So this game is... surprisingly awesome. On the one hand, I watched Jeff's Quick Look and came away with the impression that it was Diablo-style mouse-clicky skinner-box-loot-porn in space. On the other hand, I was intrigued by the strategic interplay between factions and the way the ship loadouts seem to borrow a lot from EVE Online. Something about it got its hooks into my brain so I decided to try the demo. After playing that for several hours, having a dream about it, and realising I was excited to go back to it, I just bit the bullet and coughed up for the full game. Now I'm finding it hard to put down; I just missed most of TNT because Drox Operative made me forget the passage of time.
The easiest way to describe this game is like the AI is trying to play a game of Civ, while you're playing a loot focused action-RPG on their map. That may not sound too interesting, but the way you can affect the fortunes of the AI races gives a really satisfying sense of power. On a basic level, I just find it satisfying to watch the AI ships spread out and colonise planets, thereby filling the various solar systems with friendlier faces (or unfriendlier, depending on whether some factions hate you). You can do the simple dog-work of defending their planets and ships from trash mobs, but you can also discover empty planets for them, colonise planets for them, find/steal technology for them, persuade them to war against eachother, or even just generally follow the NPC settler ships/diplomatic ships around, watching their backs for them. In fact you are advised to do most of this in order to push circumstances towards the eventual fulfilment of the win conditions (which vary depending on the type of win you're going for).
In my first and only complete sector so far, I went for a diplomatic victory. This requires discovering every race, getting yourself allied with every surviving race, and also having every surviving race allied with eachother. Quite early on, however, the most militaristic race decided to quickly try and wipe out all the weaker factions nearby. I persuaded all the races I was friends with to go to war against these guys, which isn't at all a difficult thing to do - it just that you also have to declare war on the target faction yourself. The warmonger faction allied with another race, fought back, and the whole thing played out largely out of my sight, while I flew around questing, exploring and trying to figure out how to fit out my ship.
By the end, the three factions friendly to me had wiped out the other two factions. Everyone left alive was allied to me, and mostly allied to eachother - except for one race which had nearly been exterminated in the opening bit of bullying. They were left so weak that they were kind of a non-entity, and the attitude of one faction towards them was "Who...?", whereas I needed them all to be good chums in order to complete the Diplomatic Win. So the remainder of that game was spend flying back and forth between these two races, spreading 'Rumours' (ie. spending cash) to improve their mutual view of eachother, fulfilling quests to deliver diplomats between them, and generally defending their settler ships and diplomat ships from pirates, so that the factions would come into friendly contact more easily. I just find that aspect of picking sides and shaping fortunes fascinating - do I run quests for Faction X because they're the best bet to wipe out everyone else? Or should I follow and protect Faction Y's diplo ships which just flew past, since I like them and I need other people to like them too?
If I have a concern it's that the game is a bit overwhelming, on several fronts. Much like in EVE, my cargo is stuffed with equipment which works in ways I have no clue about. At 25+ hours in (about 12 hours more than me), Jeff didn't sound like he had a much clearer idea either; like me, he had just stuck with basic stuff like lasers. Also, I've only just got into my second sector and I'm already feeling heavily outgunned. The game has a 'Hardcore' Rogue-like-like-like permadeath mode which unlocks when you have one ship at level 25 or over - however, I'm only at level 10 and every square inch of space seems to be packed with goons who can cause me serious problems (despite the fact they are also roughly level 10). The faction interplay has been relegated to a crazy scrolling box of text updates about war developments in other systems, while I just fly for my life mashing Mouse 1 and trying not to be popped. I guess that's just a matter of knowledge and mastery though.
Anyways, if the QL ignited any interest in you at all, as it did in me, I highly recommend this game. If you're the type of person who rates a game by the amount of time it can swallow, I reckon you'll get value for money out of DO. If like me, you also need games to scratch a certain satisfying itch, it seems so far to have that too.
EDIT & Important note to anyone who enjoys the demo: I discovered you can copy over your ship and sector data between the demo and the full game, by copying over the 'chars' folder in My Documents. It'll be somewhere like '[username]\AppData\Local\DroxOperative\User'.