Drox Operative is the latest title from Soldak Entertainment, a small independent studio that strives to bring “new and unique gameplay to the entertainment industry”. Their past titles have been recognized for bringing several unique design mechanics to the ARPG fantasy genre, but now, entering into the depths of space for the first time, the question we have to ask ourselves is how they will go about bringing these type of mechanics into a space focused ARPG. What changes have been made to the formula? Is Drox Operative merely an action roleplaying game in the same vein as Diablo, or have they actually snuck some 4x space opera magic into this game?
Not just a fantasy ARPG set in space
Soldak doesn’t believe in reinventing the wheel, but they certainly aren’t afraid to tinker around with the engine, the steering wheel, the headlights, or the GPS system. From the moment you leave the intro screen and press play, Drox Operative quickly makes it is apparent that there is a lot going on in this game. As you are greeted by the initial ship creation screen, where you select and name the spacecraft you will be using and upgrading over the course of up to 100 character levels, you will quickly notice the level of detail provided in tool tips, racial stories, and options. If I had to select one word that describes Drox Operative from start to finish, I would have to choose the word options.
In a traditional ARPG or even a 4x sandbox game, after selecting their race and class (or ship in this case), the player sets their game options and begins their romp through either a single galaxy or a story based fantasy world. In Drox Operative, you will instead be completing sectors, which are similar to a sandbox campaign within a 4x game. Each sector contains multiple systems, and each of these contains multiple planets.
Each sector is completely customizable, and the player can easily make things much easier or harder for themselves based on their selections at startup. If you desire to stay in one sector for a long time, choosing a large sector size will easily achieve this. If you want the races to skip the 4x exploration and expansion phases, so you can jump right into a dynamic war between them at the start, you can do that too since the release of the .902 patch. Did I mention that the races are playing a 4x sub-game yet? Yes, in fact, they are doing quite a bit behind the scenes as you’ll soon find out.
Unlike a 4x game, once each sector is completed, you will be able to continue the adventure of your ship in a new sandbox sector full of new planets, races, quests, events, loot to trade for and collect, and monsters. Have you ever finished a game and wished you could keep your existing experience, technologies, and skills and put them to the test against a tougher challenge? With Drox Operative, you can do exactly that. From semi-hardcore mode (which allows you a few deaths, generously I suppose) to hardcore mode, from poor systems to unlucky ones, and from monsters and races comparable to you to monsters that are much higher or lower level, once again the key here is that you have options. I should also mention the 17 handcrafted challenge sectors that Soldak has included, for those who want to put their ship through some real paces.
Sounds great in theory, but how exactly is this game played?
Once you’ve created your ship by selecting your design based on appearance and initial bonuses amongst the 10 major races represented in the game, and once you’ve designed a sector that meets your needs, you’ll be thrown into a system wondering what to do. Thankfully, Drox is not shy about throwing quite a few helpful red ?’s that try to let you know exactly what you’ve just gotten into.
For the most part, you’ll be flying your ship with keyboard or mouse and trying to find a nearby race. In the process, you may encounter some monsters you need to destroy with your initial laser. As your ship grows in level and power, you’ll be acquiring new weapons including mines, missiles, bombs, beams, EMPs, and many other weapons up to and including weapons of mass destruction that literally make everyone hate you… at least a little bit more than they already did.
Finding a race starts your epic journey of questing, money grubbing, looting, and limitless destruction. Okay, I might be slightly misleading you with the limitless bit. Drox Operative is a challenging game that is simple on the surface but requires the player think strategically in order to achieve success. As you complete these tasks and level up, you’ll be equipping new items on your ship. Initially, you have 3 heavy, 3 medium, and 3 light slots.
Each of these fits different types of components, each component requires the player meet the attribute requirements, power requirements (based on your reactor or other power source), and occasionally level requirements as well. Do you keep shields on your ship and focus on engineering to get better ones, or do you want to put armor in that slot or perhaps more power so that you can equip larger weapons? What about your skills upon leveling? Are you going to focus on tactical for better weapons, helm for a faster ship, or computers for better accuracy and defensive components? You only get limited points per level, and your choices are going to dramatically impact what your ship can and can’t use as you go through the game.
You can even acquire crew members, typically by rescue or reward, and these crew members provide bonus stats at the cost of a wage and a light component slot. These crew members can in turn level up themselves, providing even greater benefit as they level. Don’t let them die in hardcore mode though, as the miracle resurrections you’ll be performing on them in normal mode won’t be an option. Dead is dead, not mostly dead in this case.
The search for quests and races are going to require a lot of travel. Travel between systems involves using your thrusters to find a directly attached star lane, a wormhole that connects distant systems, a jump gate which acts as an instant teleporter from system to system if you’ve seen both ends, and/or occasionally an unstable wormhole or anomaly which teleports you to a random system you may or may not have explored before. All in all, good clean chaotic fun full of menacing ships looking to destroy you.
