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Here's one for your 4X gamer site: Drox Operative by Mischief Shai-hulud 12/02/2012, 9:44am PST
Tell me if you've heard this before. Long ago an ancient space empire, we'll call them the Orions, collapsed into civil war and left the once-unified galaxy in a dark age of anarchy. Centuries later 10 races, each with their own advantages and diplomatic personalities, have taken to the stars to colonize, expand, research, and fight their way to complete dominance of the galaxy, creating a new Orion Empire under their dominance.

But you're not the one doing all this. You see, the Orion empire isn't completely dead. The Drox Operatives were once the KGB of the Orion Empire, but they were betrayed by their emperor. They retaliated by setting off the very civil war that collapsed the Orion Empire. The Drox High Command, victorious in destroying their old masters, declined to rule the galaxy overtly and chose instead to pull the strings from the shadows. Putting forth the public image of a kind of Bene Gesserit, the Drox Operatives approach the 10 races as wandering helpers, providing assistance, lost Orion technology, and protection from space monsters in return for alliances with the Drox High Command. Eagerly pursuing dominance, the 10 races are unaware that the Drox give their assistance selectively, occasionally wipe out all the colonists sent to certain star clusters, and above all are committed to making sure none of the 10 races ever succeed in restoring the Orion Empire.

Your character is an operative for the Drox. A single ship dropped into a sector of the galaxy where the first colony ships of the races have arrived to begin 4Xing. Though ostensibly an elite mercenary, your real job is to make sure that if any race or alliance gains control of this sector, they will be securely in the pocket of the Drox High Command.

So how does it play? Remarkably like Torchlight, crossed with a mouse WASD shooter ala. Crimsonlands and just a smidgen of Civilizations. Not too surprising since this is the same engine Soldak used to run its previous Diablo-clone-with-a-twist titles like the excellent Din's Curse. You're a spaceship flying around oval-shaped solar systems connected by a network of ancient stargates. You blast space monsters, search space junk and unexplored planets for loot and trade fodder, and do quests for the colonists. Once you run into a ship from a new race, you can contact them anytime for quests or negotiations. Diplomacy is transparent in this game, every race has a "relations" number from 0-100 with every other race and the drox; the higher the number, the more amenable they are to treaties. Victory comes either from forming an alliance between the Drox and the winner of this sector's 4X contest, doing so much business that the Drox become an indispensable economic presence, causing so much mayhem that all the colonists agree to pay tribute to the Drox for "protection," or doing such heroic deeds that the Drox become a celebrated legend in this sector. In addition, the Drox High Command may give you some bonus objectives to make sure a certain race survives or is annihilated in this sector as part of their overall galactic plan. If one race achieves dominance over the sector and hasn't made a formal alliance with the Drox, you lose. Obscurity is doom.

Like Din's Curse before it, this game simulates a living world and you cannot afford to fuck around with grinding. Pick your victory goal and start pursuing it, because the colonists are busy gobbling up all the planets they can get their hands on. One one hand, the open world gameplay is bad for beginners because the game doesn't do very much hand holding and you can easily get lost starting out trying to figure out what to do. On the other hand, once you have a clear goal in mind, you have a huge selection of options to pursue it. For example, in one game the Drox High Command wanted the Humans to survive, so I decided to form an alliance with the Humans and guide them to military dominance over the sector. Unfortunately, my relations with the Humans were still too low for me to form an alliance, even with a bribe, the humans really needed a stronger economic base if they were to conquer the sector, and the humans weren't offering any quests for me to help them and build relations. Then I noticed a humans colony ship with a pair of dipshit fighters escorts heading toward a dangerous system where they would likely be annihilated. So I followed the colony ship and shot down any space monsters that attacked, until it reached its target planet successfully. Every time I shot down an enemy close to the colony ship, I got a tiny relation boost with the humans, so after my own self-created mission I now had good enough relations with the humans to form that alliance, and the humans now had a colony foothold in an empty system to bring them that much closer to victory. Fuck Yeah!

On the downside, this game is very ugly, from the models to the sprites. The fact that this engine was originally designed for a fantasy RPG constantly shows through with vestigial things like item drops going "plop" onto the ground in deep space. You can't buy new ships, instead when you level up you can eschew putting your 5 points into attributes and instead spend them on "command" which will give you a larger ship when a certain point threshold is reached (and gives you nothing for partial points). Outer space is crawling with ancient space mines and you can't shoot them down like you can enemy missiles.

I'm still not decided on whether Drox Operative is better than Din's Curse, but it's definitely one of the most unique games I've played in a long time and one of Soldak's best. Give it a try.
Here's one for your 4X gamer site: Drox Operative by Mischief Shai-hulud 12/02/2012, 9:44am PST
    Vaguely reminds me of Space Rangers, except less clunky. I'll give this a shot. NT by fucking newbie 12/02/2012, 3:04pm PST
    Can we reprint this on 4xgamer? Credit will be given by Ice Cream Jonsey 12/06/2012, 9:35am PST
        Go for it. NT by Mischief Maker 12/06/2012, 6:57pm PST
            Thank you! You hate us, but you're bringing the best content to the site lately NT by 4xgamer Admin 12/06/2012, 8:52pm PST
    Goddamn, the honeymoon's over and this might be my favorite Elite-esque! by Mischief Maker 12/11/2012, 7:57pm PST
    New expansion by Mischief Maker 11/29/2013, 6:38pm PST
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