Drox Operative: 4X Gaming on a Micro Scale

1 - Boom Boom
Boom Boom Boom Went the Aliens…

So you know those giant 4X strategy games such as Master of Orion II or Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion? If you don’t, go play them right now. Seriously, I’ll wait for you to come back… We good? Alright, now as you know, games like those and others are grand strategic enterprises involving the workings of entire empires to explore the universe and make their their mark on it. In Drox Operative, however, you’re given a different perspective on the whole empire building thing…

3 - Freaking Lasers!
Freaking Laser Beams!

Drox Operative takes a unique and differing approach to this kind of galactic expansion and exploitation. While there are indeed various empires vying for control of their corners of the universe (or all of it), you don’t play those guys. You play a Drox Operative, commander of a small mercenary ship who can work for or against these empires. The Drox Operatives are a powerful force in the galaxy, as empires turn to them to help with tasks they don’t have the time or wherewithal to complete themselves. This is where you come in.

Drox Operative is the latest game from Soldak, who made an action RPG that I still to this day adore dearly, Din’s Curse. Unlike other games of its type, Din’s is awesome because it has living dungeons with creatures that fight back, grow, change and eventually attack your town, as opposed to creatures that just sit there waiting for you to kill ’em, like most ARPGs. Drox Operative takes a similar approach, but brings it up from the confines of dungeons to the openness of space.

5 - System Map
Still Got Some Exploring To Do…

Unlike dungeons, which have specific corridors and rooms, the systems in Drox Operative are open circular spaces with planets, anomalies, space junk, alien monsters, gates to different systems and so on. At first, I have to admit this was a bit jarring. I was used to the more focused experience of running through corridors and into rooms, finding stairs and other ways to move between floors.

With Drox Operative’s open nature, this felt a bit like a slog at first, in all honesty. Even with rampant killing of enemy monsters, flying to planets to trade (more on this in a bit) and so on, I was kind of at a loss as to how to find a way to get from one system to another at first. This got more intuitive as I learned the game, but initially, I was somewhat frustrated. Thankfully a couple of patches have already been released to help ease the new player into the game, but new players should note that there is something of a learning curve until it all clicks. Thankfully, Drox Operative provides numerous options to tweak the game.

7 - Control Options
Holy Crap That’s a Lot of Buttons…

Sadly, while the tutorial popups cover a lot, they don’t cover everything (yet). When I first loaded the game, I was frustrated that my ship would stop whenever I clicked the left mouse button to fire my main weapon. After playing around with the controls in the screen above, I found a nearly-mouseless control method that worked for me. This is part of the growing pains in a beta, I suppose. The game grows with feedback, and the players hopefully grow along with it. I have a much easier time with the game now, thankfully, and BOY is it fun, so if you’re frustrated at first, keep playing, because your patience will be rewarded.

8 - Treasure Hunting for Junk
What Will I Find?!

Once you get over the initial growing pangs — which will hopefully be less of an issue as the game improves — the game gives you a TON of things to do. Even without dealing with the races, there are enemy monsters to kill and loot, space junk and derelicts to salvage, anomalies to be scanned and asteroids to mine, for example. Once you bring the empires into the mix, however, that’s when the game REALLY gets fun.

14 - Relation Screen
Maintaining Friendly Relations

This is the relations screen, and the tutorial doesn’t fully explain this, but it’s one of the centerpieces of the game, as well as a revelation in how certain gameplay elements are handled. From this screen, you can:

  • Accept and turn in quests remotely (which is AMAZING, though some still need to be done in person)
  • Trade for gate locations (a REAL time saver), treaties or technology
  • Accept gifts
  • Alter empirical relations through rumors, sabotage
  • And more!

Once you learn the intricacies of using this screen correctly, the game becomes MUCH more streamlined. At first, for example, I had NO clue that you could trade credits for gate locations (gates let you jump from one system to another easily despite its distance, for a price), so finding gates or starlanes (sort of like direct jumpgates to neighboring systems) was a slog and a half. Now, I’m bopping around all over the place, accepting quests of all sorts at a much more fluid pace. :)

11 - Quests Screen
My To-Do List…

Speaking of quests, so far they’ve been pretty varied. I’ve had to do everything from safely ferry a diplomat to helping terraform a planet to making a system more safe for interstellar travel, and a bunch in-between. Quests are the cheese that keep this mouse moving forward, and they help keep the gameplay focused. I mean sure, you could simply fly around systems and kill bad guys, but quests are the real spice of the game.

