REVIEW: X4: Cradle of Humanity (DLC)

REVIEW: X4: Cradle of Humanity (DLC)

“X4: Foundations” lives up to its name by being the foundation upon which the full-game DLC can be added.

Released: Steam
Type: Single-player
Genre: Space Simulation,
Open World, Flight Sim
Developer: Egosoft
Publisher: Egosoft
Release date: 16 March, 2021


Two and a half years after X4: Foundations was launched, the second DLC has landed, this time putting back in the Terrans, the humans that never left the solar system. This marks the next-to-last of the obvious “missing” factions of X4, with only the Boron still cut. (And considering their aquatic nature, it is unlikely they’ll appear in the same way other races have, and may get relegated to cameo roles like that of Boso Ta.) The DLC introduces 14 new sectors, three new factions, a whole new separate Terran economy, adds more plotlines than the base game had, and adds a slew of new ships.

Invasion of the Earthlings

As mentioned in the base-game review, humans are split up into several factions in the X-universe. To recap the events of the game in greater detail with regard to Terrans, humans started colonizing space after they discovered that their stable wormhole jumpgate technology accidentally connected to an already-existing jumpgate network created by never-appearing convenient plot device precursor aliens just called “The Ancients”. The people of Earth sent colony ships and AI-driven unmanned terraforming ships through the jump network to colonize the galaxy, but then the terraformer AI was corrupted and turned into the Xenon that instead tried to wipe out all life. Earth command blew up their jumpgate to prevent the Xenon from reaching Earth, stranding any other remaining colonists out there, forcing them to make contact with aliens and integrate alien technology and with other alien races in the jumpgate network (which became the Commonwealth of Planets, basically the Star Trek Federation) to survive. The Argon are basically the default hero race in most of the games, and the story is broadly written to make the Argon always look like the good guys.

The original X: Beyond the Frontier had you playing as Kyle Brennan, the pilot of an experimental Terran jumpdrive-equipped ship that allows ships to instantly teleport to any functional jumpgate. He happened to land in the middle of Argon territory, making the first contact between what had by then become Terran space and the Argon in centuries. His son Julian Brennan in X3: Reunion, along with some pacifist hippy types that had formed a cult about the long-lost homeland of the human race then found a way to reconnect to the Sol system… only to find that in the time spent apart, the new Terran Federation had become militant isolationists, only venturing outside its borders with the AGI Task Force (or ATF), designed to hunt down Xenon wherever they may be.

After being reunited with their long-lost colonies, including another colony that developed in isolation from both Argon and Terran forces named Aldrin in X3: Terran War, major characters from the previous games decided that the Terrans were too militant, so they blew up the wall the Terrans built around the Earth to keep the rest of the universe out, causing the Terrans to get even more militant, and start a war with the Argon.

After the gate shutdown, the Terrans basically said good riddance to all this “rest of the galaxy” nonsense and went back to being elitist about being born on Earth and calling anyone who was born anywhere else, even in space stations orbiting Earth second-class citizens. They also merged the ATF and normal Terran stuff into a single Terran Protectorate because there wasn’t really much justification for that being a different faction, anyway.

Terran things, incidentally, generally have a Japanese naming system (the “Tokyo-class” is their carrier, the “Yokohama-class” their frigate, the “Katana-class” their corvette…), although they apparently broke down at some point during X3: TC, and started using different names, so now in X4, they just have sword names for fighters and corvettes like “Kukri” and “Jian”. (Plus, the old transport was called a “Scabbard”, which was amusing since it carried sword-named fighters.) The ATF, meanwhile, went with a Norse-myth-themed naming scheme, so they named their ships things like “Valkyrie”, “Thor”, and “Valhalla”. With the forces combined, these ships are now all mixed together into a confusing stew of sword names, Norse names, and Japanese city names.

The Solar System

Of the 14 new sectors, 11 are the Sol system. All the planets plus Pluto, the Moon, Titan (one of Saturn’s moons – no idea why it’s the only moon to get to the list), the Asteroid Belt, and the Oort Cloud (the vaguely-defined area outside the orbit of Uranus where various comets and asteroids are still technically in the Sun’s orbit). Moons are squeezed into sub-sectors of their planets to keep all this down to “only” 11.

Flying past my own solar power stations near Venus with my Katana-class corvette.

Compared to the rest of the galaxy’s sectors, the Sol system is unusually barren of resources with the exception of the asteroid belt and Oort Cloud. There are thin nebulae of gasses surrounding Neptune, Titan, and oddly even Mercury (which I guess is mostly solar wind off the Sun just from being so close), but without minerals, you’re limited to two areas in the Sol system to do any serious asteroid mining in a game where asteroids and gas nebulae are the basis of the economy.

