As a man of many words, I find myself confused and a bit bewildered by how little I have to say about Drox Operative. The game contains no obvious design confusions, scope issues, controversies, or immediate problematic shortcomings. It is exactly as advertised, which is itself very remarkable. I will go ahead and say that if you like the description and screenshots as depicted on Soldak’s website, then it is worth the money. That gets the end of the review out of the way, so let’s get into more specifics.
To rely on game title alchemy, my initial impression was ″Escape Velocity: Diablo″, but with time I kept finding myself going back to STALKER. I was investigating anomalies like in STALKER, but what really drove home the similarity was that I was in a living game world in which I am a valid participant, but not a required component. Drox Operative is an action RPG with no spells, awakening evils, or courageous heroes. There isn’t even a clear good-evil dichotomy, and though death is always a threat, most everything is a fluid experience, thanks to escape pods. You see, in other action RPGs you control a hero who grows in power through completing mundane tasks and repetitious actions. Their bodies become stronger, and their weapons and garb bequeath more illustrious but quantifiable benefits, all for the sake of preparing themselves to take down a grand evil (and to see what neat stuff he drops).
Drox Operative has all the investment and reward aspects of this system, but it concerns your spaceship. Suddenly the genre’s trappings aren’t so silly, or so arbitrary. Higher level enemies are such because they have done more. In fact, you can see them leveling if they live long enough, and thus are tougher because they have augmented their ships better. It is no mystery that superior plating, better deflectors, more weapons, and a better engine are going to make them a challenge. In the same way, you grow as well. In one single setting and persona shift, Drox Operative has made the game mechanics part of the game world instead of a constraint upon it.
With game mechanics at its side rather than before it, Drox Operative is poised to have sensible combat exchanges, which it does. You may expect spreadsheets in space, stat crunching, and it can come down to that, but the tides of combat can turn through quick manual maneuvering and judicious use of your energy levels. Instead of firing your lasers at every opportunity, save the power to use those pinpoint devices to destroy enemy rockets in flight, saving your shields, and striking while the enemy is reloading. This is not a dominant strategy though, as large groups (and I have encountered a good dozen enemy ships at once) will overwhelm such attempts. Here creative flight is your friend, where you can attempt to cluster them to drop a fusion mine for maximal group damage, or better, draw them toward a different enemy’s planet, and try to escape while they battle it out.
Yes, I said a different enemy. Drox Operative offers good action, but it also offers a wealth of diplomatic options for each race you encounter. Peace is actually fairly feasible, and even in an aggressive play style, you will meet with more success by maintaining good relations for the bulk of a session with everyone you meet. Race relations is demonstrated through a simple map screen. A round table of races is presented to display their disposition toward one another, as well as any pacts they may have. Once the dust settles, be it debris or confetti, victory is had by the remaining parties allied with the Drox. Killing them all results in an empty sector of space that is useless for the Drox.
The quickest way to victory is to engage in trade, solve quests, help defend their planets, and if necessary, go to war with them. I know the AI doesn’t process it, but it still felt awkward to me flying through a war zone between two races just so I could use the shop on one of their planets, as I wanted to sell a few spare deflectors. I know the AI also doesn’t process it, but I felt terrible guilt when a race that liked me, with whom I had just signed a non-aggression pact, was wiped out while I was in another area.
Things like that happen in Drox Operative. Entire wars are waged without you, but not always to elimination as they too can offer and sign peace treaties. You cannot count on the AI to wipe themselves out while you collect the spoils. The AI will even get a bit testy with you if you accept a gift (they offer gifts and pacts to you sometimes) from someone they are not on good terms with. I was often embarrassed by my lack of diplomatic awareness in these matters.
If this wasn’t enough for you, the systems are randomly generated and the player has their pick of races to start which determines base traits and your initial ship. The fact that the ship isn’t a simple hunk of metal, but a device of deflectors, plate shielding, individual components which can be damaged, and which each have their own energy and repair requirements. It is also game with a lot of ″End Game+″ scenarios, including multiple difficulty and hardcore modes which are unlocked based upon cumulative levels of ships you have in total. Further than that is the presence of cooperative multiplayer which I was not able to participate in as no servers were found, nor did I have a friend to play with locally (as it supports that too). If you enjoy Drox Operative, there is a nigh infinite amount of it.