10 - Approaching a Hive Planet
Hi There Hive!

Where do you get quests? The other empires, of course, again either remotely or in person. Quests give nice experience and monetary bonuses, and they’re also a great way to gain favor with these empires. Any game of Drox Operative can have multiple empires (currently my game has three active empires), and you can work with or against these empires as you see fit. The empires have relations with each other (which you can help or hinder with rumors and such) as well as relations with you personally, and lots of things can affect your relations. Besides quests, you can improve relations by trading with planets, killing enemies near their forces and so on. If you don’t care to improve relations, you can actually declare war on a faction. I’ve not done this, but I can’t say I recommend it.

29 - Increasing Relations
You Like Me! You REALLY Like Me!

I don’t recommend it because you’ll need the colonized planets of these empires to not only repair and recharge your ship and its components, but to do one of the most fun things in the game, go shopping! ;) Each planet in Drox Operative has a varied selection of ship upgrades, such as engines, weapons and ancillary equipment. Your ship has certain amount of light, medium and heavy slots, and certain pieces of equipment can only fit in these specific slots. This makes shopping for upgrades a bit confusing, but one gets used to it.

4 - Going Shopping
Shopping Spree!!

Shopping for equipment has one main reason…to improve your ship’s stats. While your character has specific stats (as does your crew, which we’ll talk about in a moment), ships also have their own stats that are dictated by its equipment, such as how much energy it has or how quickly it recharges its energy reserves, how much attack and defense power, how fast it moves and so on. The stats of your ship and your crew can also affect which equipment you can purchase.

9 - Found A New Crewmember!
I’ll Never Fly Alone Again…

In Drox Operative, your character is your ship, and it has certain skill points such as helm, tactical, command, engineering and so on that can determine its base defensive capabilities, its hull strength and so on. Various pieces of equipment can also add to these stats, as can crewmembers, so there are a lot of stats involved. When your character levels up, you get a certain amount of points to spread out, like in most ARPGs. However, if you put enough points into the command skill, you will get a larger ship eventually. It’s an odd method of ship upgrading (versus, say, a shipyard), but I think it works in its own way.

24 - Upgraded to a Light Corvette
New Ship! Wheee!

So I’ve tried to lay down how the game works, but you’re likely wondering how it PLAYS. Well, like I said, after getting over the initial learning pangs, when the game finally clicked with me, it clicked HARD. It’s really amazing to watch these empires expand exactly how they would in other 4X games, and you just watching it happen from your cockpit as you complete their quests and curry their favor.

Many times I imagined myself as a tiny dot in a game of Master of Orion II, flying around while the empires do their thing, and trying to help them as best I can. Some 4X games model mercenaries pretty well, such as Imperium Galactica IIbut it’s so cool to BE one of those mercenaries it’s just silly. While I’m flying around killing random space monsters — which is a literal blast — it’s also amazing to watch colony ships fly to new planets, cruise ships take sightseeing tours, and patrols protecting the space lanes. The galaxy feels fairly alive, but it could feel moreso with the addition of new civilian ships and such. Hopefully this will be one improvement the game sees throughout the beta.

31 - Fending Off an Attack on A Hive Planet
Leave My Friends Alone, You Bastards!

This was a pretty lengthy preview, but I felt there was a lot to discuss, honestly. While I was a bit concerned about Drox Operative at first, due to my initial frustration/lack of information (hopefully better tutorial and help information will be added), once the game clicked, I found it to be close to the game I had in my head since first hearing about it. Being a mercenary in a dynamic, (somewhat) living universe, working with empires to help them gain a foothold on the galaxy and so on, is just a joy to play. I’m finding myself sneaking in sessions wherever I can, and scrounging forums just to talk about it when I’m not playing it.