Conversely, the Sun itself plays a role in the way the economy works, because unlike all the base game sectors, the Cradle of Humanity sectors have variable solar energy. The further you are from the Sun, the less sunlight there is to feed solar panels that are your only source of energy for powering station functions. The mineral-rich Oort Cloud only gets 0.0003% sunlight, so don’t even bother building solar panels out there. Even the asteroid belt gets only 13% Earth-level sunlight. (The rest of the galaxy is all 100%s, by the way.) Venus, however, gets 190% sunlight, and Mercury gets a whopping 625%! This winds up basically forcing a split-up of factories when most players prefer to build “megafactories” that refine all raw materials into their finished products all in one station so that there is no trading with outside sources that could possibly give them a bad deal and lead to any loss of profits. Now, however, where the rocks are, the sunlight isn’t, and where the sunlight is, the rocks aren’t, so you have to split… or just go elsewhere in the galaxy.

The view of Mercury and it’s solar power plants from the bridge of my Katana (when someone else is at the wheel).

The Terrans also put their wharf (which builds small ships) next to Mars and their shipyard (which builds large ships) in orbit around The Moon, while a trade station around Jupiter is their main space-borne faction base.

Terran Tech

The Terrans are an isolationist and xenophobic faction, and since their introduction in X3, they’ve always had an entirely different tech tree from everyone else. (In X3, they were the only race that needed to mine ice asteroids for water – because Earth wasn’t willing to export any of its water for orbital colonists, so those ‘outsiders’ had to find their own water – while their habit of flushing all their water down the toilet into black holes and thus needing to eternally mine more ice asteroids for agricultural water has become the mainstay now.)

Compared to the complex economy everyone else uses, with 44 total products, including foods for every race the Terrans only use 3 main construction goods, the same energy cells and medical supplies that already existed, and two food goods plus one illegal drug good. 8 compared to 44, and that’s counting the 2 shared ones. This, needless to say, drastically streamlines the economy, and makes keeping everyone supplied much easier. You don’t need to directly construct ships or missiles or satellites (the way that every type of missile had their own factory in X3), equipment docks will fabricate them from components as required, with higher-grade missiles taking more smart chip goods to produce. This means Terrans just have their three construction materials to build absolutely everything, which makes things a lot easier when you’re self-sourcing.

The logical overview view of Terran food factories. Food and medicine are ultimately used to support a workforce. (That increases efficiency enough to more than pay for itself.)

It also makes things a lot harder to make a living in the economy selling goods, however, as there are fewer goods and fewer factories with which you can buy low and sell high to make a profit trading. You can still definitely make money with miners selling ore, but there are only two asteroid-rich sectors in the Sol system.

Also, the Terran economy pays a terrible price for having everything streamlined into just three types of construction goods: The cost of producing one of them, computronic substrate, is absolutely mind-boggling. It takes vastly more effort to keep single computronic substrate factories fed with raw materials to smelt into finished goods than whole megafactory complexes. How bad is it? Well, players in the Egosoft forums are suddenly complaining that there’s apparently a cap of “only” 256 mining ships per factory after computronic substrate factories were introduced. For comparison, I was making all the money I really needed to play the mid-game with about 6 miners total selling to random ore refineries and no factories at all. It seriously takes over a dozen miners per individual computronic substrate station module just to keep pace with demand. (And you’re going to want to have this factory staffed for the efficiency bonus because you’re just killing yourself if you’re not getting the staffing efficiency bonus that makes raw materials go further.) Worse, the more miners you have gobbling up materials, the more they deplete the area until asteroids can respawn, causing miners to have to go further out for more asteroids, which takes more time, which means you’re fighting a diminishing return on investment when you add more miners to a factory.

Computronic Substrates take up enough resources to fund two dozen other types of factories all by themselves.

Power Creep

Every faction in the X universe has its own strengths. Only players interested in role-playing a loyalist to one faction or another will buy purely from one faction, most players will pick ships from each faction for what they’re best at doing. Teladi have slow ships but great tanky shields and their muon guns are similar to, but have less extreme drawbacks than the standard plasma cannons. Paranids have the fastest ships and engines of the base game, the best destroyer main guns and arguably best destroyer (if you can get over its infamous “giant hairdryer” aesthetic). Argon flak cannons are ideal turret weapons, and their ion guns are the ideal weapon for making pilots eject to steal new ships for free. Note that unlike previous games, where most of these stats like shields were the same no matter what, the different races build equipment where you can mix-and-match what you want to add to suit different needs. For example, Argon engines are slower in standard mode and boosting than Paranid, but have better travel mode speeds, so you might want Argon engines instead of Paranid ones for ships you expect to be mostly in travel mode, like freighters. I like the Paranid freighters the best because they’re fast, while I like the Teladi miners because even though they’re a little slower than the Argon versions, they carry twice the shields, and miners can come under attack fairly often from roving Kha’ak.

