imo it is a joystick combat sim if you want it to be. i have a ton of commands programmed to my ch hotas and find the combat pretty great. i can also control rolls, pitch, yaw, and incremental side to side thrusters on my stick, throttle, and rudder pedals. the game (especially x3tc) allows the player to make lots of money from combat, so it is easier to ignore the trade and build aspects of the game.
as far as the ships looking silly, to each his/her own. i don't think there's a space sim that comes close to even looking as good. install the remove fog mod, the immersive backgrounds mod, the draw distance mod, and the colored engine trails mod, and the game looks freaking marvelous. add to that the ability to install really gorgeously rendered ships from pretty much all the most influential sci fi tv shows and movies.
agree that egosoft blew it by not making cockpit lines, though. at least the modelled the nose and side wings of the ships though.
Mobo ASUS MAXIMUS IV EXTREME (REV 3.0)
Memory CORSAIR XMS3 8GB DDR3
GPU 2 EVGA 680 FTW 4GB
CPU Intel Core i7-2600K Sandy Bridge 3.4GHz (3.8GHz)
Drives 2 HITACHI Deskstar 3TB 2 Crucial 256 GB SSD Displays 3 HP ZR30w 30" monitors
UPS Cyberpower PP2200SW
PSU Antec High Current Pro HCP-1200 1200W
Case COOLER MASTER CM Storm Trooper
Drive LITE-ON Black 12X Blu-ray
CPU cooler Noctua 6 Dual Heatpipe
Fans COOLER MASTER SickleFlow 120
OS Windows 7 Premium