Developer: Maxis / Publisher: Electronic Arts / Played On: PC / Price: $49.99 / ESRB: Teen (Blood, Violence)
How many of you played Spore for the PC back in 2008? Now how many of you thought, “Man, this game would be so cool if it was a squad-based action RPG?” I know I didn’t, but the developers clearly did, because Darkspore does just that. It brings together the creation mechanics and mammoth customization of Spore with the clicking action of Diablo, Darkspore steps into the action RPG ring in full stride, ready to sap the hours away. Don’t let the title fool you: Darkspore is an entirely new game that offers cooperative online action, so long as you give the game some love.
Darkspore has you taking control of one of the few remaining Crogenitors, a race of highly intelligent scientists who became experts on DNA and mutation. The Crogenitors were able to genetically create life forms known as Living Weapons, which were creatures infused with elemental powers. The discovery of experimental-DNA (E-DNA) by the Crogenitor Xylan had drastic effects on the research, and caused an unstable evolution of the Living Weapons. These creatures were produced very quickly and soon the entire galaxy was overrun with these evil entities, now dubbed the Darkspore. The majority of the Crogenitors were killed during the initial outbreak of the Darkspore, and Xylan himself transformed into the leader of all Darkspore. A millennia passes, and the Darkspore have overrun the galaxy. You take control of one of the last Crogenitors, tasked with finding and creating uncorrupted Living Weapons to eliminate the Darkspore from every inch of the galaxy. All of this is told during the game’s introduction, and it is the only story context ever presented. While there is definite potential for an epic narrative, Darkspore does nothing else in terms of storytelling: there are no quests, no other Crogenitors to meet, and no interaction with NPCs. This lack of an expansive story is clearly a missed opportunity, and is therefore an unfortunate low point to the game.
Playing Darkspore is a combination of the familiar and the unfamiliar. At first glance it seems like any other action RPG akin to Diablo II: Point at monster, click on monster, attack monster. Slain enemies drop loot that can be used to upgrade your character’s stats like attack power, intelligence, and critical hit chance. The loot system is very similar to World of Warcraft; the rarer the item the harder it is to obtain, but it then returns way better stats. Each mission is split into 10-20 minute snippets that have you traversing jungle encampments and the far reaches of space in linear environments. Everything looks very plain on the cover, but dive into the meat of the game and Darkspore really starts to spread its wings.
You control a squad of three Living Weapons at a time, and picking a balanced team is important. There are 25 heroes, each with four distinct variations that alter their attacks and abilities, making for 100 possible heroes. You can only have three in your squad at a time, but you can switch between any of the three characters at will. It might seem unnecessary early on but a few hours into the game the combat and enemy variety steps up, requiring you to use strategy to win. Enemies that are of the same type as your current character, such as Wraith’s Necro type, do extra damage to your hero, making sure you stay on your toes. Darkspore is best played with friends, and taking on the enemy with up to three other hero squads not only makes the game incredibly more enjoyable, but also gives you extra experience to unlock more Living Weapons. A PVP mode also exists, but isn’t nearly as cohesive as it should have been. Battles demand tactical finesse to win, but little reward for your time doesn’t make it a necessary addition to play. So the combat starts slow and boring, but playing deeper into the game reveals an interesting and in-depth system that is both clever and fun.
Darkspore does take a page from Spore in terms of the creature editor. Acting as a slimmed down version of Spore’s creature creator, Darkspore lets you fully customize your heroes with new weapons, armor, tails, claws, eyeballs, and wings. Not only do these each have aesthetic appeal but they also act as equipment to enhance your stats. You are free to place the items you find (and you will find tons) anywhere you want on each of the heroes. You can change the size, shape, and color of most of your creature’s attributes, making your squad uniquely yours. Though it can be time consuming, editing creatures lets you create the team that best suits your play style.
Control and Sound
Darkspore handles how you’d expect any PC action RPG. Movement and attacking with the mouse is straightforward, and abilities mapped to the number keys makes linking together chains of special attacks a breeze. Each of the different heroes has unique special abilities like teleportation, ranged attacks, and even summoning molten rock to fall from the sky; yet trying out a new hero for the first time remains intuitive. Navigation outside gameplay in your spaceship-HUB is simple and never keeps you too far away from the next piece of action. Each world includes a fitting background tune featuring techno-riffs and outer space beats to accompany the war cries and sounds of death you unleash as you slay your way through each world. Your spaceship’s AI HELIX serves as an orator on the important points of each world, adding to the sci-fi atmosphere. As you progress you unlock harder difficulties of the same worlds, so playing through each stage over and over again and hearing the same music can get old.
A lot is borrowed and a lot is new in Darkspore. Taking the addictive clicking of a Diablo-like RPG and adding unique squad and team-based mechanics makes Darkspore stand out on its own. It doesn’t come without faults, however. The lack of narrative hurts what could have been an awesome story. I also experienced connection issues and lost my connection to the network, forcing me to reload the entire game. Hopefully some of these technical issues are addressed in a patch, but as it stands Darkspore is still a good action RPG that has a lot to offer to players willing to put the time into it.
7.0 / 10