Equipping a Paranid corvette for duty guarding transports by giving it a mid-ranged combat engine.

So when you add a new faction to a game, it makes sense that they’ll mess with the balance, and outshine some older ships or where the previous race’s equipment doesn’t quite stack up to the new equipment. The Split were always a race that put speed and firepower above all else, so when their DLC was added, their engines just blew everyone else’s out of the water. The thing is, it wasn’t even close. The Split engines give you about 50% more speed, although they do at least suffer as badly in regards to the travel speed. They also get the only mk. IV equipment in the game with their combat engines. Most equipment only goes to up mk. III, with each mk. costing an order of magnitude more for about a 30% increase in performance, with a mk. III equipment like thrusters sometimes costing more than the ship’s hull itself. Just skimping a little can sometimes get you two 70% effective ships for the price of one 100% effective ship. That said, while prohibitive for equipping AI allies, no expense is too great for making your own personal battle chariot as powerful as possible, since it’s your life on the line, after all.

Terrans, meanwhile, have engines that look bad on paper, although they actually lose most of their delay in charging up, making them the best engines for large ships, while they have the best shields in the game with absolutely no downside other than cost. (Teladi will have slightly more shielding but much worse recharge rates on the same level of mk. shields.) Terran shields cost twice as much as equivalent shield mk. levels, but unlike the engines where you have a downside in travel speed for Split engines, there’s no real downside to Terran shields. Worse, similar to the Split having a mk. IV combat engine, the Terrans have a mk. III shield for M and L size shield generators when all other races only have up to mk. II shields, and they have a mk. II XL shield while everyone else only has a mk. I XL shield. These are fantastically pricey, but they wind up giving your ships 50% more shields than any competitor, while also giving them better shield recharge rates, as well. True, they’re 20 times the price of other shields and probably bump up the total cost of your ship by about 33%, but at the same time, 50% more “no dying for me, thanks” shields means less losses to replace. (Note that there are no mk. IV small shields for small ships – there’s no benefit to Terran small ships, and small Terran ships in general get the shaft. They’re really more of a corvette and capital ship faction.) This means that, especially once you have the equipment docks and ability to produce your own shields, you have no reason not to equip this on any ship you’re putting any kind of financial investment you don’t want to lose into. Terran shields are just better, and you’re playing worse if you don’t have them.

They also have a couple unique weapons to equip.

The Meson Stream might as well be called the “Meson Meme”, because it’s a meme gun. It’s a beam weapon, which means it fires a constant stream of laser too fast to evade until it overheats… which takes about 2 seconds. This is 2 seconds during which a pair of M-sized Meson Stream cannons could strip half the shields off a L-sized destroyer, however, which made my jaw drop. It’s a gun 10 times more powerful than most other M-sized weapons, and if you’re accurate, you can just delete fighters with this thing… My jaw stayed dropped, however, when the overheated Meson Stream stayed overheated for an entirely unacceptable roughly 30 seconds during combat. Also, I should mention the gun mounts do not swivel at all. You have to point your ship directly at the target to hit with these things, which drastically reduces the utility of the high muzzle velocity in making an attack that’s hard to dodge because your ship isn’t nearly as maneuverable as even the slowest gun mount’s traversal speed in keeping up with the fighters zipping around your cockpit…

The Proton Barrage is basically the same as the standard bolt guns but with a lower rate of fire in exchange for more DPS overall and a greater muzzle velocity, which in this game translates to accuracy against small, nimble targets. It’s a very good alternative to a bolt gun if you were considering one, but you’ll still want plasmas for attacking capital ship turrets.

In terms of ships, as previously mentioned, the small-sized ships of the Terrans have few advantages (with the only good ones ironically coming from their bastard faction Segaris), but their larger combat ships are quite dominant, if slow and lumbering beasts, even with (better) foreign engines. The Asgard in particular is the only ship that breaks with the tradition of XLs only being carriers, builders, or auxiliary ships, not direct combat ships (with the exception of Xenon stuff, but players can’t use those), and it even has a unique Wave Motion Gun-style main battery capable of obliterating other capital ships from long range. It’s a perfect station destroyer, thanks to being longer-range than most (immobile) station turrets and packing enough punch to single-handedly tear them down with a little time, forcing opponents to have to respond in force. You need to outnumber an Asgard pretty badly to take one down even if it isn’t escorted, and why wouldn’t you escort a vessel this stupidly valuable?! You basically just win once you have one of these things.