To 4X or not to 4X, that is the question
Lets be clear up front that Drox Operative is NOT a 4x game. It’s action oriented, single ship, roleplaying gameplay place it much closer to the ARPG camp than the 4x one. However, this does not mean that the game does not include many 4x elements that make it much more than that either. In fact, beneath the shiny action oriented exterior, a rather deep 4X game is being played by each of the game’s ten races. Each of these races has their own agenda, their own distinct advantages and disadvantages, and their own diplomatic relationship with both the player’s Drox Operative guild and the other races of the sector. They also travel about with escort ships, diplomatic ships, cruise ships, colony and other military ships regardless of what you do. This is their world, and you simply exist within it.
These diplomatic relationships are very important, as the player’s ultimate goal per sector is to ally with the last remaining survivors, be it one race, two races, or all of them. There are 10 major races and several sub-races that compete in the game. Once this goal is achieved, the Drox Operative is rewarded with a treasure trove of desirable booty.
Drox Operative provides multiple tools to allow the player to achieve peace, non-aggression pacts, mutual protection, and finally alliances. These include the trading of currency (some call this bribery), technology found from destroyed ships, knowledge of explored but uninhabited planets, communication with unknown races, protecting their ships and planets from enemy races and monsters, propaganda, rumors, sabotage, espionage, and finally quests, which are the most common method. It is important to note that the enemy of your friend is not necessarily your enemy (unless allied), but it is generally ill advised to assist them as it will worsen relations with all of their enemies, including your friend.
Quests in Drox Operative are varied and dynamic. Here are just a few examples of issues I’ve been asked to assist with, and these are literally just the tip of the iceberg: Viruses, Comets, Super Rats, Galactic Flu, Genius Paranoia, Toxic Chemical Spills, Genetically Engineered Citizens, Hallucino Viruses, and Radiation Leaks. Beyond these, monsters in each system and across the sector level up, elect leaders, and do everything they can to make the race’s inhabiting the sector have a really, really, bad day.
The humans, an ally of mine, informed me that across the sector, in fact, many systems away from where I was, that monsters under the leadership of someone known ominously as “Claw” have started listening into their communications through the use of a listening post they have constructed. Meanwhile, I am knee deep in an effort to resolve issues with deviant asexual Lithosoids who need to be destroyed (with mild lethal weapons, of course) before their “infection” spreads. Then, while I am trying to get what I need for that, fellow Lithosoids begin protesting the asexual Lithosoids, and now I need to bring some non-lethal weapons to deal with the rioters as well.
Facing the threat at hand first, I eliminated the Lithasoid delinquents only to be met with a message that one of the human colonies had been destroyed by some monsters brought in by the listening post, or was it the gate I’d been asked to destroy in that same system as well? Either way, I was sorry for the humans, but I had a decision to make and protecting the Lithosoid culture was more important (actually, more convenient since I was already there :) ). Had the humans been much stronger in the sector than the Lithosoids, I likely would have chosen differently and tried to gain more reputation with them.
Drox Operative is a game very much-so about making decisions, prioritization, and the struggle to make it out of it all in one piece. The good news is the game doesn’t overly punish you for your failures as you will fail at times when dozens of urgent events need your attention. As long as you can avoid going to war with all remaining races, or can quickly obtain peace with one of them within ten minutes if this does occur, you will survive to continue the sector. Even still, a sector loss is only a sector loss. Your ship, as long as it is not a “hardcore” ship, will survive any number of deaths or sector losses with only a slight penalty to currency and experience.
It is important to keep in mind that it has only been just over a week since the initial beta release of Drox Operative. In that time, Soldak has already released two patches that have made dramatic strides towards improving gameplay and fixing bugs. I personally have submitted several bugs, and can say first hand that they are responding quickly to issues and taking beta feedback very seriously.
We will have a full review of the game once it reaches the release stage. If the game sounds intriguing to you, you can currently pre-order it from their site and receive both beta access and a 25% discount ($14.99 vs. $19.99) on your order. Oh I almost forgot, they have included multiplayer co-op play in the same dynamic sectors as well.
Note this “generosity” bug was fixed so they aren’t quite so umm.. generous in patch .902.
Keith Turner, also known as aReclusiveMind here on SpaceSector, has been an avid gamer ever since he first laid his hands on a Commodore 128 in the mid 1980s. He enjoys multiple computer game genres, but his primary interests are in deep strategy games, 4x games, rpgs, and action rpgs. He enjoys writing and hopes to contribute with additional reviews, previews, and informative AARs to the community. See all Keith’s posts here.Subscribe RSS
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