Two hours into X3: Terran Conflict, and two things are clear. One, I could probably really get to enjoy this game. I've managed to go two hours into this space combat sim without firing a single shot. I chose the "Humble Merchant" start, and not only does it allow you to be a merchant, it doesn't actually give you any weapons with which to defend yourself . . . a fact that took me two attempts at finishing the "Flight School" mission to even realize.
Which leads me to my second realization - I don't know what the hell I'm doing. I may have started out a merchant, but it wasn't until I'd played for about an hour that I even learned how to buy and sell things. I made a few embarrassingly bad deals in the "barter" screen before I looked up a guide and learned the actual, physical controls that would allow me to use the much more efficient "trade" screen. (You have to click on the commodity to buy or sell, and then use the right or left arrow buttons, respectively).
Once I learned how to do that, I had a pretty good time making some preliminary deals, and wound up tripling my starting money. It mostly involved looking through menus and letting my ship fly on autopilot, which sounds tedious, but is actually exactly the sort of gameplay I love. However, I came to realize that this opportunistic shuffling of goods within the starting sector was probably not the best way of experiencing the game, so I went online to look up some trading strategy guides . . .
And holy shit, am I out of my depth. There are apparently a bunch of ship upgrades I should be buying, and if I acquire more freighters, I can set them to automatically ply some of my trade routes, and once I get enough money, I can build factories and mines of my own, which all sounds like exactly the sort of thing I like to do, but I hadn't even realized it was possible. Nothing in the game itself tried to point me towards this sort of economic activity. Hell, I didn't even realize that stations with available missions had a special icon in the scanner. I don't know what I thought those dollar signs and light bulbs meant, but I guess I assumed they'd become obvious as time went on.
I guess I have a choice here. Do I try and figure out the (apparently) dizzyingly complex trade system, puttering around the maps in my unarmed freighter moving goods from one location to another and more or less completely ignoring the central premise of the game, or do I start over with one of the other game setups, and potentially get involved in the game's actual story? I'm torn. I really like the idea of building a trade empire, and spending an unreasonable amount of time sorting through menus. On the other hand, that really wouldn't be doing the game justice, and I should probably at least try and get involved with the galaxy's major issues (which, I'm guessing from the intro animation, probably have something to do with dangerous rogue AIs and massive ideological battles about the proper role of technology in society)..
For now, I'll stick with trade, but if I haven't made much progress after a few more hours, I'll reconsider that stance.