Terran Conflict is, by and large, a sandbox space game; the slogan is “Fight, Trade, Build, Think“. If you go the fight route, ultimately you will be building up a fleet of carriers, corvettes, destroyers, etc, and taking on the “AGI” (Automated General Intelligence) and Pirate threats, and anyone else you deem to be a threat – not merely cruising around in a hyper-souped fighter.
I doubt there’s storyline to cover that, and last night I embarked on a soujourn into the X3:TC storyline again. It turned out to be the same storyline I would have started with if I hadn’t chosen the “Humble Trader” route.
In previous X games they have held you rather tightly to the storyline and had a lot of complaints about it. So in Terran Conflict they’ve tried to make it even more sandboxish. I happen to be one of those who complained about the way they chained you to the storyline before, but not because I didn’t want storyline.
Rather, there were often niggling little issues with the way they slaved the storyline so that you could easily do something that would force you to rollback to an earlier save (or start over if you weren’t careful saving). It was also very hard to find the storyline if you wandered off … and the storyline always carried a sense of immediacy that left you feeling you had to do it now.
They’ve dealt with most of my issues in X3:TC by adding something similar to the “quest list” in most modern games, so you can actually turn off the quest system and come back to it. All they really need now is is writers who can make you feel a part of the storyline other than by sending you to the next destination. Their storylines still have a sense of fragile linearity so that you find yourself running head-long into a large fleet of enemy ships far superior to your little craft because you didn’t realize they assumed you would have stopped to explore, trade and build up your prowess and armaments.
A large part of it is probably just that outside of X3 gaming has evolved and many of us now have this sense of being “on mission”. If their writers would spend a little time playing some traditional games – GTA IV, WoW, etc – I’d hope they’d quickly learn something about intervalling the storyline without having to give you the two choices between adrift and on-task like they have in the past. TC does a better job of it but I still found that my storyline run ended in what felt like foul play: having run 8-10 missions I find myself in a sector being invaded by enemy capital ships that I can barely touch. Maybe I’m not supposed to fight them (as my ship exploded I noticed my waypoint had already left the sector).
But that sense of “something to do when I get bored of playing in the sand” is still not quite there: cause, they solved the problem in the game design but also implemented a solution in the storyline and the combination isn’t a total success.
Still – I’m having fun blasting ships and, when the going gets too tough, I have my carrier ship jump in from far away and unleash Gold Wing to assist me. My wing control skills aren’t l33t yet, so when the going gets rough that’s not a guaranteed save … but I’m glad of that, it wouldn’t be fun if it was easy :)
FYI they released a Rolling Demo: http://www.egosoft.com/download/x3tc/demos_en.php