The action RPG genre has seen a wave of new talent in the last few years from the indie community. Soldak Entertainment may not have the reputation of Blizzard, but that doesn’t mean that their games are any less innovative.
Their last title: Din’s Curse combined ARPG gameplay in a non static world: Forcing the player to balance dungeon crawling with saving a town from all manner of attacks. With Drox Operative, Soldak is setting their sights on a much grander setting: The Universe.
Drox Operative‘s shake up from Din’s Curse, is that instead of existing in a fantasy town for each game, the player is now a part of a 4X Universe. But instead of running a species in a giant game of galactic war, you are the lowest creature on the power ladder: a mercenary for hire.
Your mission as a Drox Operative is to bring stability to each sector of space. Whether that involves being a peacemaker or a doom bringer is up to you. Each species in the meantime is doing their best to exert themselves as the dominant force in the sector. And as you are busy completing missions and exploring space, they’ll be improving their technology and dealing with the other species.
Missions will pop up from the aliens that you meet forcing you to decide who to help, and who to ignore. Each mission you accomplish for a species will help them in their power struggle a little more, while possibly hurting someone else. Meanwhile, each species is playing the game at the 4X level: Making treaties, researching new ships and going to war. Even if the player just decides to explore the sector, everyone else will continue to go about their business.
Your overall mission is to be on the winning team which can be done in several ways. From wiping everyone out, to aligning yourself with the dominant force and so on.
As with Din’s Curse, your avatar in the game can be built however you want. At the start of the game you’ll create your operative by choosing a species. Each species will affect bonuses from specific attributes, starting equipment/ship and determine what bonus gear you’ll earn on level up.
After that you can generate a new sector of space based on a variety of factors and then it’s time to go exploring.
Don’t let the screenshots worry you, even though you’re playing in space, you won’t have to worry about complex controls. Movement is done either through mouse clicks or WSAD, while number keys or the right mouse button can be set up to use your weapons.
In Din’s Curse, the heart of the customization system was in the skill trees that you picked and upgraded for your character, which left the loot a bit dry.
Drox Operative switches things up with a greater emphasis on loot and equipment management.
Every piece of equipment in Drox Operative is categorized by weight of light, medium and heavy, or represented by green, yellow and red respectively in your inventory. Each ship starts with the same number of slots for each type of equipment along with species specific slots that can only hold specific equipment types.
The other side of managing your ship is power. Most components will require power to function, which this cost increases as you find better equipment. To increase your power output, you’ll need to equip components like power plants. Going over your power limit will result in your ship being weakened and should be avoided.
There is a lot of equipment to find in Drox Operative: From lasers to missiles, crew members, fighter bays and much more. When combined with the different qualities available, gives you a lot of ways to customize your ship.
Each component has an attribute requirement dictated by its type: weapons have tactical and armor has structure for example. Each time you level up, you’ll gain 5 points that can be distributed. One important attribute: Command determines how big your ship is which in turn affects how many component slots you have available.
While it may seem like a sound strategy to constantly upgrade command, each time your ship becomes bigger, will add to the weight slowing it down. This forces you to balance ship size, with finding and upgrading your engines to counter the weight gain.
The biggest improvement from Din’s Curse to Drox Operative would have to be the win conditions. In Din, you needed to complete enough quests to win each play.
But the longer that you were playing, the village could suffer random misfortunes, and when you’re trying to wrap up the game, these events would slow you down.
With Drox, keeping with the 4X theme there are now multiple ways of winning each sector. While random events can happen at any time, it’s a lot harder for an early event to make the current play impossible to win.
The greater variety of loot helps to motivate the player and at this time the jury is out on whether Din’s skill tree system or Drox’s loot provides more replay ability for the player. I only have a few issues with Drox, currently it can be a little tricky to find quest related planets. Because each planet has a random name attached, it can be hard to pick it out quickly on the map and quest screen.
Also, finding the warp gates needed to travel can be a pain. As you won’t know which systems have multiple warp gates unless you travel around the entire length of each system. This, combined with the rate that events can happen can leave you unable to find the correct system, until it’s too late.
For people new to Soldak’s style, I highly suggest starting out with at least normal pacing or slower selected. The reason is that on the higher settings, events can pop up so fast that it can easily overwhelm someone new trying to learn the game. With the variety of loot, along with power consumption ratings, there is a little bit of information overload when trying to decide what gear is best for your ship.
Currently you can either buy or download the demo of Drox Operative from Soldak Entertainment’s site.
Buying the game early will get you access to the beta, at this time, Soldak will try to provide Steam keys for pre-orders, but it isn’t definite.
For fans of Soldak’s previous titles, Drox Operative is more to love in a new setting. And the new mechanics and pacing help a lot to differentiate it from other ARPGS and can be a great introduction for newcomers to Soldak’s style.