There was much building anticipation, for the late evolution of Spore, the brainchild of Maxis maven Will Wright, and Publisher EA. Whether or not those longs delays, and lofty hype played a part in the game’s mixed reception remains up for debate. Maxis took things in stride, regrouped, and applied what they learned to Darkspore, a new breed of action-RPG, by their definition. In this year’s crowded action-RPG, dungeon crawling market, will Darkspore stand out, or just fade into the shadows?
If you are a Star Trek fan, than I guess you could retitle this game Darkspore : Away Team. In essence, replace the Enterprise with Crogenitor, and replace your favorite captain, with yourself. You take the helm, and, as you progress through the game, you unlock any of 25 heroes. Building your team, you take up arms, against the evil Darkspore–creatures corrupted by the darkspore infection. In this science fiction universe, you have limitless ability to customize and spec out your squad, sending them to different planets to investigate, and eventually eradicate, the Darkspore infection. Each chapter and planet finished, offers new insight into the Darkspore, their motives and origins, and the course of actions you can take against them.
True, there is great narration, between levels, to fill in the storyline of the universe, but it only serves as the wallpaper for what is a really addictive game. At the beginning of the game, you have a mere 3 heroes unlocked to fill the slots of your team, which only consists of 3 slots. All of the 25 heroes come in 5 alignments, and belong to one of three classes, all of which I will explain in the quote balloon below. Once all are unlocked, new enhanced versions of past heroes can be purchased, offering you a chance to get greater and more effective versions of your favorites, for the later levels and difficulties. The game has three difficulty levels, and includes seamless co-op and, later, PvP modes, for alternate play. At any time in the game, you can choose to bring outside help into your game, either from your friends list or through open matchmaking. This is the crux of why, even DRM free, the game must have a constant internet connection to play. Single player and multiplayer are completely interwoven, and everything from one facet carries over to the other—characters, items, customization, etc., and, as such, requires that added security to keep out griefers. The game plays as a standard dungeon crawler; take your 3 hero team from one end of the map to the other, and survive the final encounter. If only it were that simple, it would be a boring game. Each game, item/bonus locations change, better loot fuels countless replays, and replaying a level is drastically changed by the game’s enhanced AI. The game randomly chooses groupings of enemies from within all the alignments, and changes their strategy on the fly, making replays for better loot, much more interesting, and forcing the player to constantly be aware of their team makeup and strategy. In addition, you gradually unlock the ability to chain longer groups of missions together, giving you more chances for higher level loot, should you survive the 4 or 5 level chain. Co-op play, of course, also rewards much better items and weapons, with each player ‘rolling’ for each item uncovered. The hero editor is just as much of a timesucker as the main game, offering an unending level of detail manipulation and customization, as well as different paint level customizations. While inventory slots can be precious, it’s a pretty cool feature to be able to turn any item into a detail piece–stat perks are negated, but it offers many more options for your heroes to stand out.
Plasma – Masters of fire and electricity
Bio – Summoners and users of plants, poisons, animals and life-force drains/attacks
Cyber – Mechanical heroes attacking with bullets, explosive projectiles and energy
Necro – Harbingers of death, using fear and darkness to steal souls and twist reality
Quantum – Manipulators of matter, time and space
Sentinel – Typical tank character type, high defense, high-damage offense, usually melee, slow movement
Ravager – More balanced stats, usually very quick, better ranged, but there are some melee versions
Tempest – These are more your ranged, support class characters, team stat buffs, etc; powerful but weaker
If I am to be brutally honest, there are things I would like to see done differently, within the game. Each hero has a printed backstory, but there is lack of connection and depth to their characters. Environments do get recycled quite frequently, and many items do get a bit repetitive, within that alignment’s theme and overall appearance. I would also, definitely, love to see more heroes available to be unlocked; granted, there is a huge amount of game time available, if you are to get familiar with all of the ins and outs of each of the 25, but more is always welcome, right? Now that I have aired those thoughts, I would remind you that none of them takes away from what is a fantastic and highly addictive game. Certainly, the levels have a knack for eating away the hours, you may finish a five level grind, and notice that it’s getting late. If you think that’s where your night finishes, beware that the statement “I just want to equip a few items”, can also turn into an hour or more of playtime. All told, Darkspore definitely exceeded my expectations, and I am anxiously awaiting the announcement of any available DLC containing new locations/heroes. The games addictiveness will keep you glued to your seat long enough to grow your own spores. If you are looking for a change of pace, from the normal fantasy universe, dungeon-crawler, then Darkspore is the perfect addition to any PC gamer’s library.