Review in Progress: Darkspore

Darkspore is EA's newest contribution to the action role-playing genre. We look to see how it has shaped up ahead of the full review.

Of course you remember Spore, 2008's not-quite-revolutionary game about not-quite-evolution. That game soared because of its excellent use of user-created content. Darkspore uses a few of Spore's creation features, but if you were looking for a similar experience, keep your expectations grounded: Darkspore is an online action role-playing game in the vein of Diablo. The game was released today, April 26, though it was in open beta for some time before. While I did get several days of play in that beta last week, I wanted to take in the full experience this week; online-focused RPGs can surprise us in wonderful and terrible ways upon release. This means I'm not ready to deliver word on Darkspore's quality just yet, but I wanted to share with you a few quick thoughts, along with some screens and video taken from my time with the beta.

Darkspore introduces you to its sci-fi world with a short tutorial, giving you control of a hero creature called Blitz and having you slice up a few foes while a robotic voice-over fills you in on the basics. If you've played an action RPG on your PC before, however, you probably already have a good idea of how the moment-to-moment gameplay goes: you click on your alien foes to turn them into bloody bits, occasionally casting various spells to make them dead even faster, or to keep you alive even longer. You do this alone, or with up to three other players as you progress from level to level, though it's worth pointing out that while you can tackle the campaign alone, this is still an online game meant to be shared with friends and strangers: to play, you must maintain your Internet connection and be signed into the online lobby.

You can play the campaign alone, but to avoid frustration, you really are better off buddying up.

The basic action may be ripped from the Diablo playbook, but there's a definite Pokemon catch-'em-all element at work, too. As you level up, you earn access to new creatures to command, from 100 in total (well, 4 variants of 25 heroes, anyway), each of which has different skills and genetic types. Before each level, you choose a squad of three, and can switch between any of the three in battle, depending on the role you wish to play and the effectiveness of your various heroes versus the enemies you encounter. Your sole goal is to cut through swaths of buzzing flies and grenade-tossing robots on your way to a final boss, accumulating as much loot as you can. In between levels, you upgrade your heroes with said loot in the hero editor, enhancing their statistics and leveling them up simultaneously. (Player level and hero levels are separate entities.) This editor is a highly streamlined version of Spore's creature creator. You place equipment on your heroes where you like and can paint them in various ways, but the editing tools aren't very robust, and as a result, you aren't likely to invest much time in them.

Heroes don't have skill trees in the traditional sense, though a few of a hero's six total spells vary depending on the constitution of your squad. You have to consider not just how those skills can be used to maximum effectiveness, but also your heroes' genetic types: heroes take double the damage from foes of the same type. My favorite aspect of Darkspore thus far, however, is how you choose after each level whether to roll for extra loot then or to transition directly to the next mission, which gives you an even greater chance to earn good stuff if you triumph. I just wish there were more context to all of this saber slashing and laser shooting. You don't experience much story firsthand--you are simply told about one, by the same disembodied voice that guides you through the opening tutorial. Aside from collecting crystals and stat-enhancing orbs, there are no mission objectives or other structural elements designed to give you a sense of purpose. At least the game has a slick New Age style. Spacey atmospheric music drones while you make your way across glowing walkways and down planetside corridors.

We're not on Pandora anymore.

There are one-versus-one and two-versus-two battles as well, though I haven't experienced enough of them to get a sense of how much fun they are, though you could say the same about the entire game. I am having fun in the mouse-clicky way of most action RPGs, though I am not yet sure whether the hero collection and squad considerations are enough to give Darkspore the legs it needs to be a long-term prospect. I am hoping to deliver a full review late this week or early next. For now, enjoy the screens and movies, and maybe I'll even see you online!

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Discussion

10 comments
GrahamZ
GrahamZ

I played the beta long enough to determine that the game was not for me. To me, granting the similarity to Diablo, this is more of an 'action 'non-rpg' game' as most of the rpg/story elements have been totally stripped out of it. I felt that Spore actually had a whole lot more of an rpg feel than this does.

TimeWiseChubert
TimeWiseChubert

Ok guys, thanks for your comments, and I'll take your advice and stay away from this game.

MuffintopX
MuffintopX

Played the beta and it wasn't for me. The combat pace seemed very slow to me, I kept wishing i could sprint or the heroes would move faster than they did. The customization didn't even need to be in there. You can choose where you want to put some shoulderpads, but where else would I put them besides the shoulders? Besides those things, I felt like I was grinding within the first hour. Without any point to playing besides killing everything and beating a boss, it just repeats from there. Getting new guys is fun but that is really the only "customization" you get with your playstyle is which team you choose to take with you, but all teams probably look pretty similar since the classes are set up like paper scissors rock. Fun beta, but I'll have to pass because it's just not complex or engaging enough for a guy like me who consumes games like water.

FaYt2021
FaYt2021

@red666devil I agree with you on a few point and disagree on one. An RPG is meant to tell a story and fill a role which this game doesn't seem to do much of. I don't think a skill tree really helps define an RPG, though it is an added bonus to help with individuality it doesn't drive the meaning of RPG. Now a days many games that cling to the title of RPG do so only because the character you play as can level up and progress in strength, which is fun, but not Role Playing.

sexyweapons
sexyweapons

Spore was sandbox,this an RPG. Same universe different genre. 7.5 is what i think this will get

red666devil
red666devil

First thing First.... RPG = Role Playing Game... Show me my role in Darkspore. Giving various heroes to control, without no story, no background what so ever. Plus tell me one thing, how can a RPG game be without skill trees?? Means how do I make them unique and different from others when all of us are carrying the same stuff. And seriously changing Colors and Tatoos on my characters is not what RPG is meant to be. Overall, this game is sooo booring, its a hope for a hope that u will find something interesting, due to which I kept playing the starting levels... Shouldnt have released a half baked game... Bin this $$$hit....

Dareitus
Dareitus

I played the beta for as long as I felt humanly possible, desperately hoping to discover this games charm hidden in the deeper levels of gameplay.... It just isn't there. Hero customization is an absolute joke, adding up to little more than equipping a different item in each slot (Think Gloves, Boots, Chest, Helmet, etc except they are named different because they are "Genetic Heroes" not people). No skill trees, no creation or customization, just pick the hero you like and equip him with your best stuff. No story, no objectives, no skills, no nothing. And the heroes arent even interesting! About 20% into the game they start recycling heroes and just give them new skins. You can imagine my disgust after playing for hours to see what the sweet new death guy was like, only to find out he was the EXACT SAME character I had been using for hours, just skinned different (higher stats, higher max level, but all the same skills and animations). DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME ON DARKSPORE.

rakhaanandra
rakhaanandra

Im a big fan of both diablo and world of warcraft also i like creating monsters in spore and this game combines both of that so the only opinion i have is EPIC!!!!!!!!

gijas
gijas

Is there a lot of lag in those gp video's or is it on my end?

Daavpuke
Daavpuke

Do want! But I'm not really following you on all points for once. For one, although there is a definite connection to action RPG's such as Diablo, I never felt it was a rip-off, as it's much to novel in its own spectrum of customization for that. Also, I DID spend hours upon hours in the editor, as I thought it did an incredible job of creating a unique hero. I do agree that the story involvement is lacking, even if the plot itself is decent enough. But luckily, an action RPG is never about story for me personally. I enjoy the core aspect of it too much to bother. Even in Diablo or epic settings like Titan Quest, I'd rather enjoy the surroundings and destroy, collect, soak more environment and so forth.