Independent video game development is thriving these days. Hundreds of thousands of gamers regularly spend millions of dollars on pay-what-you-want packages like the Humble Indie Bundle, and small developers and lone gaming auteurs regularly release interesting games that take design risks larger publishers can’t always afford.
One such is “Drox Operative,” the fourth game from Soldak Entertainment, a small company headed by Steven Peeler. Peeler has designed several games that combine the addictive draw of hack-and-slash loot-fests like “Torchlight” and “Diablo” with elements of grand strategy titles such as “Civilization.”
But where Soldak’s previous games have all had a fantasy setting, “Drox Operative” takes the action to space. As one of these operatives, you’re a free agent in a galaxy teeming with intelligent species — humans, of course, but also plant people and robots and energy beings and giant insects and so on, each of which has its own habits, personality and goals, and each of which offers certain advantages if you choose that species as your own.
You start out in a small sector of space populated by some of the game’s races and from there you can choose to aid some or all of them with their problems and requests, undermine them, protect them from each other or help them wipe each other out. They’ll assign you various missions and pay out rewards for completion, allowing you to upgrade your ship with new equipment and gain experience levels for increasing its attributes.
But the game won’t wait around for you to finish a mission. Wait too long and it could expire, or become irrelevant if the planet it’s tied to is conquered. If you’re assigned to take out a specific target, dallying may allow it to become stronger. And there are many distractions — the galaxy is filled with hostile “monster” ships that attack anything that comes near, and you’ll always have anomalies to explore, loot to sell off, components to install and so on.
With such an open structure to the game, there are several ways to win — you can ally with the last living race in the game, make peace among every living race, make a ton of money for the Drox Guild you work for, or please its High Command through your exploits, or solve enough noteworthy quests and defeat enough powerful monsters that your operative becomes a legend.
However, you can also lose the game — if you’re at war with every race, or if you aren’t allied with the supreme species, or if you lose too much money — so take care.
Published by Soldak Entertainment for Windows and Mac OS
$19.99 (download from www.soldak.com)
Not rated by the ESRB; contains spaceship battles and sci-fi violence