Explore a truly dynamic universe in our review of Drox Operative

The PC as a gaming platform thrives on small, low budget studios who throw all of their heart and passion into their next title, usually some of the soul gets lost in translation, however the developers at Soldak Entertainment know that a game isn't made great by its flashy graphics, but by giving the player simple and effective gameplay mechanics to play around with.

Drox Operative is a level based action-RPG based around systems, each system is made up of a variety of races that will trade, colonise, terraform and carry out anything that you yourself would in a complex strategy game, unfortunately these races aren't always peaceful to each other, and they'll even go so far as to actively declare war. These dynamic and evolving galaxies are without a doubt the most impressive and alluring qualities of Drox Operative, and one that makes this simple RPG a game that you should be playing.

An issue holding Drox Operative back is that funnily enough, for the very first hour or so you actually have too much help thrown in your face, the UI can be a bit confusing at times, and with lots of different menus and tutorials it doesn't help when you discover that there are 10 different tutorial boxes for you to read because of an option that you opened.

That said, once you get into the general flow of the game it is very easy to get sucked into what is essentially a very simple dungeon crawling RPG that poses as a science fiction game. It just so helps that it takes place on the backdrop of a living, breathing and expansive galaxy. However that's not all it has going for itself, and another great element of Drox Operative is that for once, you are not the hero, or the villain of the game, you're more of a puppet master.

That's right, as a Drox it is not your job to save the galaxy, beat the bad guys and be the hero, the Drox embody the ideal of making a quick buck, and not caring what happens as a result of the action. Essentially the aim of the game is to pick who you think will be the winning side, and back them up as they attempt to take over the whole sector.

Because of the nature of the game, it is quite easy to find yourself in hot water quick, Drox Operative is a totally unforgiving game, and if you truly believe that the Utopians are the best race around and back up their declarations of war, don't be surprised when the rest of the galaxy gang up on your unstoppable race that suddenly has very little power in comparison.

To counter-act your pitiful judgement calls you can always fall-back on the relations system of the game, and let's just say that the AI is not afraid to keep a grudge; you'll be hard pressed getting yourself out of a sticky situation without a lot of money to back up your requests, or some tasty new technologies. Ultimately it comes down to how much money you can give them, however the diplomacy system feels far more fleshed out than most strategy games out there, and you'll often receive requests from both your friendly and unfriendly acquaintances.

Sometimes simply sitting back and watching the world around you doesn't always work out as effectively as you might want, races may be too peaceful to one-another which is where you may have to intervene with some nasty tricks, like cause civil unrest on planets, spread rumours, sabotage water supplies and more dastardly deeds, however you aren't the only individual in the universe able to do so, so don't be surprised when another race starts spreading vicious rumours of you. Don't worry though, because the game is dynamic, so may never encounter the same experience ?good or bad- more than once.

Sitting back and watching the action unfold is simply one way to play Drox Operative, and if you want you can get in the thick of the action, you can work your way around the system wiping out every race until only one remains, protect friendly races from pirates, or just blast around fulfilling quests for your associates like colonising planets, making the galaxy a safer place, or carrying out diplomatic missions that may mean the difference between a war between two races or ongoing peace. The missions can get a little repetitive, after-all there is no overarching story to the game, however because they aren't the definitive crux of the game you never feel as though you are entering a grind-only zone.

Once you've successfully picked the winners of galactic war there's a variety of ways that as a Drox you can 'win' a sector, there's the most obvious Military win, that will help the growth of the Drox Guild by allying with the last living race in the galaxy, or there's the more friendlier diplomatic win that comes about if you can manage to ally everyone together. Money, fear and legends can also cause you to win a sector, however if things aren't going your way and you're on close to a loss, you'll be given 10 minutes to fix where you've gone wrong, or it may well be the end of the Drox as we know it.

After winning a sector, you simply set up a new one, Drox Operative is in a way, a bit like an old tower based RPG, the difficulty increases and you venture once again into the rabbit hole, only to emerge victorious and then venture back inside again, except the rabbit hole is dynamically generated and you'll probably never encounter two the same. As you reach the higher levels you'll be able to increase the difficulty further for your next slice of the galaxy, and with up to 50 levels catered for you'll have more than plenty of excursions as one of the very last Drox. If that isn't enough, reaching the heights of level 25 will open a wealth of new difficulties and modifiers to further extend the almost endless possibilities of this truly time-sucking game such as the notorious perma-death.

Now, if you are into flashy graphics and pushing your settings up to Ultra you may be taken aback by a game as humble as Drox Operative, it's not the most attractive game to look at, however if you have the tolerance to look past this, you will come to appreciate the beautiful NASA photography throughout the galaxies, unfortunately as spare faring goes, Drox Operative isn't the prettiest pick of the bunch.

One element that can get a little over your head is the copious amounts of loot on offer, because with a possible fifteen different component slots on your ship, you've the difficult decision of picking and choosing exactly how your ship operates. Will it be packed to the gills with weaponry? Or focus more on defence with a range of shields and armour plating? All this is managed with components which act as your skills in the game, and managing them all under your power load is a very tricky but rewarding aspect of the game.

Between juggling the inhabitants of a sector, building the best darn ship that ever soared and bringing the Drox up to the legendary status that they once held, Drox Operative is a ridiculously addictive, and extremely effective action-RPG, and it puts some of the higher budget PC titles out there to shame in what it achieves.

four stars

Drox Operative is available now for PC and Mac for $19.99 from the Soldak website, if you are not entirely satisfied it comes complete with a 30 day money back guarantee, but trust us, you won't be dissatisfied.

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