Drox Operative Review: In Space, No One Can Hear You Loot
There’s a moment in RPG’s that I call the bounce. It’s when you grab that new weapon or armor, learn a new skill, or level up, and for about five minutes, you’re an unstoppable force, thrashing enemies left and right. But then, the enemies catch up to you in strength again, and you play more carefully and strategically until the next bounce comes along and you can wreck shop again.
Drox Operative is another entry in the endless succession of Diablo clones in the indie market, but Drox Operative’s hook is that it takes place in space, and instead of being a hardy adventurer armed with swords and shields, you control a full spaceship armed with plasma cannons and….well, shields.
Starting the game, you can select from ten different races, all with different benefits, and name your ship whatever you want. Then you choose what kind of space sector you want to play in, and the level of customization is rather impressive, you can have a huge, sprawling sector filled with loads of systems, and only three races vying for control of it all, or you can play in a tiny sector, four or five systems total, with six races all trying desperately to get some elbow room. You can make the enemies stronger or weaker than you, you can speed up or slow down the pace of experience gain, you can choose how pre-settled the planets in the sector are.
Once you’ve picked all the options to get the sector set up the way you want, you spawn near the jump gate of one system of the sector, and then you can control the game using the keyboard or mouse, or a mix of both, and the keyboard controls can be re-assigned however you like. The mouse controls can’t be reassigned, but they’re intuitive and will be familiar to anyone who has ever played a Diablo game or clone.
The core of the gameplay is simple, just flying your spaceship through star systems, exploring, looking for enemies to kill, blasting them with lasers, cannons, missiles, and mines while trying to keep your shields and armor up, looting the money and components they drop. As you gain experience, you will, of course, level up your ship, and this will allow you to spend points upgrading your stats, including upgrading your ship to a larger variant. Enemies get harder to kill as you progress, naturally, but you have multiple inventory slots for gear you can install on your ship, heavy items such as weapons and engines, medium items like shields and armor, or light items like crew and computers. Figuring out which configuration is best is up to you, but there’s plenty of wiggle room – if you want to install three railguns, go right ahead, though you’ll have to reduce your maneuverability and armor substantially to do it. And the items follow the standard rarity scale, though they’re named common, rare, elite, artifact, and legendary.
There’s also a fairly substantial political/diplomacy mechanic – you can ally yourself with any race in the galaxy, if they like you well enough, and you can declare war on any race in the galaxy, and just about anything in between. You can try to sabotage other races, spread damaging propaganda, trade with them, or donate technologies, all of which will affect your relationship with them and their ability to conquer the sector.
There’s absolutely no story to speak of. You belong to a guild called the Drox Operatives that used to rule the galaxy, but they are now considered elite mercenaries, made up of members of all races, and loyal to none. Your job is to ally yourself with the strongest race in the sector and make a ton of credits – that’s all. That’s the extent of the story. But in the game’s defense, each playthrough will build its own narrative, in a manner of speaking. Even without your involvement, the struggling races will erupt into war, create alliances between themselves, betray those alliances, and the dominant race will frequently change in one playthrough. Still, if you’re like me, and enjoy a good narrative in your games, Drox Operative will disappoint.
Expect to die in this game. The game can be difficult, but again, the game pretty much lets you determine your difficulty in exact detail, so if it’s too hard or too easy, you can simply bump it up or down again on your next playthrough. And death doesn’t have a large toll – an XP penalty that has to be worked off – but again, you have the option of increasing the penalty through Hardcore and Semi-Hardcore modes.
Playthroughs can be relatively short, depending on how you set up your game. There are five ways to win – military victory by allying yourself with one race and helping them take over the sector, a diplomatic victory by allying with all remaining races in the sector, economic victory by making enough money to please your Drox overseers, fear victory by making all the races afraid of you, or the legendary victory, becoming a living legend by killing tough enemies and completing tough quests. You can lose, if an unallied race conquers the sector, if you find yourself at war with all remaining races, or if you lose too much money. You’ll have ten minutes to try and fix a losing scenario, but odds are, if you’re already in one of those positions, you’re out of luck.
The graphics are okay, nothing really special going on here. This game won’t be pushing people to run out and upgrade their graphics card. Having said that, most of the ship designs are elegant and pleasing to look at, and the systems themselves are varied and colorful. Despite the game’s rather small download size, 158MB, there are plenty of advanced graphical options to play with.
The sound is another matter. The sound effects are generally fine, what with explosions being quite pleasing, but lasers sounding like they stole the sound effect from an Ed Wood movie. But the music….yikes. Someone did clearly put time and effort into it, so I’m trying not to be insulting, but I didn’t like any of it. In fact, after a few hours of play, I muted the in-game music and ran Windows Media Player in the background so as to have something pleasing to listen to.
I’d like to review the multiplayer, but I was never able to connect for some reason. I tried every server zone, but I never found an available game, and I opened games that no one ever joined. I can’t be certain why that is, so I won’t be docking any points for it, but I can say that the game does appear to support LAN play as well.
Overall, I liked Drox Operative, there is definitely fun to be had here, but it got a bit too repetitive for me. I’ve been burned out on loot-fests and Skinner box leveling, and those things are part and parcel of the Drox Operative experience. The addition of diplomatic options helps, but without a strong, interesting narrative, I don’t think I’ll be playing Drox Operative again. But it’s a solid enough RPG with impressive enough replayability that I feel comfortable saying that if you still enjoy finding loot and killing hundreds of enemies and leveling up, then you’ll get your money’s worth out of Drox Operative and possibly more.
This game was reviewed after 20 hours of play in single-player.