X4: Foundations - A Unique Game for Patient Gamers


Community Contributor
Egosoft's X games are a strange set of games that really don't fit in any genre. The way I play it would likely fit best in a trade/management sim but others play it differently. There's some missions but, for the most part, this game acts as a giant sandbox.

You can start out in a nice, little flight school to teach you the basic flight controls. Flying is normally done in an "arcady" way, with the ship following your cursor (or joystick, if you've got one) directions much like an airplane in 0 gravity. You can turn that off, though, and fly in a straight up "Newtonian" manner if you want. After the flight school teaches you some basics, you'll pick out how you want to start the game. Most folks start as either a fighter pilot or scout pilot. Either way, you'll be in a small ship with only a few credits to your name. You'll then get a few more missions to teach you about a few more aspects of the game. Once those are out of the way, you're left to fend for yourself in a great, big universe.

Sooooo, then what do you do? Well, some folks fly around a little, then quit. Not everyone is into "unstructured playtime." Let's see what there is:
  • Go find where some battles are happening between warring factions, then play vulture and try to pick up valuable stuff after the shooting stops.
  • Take part in some of those battles. Shooting ships that are attacking stations will earn you some "thank you" money in addition to dropped loot.
  • Do some randomly generated missions. There's quite a few of these, ranging from doing a little satellite repair to attacking/building space stations.
  • Pick open lock boxes, which store (often illegal) loot that you can use or sell.
  • Get yourself a mining ship and mine rocks for cash. This gets a bit dull, though, so...
  • Hire a captain and tell the captain to mine rocks and sell them. Then use the proceeds to buy another mining ship with another crew. And another, and another... Some folks get 100+ of these things going.
  • Get a larger ship, hire some marines, and capture a few ships - either to sell or to use for yourself. Civilized factions obviously won't like this at all, but pirates mildly dislike everyone regardless of what you've done to other pirates, so you can take their ships without repercussions.
  • Build a space station of your own. Why sell those rocks, when you can make them into goods and sell those for even more?
  • Place satellites near stations you want to trade with to keep tabs on the prices. That way you can have a manager do all that trading for your space station instead of trying to do it all yourself.
  • There's a special series of missions that give you a special station: the player headquarters.
  • Once you have the HQ set up, you can feed some resources into it to fund research. Researching will give you the ability to modify ship statistics and will teach you how to teleport yourself between your ships.
  • Once you get even further into the game, some special campaign style mission series show up. These are a little odd in that the rewards for completing them aren't very tangible. Instead of earning yourself millions of credits and a small fleet of ships or something like that, what you do is change the balance of power: causing factions to merge or go to war with each other.
  • You can terraform a few specific planets. There's some reward for doing these but, for the most part, they are just goals for you to strive to meet.
There's a lot of depth behind many of those bullet points. For instance, mining can be done by small, medium, and large ships. Small ships don't mine most things very well but they're cheap. Medium sized ships can mine well and are fairly fast, too. Large miners hold a lot but are expensive, slow, and don't really mine all that fast. There's an enemy faction (meaning you can never get on their good side) that particularly hates mining ships. The faction is pretty weak, though, so it can't really mount an offense big enough to take down a large mining ship. A small mining ship might occasionally use is speed to run away, but the medium mining ships are going to be in serious trouble. You could counter this by finding the enemy faction bases and destroying them, or you can just get large ships and give them escorts. Then there's the whole question of which faction's mining ships work best, how many cargo and mining drones the ship should have, resource probes marking good places to mine, shooting little nodes on asteroids, and so on.

Suffice it to say that the depth in this game is downright crazy. The other end of that is that the game doesn't explain itself very well once you get past the basics. Egosoft is a small studio, they can't afford a department that does nothing but explain things in the game and update the explanations as the game changes. So you can experiment yourself or you'll need to hunt around the internet and Steam guides to find out what you're doing. This can be a bit dicey as Egosoft updates the game from time to time, making old guides less useful. (They did do a series of six videos starting with this one that will give you a pretty good overview. ) {Or you can just ask here - I love talking about the game!}

Unfortunately, there's some serious bad that comes in with all this goodness.

The universe is quite large and the game keeps track of everything going on in it. There's going to be a few thousand stations and probably ten thousand ships buzzing around in it, each with its own goals. A lot of people with great video cards find themselves looking at 30 frames per second because their old CPU is pegged. Having lots of cores won't help you, either, it's single core speed that is needed for this game. (My old PC did fine with it. My new one, with a AMD 5600X does great.) The hugeness of everything also means slow save and load times. Again, people can get fooled by thinking their super fast hard drive will help them. Loading the file takes only a second, though, it's parsing through the file and setting up all those many thousands of objects that can take over a minute.

So how could any game really handle so much going on at once? Well, the game uses different rules if you aren't around. If you're fighting a ship, the direction every turret is pointing is modeled, as is the flight path of every shot taken (and sometimes, there are a lot of shots being taken!). If you aren't around, though, lots and lots of shortcuts are used. This can result in strong ships being weaker when you are "out of sector" and weak ships being stronger. It's sad that the whole universe can't be modeled with the same fidelity as you see around you, but that would require CPUs that are at least 100 times faster than current models.

The AI is also often pretty sad to watch. Your autopilot can and will ram you into asteroids. Your NPC pilot will get so lost in a station's complex structure that it just gives up and flies right through everything. Ships trying to flee will head for the nearest friendly station - even if that means running directly at their attacker. Ships driving to a certain point will sometimes turn off their travel drive way too early (that one is new with the latest update - I sure hope it gets fixed soon). Some commands don't really work very well or don't work as most people would expect. The list goes on and on.

Finally, be aware that most things in this game take a pretty long time to happen. You may get the ability to teleport yourself from one side of the universe to another in two seconds, but transporting a massive pile of computronic substrate from the Terrans to Tharka's Ravine will take a while. Building that station I linked above took something like 15 hours even after I got all the materials needed! Battles may be fast and furious, but you're going to need patience for this one.

This is a very unique game that can give you some very unique fun. Just be aware that you'll need to trudge through some limitations and bugs to get to them. There's an exceptionally awesome sand box in the middle of this swamp!
The X series is one I've always wanted to get into, I seem to remember bouncing off some version of X3 some years ago but the beautiful neon-lit and busily alive stations in X4 are tempting me sorely once again. For me nothing has ever competed with Freelancer or Hardwar in terms of combining player agency in a living world with ease of access and arcadey flight modelling.

Your passion for the game is clear, but I think the sheer density of the experience is going to keep me out of this series for a while yet. Maybe one day, when I have more time, as I say about dozens of games a year.