The Katana is also an exception in this regard, and probably a favorite for player ships, in that it’s unusually fast, and unlike many corvettes, has a focus upon frontal weapons instead of turrets, making it a great dogfighter that has the speed of an actual fighter, if somewhat less capable than an actual fighter in accelerating and decelerating or turning.

Blasting a Kha’ak ship from the helm of a Katana.

Terran Aesthetics

I mentioned during the main review that there’s a definite Star Trek theme going on with the races, with Teladi being basically the Ferengi but reptiles now, or Split being basically the Klingons. The humans have an odd split, though. The Argon behave like a slightly more militant Federation of Planets, while the Terrans are hyper-militant isolationist xenophobe types that are everything the Federation from Star Trek stood against… but oh boy did the Terrans get the Star Trek aesthetic down.

Terran capital ship bridges: Totally not just a love child of Next Generation and the JJ Abrams movies’ Enterprises.

This even extends to the design of their exteriors, as well. The Terrans have sleek, shuttle craft-like corvettes, but L and XL ships all have some kind of saucer as a middle section of the ship, with a long triangular section or two leading off the front. The one notable exception to this (besides the construction ship, which is visually identical among all races for some reason) is the Asgard… which is like a more flat version of a Imperial Star Destroyer.

The asymmetric Kukri is the main fighter for the Terrans.

An Osaka-class destroyer in a cinematic.

The Osaka launches its fighter complement.

Looking down the length of a Tokyo-class carrier. (The bridge is upon the tiny stick that juts out on the left side of the screenshot.)

The Tokyo-class carrier’s hangar’s ready-to-launch complement. (Note that it has 50 total ships docked, with even more in storage.)

You can even make out the contents of the hangar from the map screen when you zoom in…

The Terran white, shiny and rounded design aesthetic extends to its station design, as well.

My asteroid belt food and medicine factory.

The habitation rings have nice-looking accommodations that are flagrantly unsafe when you consider those shields would go down and vent atmosphere under any kind of attack. Look closely, and you’ll see the tram running along the inside of the ring, though.

All-in-all, however, I really do love the aesthetics of Terran ships. I like using them just for their looks, alone, both inside and out. (A Terran capital ship bridge is a lovely place to park when you’re in the late-game phase where you’re mostly just staring at your map and managing your empire rather than flying and doing things directly.)

Team Terra: Galaxy Police

The Terran Protectorate has apparently now decided that they will be taking a more proactive stance against hunting down the Xenon than before, not even caring about the sovereignty of whatever space empires whose borders they were violating in order to hunt the Xenon down. To that end, the main new Terran plotline you get sent on (that is not unique to the Terran starts – you can do this as an Argon or even Paranid or Split) is one where you hunt down Xenon in Xenon space and in “neutral” space hypothetically between star empires.

To mitigate a diplomatic incident to no worse than it already is, you have to shoot the engines off of a mining vessel that refuses to accept your territory violations and sails near a minefield. Hey, at least I didn’t blow up the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre!

Basically, I couldn’t play this plotline without constantly hearing the Team America song constantly playing in my head, because the Terran Protectorate is pretty clearly played up as a parody of Bush-era military interventionism. (Seems a bit odd considering Terra is the human faction that still has all the Asian names, but hey, “Wait, it’s all America?” “Always has been.”)

Even your sidekick squadmate that’s desperate to prove himself doesn’t believe the hype…

… Or at least, that’s what it says in the plot parts, anyway. In actuality, the Terrans behave according to the same AI script as everyone else, so while they tend to have more powerful ships and win more fights than other races, they don’t actually behave more belligerently unless you go down a plotline that specifically sparks a(nother) war between them and the Argon. In fact, the whole thing about the Terrans maybe causing a diplomatic incident because of building a defense station in “neutral territory”? In my game, it was built right next to a defense station Antigone had already built first, meaning Antigone violated that neutrality first, anyway. (In this game, building a defense platform is staking a claim on that sector – the oldest defense platform gives the owning faction rights to the sector until someone else can destroy that defense platform, at which point the next-oldest platform claims ownership. Neutral territory can be gobbled up by the AI, and the Xenon and major factions feud quite directly and openly for territory.) In fact, during the time when the Terrans were supposedly going into Xenon-controlled space as the “only ones to take the Xenon threat seriously”, I had to fly around the Antigone military bases and even factories they had built deep inside Xenon space and watched their Behemoth-class destroyers bombard the remaining Xenon stations in the area, clearly being far more aggressive than the Terrans about this wiping out the Xenon thing.

