|Dev: Maxis Software|
|Pub: Electronic Arts|
|Release: April 26, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Angelo M. D’Argenio
In 2008 Spore promised us the world but delivered nothing more than five barebones games and a pretty interesting character editor. Darkspore, EA and Maxis' follow up to their sim-everything disappointment, didn't promise the world. Instead, it promised us a decently enjoyable, top down, Diablo-esque, sci-fi RPG using what was perhaps the best part of the original Spore, the character editor. It's basically Maxis' first foray into the action RPG genre, and it shows. The game is a little rough around the edges, but is, as previously advertised, decently enjoyable.
In Darkspore you take the role of a Crogenitor. What is a Crogenitor? As far as I can tell it's some sort of weird, hand-wavey magical scientist thing that is a master of DNA and making new creatures or something. You see, a long time ago a special type of awesome, mutagenic, Ninja Turtles-like DNA was discovered in deep space, and being the scientific bastards that we are, we obviously started using this DNA to create experimental, super-powered hybrid crab-elephants (or at least that's how the story goes down in my head). Unfortunately the DNA goes out of control and creates the Darkspore, which are also super-powered hybrid crab-elephants, except they're evil, which my scientific colleagues tell me is a bad thing. So, to deal with this horrible monstrosity, you and the rest of the Crogenitors run the heck away and go into cryogenic sleep. This turns out to be a bad idea considering you basically just let the Darkspore overrun the galaxy. Flash forward some time later when you wake up from your sleep and the A.I. in your ship tells you, "DOY, you just let the Darkspore overrun the galaxy!" Then it's off to clean up your galactic mess … and this is the entire game.
OK, so I embellished the plot a bit for the sake of comedy there, but it really doesn't get much better. Your ship's A.I. is the primary vehicle (see what I did there?) for storytelling, and it's a bad one. It prattles on about the planets you visit and the events that took place before the game even started, but it does so in absolute barrages of exposition that you just don't care about because it takes forever and distracts you from the action. You never really get to interact with anyone or anything important over the course of the game. Everything is basically told in past tense. This might work just fine for the original Spore and other simulation games, but if you are going to make an action RPG you need to write a story that actually has relevance in the here and now. As it stands Darkspore's story is really just an excuse to push you on to another planet (i.e. another dungeon) and get you grinding some more levels. Honestly, it all just became "blah blah blah" to me after the first few minutes anyway.
Luckily enough, Darkspore's gameplay is nowhere near as boring as its story. Throughout the game you design creatures for battle which you then sort into parties of three. You only get to control one creature at a time, but you can freely switch between the creatures in your party whenever you like.
Your creatures don't really level up in the game. Instead, you level up, and each time you level you basically get a chance to futz around with the DNA of another creature. You can purchase some overall upgrades for your parties, but all-in-all the strength of your creatures is determined by the items and body parts you equip them with.
You also aren't making creatures from scratch like you did in the original Spore. You are actually modifying pre-set heroes, and while you still have a lot of flexibility with the system, there are some stats that act as a starting point for each hero. For example, each hero falls under one of five genesis types (basically a simplified elemental system), one of three classes, and can fight either melee or ranged. These give the hero his "starting abilities," so to speak, and most heroes have some unique abilities they bring to the fray as well.
Everything else about your creatures is determined by what you equip them with. Just like the original Spore, you can equip your creatures with a variety of body parts, each offering their own boosts to your creature's stats and abilities. However, in Darkspore you can also equip your creatures with weapons and armor. The creature editor is exactly the same as it is in Spore, and equipping your creature is as easy as snapping a new part on. Once again you can futz around with your creature's markings, color, and appearance to get them to look exactly how you want, if you're the obsessive type who likes to play dress-up with super powered hybrid crab-elephants.
The actual gameplay is pretty basic. You hop into a dungeon and start slaughtering your enemies on your quest to reach the end goal. Click an enemy to attack it, click a space to move, hammer on your number keys for skills; it's the basic Diablo formula. The only real quirk to the system is the genesis system, in which creatures of the same genesis type deal and receive double damage against each other. So, basically you just have to be sure to bring creatures of a different type to whatever you are currently being swarmed with.
After completing a level, you get the option to get your loot and return to your ship to further modify your heroes. However, if you are confident in your party, you can basically forego this and go straight on to the next level. If you do this, you "chain" the levels together, upping your XP and item gain. It's a very simple risk/reward game that makes the game more fun for daredevils and hardcore gamers. There are also option objectives and side quests, but the main quest never diverges much from "go through this dungeon, kill these enemies." It can get a little repetitive.