|Dev: Maxis Software|
|Pub: Electronic Arts|
|Release: April 26, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by James Trujillo
It's amazing what only three years and a new set of ideas can do. Since the release of Spore in 2008, it was widely acclaimed as one of the most revolutionary games of all-time. Unfortunately, it was also heavily criticized for its superficial gameplay. Enter 2011, and Maxis Software is hoping to captivate game players with an all new take on the franchise's huge potential.
The developers have taken a decidedly more complex route with Darkspore's gameplay, turning focus from the "god-sim" aspect of the original Spore. They have now shifted gears into a persistent online action role-playing game, which compares more to Diablo II than anything else; with a dash of the Pokemon role-playing games thrown in for good measure. Luckily we got a chance to check out the game first hand, to see exactly how this combination can fair in the realm of the action-RPG.
If you're a fan of gathering loot, then collecting a hundred characters with completely different abilities should sound just as sweet. These creatures, known as "Living Weapons," are who you will be controlling during your attempt to eradicate the Darkspore. As you go from planet to planet and gain experience during your battles, you'll be able to unlock more allies to fight at your side. There will only be a total of twenty-five "heroes" in all, but each will have four classes to determine their abilities within a total of five genetic types: Plasma, Bio, Necro, Quantum, and Cyber.
The Plasma type generally deals with fire and electricity abilities, while Bio characters are typically plant-oriented creatures with poison and/or healing powers. The Necro variety can deal darkness powers, like striking fear into enemies or drain their life-energy. Quantum-type creatures can manipulate time and space, and lastly, Cyber characters can use a variety of mechanical weaponry like guns and rockets.
Darkspore isn't about controlling a single character like most role-playing games, but rather a squad of three creatures that are interchangeable during battle. This makes the gameplay very tactical with their abundance of abilities at your fingertips. Our first instance of the game was in a cooperative scenario, where fast-paced thinking became standard after facing wave after wave of Darkspore. Even if you wanted to, sticking with a single hero is not a wise choice. Enemies can assume an identical class and deal double damage to your character, while adversely being immune to some of your special attacks.
Because of the constant character swapping, the combat never felt stale. One minute we were a Cyber class hero, launching a barrage of missiles at an oncoming horde, and then we swapped to a melee-focused Quantum class hero to teleport in and finish off any stragglers. Only moments later we changed to a Bio class character, which gave us the ability to provide a health buff to our teammate. While our co-op partner gained poise under our healing tree in the midst of his ongoing battle, we sent off two of our plant minions to do battle in our stead. The strategic possibilities are almost endless and, depending on your method of choice, you can certainly create a squad that will suit any play style. Thankfully the controls were simple enough to maneuver in a flash, with powers being mapped to the 1-5 keys, and each squad member mapped to the Q, W, and E keys.
Of course, this kind of game wouldn't be much without randomly generated loot to provide a ton of stat upgrades. Enemies can drop items and equipment to suit any number of your creatures, which can in-turn be applied via the insanely expansive creature editor. Characters can don a variety of armor pieces, weapons, and offensive and defensive buff units that are fully customizable in appearance. Everything, including most of the characters limbs or miscellaneous appendages, can be shifted, rotated, stretched, and lengthened into just about any form imaginable. If that wasn't enough, there is also a variety of skin textures with a full-range color palette to make every hero in your collection completely unique.
At first glance Darkspore didn't seem like something that would impress, but it certainly did. After a little time studying its ins and outs, it was clear that refocusing the Spore brand to a familiar gameplay formula was the right move. With an online campaign that can support up to four players, and even a player vs. player component, there will be a lot to look forward to when the game releases on March 31st, 2011.
CCC Freelance Writer