X Series, The

Tagged: Game

Videogame series (from 1999). Egosoft.

The X Series is a line of Space Sims, descended from Elite (1984). The player has considerable freedom to explore, trade, mine asteroids, fight pirates (or become one), carry out missions (including bounty-hunting and passenger transport), or create a commercial empire of space-based factories and fleets of starships. The game universe itself is impressively realistic and dynamic, with a working economy based on the principles of supply and demand; considerable attention is also paid to the scientific details of planetary orbits and the vast distances which separate them. However, the games' plots are generally weak and the characters emotionally uninvolving; the focus is on free exploration of simulated space. The series is set in the Space Opera "X Universe", a volume of space containing a large number of solar systems linked by Faster Than Light gates and inhabited by a variety of species, including humans.

In the first game, X: Beyond The Frontier (1999 Egosoft, Win) designed by Bernd Lehahn, the player character is Kyle Brennan, a pilot from Earth who accidentally travels to the X Universe through a Wormhole while testing a new spacecraft. Unable to return, he must find a way to survive in this alien region of space. The game suffers from something of a slow start, but offers a wide variety of gameplay options once the player has spent some time improving their ship and learning the facts of their new life. It has an optional storyline revolving around the Argons, a group of humans who reached the X Universe hundreds of years earlier during a war with rogue Terraforming machines. To protect Earth, the Argons sealed the wormhole they used behind them, preventing both themselves and the machines from returning. X-Tension (2000 Egosoft, Win) designed by Bernd Lehahn, Alexander Preuss is an expansion pack which adds new spacecraft and solar systems to the game, but no new plot; it is designed to allow players to roam more freely through the series' simulated galaxy.

X2: The Threat (2003 Egosoft, Win; 2005 Mac; 2006 Lin) designed by Bernd Lehahn improves on the basic model provided by the first game, adding such options as the ability to blockade hostile space stations and use spy satellites. The player character is Kyle's son, Julian; the plot centres on an invasion of the X Universe by the unknown Kha'ak race. While the plot is stronger than that of X: Beyond The Frontier, it is still episodic in nature, with story-related events occurring at prolonged intervals as the player continues to trade and explore. After finding Julian's father, the player can discover that the Kha'ak are attacking because natives of the X Universe have mined some of the asteroids in which they live, an act they interpret as a declaration of war. X3: Reunion (2005 Egosoft, Win; 2007 Mac) designed by Bernd Lehahn, Markus Pohl, Christian Vogel is a direct sequel, with a stronger storyline than any of the previous games, though following the linear plot remains optional. Reunion describes a hunt for an artefact capable of opening new Faster Than Light gates, created by a Forerunner race. It ends with a new gate being opened to Earth through which a human fleet arrives to defeat the Kha'ak. X3: Terran Conflict (2008 Egosoft, Mac, Win) designed by Bernd Lehahn, Markus Pohl, Christian Vogel is an expansion for Reunion which can be played alone, and which brings the series' ongoing story arc to a close. In the end, the Terraforming machines return, and are revealed as genocidal Berserkers; the player, in the guise of one of several available characters, must assist in their defeat.

The X Series shares something with its contemporary Farscape (1999-2003, 2005), including many extremely impressive visuals, but in place of the latter's vivid characterization the games provide a deep and involving simulation of interstellar exploration and trading. Ultimately, the universe of the X games is beautiful, but somewhat cold.

Related works: X3: Albion Prelude (2011 Egosoft, Mac, Win) is an expansion for X3: Terran Conflict. [NT]

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