X3: Albion Prelude(AP) is the latest installment in developer Egosoft's X series of games. At its heart, AP is a sandbox space sim, blending elements of military, economic and strategic management across an expansive universe. Built on top of X3:Terran Conflict, AP adds new plots, ships, scripts(ship AI) and stock exchange system. AP's story seeks to fill the gap between the end X3:Terran Conflict and the start of X:Rebirth, Egosoft's next game.
X3: Terran Conflict finishes with the discovery of the lost Terran colony in the Aldrin sector and the reconnection of the Terran home sectors with the universal gate network. With new found strength in the Aldrin colony and a new access point to their former enemies, the Terrans have an opportunity to settle an old score. However, before the Terrans are fully prepared, an Albion terrorist/freedom fighter named Saya Kho destroys Earth's orbital ring, forcing the Terrans into war.
AP begins with the player choosing a starting role; roles are split up between races and starting assets. Some roles start with a large ship and wads of cash, while others start with an out-of-date fighter and a poultry sum of credits. Curiously, AP's story isn't told through a Terran plot line, instead it's told through an Argon plot, which is available to all starting roles but the Terran commander. Players should choose their starting role carefully, as some starts are much harder than others.
After choosing a role, you are dropped into your ship and unleashed into the universe. If available, players should take lessons from the flying-school ships in the starting sector. A new player's first goal is, usually, making money, upgrading their ship or preferably both. Station missions, plot missions, trading, fighting and piracy are all good ways to make cash. Depending on your skill level, knowledge and experience, starting can either be a growing pain or delightful challenge. If you are new to the X3 series, you may find the learning curve quite steep, but dogged persistence will lead to success, fortune and a fleet of ships.
Ship to ship fighting, trading and exploration are AP's core gameplay elements.
Drones, fighters, heavy fighters, corvettes, missile frigates, battleships and carriers are some of the fighting craft you will command and encounter during your adventure. AP is set during a warring period, and some sectors are constantly swapping hands between Terrans and the Argon lead Commonwealth. War sectors feature large capital ship battles, which are glorious to behold and participate in. Pirates, Xenon and Kha'ak are naturally hostile towards the player, occupying their own sectors, they need to be either eluded or destroyed.
If fighting is not your style, trading is a simple and lucrative way to make money. Freighters, large and small, are available to transport goods from station to station; AP features scripts for automatic trading between stations. Building your own space stations and trading shares on the local stock exchanges can also create wealth. Space stations can be amalgamated into huge complexes producing many products for player use and sale. AP introduces stock exchanges for players to buy and sell shares, making profit from speculation - buy low, sell high.
AP is a beautiful game, players can just wander from sector to sector, enjoying the view, looking for either trouble or opportunity. Wandering into a hostile sector, full of enemy carriers, is quite scary and often deadly. Scouting, finding new resources and stations, opens new trade routes and targets of opportunity for ship hijacking players. AP allows players to go at their own pace and it never holds your hand or offers an easy way out. Saving outside of a space station requires the player to buy insurance - no freebies for you.
X3:AP is not without its faults. The story is quite short and doesn't fully explain the events concerning the Albion sector. Capturing capital ships via "spacewalking marines" is just terrible. The stock market prints money, if you know what to do. The war between the Terrans and Argon never ends, even with your stout intervention. It sometimes feels like stations are always out of stock, so restocking your ships can be a hassle. Repairing is too expensive and training marines sucks - the two worst things about the game. Thankfully, common issues and nuisances can be fixed by community made mods; the X3 modding community is one of the largest and extensive modding communities on the Internet.
If you like the X series of games and/or space sims you will love AP. AP is beautiful, expansive, cerebral and addictive; you will start playing and quickly lose track of time. Building space stations, accruing wealth and blasting your enemies into space dust is quite enjoyable. AP's sandbox gameplay offers great replay value and tons of awesome space action and adventure.
X3:Albion Prelude requires X3:Terran Conflict to be installed and both are available on Steam.
Note: I did play with a joystick during my playthrough, but a joystick isn't required. You will be using mouse, keyboard and/or joystick extensively while playing.
X3:Albion Prelude now has a new 2.5 patch, adding new plots and bug fixes.