Thursday, 13 December 2012

[Review] Drox Operative

Drox Operative Review
Developer: Soldak Entertainment, Inc
Demo: Available for PC and Mac

When Steven Peeler (Designer and Programmer) asked me if I would like to review a starship action RPG called Drox Operative I was quite enthralled with MechWarrior Online and gaming with an amazing friend on Perfect World. I wasn't looking to play a new game for a while and I hadn't reviewed in quite a long time, my mind and body were just not into it.

But I downloaded the Drox Operative demo, fiddled around a bit and thought to myself "Well, I'm enjoying this and I've reached the end of the demo. Let's give it a go." and thus I threw myself into the universe of Drox Operative.


Drox Operative is a top-down starship combat game (similar to SPAZ) with traditional RPG elements (levels/stats/loot/inventory), combining a rather non-linear gameplay style with other enjoyable gaming aspects such as Diplomacy, Exploration and a Dynamic Universe which develops on it's own but also responds to your actions.
Eons ago the Drox ruled the galaxy through their mighty Operatives. These elite starship captains were trained to accomplish the impossible at whatever cost necessary. Whether employing stealth or brute force, they were always deadly. Using these Operatives, the Drox built a starlane system for quick travel amongst the stars, colonised and conquered millions of planets, and ruled the galaxy with an iron grip for over 100,000 years. Eventually realising their Operatives were a threat, they attempted to assassinate all of them. They failed. The following Galactic Civil War was devastating.
Thousands of years later, the Drox are extinct, but the secretive Drox Operative guild lives on. They have learnt their lesson though: loyalty to any one race is foolish. They now work for whoever can pay. And pay they do! Empires might span hundreds of planets and thousands of ships, but when a critical task arises, they still turn to an Operative.
In the new space race, the major races are scouting, colonizing, and expanding, trying to take over the galaxy by diplomacy, technology, war, or any other means their scheming minds can contemplate.
As a Drox Operative it's NOT your job to manage all of those annoying people, build thousands of buildings, play nice with your enemies, or balance the budget. It IS your job to pick the winning side and maybe even help them conquer the galaxy if you're being nice, more importantly though is to rake in as many credits as possible, well that and build the coolest, deadliest ship in the known universe. Not many screw with an Operative captaining a Dreadnought!
So what this amounts to is you choose which race you like the most and you do everything in your power to make them the most powerful race in the galaxy by satisfying one of a few different victory conditions (Diplomatic victory, Economic victory etc.) or by failing (loss conditions). Sounds simple enough, right?

Choices aplenty

After setting up the graphics and sound options I jumped feet first right into the game. I created myself a ship belonging to a race known as the Drakk, a race of flying dragon men (how cool?!), whom have bonuses to Helm (piloting skills) and Tactical (weapons skills) as well as packing a 'Fighter Bay' as standard.

I decided to explore the sector creation options of which there are many. Soldak Entertainment, Inc have done a great job of providing a plethora of options for customising the size of the areas you'll explore to the number of races, level of the monsters and many more. This should certainly be enough to make the game accessible to new players as well as providing a challenge to experienced players. Civilisation fans and those of us whom enjoy tweaking options will be giddy with delight when they see what they can choose.

Controls are a simple affair. Using the WASD keys or using the mouse, I found it very easy to pick up how to move around. Tooltips pop up as large '?' marks next to your lower HUD area and provided me with enough handy hints to make sure that I could fly around, shoot things that I wanted to shoot and talk to people I didn't want to shoot at. The controls are also configurable which is always a pleasure to see, allowing for customisation to suit most players and keyboards.

Flying around, exploring, killing random mob spawns, looting credits and other miscellaneous other items is very simple, very easy to do and quite enjoyable but the crux of the game is more centred around the alien races and how you choose to interact with them. In this respect the game feels quite like a real time Space Rangers game. You're an entity who can choose their own allegiances, choose whom to back and whom to backstab and do whatever you feel is necessary to get the results which you want. There's no Klissan or Dominators which can take a shine off the game for some players who would enjoy a storyline but the open-ended nature of the game gives the player freedom to go any where and do any thing without an overbearing time pressure to do something about the story or be crushed by a random act of storyline catching them unaware.

