I actually like sandboxes, and obviously enjoy Drox, but also agree that it could be improved by giving us a bit more of a reason to love and hate the different races.
Right now, the races are barely distinguishable by their ships' qualities and technology levels and not different enough in their approach to diplomacy. And the worse part is, they feel completely interchangeable, apart from the services they offer.
Having a persistent galaxy is definite step in the right direction. But it did not go far enough. Races that finish five sectors in a row in an alliance (with each other and the Drox) still start the new one barely at 66% relationship. A race that has been wiped out in every single sector still greets me with "A Drox Operative is good to find." In a sector 15 levels above mine, I can still decide who live and dies, blow up a race's home planet guardians in a matter of seconds, and bribe mortal enemies into peace for 1/20th of my cash reserves...
But the worst part is, the races in my eyes are nothing but the services that they offer. They do not talk to me (or rather, all planets say the same thing) they offer more or less the same kinds of quests, and they do are not really different in their loyalty or back stabbing. Sure there are some modifiers, but they do not go far enough, and which is worse, they do not slide up or down as the galaxy matures.
With my current ship, I must have gone through 15 sectors or so. I have ALWAYS supported the Scavengers, the Lithosoid, the Fringe and the Drakk. The failed to keep the Drakk alive once, but everyone else has always ended the sector safe and allied to me. I do not go out of my way to exterminate the Dryad and the Cortex, and everyone else dies. Well, 13 (I just checked) sectors in, only Human has been extinguished, and in every new sector, I still feel that I can buddy up to anyone, except the monsters races which I try to wipe before they fight anyone else but me.
So I definitely agree with the original thread starter that Drox needs to get the player more emotionally invested. I actually think that it would be not only easier, but also more effective to do so not by changing what happens in sectors, but adding stuff that happens BETWEEN sectors. Have a short, procedurally generated description of an event, throw in a few still pictures (a landscape with something happenings, the diplomacy mug shot of a race, the appropriate race theme, and a few sentences describing the event) and start the sector with a theme... a bit like the challenge sectors, but strung together with a story that makes a few races into bastards, a few races sympathetic, and as the galaxy matures, strengthen the monsters, and keep throwing more and more Ancients into the mix.
Oh, and give everyone some useful services. Right now the Lithosoids, Scavengers and Fringe have services that can increase a ship's strength threefold, Drakk is a never-ending supply of crew members, and no one else has anything that makes me want to protect them.
That said, I understand that Soldak is a small outfit, and I have no idea about the number of their customers, or the direction they want to go. They have done damn well by me. I have played Din's Cruse and Drox for longer than I have played anything that's not a Total War or a true ASCII roguelike, so I definitely like what Soldak is doing. It's just that I think that the game would be tremendously improved if it could engage the players a bit more with the races. Right now, I play the game to build a crew that can keep together the most powerful or challenging ship I can think of. I would not mind to play the game so that I can eradicate those backstabbing Xs, or save the poor Ys from the hordes of the Zs.
No good deed goes unpunished...