X4: Foundations Review – A Beautiful Framework Starting to Work
X4: FoundationsNovember 30th, 2018
If there's one song that exemplifies my time with X4: Foundations in song form, it's Space Oddity. In reality, David Bowie's masterpiece is a song about seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey while high as a kite. However, taking it as a space-travelling song the lyrics seem to indicate loneliness, also futility to how our actions can actually be.
This is sadly the overwhelming feeling I've had when playing X4: Foundations. Part of this feeling is my fault, but the overwhelming cause of this is down to Egosoft themselves.
I want to get one major point out of the way. This is better than X Rebirth was at launch. Granted, that isn't saying a great deal. Fallout 76 is better than X Rebirth was at launch. Anyway, we're here to talk about X4: Foundations. Sadly, Egosoft has a Bethesda problem in that they desperately need to grab a few cans of insect repellent, or just outright fumigate the place. This is riddled with bugs, glitches and other significant issues, though the bugs are getting fixed at a rapid rate.
One of the major issues actually comes with the most promising aspect of starting the game up. You're given the choice between being either a Young Gun, a Fighter or an Explorer. The Young Gun option came with the appealing promise of tutorials, a basic ship and 10,000 credits. Other startup options had different ships and credits, but no tutorial. Knowing the X-Series as I do, a tutorial is essential if only to grasp the basics of getting in and out of your ship and, of course, not crash into an Einstein-Rosen bridge (not that you can).
Sadly, this isn't something Egosoft wanted to help you out with. The tutorial is there, sure, but it acts more like a broken powerpoint than anything else. In almost every single one of the tutorials, I've had the game tell me what to do and then not recognise when I've actually done it. So the problem is that I'm doing what I'm told and getting no acknowledgement nor the following step. Out of the fourteen tutorials, I've managed to complete maybe four of them.
Eventually, my best friend became something completely out of the game - YouTube. Watching other players explain how to play the game. A game that would have been almost impenetrable otherwise. I did play it prior to launch but found it difficult to get into, even as a light player of prior X titles. As a series, it is notoriously opaque, even when it's trying to be more inclusive like here in X4: Foundations.
This isn't to say that you can't get into the game if you try. That's certainly possible. X4: Foundations is a very attractive game that manages the scale of the galaxy perfectly. When you're in a station, wandering outside of your ship, trying to find missions, traders and more - everything is as huge as you would expect. The sheer size of these stations and some ships is overwhelming. At least from the perspective of looking from the outside. For example, there are huge ships which can allow some of your smaller ships to actually land in them. You can even watch this. But you never get to genuinely explore how huge these ships, and stations, are.
It's understandable. The sheer amount of work it would take to flesh out multiple ships and stations of the size and scale on offer would be monumental. At the same time, being able to see at least a little more than you get to in the game would be nice. All too often travelling in these areas is a case of step on an elevator, appear in a different, enclosed, room. Some of these are spacious though, and it's nice to see the NPC's you've hired actually doing their jobs.
What is a shame is that the universe here isn't fluidly connected in the same way as in Elite Dangerous, Star Citizen and even equivalent budget titles like Starpoint Gemini. Granted, this is a more recent complaint of mine after playing these aforementioned titles, and even No Man's Sky. The X series has never actually had an open world though, so maybe wanting this change would be a little too much. Especially when you consider the modular space stations you can eventually build.
That is the true point of X4: Foundations - to build. You're going to want to build your empire, by starting off small, expanding with new ships and hiring AI characters to actually be the pilot and use these ships. Indeed, the actual day-to-day running of your empire, later on, can be very hands-off. Hell, if you want to, you could simply leave the game running and watch your value and wealth climb.
Lacking that true direction is the core issue I have with the game. Hell, it's insanely easy to even miss what little bit of a storyline the game has. Little hint: At a space station, use the scan function and look around for some random floating bonfire night sparkler. That's how you start what can be construed as the storyline. There are other random missions to collect and earn you some credits, and reputation, along the way too.
