The game plays from the top down perspective of your ship. Though you are soaring throughout space, all ships operate on a 2d plane, dotted with planets, space junk, derelict ships, stars, etc. You can fly around sectors with either the mouse or the keyboard and use weapons via either the mouse or your numbered toolbar, like most any action RPG. Apparently the universe in which Drox Operative takes place has an excess of pirates, because you will blow up more aggressive, factionless ships than there are stars in the sky. The level of these pirates increases as you ramp up the difficulty and is largely fixed. Playing on the lowest difficulty, we were getting iced with some regularity until we leveled past the pirates, and could destroy them with relative ease. Things did get hairy when we'd stumble across huge groups of them, especially alone.
Sure, pirates plague the galaxy, but while you fly around sending nukes at unaligned ships, some races have unified their people and established some semblance of civilization. These are the factions I mentioned earlier. When you warp into a fresh game of the Drox, everybody starts off on an even playing field. Each race you meet will be neutral to you, and to each other. You can take quests from them and buy, sell, and repair at their planets. Killing pirates near their planets also increases your rating with them. If left alone, the worlds these factions start on will begin producing ships that fly around and protect the night sky. After a while, they will construct colony ships and begin inhabiting more and more planets. Each planet can produce colony ships, so the growth is exponential. Not that you have any say in this, unless you want to go to war against that particular faction and attack a colony ship, ending the lives of millions of sentient beings. (You monster.)
Each faction has their own traits. For example, the Fringe, a race of energy beings, are Aggressive and Chaotic, which means they will start wars more quickly than most other factions, and are also hard to predict. Dryads are Trustworthy, so they are more likely to stay loyal, and their ships can also regenerate. Drakk have a natural affinity for flying, giving them offense/defense bonuses, but they are all kinda jerks, so they tend to have bad relations with other factions. Keep in mind, despite your race you are still a Drox Operative. You might be a Drakk (like my main man Godak), but for the good of the galaxy your fellow Drakk might need to choke down the bitter pill of genocide. I mean, if you're trying to stabilize the sector and they keep hurling fusion missiles at the Utopian's colony ships, you've got to show them that being a bully doesn't pay. Well, it does pay. But only in nuclear warfare aimed directly at their people.
Any game of Drox Operative can be won or lost via several means. If you fail a mission from the Drox Guild, it's game over. If you cause the Guild to lose too much money, it's curtains. If you go to war with everyone, you're boned. I only ever lost by costing the Guild too many credits. When you die, they have to go to the trouble of remaking your ship and cloning your crew. You don't lose any of your equipment or items, (you do suffer a bit of durability damage) but you know that Big Brother Drox thinks a whole lot less of you.
Winning is definitely not easy, but can be achieved through a variety of means. You can win if your Operative becomes the most legendary in all the land. Killing pirates, gunning down Ancients (from the expansion), and conquering other factions puts you down in the history books. I killed a whole lot of bandits and never even got close to the Legendary victory. You can also win by getting the Drox Guild enough dosh. A diplomatic victory may be achieved if you get every (surviving) race to ally with each other and yourself. You can get a military victory by allying with one race and helping them obliterate all of the competition, Highlander style.