When X Rebirth was announced back in April, there wasn't a huge amount of information to ponder so it seemed natural to expect something similar to previous games in the series. Turns out that while there will still be a great deal of piloting and trading, some things have indeed changed. The most significant shift is the focus to one ship, The Pride of Albion, which is upgradeable and customisable but cannot be switched out for a different vessel. In a forum post outlining some details about the game, Bernd Lehahn pre-empted the horror of the fanbase: "But before you get upset and complain about the lack of freedom to steer other ships, WAIT". Are you waiting? Because that command was capitalised. OK, now click.
Drones are the answer to the lack of freedom. Instead of flying around in all kinds of fancy ships, you'll be plugging all kinds of fancy drones into the Albion and then piloting those drones about the place, which, lest it be forgotten, is space. So instead of leaping into a light fighter craft to engage speedy enemies, you'll launch a light fighter drone, still controlled from a first person perspective and in many ways much like a ship. Why the difference then? According to Bernd, giving the player remote control of the drones will allow them to be used in more diverse situations, perhaps driven by the fact that losing a drone won't mean losing the pilot, which is you.
The use of an individual ship with a crew that can be interacted with is suggestive of the Normandy, as well as a more general plot-driven approach, although it certainly doesn't discount with the possibility of ignoring that plot. There are hints that we'll be learning about the Albion's history and, of course, writing a bold new chapter in that history. A chapter that will involve boldly transporting cargo to make bold profits if I have anything to do with it.
Capital ships, which are customisable if not pilotable, already sound amazing, with the player able to walk around them, interacting with crew and experiencing the movement of the ship in real time from on board. The physics engine will even allow the Albion to fly along their surface, taking out turrets and other features, navigating across and around them even as they drift and maneuver. I like that idea a lot; done right it should capture the sense of scale of these behemoths. You'll also be able to pilot the Albion through the innards of larger ships, which should further emphasise their absolute mind-boggling immensity.
Egosoft promise more updates on their forums over the coming weeks and you can read the details so far in the info posts right here.