Adventure & RPG
There really aren't many games like Soldak Entertainment's Drox Operative these days. There are quite a few space strategy games and space action games, but few people since the golden age of Escape Velocity and Space Rangers 2 have tried for a space trading RPG. There are numerous reasons why, of course, as it's an extremely difficult game type to get right. You need plenty of upgrades and new ships, a giant world, numerous missions to undertake, and a final objective you're working for. So, the question is, does Drox Operative deliver, or is it just a small step in the right direction?
It delivers, but not with the usual formula. Instead of aiming your weapons by hand, and damage being based off of what you equipped, Drox Operative bases damage off of an RPG system ala EVE Online. All you do is press the button for firing the weapon and select a target. The game does the rest. Whether that means you fire a missile, area-of-effect EMP blast, or cannon, all damage is based on the level of your base statistics, the level of the weapon, and the level of your opponent's defenses. As a result, there's little tactical maneuvering to be done besides flying away as fast as you can while tapping the fire button as they chase. On the other hand, there is a lot more depth in your development as you progress. You'll have to pick whether to focus your stats on defense, spend your money on higher-level weaponry or a faster thruster, and whether to focus your time on getting higher levels of tech for your allies. On the whole, it definitely achieves the RPG side of things.
Before you even start playing, you'll have to design the universe you enter. Do you pick a huge universe where you'll be vastly overpowered by the hordes of faction planets, or a tiny universe where they die to neutrals? Should you go with speedy quests that are hard to finish in time or slow quests that leave you with an age to complete on your own time? There aren't many decisions to make in the end, but each one will definitely color your universe a different way. Should it be a universe based off a character that you've already made, you can even select a starting level for it. If you pick a lower one than your own, enemies will fall easily but give you worthless gear. If it's higher, it's the opposite. All your choices will matter.
When you begin, you find yourself in a small ship with cruddy equipment and two races battling it out for the sector. They're both rather weak, but you're always best off not warring against a side (unless it's the Drakk). The game makes the weakest ship from any side strong enough to annihilate you early, and even late-game. As a result, you'll find yourself hunting down all the neutral mobs in an area and grinding better loot. This isn't that hard initially, but as more sides come into view and the grand wars begin, you'll be hard-put to find a safe haven. You may find your strongest ally is but a tiny speck in the universe and your best bet is to ally with your greatest enemy. It doesn't matter which side you pick, so long as that side is the last remaining race in the galaxy at game's end.
Multiplayer makes it a bit more fair, however. With enough allied ships, the operatives can become significant enough to destroy planet colonies with ease and rain destruction on your chosen foe at the time. You'll still want to keep far away and rely on missiles and other long-range weapons, of course, but it's much easier to raid the opposing sides without being utterly annihilated. If you die, the penalty is at least rather minimal. You may lose money, experience, maybe a crewmember will die, but you won't lose your ship or any of your accumulated uber gear. As a result, you just fly around killing neutrals to replenish your reserves and head right back to the front line, allies in tow. It's much more relaxed that way.
The game does have a problem or two, but that's to be expected since it's still in beta. There are slowdowns as more of the galaxy gets explored (and more data is tracked live, likely), and those do get rather extreme later in the game, but you can still play just fine. The game runs at the same speed regardless of frames-per-second, so you'll be more annoyed than hindered. Other than that, there's the occasional small hiccup, but nothing worth mentioning. It's coming along quite well at this point, and doesn't seem to have much remaining before the final version.
So, should you buy this game? Drox Operative is just fine as it stands, but it will get better. There may be new races, new ships, new weapons, more crew to pick from, and so much more! For now you can pre-order the game and receive the latest beta version (as well as a 25% discount off the release price), then spend time grinding your ship to greatness one stat point at a time. It looks like it'll be worth the effort when it finally gets here. Well, unless Heart of the Swarm comes out at the same time. In that case, it may have to wait.
Franklin Pride is a game development graduate and professional programmer/consultant for the Unity development engine. He's currently working on completing his first two computer games (The Farming Game, Uncle Fred's Deep Space Security) while consulting on the side.