Drox Operative puts the player in the shoes of an intergalactic mercenary, free to do as he pleases in a pursuit of wealth or as a noble defender of planets (or their destroyer). Mingling between 10 races, the player jumps between the roles of diplomat, ship manager, and a Diablo-esque explorer.
The unusual combination works in a top-down view with simple controls and UI that is at first overwhelming. This is probably the biggest weakness of the game: although it does a good job sending tutorial boxes every few minutes, it’s hard to get around what Engineering does or where to go next. Reminding oneself that this is just Borderlands or Torchlight in a different skin helps because that’s what the game essentially boils down to.
The concept, or rather its wrapping, is compelling. The ship is composed of three different classes of items that are randomly generated: batteries, lasers, cannons, husks, and so on, offering nearly limitless customization (yet governed by the power level which specifies how many items can be working at a time). The “hero” can be assembled from any number of customized parts. Assembling a behemoth with multiple weapons and impenetrable shields delivers the greatest satisfaction in this game. It works great; it’s a novel way of connecting equipment with hero building while eliminating predestined paths such as class choices or talent trees.
Random content keeps the game interesting. There’s no shortage of junk floating around that could end up powering up the spacecraft. Things like anomalies, which upon exploring give unexpected results, keep up a genuine interest in exploring each space system, or zone. Surprisingly, after one playthrough, while thinking that all kinds of equipment can be discovered, the next one keeps your spaceship while raising the levels of enemies, and yet various new kinds of toys enter the fray. Novelty, depth, and replayability are some of the strongest values Drox Operative, fueled by random loot and the intergalactic diplomacy.
Everything is held together by the relations system, reminiscent of the newer Civilization games. Start trading and protecting a nation, and they’ll like you; complete their quests, spread rumors, and eventually they will request the destruction of a planet of an opposing faction. The beauty lies in the simple, pure freedom: it’s completely up to the player if he wants to stay loyal, maintain neutrality, or kill everyone or nearly everyone. The bold effectiveness of this tool is the forgoing of plot. After all, Drox Operative is a role-playing game. In this one, the lonely mercenary truly forges his own story, also making each playthrough drastically different.
The high initial curve and atypical setting may scare off first timers, but when given time and dedication the value of Drox Operative comes through. The graphics are not particularly spectacular, but they do their job. The music approaches monotony and is quickly forgotten. But those faults are easily forgiven in the wake of a fairly formidable framework from which the biggest game studios today can learn. It’s an addictive space RPG which keeps the rewards coming, a toolbox that gives plenty of freedom, barely ever falling into boring farming, and that’s not something a lot of productions of this kind, whether single player or MMO, can brag about.
Studio: Soldak Entertainment, Inc.