My Katana wasn’t strong enough to trade blows with a station, so I decided to help out Antigone indirectly by drawing fire away from their capital ships while pulling evasive maneuvers to give them more time to beat the Xenon platform down. (Those Xenon L turrets are no joke – two hits destroy my ship completely.)

This is, honestly, a big reason why this sort of linear storytelling just doesn’t work for sandbox games, and you need to adopt a more procedural storytelling approach. (Of course, that doesn’t mesh as well with voice acting unless you have the budget to record a hundred hours of detailed lines for every occasion, but honestly, a not-fully voice-acted game with more depth is probably better than a game that fails to live up to its premise but has more production values…)


Of the 14 new sectors, the other 3 sectors not part of the Sol system to be added are part of the new Segaris Pioneers faction. This faction basically consists of all the space-born second-class citizens that Terra doesn’t want anything to do with anymore, along with all the Commonwealth folks who for one reason or another got trapped in the Sol system after the gate network shut down. Terra didn’t want anything to do with them, and there were a few sectors that apparently still had jump gate access while the rest of the network was shut down, so the Terran Protectorate shoved them out there and told them to settle those places.

Segaris also forms the basis for the new terraforming missions, with one amusingly obnoxious Dr. Rick Feynman and his stupendous ‘fro taking up the starring NPC role, bossing you around and grudgingly giving out the bare minimum of respect for the rest of the cast.

Dr. Rick Feynman, a man with a ‘fro so powerful, the nav beacon also latches onto it.

The distrust the Terrans have for Segaris are also amusingly demonstrated in the fact that, while the Segaris Pioneers have access to most Terran tech, they do not have access to any significant weaponry beyond the basic pulse laser and missile launchers everyone gets, and they have no dedicated L or XL combat ships. (The high relation rewards are instead for the auxiliary ship everyone else gives out at 10 relations…)

They did, however, making a few small ships of their own, including a heavy fighter with extra shielding, and my personal favorite Terran ship besides the Katana, the Takoba. The fact that it’s the only other Terran ship besides the Katana that has any speed worth a speaking about has everything to do with this.

Applying the bright “Utopia” paint scheme that is a reward from the Segaris faction to a Segaris-specific Takoma fighter.

Another amusing note is that Segarins mostly look like Terrans, except they wear blue flight suits instead of white ones, yet they also have the odd smattering of Teladi and Paranid among their ranks.

My own “main” playthrough upon which I’m basing most of what I write was also played as the Segaris Pioneer (as opposed to the Terran Cadet start that has a more militant focus and gives you a better combat ship from the start and is therefore more popular), and I rather enjoy the idea of playing as a Segarin. It puts me between Terran and Argon in nature, and I’m from the clear underdog in the galactic power struggle. Segaris is sandwiched between their Terran “allies” (plus constant Yaki pirate raids) and Antigone, which is the big sub-faction split off of Argon, with nowhere to grow without there being a war that involved plowing through either Terran or Antigone (Argon) space. Being from Segaris before winding up in Teladi space suddenly, aside from giving me an amusing role in the Segarin Terraforming Plot, put me in an interesting role-playing position, as I could pick which factions to help and which to sabotage from a standpoint of an outsider to nearly all of it looking for a way to make my fellow outsiders find a place for themselves in the shadows between the power struggles of the titans of the galactic stage.

The Segaris-start PC wonders why the precursor aliens left behind things so highly convenient for worldbuilding even though it would make no sense for any real alien to behave that way… almost like they were behaving at the whims of lazy sci-fi writers recycling ideas from other sci-fi writers…


Do you own X4 and still want to play it? You want to buy this DLC, then. It might as well be mandatory and packaged with Split Vendetta with the base game, because you’re just buying an incomplete game otherwise.

In those terms, I’d be giving it an “Autosave” normally, but this really starts to get to be too good a DLC for its own good. I mentioned it in the X4: Foundations review, but Egosoft seems to be deliberately aiming for the kind of thing Paradox is accused of doing and trying to avoid: Creating DLC that you really can’t feel the game is complete without owning. Paradox wound up even creating bundles of the “most vital” DLC to help new players when they realized they screwed up with DLC like Common Sense that you really couldn’t feel the game was complete without. Egosoft isn’t doing that, and I fear that by the time they have a complete game with all the bugs ironed out, they’ll also have a game with so many DLCs that all the people who would shower the game with praise won’t buy X4: Complete Edition because it’ll have a $210 price tag with all the DLC. (Although that’s still cheaper than Star Citizen…) Granted, that presumes there will be more DLC, which is not entirely clear.

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April 2021

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