In today’s video gaming world, where more and more games are carving out a very specific identity for themselves, it’s a bit refreshing when one comes along every now and again where it doesn’t give you one at all. Drox Operative, may be just that game.
That isn’t a negative reflection on the game at all, however, but rather positive, given the nature of each play-through. You assume the role of a Drox Operative, a sort-of freelancing space merchant/pirate of sorts who is sent in to stir the pot in galaxies, by taking sides in wars, aiding empires with expansion, and trading goods across solar systems. The game throws you into a galaxy at the start of the game, and that’s where you pick things up.
The gameplay is pretty simple to get used to, as it plays mostly like a top-down driving game, but with RPG elements to it. You can buy, or for the most part, plunder, upgrades for your ship, gain experience and unlock new cargo bays, better weapons and power systems, and so on. Winning the game, at least on paper, is simple enough: either be allies with the last empire(s) standing, be allied with everyone, make a boatload of cash, be feared across the galaxy, or be known as a Legend. It leaves things very open-ended, so you can take your own path throughout the progression of a game. Say for example, you want to use a weak empire with a truckload of money to earn yourself a load of credits in the early game by selling them a load of junk, then turn around and stab them in the back by wiping out their entire race? It’s totally achievable and part of the game. If you want to remain impartial, and just help out by defending people from neutral bandit ships, you can go down that route instead.
Eventually, your tale of space piracy and fear mongering will take on a life of its own, much like fellow space cohort, Faster Than Light. And that each play-through will give you a different story, is part of what makes it a great game. My first play-through I sided with the Fringe Empire early on, a race whose bodies are purely made of energy, but whose characteristics make them unpredictable and ruthless in combat. I helped them quell their planets’ civil wars, all the while slowly picking apart their enemy races. While taking them on myself single-handedly was risky, I was also able to lure bandits from the far reaches of space towards their planet to soften them up, before I finished the job off myself. This process whittled down the six empires that existed at the start of the game, to two, and from there, I had a dilemma: The last remaining race, the Cortex, was much stronger and more technologically advanced than the Fringe. I wasn’t allied with either of them, at least in an official sense, but when the Fringe declared war on the Cortex, I faced a dilemma: which horse do I back? I’d helped the Fringe throughout the entire game, yet they were still the underdogs. Do I go down swinging and hope to escape with a win, or do I betray their trust, and side with Cortex to score an easier victory?
A game like this isn’t without its faults however, but luckily they are rather minimal, and cater more to personal taste more than anything else. I noticed that the planet traders constantly didn’t have enough credits in their account to buy goods from me, so a lot of loot winds up falling by the wayside. most of my stuff wound up given to empires free in acts of goodwill to make footwork towards forging alliances. Financial victory, while it sounds easy, isn’t as straightforward as you’d expect. It irked me a little, but I understand that it’s a design choice not to have every empire swimming in credits, and the lack of funds promotes taking your wares elsewhere every now and again so as to not bank solely for one side for too long. The other issue I had was with the sound. The effects were alright, but in terms of in-game background music, I found it rather lacking and uninspired, and eventually turned to playing movie scores in order to better set the tone.
In closing, if you’re a fan of loot-em-ups like Diablo or Torchlight, and like space-based sims, this game will probably fit you like a glove, because there’s tons of goodies to pick up everywhere. Drox Operative is a solid addition to the action-RPG genre, taking elements that worked in various other games and forging them to make a unique experience that stands on its own merits.
*Disclaimer: A review copy of the game was provided to Press X Or Die by Soldak Entertainment