This is fantastic news! The depth of Drox is great, but, as noted, it didn't "feel" as good as it could have; it was really a slog flying around a lot of the time, especially early on when you were underpowered. But all the underlying systems are solid and don't need a lot of overhaul. Sure, let's add some things, let's maybe remove some pain points, and let's polish the hell out of it, but, man, that core game is solid.
I really feel like this could be the biggest game ever for Soldak, by a large margin, if done right -- all the ingredients are already there.
Total stream of consciousness:
You've always done well with having lots of options and modifiers for characters and games -- with that in place, don't fear going a little easy on the new players with the default settings. There's a lot to take in if you're new to a Soldak game, and the last thing you want is for a newbie to be frustrated if it is too challenging. (I saw mentions of new characters starting in essentially unwinnable scenarios in Din's Legacy -- we want to avoid those situations, unless you're explicitly tweaking the options to make it possible or even likely.) And who doesn't love dropping in and annihilating some baddies from the get go. We can crank things up from there, but make sure the initial impressions are not disheartening.
Soldak has always gotten a lot of side eye for outdated UIs, game engine and graphics in general. Drox has always stood out above the others simply due to its setting. However, bringing in a new level of polish to the UI and screens would make a HUGE difference. We've been looking at slight iterations of the same thing for over a decade. Please bring in some fresh UX talent to overhaul this and make it shine. Get multiple different mockups. Involve the community. There are a lot of very smart, very passionate fans that understand these games to a deep extent, and we would love to be involved VERY early on in some of these things before it gets past the implementation point to where there can only be tweaks. (I'm reminded of Arcen Games and AI War 2, and them giving non-staffers source code access for bug fixing, feature development, etc. There's very little to lose and so much to gain for dropping the secrecy veil in today's day and age. I'm not suggesting you go that far, but keeping the early development process totally private and locked away is likely more harmful than letting even a choice subset of the community into that process.)
Related to the above, invest in more art assets in general to make this stand out and shine. Please don't just use the existing assets as the base and slightly modify them. I know the why, and it makes sense... but let's break that mold and squelch the primary complaint in Soldak games. If we have returning enemy models, re-do them from scratch, don't use the existing models at all. Luckily, here there aren't going to be the same amount of arguments about dumping your engine and rewriting everything, because of the space environment and non-terrestrial things. But, if a major overhaul of the UI system is going to be needed to support making this thing look amazing, please do it. A lot of things still feel too chunky, the font is not appropriate for a futuristic, tech heavy sci-fi game. It's on the right track, don't get me wrong... but let's compare it to other modern games in the same general genre. And maybe the extremely flexible way it's currently built isn't needed in today's climate; do we really need to support 20 screen resolutions down to 800 x 600, if the UI framework is a limiting factor there? If overhauling that system loses some of that flexibility, that very well might be a sacrifice worth making.
Your ship's equipped components being just a bunch of squares to put stuff in is totally functional, but it could be so so much better, even if done somewhat similarly with a little bit more flair. Or, try going more all out and do paper dolls for each of the ships to slot things much more specifically (thinking Gratuitous Space Battes/2 here). Actually, I like GSB's different shapes for the different tiers of components. Here's an example of hexagon vs. square components on a ship paper doll: https://positech.co.uk/gratuitousspa...-img/full7.jpg
Maybe further differentiating by component type could even be possible, if we're not using basic equal-sided polygons. And if the art of the component were allowed to go over/outside of that shape, even better.
There is a happy marriage of somewhat arcade-y combat that still has strategy to it, on top of the rest of the game that's there. Finding that middle ground should be the priority, and it should be massaged until it's just right.
Maps and shadows and lighting upgrades -- I think this is going to be a big one. Shiny, sexy ships are going to make this the most breathtaking Soldak game ever. Do a lot of research, look at a lot of games and aim for the stars here. You're really good at optimizing, so let's focus on this. Paired with a more modern looking UI, we're golden.
I think something that was lacking in Drox 1 was the "character" of individual enemy types. Yes, there were lots of different models; yes, there were lots of different weapons; yes, there were different mechanics. But for the majority of them, you approached the fight identically. I suggest cutting the number of enemies way down to start, and make them feel more unique, give them more character, make it so I'm actively looking around and I have to consciously think about how I'm going to handle this enemy/group of enemies. (Not just, well, "let's aggro them and kite them and hit them with this same barrage I do everything else.") Perhaps there are less random enemies flying around, but offset by other interesting things to do while flying around.
The whole "they are monsters but they're also kinda living spaceships" thing was always weird to me. Let's not just recycle everything here... let's really make these things make more sense. Make the "monstery" ones be more organic; perhaps they're propelled differently than just normal thrusters, their weapons shouldn't be the same missiles, mines and lasers that ships use. Make it unmistakable that this is a different thing altogether than a spaceship. Make other (non main-race) enemies more directly spaceships with other races, subraces or AIs piloting them. Let's make this make more sense out of the box.
While totally functional, the whole "here's component A, and there are 10 (or 12 or 15 or whatever) tiers of it that are essentially identical with some number bumps" could be streamlined. I appreciate the different names and art, but once you realize the underlying functionality, it seems shallow. Perhaps we throw different potential modifiers that could be rolled on different versions, and they're not just 1-10 sequential upgrades; perhaps the basic laser you find early on does scale, and has a modifier that is unique to it that keeps you using that one rather than one of its successors (which have different modifiers). Making hard decisions with components is fun, as long as you're not buried with 15 simultaneous affixes that are impossible to compare. It's okay to let people make OP builds with just the right combination of components. This isn't a competitive MOBA, things don't need to be perfectly balanced at any cost.
Lastly... we know you're not a huge studio with deep pockets. We're all happy to buy in during the beta period, but perhaps consider a Kickstarter or similar campaign? If it fails, have you really turned anyone off that would've bought it otherwise? But it could be a windfall, particularly if you line up some solid mockups of what the main combat would look like with sexier rendering and lighting, and some mockups of what the UI could be. Make it clear that you're listening to both your fans and critics, and want to make this THE Soldak game that solidifies your legacy.
Drox Operative is well loved throughout your playerbase, for good reason; let's take it to the next level, and not just an iteration, but through a wormhole into a whole other plane of awesomeness.