So can I recommend Drox Operative in this early state? Now that I’ve made you aware of the initial learning bump and hopefully given you the right expectations (i.e. it might be a slight slog at first, but stick with it, it pays off), I absolutely can. If you love blowing stuff up in space, completing quests, improving your ship with various types of gear, engaging in various avenues of diplomacy and so on, then you will likely ADORE Drox Operative just as I do.

Thank you for reading my lengthy preview. I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope you enjoy the gallery below of all the screenshots I took. Have a great day, and thanks for visiting! :)

Edit: Since the time I wrote this, two patches have already been released which cover some of what I discussed above, FYI, and also fix a lot of other issues. Check it out. :)

Author: Brian Rubin

19 thoughts on “Drox Operative: 4X Gaming on a Micro Scale

  1. While liking it, I find exploration to be a bit pointless right now, I can just aswell restart a galaxy and get new stuff at higher level than to meander out in search of goods.

    It’s suffering from the Oblivion sickness where everything is the same level as you, unless you set it to be otherwise.

    1. That’s a fair point. It’s interesting that it gives you a warning about leaving a system’s confines, but doesn’t stop you either. Wouldn’t it be awesome if there was awesome stuff out there past the system edge to explore? HHmmmm…

  2. This game sounds fun! Unfortunately I don’t have the cash for it due to reasons I will post on my blog… :( But will keep an eye on it!

          1. Yeah, we’re all okay, the car just died, not anyone :) But we had to spend some money for the new used car, hence no money for this game… This looks like my type of game! And Endless Space as well… Grr! Stupid car, you had to die on me!

              1. Ah, I apologize for being unclear. When the head gasket cracked, the exhaust from the engine went inside the coolant system, building up pressure there. When I parked my car, the built-up pressure stopped circulating which resulted in the coolant reservoir cracking and spilling out all of the coolant :(

  3. The phrase I’d heard from everyone was “Diablo with spaceships” so the actual thrust of the game ended up a complete surprise to my co-op buddy and I when we went in. Fun! But we really hope there are faster travel options as the game gets going, like clicking a location and pathfinding your way there. Navigation is frustratingly slow. :|

    1. Yeah, hopefully things will be sped up, but yeah, TOTALLY fun game. How is the co-op? I’ve yet to try it.

  4. Enjoying this one as well. I loved Din’s Curse, and Drox is definitely cut from the same cloth (in a good way).

    I like the fact that, at least thus far, clearing a sector is a bit more involved and satisfying than clearing a town in Din’s Curse. There’s multiple approaches you can take, and it’s possible to try out fun things like declaring war against the most powerful race in a sector to see if you can help the underdogs get a foothold.

    I agree with all of the positive in your posts. I’ll be putting some serious time into Drox, I am sure.


    Clearing away the fog of war from a sector is a bit of a chore. In Dun’s Curse, it was interesting to explore a dungeon, and the physical constraints of walls and doors helped you find your mission targets. In Drox, the openness means you’ll be flying around in circles, or zig-zag patterns or whatever, and it’s not particularly interesting. I would even argue that the fog of war may not be necessary, and that upon entering a system the planets and gates should be revealed. The gates might tend to be surrounded by more difficult enemies. This would replace the drudgery of clearing away the gray with the fun of pew-pew and explody bits.

    Alternatively, more powerful radar might clear away big swaths of the fog, but I don’t think this would work great because it would mean that one of your critical slots gets taken up by a piece of equipment that would be (for me) mandatory.

    Also, it’d be nice to have assassination targets show as radar blips roughly in the area where they were last known to be operating. Again, the lack of dungeon constraints leads to some frustration and boring flying about.

    Thanks for the blog. I’m a space gamer dating back to Elite on my C64. Great to see space games get some attention.

    1. Welcome to the blog, BiggerBoat, and thanks for the kind words! Have you also seen Space Sector and Space Sim Central? They’re also great space game sites that have a wider focus than I do. :) Anyway, yeah, I’ve seen that particular issue pop up several times on various forums. Thankfully they keep making improvements and pumping out new patches, so hopefully they’ll make exploration more fun/meaningful/engaging. :)

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