Take the Universe into Your Own Hands – Drox Operative Review For PC
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Let me tell you a story about the mighty Drox Empire and its fall from grace in the newly released game, Drox Operative, by Soldak. Over 100,000 years ago, there lived a group called the Drox, who ruled the galaxy and all of the species in it. They were deadly, focused, and the entire universe bowed under the weight of their power. How were they able to accomplish this, you ask? Simple: they had an army of Drox Operatives (elite starships and crews trained and dedicated to divide and conquer, no matter the consequence). Using these Operatives, the Drox took possession of millions of planets, and they not only built but also controlled an advanced Starlane network to travel at incredible speeds from one side of the galaxy to the other, ensuring no planet or species was beyond their reach. They ruled for a hundred centuries with a perpetual force it seemed none could escape. But with such stability, such galactic uniformity, seeds of doubt were bound to be sown. The Drox became suspicious and even afraid of their Operatives, and set out to destroy them all. This attempt failed and plunged the Drox into a Civil War with the Drox Operatives – ripping all power from the Drox until only a small group of Drox Operatives remained alive.
Over thousands of years, the Drox Operative guild has continued to invoke fear among everyone in existence. Holding no trust or loyalty to any one race, but working as mercenaries for the highest bidder, the Drox Operative has become a necessity in the battle for galactic power. As the galaxy is developing and changing, many of the major races are growing in power through expansion of their colonies, obtaining new technologies, or even going to war with other races. This is where you come in.
You are the Drox Operative, ready to take advantage of the plethora of flaws in each race. You have the ability to manipulate who holds the reigns of power over the galaxy. Will you choose to side with the race that conquers the galaxy, or perhaps defy your roots and create a shared peace with all? The choice is up to you with every mission you take, every point of contact, and every bit of intelligence you gather.
You begin your journey in the Menu screen (there is no opening video), choosing what race you wish to be. The ten races that you can choose from are as follows: Human, Dryad, Utopian, Fringe, Hive, Drakk, Lithsoid, Cortex, Shadow, and Brunt. Each race has strengths and weaknesses (for instance, the Drakk are aggressive and strong, but are slower and easy to spot; whereas the Shadow aren’t as strong, but are stealthy and accurate, making for a lot of sneak attacks), and it’s up to you to decide what kind of game you wish to play. If you can’t choose between the species, don’t worry: you can create multiple ships with different races at the helms. Once you’ve chosen your race, you’ll need to name your ship! You can name it whatever you’d like, or have a name randomly generated for you if you are not feeling particularly creative.
One unique aspect of this game is that practically everything is customizable. Once you choose and name your ship, the Pacing option will let you select one of five levels: from Very Slow to Very Fast. You can then select Sector size, How Settled the area that you start in is (from only one colony to fully established), the number of species that can exist in each sector (up to six), and the Difficulty Level (Legendary, Veteran, Expert, or Normal). If you don’t care, hit Random on all these options for a surprise universe!
You can also select the Difficulty Level of the enemies you encounter right off the bat, in case you’d like them to be a few levels higher or lower than you. There are four Advanced Options to help make the game that much more of a challenge. The Hardcore option means that if your ship is destroyed, it’s game over (“game over” meaning your progress in the game is lost, and that ship is erased from your Menu). If you choose to opt for fewer Rare Items in the game (that drop from defeated Ships or Space Junk), Unlucky is the option that you would select. Semi-Hardcore means that each time your ship is destroyed, you lose five points from your base Structure Stats, until you reach 0 Structure Stats and find yourself with a game over. Poverty means you get less Money for the Items that you find and from the random drops of Money that you get for destroying enemy Ships. You can opt to use up to three of these Advanced Options, or none of them at all. Keep in mind that once you start the game with these options enabled, they cannot be turned off.
The fighting mechanics are very simple, leaving you more brain-power to plot your galactic domination. Your ship will automatically target the closest enemy in a fight, unless you manually highlight the enemy you want to attack. The bottom of your screen has a list of slots that you can put your Lasers or Rockets in to use on your enemies and are bound to Hotkeys (1, 2, 3, etc. on your keyboard). You can move using your WASD keys, or by holding down the left mouse button and pointing the cursor in the direction you wish to travel. Clicking on objects in space – such as Planets, friendly targets, or even Space Junk – uses the left mouse button as well.
