Drox Operative

This one was a strong recommendation by a Broken Forum member who is absolutely insane about space-themed games. Its developer is the small and independent Soldak Entertainment. I’ve never played any of their games but they made a name for themselves a few years back with their action RPGs set on a procedurally generated maps. The really big deal however was that unlike traditional RPGs in which quest givers are content to wait around forever for the player to get around to doing them,  in these games the world moves on even while the player does something else and quests can become irrelevant. There may even be other agents moving about the game world doing the quests if the player doesn’t get around to them in a timely manner.

Drox Operative works similarly though in this case you control a spaceship instead of a fantasy hero character. In practice, everything works pretty much the same as in similar games since the first Diablo except that you have no melee attacks. Your ship has various slots in which you put components like computer parts, weapons, armor, shields and so on. Energy works like mana. Your stats govern the quality of the components you can equip. As you kill enemies and complete quests, you earn experience points which lead to higher levels and character points to spend on stats. One difference is that instead of a selection of fantasy classes to choose from, you get ships of different races instead and they don’t really seem to differ that much one from another. They have different race-specific slots and bonuses but the differences aren’t really that dramatic in terms of play-style.

Since everything is procedurally generated, there’s isn’t really an overall plot. The point is simply to become powerful and win each map. There are various types of victory conditions, for example a military victory is achieved when only one faction is left standing and you, the player, are allied with that faction. A legendary victory is achieved simply by killing enough monsters and doing enough quests. An economic victory comes from earning enough money and so forth. In practice, I find that you rarely have much control over which type of victory you can achieve. Very often one faction or alliance of factions will gain an advantage and roll over the remaining factions surprisingly quickly so the only practical option is to quickly ally with them. Trying to be neutral and fight only monsters rarely works as factions become angry if you do quests for their enemies even if they are against monsters and bosses.

Between the race-specific ships and different components, there is some room for having different builds but not as much you are used to in action RPGs. Plus since space has no geography and everything is procedurally generated, it’s not as if exploration is much fun. This makes the game feel like much more of a grind than other RPGs. If the achievements are anything to judge by, you’re expected to complete an astonishing number of maps and it’s hard to say that the experience of each one feels much different. There’s even little to differentiate the various factions since it’s almost impossible to find anything good available for sale from them. They’re just generic quest givers and the only thing that matters to you is which faction is currently winning the map.

That said the game does have the addictive quality common to all action RPGs. When you get some powerful new components you feel like levelling up to earn the character points needed to upgrade stats so you can equip them. Killing bosses and seeing them drop half a dozen components at a go feels like Christmas for example. It can also be kind of fun to experiment with different weapons especially as you can carry different types in your holds and switch them around as needed, the only penalty being the few seconds of downtime needed to install the new components. It’s useful for example to equip beam weapons against fast moving fighters and projectile weapons against big and slow battleships. I also found it rather cool to participate in gigantic faction on faction battles with dozens of ships on either side though don’t expect to change the tide of a war all by yourself.

Unfortunately the generic nature of grinding through map and map and shooting at wave after wave of enemies and the game’s lack of any real personality gets tiresome really quickly. The game’s living world has an admirable ambition but it’s nothing compared to Space Rangers 2. The graphics are at best serviceable and you quickly train yourself to ignore the fluff text. What’s left isn’t altogether without merit but all the while playing Drox Operative I kept thinking to myself that I’d much rather be playing the first Diablo. When you put it like that, it seems like there’s little reason to buy this game or spend any time playing it.

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