. There are relatively few of them, but the general consensus is that the new content, coupled with two years of fixes, has finally resulted in a proper X game. And if you're a space sim fan, a proper X game is a pretty fantastic thing.
You have to give credit where it's due: X Rebirth was a hot intergalactic mess when it launched in late 2013, but developer Egosoft has continued to plug away at it with both free updates and paid DLC. Today the studio announced that more of both is coming in February in the form of the Home of Light expansion, as well as the major 4.0 update.
Home of Light will expand the X Rebirth universe significantly with the addition of three new systems, including the Home of Light from the X3 games. It will also add new warehouse trading stations that will enable high-volume trading, and new enemies, weapons, missions, "mysterious phenomena," and secrets to discover on the outskirts of known space. The 4.0 update will launch around the same time—neither of them have a hard release date yet—and will feature the addition of trading graphs, new engine technology, customizable weapon upgrades, and at least some of the new stuff mentioned above—enemies, weapons, secrets, and so forth.
As pleased as I am that Egosoft is sticking with it, the obvious question is whether or not all these updates are actually improving the game in a meaningful way. And I really don't know. Reviews on Steam are "mostly negative," with 68 percent throwing a thumbs-down, but that includes reactions going all the way back to launch day. More recent comments seem legitimately mixed, and much of the criticism now focuses on the fact that Rebirth is very different from previous games in the series. One such review describes it as "a great game" and credits Egosoft for being a dedicated and reliable developer, but then tags it as "not recommended" because it's "not an X game."
X Rebirth: Home of Light will normally sell for $10, but for now can be pre-purchased on Steam for $8, and will also be included in the upcoming X Rebirth Complete package. The 4.0 update will be free.
Remember X Rebirth? Perhaps you've tried to forget. The latest addition to the long-running (and, until Rebirth, quite good) space epic was one seriously hot mess when it came out in late 2013. But Egosoft kept plugging away at it, fixing bugs and adding content through two major revisions that reportedly improved things considerably, and today the studio announced the release of yet another patch and, more interestingly, talked about its plans for possible future DLC and a brand new X game.
The big giggle in X Rebirth 3.60 is the ability to toggle the flight assist feature on the Albion Skunk, enabling a more realistic (and much more difficult) Newtonian flight model rather than the atmospheric style the game normally uses. It's experimental—so experimental, in fact, that you'll have to bind your own key to the toggle if you want to try it out—but Egosoft wanted to get it in there now so it can collect feedback for possible implementation in future games.
And yes, there will be another X game. "At some point there will be a new game because we want to improve a lot of things that we unfortunately cannot improve using a DLC or update. These are things that would cause massive changes to balancing or completely change the structure of the economy," the studio wrote. "Because of this, we are working exactly as we did in the X3 times: In parallel working on a new project and improvements to the games already released. This won't just include making improvements to X Rebirth and The Teladi Outpost, but maybe also further updates for X3: Terran Conflict or Albion Prelude."
Foremost among those new-game-only features are the ability to fly all ships and to "actively command" from the bridge of a capital ship, as well as "massive changes to the structure of the universe," improved maps, and a brand new UI. Naturally, that's all a long way down the road: In the near-term, Egosoft plans to continue releasing updates and new content for Rebirth, and there may be a full DLC release as well. That will only happen, however, if the studio decides to produce a major amount of new content for the game, including new systems, stations, and ships; new gameplay features will continue to be released as free updates.
A full list of fixes in the X Rebirth 3.60 update is on Steam now.