It is not a flawless game. It is a bit daunting at first, a bit overwhelming, and as such it may turn away some people, but I would encourage you to hold out as it is worth the learning curve. Though not deal breakers, I did find many facets of the UI difficult to comprehend. The game is very colorful, so much so that the context of the given highlights can be lost and instead of drawing my eye, I tended to skim with a lack of focus. This is amplified in the inventory and shop screens, as every item is colorful, but is also framed with a color corresponding to what sort of component it is, and may have a red X in it if you don’t meet requirements, but may also have a red circle with a white question mark if you need to identify it. There are no sort options that I could find. I also spent a fair bit of time hopping from planet to planet to sell things, as the sell area is also the buy back area, meaning that when you sell an item, it populates one of the two buy back slots. This gave me the impression that the sell slots were full, and sure I felt like a dolt when I discovered otherwise, but I felt this could have been handled better. Simply put, if there was one thing I would like to see changed in Drox Operative, it would be the abundance of highlights and the UI in general.
There were also a few functional problems, such as receiving a mission which involved being in another area, but taking a very long time to find said area. The game assumes you have already found the star lane, or will soon, but I managed to find numerous other places before locating the region of one of my first quests. Perhaps the race which sends you on the quest could recognize you as being new to the area (and they do greet you as such) and place a marker on your map for the goal? I typically don’t like such things, but as the first quest outside of the starting area it would be nice. I also found it difficult doing battle near anomalies, and not for why you would think. If an enemy flew near an anomaly and I clicked on the enemy to attack, the anomaly would take precedence and my ship would immediately move towards it and begin identifying it.
I don’t want to identify, investigate, or explore anything during a battle, I want to survive it, but Drox Operative had other ideas. Now I keep my battles to the open empty spaces. You can’t always do that though. What if you are trading with a planet and it comes under attack? I found that in many cases if I tried to shoot at an enemy, my ship would move toward theirs, but open back up the planet menu and not fire. I had to fly well beyond the planet’s gravitational range and then my weapons would function properly.
This didn’t always happen, but it is something I have come to expect. Opposite the lines of what I have come to expect is a complete one off situation, but it caused me great frustration. I installed an EMP on my ship and had it as a secondary weapon, I would use lasers and when they got close, I would fire the EMP. I then found a better laser and switched out the old for the new, but no go. Whenever I attacked with it, only the EMP would fire. I tried multiple lasers and missiles, all of which I met the stat and energy requirements for, I double checked my repairs, but until I uninstalled that EMP, no other weapon would work.
Drox Operative also boasts a number of uncommon but thoughtful touches in the form of additional options. From the ability to export your character sheet in HTML or a vBulletin format, to playing in a borderless windowed mode, with or without constrained mouse (a livestreamer’s dream), on to a plethora of gameplay configuration options such as low quality item filters, tool tip delays, and smart laser targeting based upon range. The thoughtfulness for the end user continues with a wide variety of resolutions supported, as well as the ability to choose your format and quality levels for screenshots (with detailed tooltips explaining the options), on to selecting your keyboard layout style: QWERTY, QWERTZ, AZERTY, and Dvorak. Not only does Drox Operative have a surprising amount of configuration options, it left me wondering how we went without so much consideration from a developer before.
The thing is, I am scraping the bottom of the barrel for these complaints, including that one off situation I mentioned earlier. Drox Operative is a great, deep, action game. I can play it for five minutes to satisfaction, or lose hours and have so many stories to tell. 2012 was a big year for action RPGs with multiple high profile releases and announcements, but Soldak has made possibly the best one yet, and it didn’t involve a single unique collectible item to gain unrelated stat bonuses. Unless you hate action RPGs, go buy this today.
- Time Played – 11 hours
- Widescreen Support – Yes
- Resolution Played – 1680×1050
- FOV Slider – Not Applicable
- 5.1 Audio Support – Yes
- Control Scheme – Keyboard/Mouse
- DRM – License key
- System Specs – AMD Phenom II X6 3.2ghz, 16gb RAM, Radeon HD 6850
- Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
- Demo – Yes
- Availability – Official Site
- Bugs/Crashes Encountered – Context sensitivity problems, one-off inventory issues.
- Saved Game Location – AppData\Local\DroxOperative