I saw some footage of this game in January 2013 which was enough to tempt me into trying the free demo. My curiosity was piqued but I wasn't expecting much - just a bit of a time killer to tap away at and fill up a bit of the afternoon. I came away several hours later with the music stuck in my head, feeling as if very little time had passed, then went on to have a dream about Drox Operative that same night. I bought the game from Soldak's site the next day and have been playing Drox on and off since then without ever having cause to regret the puchase.
It's a hugely addictive little loot-focused ARPG with a beguiling amount of depth. As most reviews have mentioned, the most compelling feature is the sense of a living galaxy going about its business in the background while you perform the basic functions of clicking, killing, looting, equipping and selling. Essentially the alien AI races play a 4X style strategy game against eachother (albeit in real-time) while you fly about attempting to affect the outcome, with the goal of satisfying the win conditions set by the Drox guild (such as uniting the AI races, or allying with the winner of an all-out war, or victory via exploration and volume of quests completed, etc.). After triumph in one sector, you move onto the next one - presumably a harder one, although the player can set the parameters for each randomly generated sector, including difficulty. Coop online play is possible, as well as 'Hardcore' (permadeath) mode which unlocks once you get a ship to level 25.
Everything the player does affects the game universe in some way. Destroy a named boss monster and the planets in that system will become more prosperous for the alien races who hold them, giving those races more resources to build ships and advance their technology faster. Leave that monster to its own devices and he may form a fleet with other tough mobs, create malicious devices in space or perform acts of sabotage against the AI and their planets - which in turn leaves them crying for help from you, the Drox Operative, to solve all their newfound problems in the form of new quests.
Performing a fetch quest to prevent a planetary famine may solve that planet's problem - or it might produce another fetch quest from that planet, as they ask you to help destroy their rampant 'super weed' created by the fertiliser you delivered. Failing to solve fetch quests involving riots and civil war may even result in the creation of new races, who splinter off from their parent race and colonise planets of their own, becoming a new force in the sector. Alternatively you might intentionally foment discord and quest for rebel ships in order to fulfil precisely that goal. Much of this sense of life and variety comes only through the flavour text of the quests, but it is all very cleverly conceived and the quests do all have real consequences for the calculations under the hood, for the prosperity and the military fortunes of the AI. If you get tired of questing and manipulating, then you can simply explore and leave the AI to tear eachother to shreds (albeit hopefully without triggering any of the Drox guild's failure conditions).
My current ship, which I've been running a long time, is level 92, it's in a sector with 10 AI races all with their own grudges and friendships and problems, half of whom are at war with me and half of whom love me (and some of those that like me are at war with me anyway). The sector is so busy with catastrophes and weird developments that the events windows scrolls too fast for me to digest. I know I could fire this game up right now and easily lose several hours enjoyably.
To be honest, I don't know enough about the ARPG genre itself to make a judgement on the game loot balance, the min-maxing potential, or the diversity of builds available in Drox compared to other games. It feels very deep in this regard - you have stats, racial specialisations, plus a great variety of shield modules, armour modules, instant hit weapons, aimed weapons, minions (drones), buffs, debuffs, hulls and miscellanous doodads (installed in modular fashion). However I don't play enough of this type of game to know whether Drox is really deep or my understanding of ARPG systems is really shallow. I'll leave that aspect for other commenters to examine. All I know is I'm still having a great time with the unpredictable outcomes and three- or four-way battles that Drox Operative sometimes throws up, over a full year since purchase.
A special mention should be made of Soldak's excellent post-release support. The game has been patched regularly throughout this last year or so, while Soldak (creator of Din's Curse
and Depths of Peril
) has also responded promptly and effectively to community feedback and bug reports. Drox was a fully formed game long before its recent emergence from Greenlight onto Steam. Now it has the benefit of this wider exposure it deserves to be played by as many people as possible, because it's an unsung gem. Clever, addictive and great fun.