The Star Citizen lifecycle is far too predictable. As this is my “main game” these days, I am particularly beholden to the way that the Moon that is this project ebbs and flows the oceans of my interest. The scenario always goes like this: Major patches are released each quarter, and we know most of the things that are targeted ahead of time. Patches hit the public test universe (PTU) first, and the very first wave of testers — the Evocati — get first crack at it. Although they’re not supposed to leak info, the Evocati generally do, we it’s at this stage that the community starts getting the “hands on” reports of what the patch brings, as well as an accounting of whatever “hidden” updates CIG has added. The next wave is Wave 1, which consists of Concierge members (those of us who have pledged at least $1000 over the lifetime of the project) and Subscribers. Finally, Wave 2 throws open the doors to all backers who want to download the PTU client. Once the patch is deemed worthy, it’s released to the public universe (PU) where everyone can play. Of course, this whole process follows the standard “game cycle” hype ramp-up, where known info is examined and anticipated, and PTU info is “discovered” in the interest of “whomever can make the community videos first”. Like everyone else, I get excited about every patch as each patch either introduces new systems or improves on existing systems, so when the patch actually releases (I am usually too lazy to get into the PTU), I spend a good amount of time in the game, usually to the exclusion of all other games.
This upcoming patch, 184.108.40.206, adds a new vehicle, the Centurion, which is cool, but the core content is derelict outposts, and an event called the “Siege of Orison”. Derelict outposts are crashed ships which have been converted into makeshift living spaces. This seems hardly something to get excited about, except that the inclusion is part of the “decaying ships” system that CIG has been working on. Right now, we have “live” ships and “destroyed” ships in the game, but nothing in between; these derelicts promise various states of decay and deconstruction. Panels will be missing, showing the infrastructure, and parts will be strewn about in ways that future ships will enjoy, should they also nose-dive into a planet or moon, and these new states are examples of how salvaging is going to affect ship hulls whenever that system makes it into production. These outpost locations will serve as tourist spots, dynamic mission locations, loot spawners, and places where players can meet one another and blow each other up. The Siege of Orison, on the other hand, is a single, multi-staged PvE mission which sees ad hoc groups of players coming together to retake one of the floating platforms of the city of Orison. The story goes that it’s been commandeered by the infamous 9Tails pirates who have turned the IFF systems against the UEE (and the players), forcing players to land and assault the platforms on foot. Although we’ve had dynamic events already in the form of the “9Tails Lockdown” (mostly space-based) and “Jumptown” (PvP FPS), Siege of Orison is the first real PvE FPS event in the game. I’ve watched a few streamers playing segments of it, and from what I have seen this event takes place on a massive playing field. Being a PvE event is also relatively uncharacteristic for Star Citizen, but that’s a topic for another post.
This is not a post about the 3.17.2 patch, however. Although I played a lot of 3.17.1, mostly doing the bunker assault and defend missions against NPC AI and collecting a huge number of arms, armor, and ammo, the standard Star Citizen cycle meant that after playing a patch for a while, I kind of faded away from the game. This is not just me, nor is it the game itself; my entire org is on this cycle. We all do the things we want to do with what the game offers us to do at the time, and eventually once we have done it enough to be satisfied for the time being, everyone scatters to other games as we wait for the next patch. This is the point where I am at now, although the release of 3.17.2 to the PU is imminent.
To pass the time I have been looking for a spaceship-based game to play “to maintain the momentum” started by my last time in-game with Star Citizen’s current live patch. I had considered reinstalling Elite Dangerous, but I have played that game thoroughly to the point where I don’t think I need to ever play it again; the only way I would go back would be if I had a group of other people to play with, because playing it solo is boring as hell. I did decide on X4: Foundations, which I had played for a little while in the past, but never long enough to have a really good opinion of it. The bottom line for the post (finally!) is that now that I have played X4 for a while (a few days at least, amounting to maybe a dozen or so hours), I can render at least some kind of verdict about it.
The “X” series from Egosoft is pretty storied in its history, in part because of its ambition, and in part because of its shortcomings. It’s not a simple game; you start out in a single ship with very little instruction, and a suite of key bindings that make no sense and fight you every step of the way. If you manage to get your ship moving with any degree of confidence, it’s time to start earning money. Again, this is not easy, as you get job offers by email sometimes, but are otherwise expected to enter local scanning mode and fly slowly around space-stations until you pick up a radio broadcast which you can parse to get a job. From there, you have to find the objective, since it’s about 50-50 whether the mission giver points you to the exact location you need to be in. Maybe it’s local; usually it’s not, so you get introduced to long-range flight, long-range scanning, and jump gates to other sectors. If you manage to find your objective, then the completion might be as simple as scanning something, dropping something off or picking something up, or deploying a satellite. It could be as complicated as taking on an enemy NPC in combat, and yes, sometimes the mission outclasses your skills and your ship, without any real warning of what you’re up against. Survive long enough and you can buy, find, or steal another ship and hire a crew. You can own and command many ships, and they can be ordered to go out to trade, mine, or explore on their own, giving you passive income. Eventually you might have enough cash and resources to build your own station, which I assume is the endgame of each entry in the series.
I have tried to love, like, and eventually tolerate X4 while I wait for the 3.17.2 patch. I had an exploration ship and was moving through sectors, uncovering the fog of war, finding stations, asteroid belts, and mining opportunities, but the actual jobs I could do were few and far between. One of them had me flying around looking for 50 units of jewelry. Of course, I had to hit up three different stations to find all of it, and none of them restock unless NPCs actually bring the items to the station to do so; in the end I’m not sure the payout was worth my time. I got to hire an NPC mining ship and told them to go out and harvest silicone, only to find that there were no stations that would buy it. I jettisoned the cargo and switched to ice, only to have the same problem. Once I had a handle on the process, though, I started another game, bought an addition NPC mining ship right out of the gate — and promptly lost it to NPC pirates. My entire breadth of knowledge of what to do and how to do it has been by trial and error — mostly error, but always a trial — but there are still massive gaps of knowledge that any other game would have taught us within the first 15 minutes of booting up.
X4 is a game marked by long stretches of just flying around where I was hoping to find a job I could actually do (based on the starter ship’s load-out, I cannot do everything, not even a little bit). There seems to be a main quest — the very first radio signal I found every single time I started a new campaign kicks it off — but after a long-winded intro that taught me nothing of actual use in a way that assumes it’s taught me everything I need to know, I was told to go out and…earn money, join a guild, raise my rank, and come back with another ship and some very dangerous materials to complete the second step. After re-starting my career three times in the past week and running afoul of bugs (of which there are many), misfortune, and a general malaise resulting from extended periods of just trying to get a foot in the airlock, I decided to give up and removed the game from my SSD.
Now I wait for 3.17.2, which I guess is all I can do.