If you were to stand in a room with 100 PC gamers and ask them what genre of game they’d most like to resurrect, I’d bet at least 80 of them would say “Space Simulations” before you even finished the question. Thanks to abundant tools, an open platform, and indie know-how, developer Soldak Entertainment has taken some of the main concepts of the space sim and modified them to be at the same time simpler and more complex with Drox Operative. This game, a space sim/RPG/management simulator sort of thing is the kind of game that tries to appeal to everybody by including everything. Amazingly, it mostly succeeds.
Drox Operative is less a video game than it is an ecosystem. The world in which it takes place is full of planets, factions, aliens, satellites, anomalies, and a million other things laying around. Each of those things interacts regardless of your presence, but it’s your presence that makes it interesting. This game’s current expansion, entitled Drox Operative: Invasion of the Ancients consists of the base game which was released about a year ago, along with a metric ton of new races, monsters, ships, and quests.
Remember the parts of Mass Effect 2 when you were flying the Normandy around scanning planets? That’s pretty much the gameplay experience of Drox Operative, except with a full suite of options and things to do. Rather than simply moving from place to place like in that game however, you spend this one actively exploring uncharted territories and uncovering all sorts of new surprises, switching from diplomacy to combat at the drop of a hat. As you spend your time flying through solar systems, scanning planets, talking to different races, and fighting against enemies, the complexity of Drox Operative‘s gameplay unfolds.
Another title this really reminds me of is Mount & Blade. Like that game, the developer provides you with a set of tools and options for using them, but does not require you to do so if you wish. Story-wise, you play as an operative whose goal is to manipulate, befriend, or destroy the various factions in space in order to … well, achieve whatever it is you want. If you are the type of person who wants to play Civilization in space and broker peace between factions, this game will support that. If you want to be the type who starts trouble between warring factions and picks through the rubble after everybody is dead, you can do that too. Hell, if you want to just zip around and play the game as an arcade shooter and kill everything in your path, it’s pretty fun for that purpose as well.
Speaking of combat, I quite enjoyed it and found its simplicity from the start to be quite refreshing. It consists of little more than moving and using the left mouse button which makes it welcoming and fun for newbies, and eases you into the many systems available. With that in mind, combat does suffer from a couple of issues; movement occurs with Resident Evil-style tank controls; i.e. ‘W’ is forward regardless of what direction you are facing, which is not necessarily a problem except that it makes your ship difficult to maneuver when in combat. What happens 99% of the time then is that you end up doing figure-eights with your ship as you chip away at an enemy’s health.
To deal with this, I tried using a controller and while that makes movement much smoother and intuitive, it doesn’t allow you to do much else beyond bounce between maps, meaning the keyboard is what you need to use whether you want to or not. Granted, a game like this isn’t really about having super responsive controls but on the other hand, having to fight with them early on can scare off players from sticking with it and discovering something special.
There are just tons of systems in this game to keep track of, and even though I’ve spent a number of hours with this game I feel like I’m only scratching the surface with what it has to offer. The game world is never the same twice, there are a dizzying number of scenarios and ship types to try, and it seems like there’s always something new being thrown at you. It costs $9.99 on top of the base game which costs $19.99, and for the sheer amount of content provided, it’s a pretty decent deal.
While Drox Operative: Invasion of the Ancients can be frustrating in some moments with regards to combat, you’ve always got a number of options for dealing with it. It’s one of the only games I can think of in recent memory where it can be incredibly tense or super chill depending on how you want to play it. For a game that’s as all-over-the-place as this one, it really is impressive how well it pulls those strands together and makes for a pretty damn fun game.
[+Massive interactive environment] [+Incredibly versatile] [+Nicely balanced] [-Tank controls] [-Overwhelming for a newcomer]