A sci-fi action RPG with more than just a hint of Pokemon.
When the original Spore was released, amidst the hype of offering the ultimate evolutionary simulator, many people came away disappointed. It seemed that by trying to cover so many different aspects in the game, Spore had become a jack-of-all-trades, and master of none. The game was good, for what it was, and the editing tools did an excellent job of allowing the player to customise their species. But it was just trying to do too much and thus ended up failing to a certain degree.
Then, along came Darkspore, a spin off which decided to concentrate on one single style of gameplay – the Action RPG – and do it as well as possible. Despite a fairly large roster of previous Action RPGs in this style, the temptation to compare this game to the classic Diablo is still present. Players click to move their hero, click to attack enemies and click again to pick up loot. Your hero will have different special abilities that can be activated either by the corresponding number buttons on the keyboard, or by clicking the icon. picking up and playing is simplicity itself.
Within each level, the player uses a team of three heroes which can be switched between at will. In a move that seems to come straight out of Pokemon, the heroes have different characteristics that associate with their “type”. One type may be weak or strong against another type, forcing the player to be tactical in their choices for their party of three and swapping between heroes during playing. As the player increases in experience, they will unlock further heroes to add to their roster, with more than 100 available in total. The team of three must be created before entry into the level, without the knowledge of what the level holds for them. But again, as the player progresses, they will be able to unlock the chance to create more than one team of three, which can be swapped between before entering the level, enabling the player to cover all eventualities.
Customisation plays a strong role in Darkspore and the player will be able to manipulate and enhance their heroes to give them a more unique feel, including changing their colour schemes, size etc. Throughout the game, the player will come across many, many loot drops that will contain new body parts, weapons, armour and accessories for their heroes to further customise them. Not only do these loot drops serve the purpose of making your hero look different, they are also responsible for increasing their level and adjusting their stats, making them more powerful and able to deal with the steady increase in difficulty found in the game.
The levels themselves are where things get a bit “samey”. Although each new set of levels offers a different theme and layout, they all feel more or less the same. There are different creatures to fight against, each belonging to one of the various types, and a huge amount of different loot to collect. But the gameplay very quickly stagnates into the same clicks and button presses all the way through to the end of the level, and then into the next. The levels are relatively linear, with the occasional different path to take should the player want to ensure that they get all of the available treasures. They just don’t take any thinking about and can be quite happily completed with a steady mouse finger and without engaging the brain at all.
Which is completely the opposite to the inventory and hero customisation screens that can be found in between the repetitive gameplay. It is here that the player must go through and organise all of their loot, assign particular loot to their heroes to level them up, sell what they no longer want and buy any available new stuff. The player has a certain number of points with which to allocate new equipment to their heroes, further forcing the player to think carefully about their team and any enemies they may encounter.
Given that Darkspore is science fiction based, as opposed to the usual fantasy settings that this style of game has, the visuals have a more “colourful” look to them, with all manner of different colours used to depict the various alien environments. There is also a plentiful use of technology, be they force field generators or even the more cyborg based lifeforms, to differentiate between Darkspore and similar fantasy set games. Otherwise, the looks are exactly how you would expect them. The game has a slightly angled top down view which can be zoomed in upon for a closer look at the heroes or their enemies. Everything is very well done, as you would expect.
Darkspore may not have the depth to get the player truly immersed in the universe, or even caring that much for the story. But that doesn’t stop the game from being highly entertaining for gamers who don’t mind a bit of heavy grinding in exchange for copious amounts of loot. Containing far more action than role-playing, the constant battling serves only as a means to getting more of the lovely body parts and enhancements for your heroes. The multiplayer option certainly takes the edge off that ever present decent into monotony that comes from the repetitive gameplay. It is not the all-encompassing game that Spore was, which is probably for the best, and if you go into Darkspore expecting a Diablo-style experience with an emphasis on collecting, you will not be disappointed.