Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship ManaPool. Its five-day mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before. Or so I thought. The first voyages of the starship ManaPool were rather short lived. Drox Operative is hard, very hard. The game has a steep learning curve and has absolutely no problem throwing impossible encounters at you. Two ships and about 6 hours later, I started having a vague clue of what was going on.
Drox Operative is best described as Depths of Peril in space. We did a review of that game, also by Soldak Entertainment, back in 2010. Drox Operative is essentially an Action RPG in the same category as Torchlight, Diablo, etc. The big difference to any of those other games is that Drox Operative dares taking some risks and introducing new elements to the genre.
You play as a part of the Drox Operative Guild and you control a single starship, which can be upgraded as you gain experience and crew points. Much like other action-RPG’s, you fly around and kill things. Loads of things. If you survive the often brutal encounters, you will gain experience and loot, and the cycle essentially repeats itself. Where this game does things a little different is that each game you’re part of a living and breathing universe. There are a number of races present, who have their own agendas and interests. These races give you quests; you can trade at their planets and they go to war with one another. Essentially, imagine a 4X universe where you are an independent pilot flying around and doing missions for all of the races in the game. That’s very much what a game of Drox Operative is like.
These races will go about their business, form relationships with one another, colonise planets and respond to threats both internal and external. You decide how to interact with them. You can form pacts, alliances or even go to war with any of the races in the game. You can choose to help one race, all of them or none at all – it’s completely up to you. Personally, I went about my business picking up as many quests as I could in order to gain experience and level my crew. Gaining levels gives you the ability to upgrade your ship, fit more modules on it and so forth.
Managing your ship and its equipment is quite a challenge at first, and there’s a much steeper learning curve than in most games of this genre. There’s huge depth to the item and equipment system – and you have to carefully balance offensive and defensive modules with power generation, power usage, etc. It’s a constant decision process. If you don’t fit those bigger thrusters, your ship will be slow, but if you do – you might need a bigger power generator. I spent much time swapping items around, thinking of how to build my ship and reveling in how complex and deep this system really was. There’s a huge array of items to choose from and many different types of weapons. If anything, I almost felt I never had enough space on my ship and the game doesn’t guide you particular well in this area.
This is really Drox Operative’s major problem. Whilst the game has enormous depth, a lot of people will find it hard to get into the game and even get to the point where they’re able to explore this depth. The game can be incredibly difficult, and early on it’s very frustrating when there are a thousand things happening around you and no real idea what’s going on. A quick glance at the stats on Steam confirmed this suspicion, as many of my friends have played Drox Operative but not many of them have managed to get beyond the second or even first hour. A shame, as the game doesn’t really show its true colours and depth until you’ve played it for a while and things start to make sense.
Equally, the more interesting options regarding weapons and modules don’t really come into play that quickly – nor the diplomacy system, depth of the quests, the way the races interact, etc. There’s so much depth that I’m not even sure how to describe it all. Big bosses can exist on the map, who spawn smaller ships and send raids to the various races. If left unchallenged, these can become a huge threat as they evolve and get stronger over time. In one of my first games, I thought I had explored everywhere until I ran into a giant starbase. That thing killed me in about 2 seconds – before I had time to finish saying ‘holy crap.’
Other strong points are the way the game carries your ship, experience and all equipment over from one game to the next. You can spawn a sector, as big or small as you like, set the game parameters and have a go. A quick small game or a long big map, no problem at all. Once you win or lose, you can take the exact progress you made into another map. If you do win, you get a reward chest, which usually spawns some pretty decent items which will come in handy on the next map. When you create a new map, you can choose the level the enemies are – which enables you to make things easier or more challenging for yourself. You can level up all the way to level 100 and there are a ton of different races you can play which provides enormous replayability.
Drox Operative deep down really is a good game. It dares to do things differently, and it adds enormous depth to a genre which normally is pretty shallow. The problem is that this depth is not very accessible, and it takes quite some effort from the player to get past the steep learning curve and start truly enjoying the game. Up to that point it can be frustrating and will even chase away a lot of people. But if you’re into games of this kind, you owe it to yourself to try it a little longer. There’s a demo of the game on Steam so you can try it without any risk. Give it some time though and read some basic guides, as it does take a few hours before things start making sense. It’s worth mentioned that Drox Operative supports multiplayer co-op, so you can play together with your friends if you wish.
- Huge depth & loads of loot
- Does things differently
- Fun combat system
- High replayability
- Steep learning curve
- Initially a bit frustrating
- Can get a little repetitive
- Looks a little dated
OS: XP or newer
Processor: 1.5 GHz Pentium 4
Memory: 256 MB RAM
Graphics: GeForce 2 or better
Network: Broadband Internet connection
Hard Drive: 200 MB available space