The bulk of the gameplay is less about fighting and more about using political tactics to subdue your enemies or build up your allies, which is why there is less attention paid to the space battle mechanics. Your objective is to convince the races in each Sector to use Drox Operatives in their quest to conquer the galaxy. There are several ways to win each Sector: Military Win, Diplomatic Win, Economic Win, Fear Win, and Legend Win. A Military Win is achieved if you eradicate all but one remaining race that you are allied with, while a Diplomatic Win means all remaining races at the end are in an alliance together (and with you). A Sector that becomes terrified of the Drox Operative via your destroying everything in sight is a Fear Win, whereas a Legend Win is specifically defeating notable Monsters and saving important Ships or races from extinction. The easiest way to win is via the Economic Win – obtaining a ton of money for the Drox Guild. Keep in mind that you’ll need to watch closely, as your environment changes as you play – while you are off colonizing a Planet, someone could be sabotaging a treaty between your Allies, so pay attention!
To avoid losing a Sector (and the game), make sure you don’t suffer a Military Loss, Diplomatic Loss, or Economic Loss. If a race that you aren’t allied with conquers the Sector, you suffer a Military Loss – you can tell via the Relations screen (the Hotkey is R) on the left-hand side which races have higher power, as well as see the relationship between each race and yourself (or other races). A Diplomatic Loss is when you end up at war with all the races, and an Economic Loss is when you’ve lost too much money and the Drox Guild makes you abandon your post.
Be careful to watch what is happening via the newsfeed on the left-hand side of your screen while you play – there are important real-time feeds of information that you can use to your advantage, such as news about who is attacking whom (and where), or if alliances between other races are formed. You can speak with each race and negotiate as needed, offering money, intelligence, or alliances to get what you want from them. A Loss scenario will not just pop up out of nowhere and end your game; you will be able to see it happening, and once you are in a losing scenario, you have ten minutes to fix it before losing the game. If you are worried that this game is too complex – don’t be; there are helpful tips along the way that pop up as you need them in the form of red flashing question marks at the bottom left-hand side of your screen. Once you have conquered a Sector, you can move on to the next after picking up your Rewards. Don’t worry; your crew, ship, and your installed Components are all carried over to the next Sector, so you aren’t losing any progress as you move on.
Visually, the game looks like Soldak has taken a retro space-conquest game and thrown it into a modern engine. The first impression you’ll get is that of an Asteroids remake or something like it, and even the character pictures are very simplistic in nature, relying more on colour than detail. Take this foundation, add in graphics like stardust, wormholes, and electromagnetic fields, and it definitely feels more realistic than games of old. The music is also very close to the same type of 8-bit themes that you would come to expect from such a classic game style, though with only two songs interchanging, it can get a bit dull, and the notification sounds are high-pitched and annoying. There is no voice acting, as the game has strictly text-based interaction between you and everyone else, which can be useful if you want to mute the volume or turn down the music in general.
A notable issue with the game is in the Quests – some quests are vague and leave the player standing around, waiting for something to happen, which in a time-sensitive game is especially detrimental. There are several quests that ask you to colonize a planet. Once this is complete, the colonized planet requires you to sit and defend it until reinforcements arrive. While this concept is fine in itself, there is no indication of how long this will take or how the event is triggered. Even flying around the same section does not always lure enemies to the planet, and when it does, there are no indications of how many you need to defeat. On two separate occasions, I personally sat in front of a planet that I was to defend (for over half an hour on one mission and only 15 minutes on the other) while important events were happening around me, and no enemies arrived. Then as soon as I left, I obtained a notification that the quest had failed, and the planet was destroyed.
On the flipside, the interactions between you and the different races, and the interactions between the races and each other, can be the most amusing and fascinating part of the game. Everything around you, from the alliances to the colonies, is constantly expanding and changing, and each environment is different, so you’ll never have the same game twice. There are many parts to the dialog: speaking with each individual planet as you arrive there; getting communications from a specific race’s Starships; or talking to the people as a whole via the Relationship screen. I personally almost fell out of my chair, giggling with glee, when a Dryad colony that I was talking to advised me, “If you run into a stone angel, don’t blink.” The developers at Soldak obviously had fun injecting science fiction favourites from both media and gaming into Drox Operative, and gamers everywhere will thank them for it!
Drox Operative is so dynamic that you can even receive communications from Allies or Enemies about deals that you’ve made and they have caught wind of, or from different Allies spreading rumours to you about other races. You can also visit planets and do the same thing to them – spreading rumours, creating false propaganda, stealing secrets from them, or even sabotaging their planet altogether. This level of interaction gives the player so many ways to destroy the galaxy and make its people bend to their will. As stated above, this game is more a test of political tactics than your ability to respond under heavy fire – though you can find yourself in an ambush from time to time, so don’t underestimate the importance of keeping your ship as upgraded as possible!
For such a diverse and complex game, Drox Operative delivers in terms of ease of gameplay, length, and entertainment overall. If you’re looking to test your skills of manipulation or “negotiation,” this is the action RPG for you.
Drox Operative receives a 4.5/5.0
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