Honestly, it's all fairly lacklustre. The only reason to do these missions and build your reputation is so you can buy higher quality ships and equipment from the space yards owned by these different factions. Fortunately, what helps is a later patch that finally started to fix what is an essential component in these games: war and the economy. Or at least they're trying to fix them. I'll explain further shortly, but the world literally moves on without your influence, including a war between factions and an economy that changes based on supply and demand as a result of AI actions.
In theory, at least, for the economy. Unless you directly influence it by setting up your own trade routes through buying ships and hiring pilots, you're going to hit a dead end. There's quite literally no way to play as a sole space-rogue, Han Solo style. The AI doesn't actively fill gaps in the economy, showing that patches are still essential. I've had moments where I've had all the credits I could ever need to build a ship twenty times over, but it simply won't build because the station doesn't have the materials to build it. I also can't be arsed travelling the universe just to pick up a bit of RAM.
'A Beautiful Framework' is what I started with as a subheader for X4: Foundations and I genuinely believe it is beautiful. The aforementioned stations and ships are fantastically designed, though are fairly difficult to distinguish from each other when looking between factions. They're joined by a genuinely stunning collection of celestial objects, from asteroid belts to planets, stars and more. It's even better when these are being used as a backdrop for some, sometimes, exciting and engaging combat.
It's particularly engaging just for the light show that you can see. Particularly so when watching a huge battle in progress. Sometimes even just a small skirmish or a rogue attempting to avoid law enforcement. Even before the patches, it's this individual agency of every part of the game that makes it beautiful in more than aesthetics. The world quite literally moves along and changes without you.
Even better are little accidental ventures you can make. I've actually gone into an AI spaceship as they landed in a station. Only to then realise, a minute later, we were taking off. I was stranded, an unexpected stowaway. Eventually, my employee listened to me and gave chase. I managed to get back to my ship. It was exhilarating and a genuinely light-hearted, funny and unexpected moment. Most games would have simply booted you off of the AI ship as they took off.
As I said, the AI eventually listened to me. One core problem I have is just how obtuse X4: Foundations is to get into and simply play. Flying around isn't too difficult, it's the easiest it's ever been, despite the terrible tutorials. What is hard, and nothing aside from the aforementioned YouTube videos can help, are the UI and menus. I understand this is a game about travelling space and setting up your space empire, but I shouldn't have to be a rocket scientist to get an employee to return to me, go mine a specific resource or follow a set trade route.
I genuinely want to get absorbed into X4: Foundations, as I did X3: Reunion. This is certainly going in the right direction, if I were scoring the game based on its launch state, it'd be around 4/10 maximum. Now, it's edged itself up with a ways to go. Fortunately, Egosoft has always been very receptive to their audience and incredibly hard working on patching their titles to the best state they can be.
If you're a fan of the series and game type, I'd certainly say buy it but with the knowledge that it's still got some large issues now, as well as a fair few remaining bugs. You'd also be pretty safe in the knowledge that in the very near future it'll be at a state that the game and developers can be happy with, as well as an incredibly strong modding community of folks that are already enhancing the game greatly.
Copy provided by the publisher. You can purchase the game digitally from Green Man Gaming.
X4: Foundations is a far superior game to the last outing and is already on the right path to success, thanks to Egosofts diligent work in fixing issues and enhancing the game. However, in its current state, it's still lacking core elements that help to make the game what it could be. Thanks to a broken in-game economy and an almost non-existent story, it can force you down paths and become boring, quickly. However, improvements to the war system has nullified this to an extent. It's a game on the rise and one to keep an eye on, likely worth buying in the near future.
- Excellent aesthetic qualities throughout
- A universe where every character has agency and doesn't revolve around you
- A fairly buggy game (though it is getting patched)
- Incredibly unintuitive and obtuse UI
- Despite being made easier, the game is still difficult to get into
- The in-game economy still has issues that essentially forces you to intervene