Stats and Item customisation. Love the RPG feel

Early on I made friends with the first race I encountered then proceeded to accidentally steal some technology from them (oops) but they didn't notice my espionage attempt so no evil consequences there. It didn't take me very long to meet the second and third race in my three race universe. Of course, everyone is pleased to see you in Drox Operative until they learn that you're consorting with their enemy and you're left with a few choices: Join forces with the new race and squash your friends, remain with your friends and squash the new race? Both fun options... but you could also creative positive rumours between these two races to improve relations enough to call in a cease fire or peace treaty or you could just let them duke it out between each other and see who comes out on top.

To the above dilemma, I decided upon option 3, I like peace. Having travelled to the nearest planet of this new third race I incited positive rumours about the race they hated, successfully changing their relationship towards them for the better and they liked me enough to offer a peace treaty to their enemies. Excellent! I thought. One race extends the olive branch and peace exists between my friends. Less than 5 minutes later I notice that they're still beating the crap out of each other... the race I met initially still hated the guts of my new friends so they rejected every advance of a peace treaty. *sigh* It was a real pain in the bum and I had exhausted most of my credits by forming these rumours, then farming around for more credits to spread more rumours so that both races liked each other enough to become peaceful. A pain in the bum but a nice twist of realism and a smile of accomplishment crossed my face as I successfully completed my self appointed task.

Ship management is one of the features which I find most fun in this game. There is an experience system tied into a stats system and loot system. You gain levels, add stat points to things like Helm (Piloting) and Command (ship size) which in turn improve your ships abilities (or size/hardpoints) and find loot from killing things or buying them from the races which you equip as you see fit. Hardpoints are sorted into 4 categories: Heavy, Medium, Light and Race Specific. Race specific doesn't really explain the slot properly in my opinion, as they are slots which can only contain crew members from your own race or will provide benefits to certain types of modules placed in that slot. Ship Power is quite a challenge to balance. Do you add extra shields or an extra weapon with your spare slot? Do you need to drop something to add a Nuclear Reactor to provide you with more power to throw on more protection? Drox Operative gives you that Diablo-like conundrum as to how you shape your ship and how you outfit it for the tasks ahead of you.

Graphics-wise it looks like a good looking Indie game. Pleasing art direction mixed with good detail and an array of colours which cannot be described as bland nor will they blind you, Drox Operative looks very good and aesthetically appealing. If you came in expecting Crysis/CryEngine type graphics then you're sorely disappointed. If you're expecting Indie graphics quality then I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Reviewing sound and music is never my strong point. Drox Operative does a good job of apply nice zapping sounds to the lasers which are used to fry your enemies, appropriate beeps and warnings inform you of diplomatic chats, items being equipped or impending doom. Nothing sounds out of place and there are none of those cringe-worthy or irritating sounds which force you to close your ears or mute the sound. Music is present and fitting, not overbearing or annoying. The developers have kept the whole audio thing simple and haven't tried to over complicate things.

During my play testing along I created 5 ships, all using different races and swapping different ship items over via the Shared Stash to try out things like Armour and Armour Regen, weapons which reduce the abilities of your enemies and make the most of the Race-Specific hardpoints each time. The variety is impressive though I did get a slight feel that the loot system can be a little generous at times, providing you with items that seem to be much more powerful than the enemies you face or have much steeper requirements than you'd expect at the time.

One thing I have not touched upon during my review is modding. Here is a statement from the Developers:
We encourage people to modify the game if they want as long as they don't sell it in any way. See the EULA for specifics.

The pack files for the game are just normal zip files, most of the data is in there somewhere, and it is usually in a text file format, which means the game is pretty easy to modify. Also if you post questions on our forums about modding the game, we will in general help out if we can.
So plainly we will be seeing people modifying Drox Operative, making things easier, harder, more convenient etc. and maybe even adding more content to the game. As we've discovered over the years, sometimes it's the player-made content that helps to turn a good game into a great game. 


Drox Operative is a game which I say draws inspiration from games like Space Rangers and Diablo, whilst introducing some 4X elements from classics such as Civilisation to form an enjoyable eclectic mix of gaming. The addition of leveling up, multiple race choices and the random universe generator all combine together with several other elements including the loot system to produce a game which possesses a great amount of replayability. 

Should you buy Drox Operative? For me, it's a Yes. I tried the Demo and I liked it. Immediately I felt a bit overwhelmed but guided gently by the tooltips and quickly settled in to enjoy a ride which I have missed sorely since completing Space Rangers 2 a number of years back. The real time element keeps things a bit sharper and more actiony and although the lack of story will put some people off, the wide variety of options available to the player when combined with the non-linearity of Drox Operative meld together very nicely.

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