Darkspore is not for every type of gamer, but if you enjoy action-rpgs and customization, Darkspore brings a lot of interesting things to the PC gaming table.
- Almost endless replayability
- Wide variety of heroes to customize
- Environments are breathtaking
- Enemies can be monotonous
- Difficulty increase is steep at times
- Confusing for new players
Darkspore is the perfect bite of top-down action-RPG fun from Maxis Software and Electronic Arts. It manages to marry aspects of combat and collection with customization in a unique way that its spiritual predecessor, Spore, was never to able to do. On top of that, Darkspore offers a healthy amount of encouraging replayability and cooperation (or competition) with others. For those thirsting for their Diablo fix, you're in luck.
Fun With Chemistry and Darwinism
In Darkspore you play as a Crogenitor, basically an unseen scientist who activates a variety of heroes in order to take care of the pesky Darkspore menace that's plaguing the galaxy.
The story does leave a lot to be desired and is told almost entirely through cutscenes and a voiceover robot throughout the stages, but if you can forgive that, then there is a lot left to love in Darkspore, starting with the huge variety of heroes that you can customize and collect. Unfortunately, you can't actually create original heroes like you could in Spore, but nevertheless, the game has 100 heroes available to play with.
Each hero is divided in to one of three classes and five different genetic types. The classes are Ravagers, quick damage dealers with low health, Sentinels, strong heroes that deal damage slowly and can tank oncoming damage better, and Tempests, support heroes who can deal damage, heal, and offer other utilities to the other characters.
On top of that, the heroes are broken down by genetic type. The types are Bio, which focuses on plants, animals, and life-force, Necro, which uses death, darkness, and fear, Cyber, which uses technology, Plasma, which uses fire, magma, and lava, and Quantum, which deals damage through manipulating space and time.
Darkspore will feel exceptionally familiar to anyone who has played a top-down RPG like Diablo or Torchlight. To attack you have to left click on enemies, and each hero comes with two main abilities, a passive ability, and three squad abilities that are shared within the party you choose. You control the character with the mouse and use their abilities by pressing 1-5 on the keyboard, and Q, W, E, to switch between characters.
My favorite Hero is one named Krel, a Plasma Ravager type that looks a bit like a dog. Krel has three fire canons on his back so his standard ability, Tribolt, launches three projectile fireballs at enemies. His second ability, Supernova, shoots a fireball ball that explodes area of effect damage, but it's his third ability, Flame Surge, that makes him so special. Flame Surge launches an entire wave of flames towards enemies and destroys everything in its path, getting wider the longer it travels.
This is Krel
Not only does it look cool, but its effects are devastating to enemies. His squad based ability, Twinblaze, is one that every hero in the whole Squad can use, and likewise he can use other heroes' squad abilities at leisure. Twinblaze shoots two quick projectiles towards an enemy and whatever they hit will take 50% more damage for a few seconds.
For each character, there is a healthy backstory that goes with them. Unfortunately, it’s attached to their profile, which is the same place where each hero’s abilities are explained (but, not actually explained or featured within the campaign). So, while each character’s past is quite in depth, if you’re not looking for it then you’ll never learn about who these heroes are and what their point in all of this is.
Fight! Fight! Fight!
Squads are made up of any three heroes you choose and there's no right or wrong way to pick a squad; it's all personal preference. What's unique about the squad feature is that you can switch squad members in and out at will, so if my first character is almost dead I can easily switch it out with the second hero, and any health or power tubes I pick up with the new hero will also replenish the first one as well. This opens up tons of previously unthought-of strategies and adds a lot of depth to how you approach different stages and bosses, making the game a lot more interesting.
Each stage of the game features different types of enemies, so it's good to be strategic with the type of heroes you pick in order to more efficiently deal with the Darkspore. The different enemies in each stage offer as much variation as the heroes that players get to use and enemies that are the same genetic type as your hero will take halfed damage. However, since you're constantly just killing masses of them they start to bleed together, and even though they're quite unique from one stage to the next, they're not exactly memorable.
The stages in Darkspore however, do leave quite an impression. They're all beautifully designed 3D environments ranging from tropical forests to rusty old factories. Particle effects add even more to the overall experience and often you'll find yourself exploring various areas of the maps just to see more of the fascinating environments. And that's okay, since Darkspore oftentimes rewards you for exploring. At the end of a long, winding path there might be an Obelisk hiding items, but occasionally there isn't, so you'll walk around a very long path for no reward which can get a bit annoying after happening a few times.
I Want My Hero To Have 25 Toes
While going through levels the enemies will drop dozens and dozens of items that you can customize your heroes with. Customization is a prime factor in Darkspore, and the more you customize your characters the stronger they'll become. Heroes have item slots for weapons, offense, defense, hands, feet, and a utility slot.
Customization is a defining aspect of Darkspore just as much as it was with Spore and this time around the items actually mean something. Each character can only use one item per slot, so picking and choosing the best for each character can be time consuming, but meticulous players that want to get the very most out of their heroes will have a blast with this aspect of the game.
It doesn’t stop there: each item is fully customizable in and of itself. For example, I found a really strong pair of wings to put on my Krel dog hero, so I made them really big, wide, and now Krel has awesome wings that look fantastic, and help me to differentiate my version of Krel from another player's version of him. You can also change the skin of your heroes, adding even more layers of personality to them.
Not only can you get items by fighting off hordes of Darkspore in the stages, but also after you complete stages you get items as well as a bonus for completing the level. What's neat is that if you choose to chain stages together and not collect the item rewards or customize your character to make it stronger after the stage is over, then you'll get a chance at better items for the next stage you complete. This offer stacks a bunch of times, and the most stages I did in a row was four before I had to stop and customize, because if you fail a mission while you're chaining you lose the chance at the bonus items. It's a risk, but it's a great way to add more of a hardcore option for those that want it.
A Gathering of Friends and Heroes
Aside from the single player, Darkspore also offers cooperative and competitive multiplayer. According to the developers Darkspore was designed to be played cooperatively and I'll agree it's much more fun playing this game with friends than alone.
Up to four players can team up with one another in the campaign, but the more people there are, the tougher the Darkspore become. Even just playing with one other person, the levels grew exponentially harder, almost to frustrating levels, compared to how easy they were playing solo. The health of the Darkspore grows and they deal more damage and attack with larger forces, making strategy a vital part of the coop campaign.
The PVP in Darkspore is also a prominent focus in the game. As your collection of items and heroes grows, players can test their characters out in the PVP Deathmatch arena, where your squad will face off against another player's squad in either a 1v1 or 2v2 best of three battle. The online PVP features matchmaking, leaderboards, and ranking, and is a good break from the campaign. Items found in the single player that stack resist rates often lend themselves to PvP more than the single player so the game forces you to play campaign in order to get better at PvP which some people may not like.
Darkspore? More like DARKSCORE!
Darkspore will most likely end up with players focusing much more on the PVP aspects of the game instead of the single player, as is the case with most strategy games. With so many characters to choose from and such a wide variety of items to collect and customize those characters with, it's easy to see that the longevity of the game will live on in the arena as you can only do the campaign so many times.
I have to admit that Darkspore is not for every type of gamer. The action can be slow at times, but at others it can ramp up and be extremely exciting when you're fighting off hordes and hordes of Darkspore with your precisely chosen squad or competing for bragging rights in a deathmatch. If you enjoy action-rpgs and customization then Darkspore brings a lot of interesting aspects to the table, and overall while traversing the stages with my fire dog I found myself constantly saying “just one more level!” until I was at the end and then I wanted to play it all over again with different heroes.