by Quinn Levandoski
previewed on PC
From the spore comes darkness...
2008's Spore was a game that was a huge step in many areas for gaming, but didn't quite manage to bring everything together as well as one might have hoped. Now, in 2011, Spore creator Maxis (though without Will Wright) is attempting to take what worked in their evolutionary adventure title and form it into a brand new game that borrows elements from all across gaming.
Despite its name, Darkspore is not a prequel, sequel, expansion, or in any other way related to Spore in terms of story, setting, or anything else in-game. Darkspore is an action-RPG, allowing the player to create their very own genetically engineered super beast and tear through legions of alien scum. What it does borrow from Spore is the incredibly robust and deep creature creator.
I wasn't a huge fan of Spore on the whole, but I did shamelessly spend many a precious hour toying around with the creature creator seeing what kinds of wild monsters my brain could dream up. That was the magic with it; within reason, if you could dream it, you could do it. This seemed like too good of a feature to be showcased in one game and left behind, and I'm excited that it'll get it's moment in the spotlight once again. Not only is the creature creator a cool thing for players, it's also a fantastic tool for the developers. Every character in the game, good and bad, comes from the creature creator. This means that when the good folks at Maxis want to add in some more characters, they don't have to spend nearly as much time creating animations and physics for the characters from scratch. With this time saved, there can be an incredible amount of extra time spent on the creative aspects of character creation, as well as other areas of the game.
Creatures of destruction
So, what kind of gameplay can we expect from Darkspore? Well, Maxis tailored the game in response to what they saw as the most successful aspects of Spore. Executive Producer Michael Perry stated that according the the feedback that they received, people's favorite part of Spore was the Creature stage, which was very much a rudimentary RPG. This being the case, Darkspore is modeled to be a Diablo-esque RPG in which the player controls a party of three creatures. Players will be able to switch between which of the three party members they control at any given time, and each creature available will be distinctly different and play into a different combat strategy.
There are three basic classes: Ravagers (speedy melee fighters), Sentinels (tanks), and Tempests (ranged supporters), and each class has numerous sub-types including plants, animals, robots, lightning wielders, and many more. This is where a great deal of the strategy comes from. Choosing who to include in your party is the key, as each type of creature has a Pokemon-ish system of strengths and weaknesses. Even though the different protagonists will be hand-crafted by Maxis at the start, rest assured that there will be plenty of room for customization. Weapons come in the form of genetic enhancements, and can be placed on your being of choice in a fashion of your choosing.
Even though single player and cooperative play are a huge part of the game, PvP fans will be able to get their fix in Darkspore as well. Darkspore multiplayer will consist of brawls between two teams of between one and four players, duking it out it out in best-of-three matches that are designed to be short (a few minutes) and intense. In these matches players again control a group of three creatures, each with unique offensive and defensive MMO-like powers, as well as one over-arching power that any of the three can use. Environments will also play a large role in battles, as each will feature vastly different terrains, environmental traps, and hazards. With the amount of character types, classes, unique powers, and environments available, along with the fact that the losing side gets to switch up their fighters in between rounds, matches should create great rock-paper-scissor style battles with each team constantly trying to outwit their opponent.
Something for everyone
Everything taken into account, Darkspore looks like it has the potential to please just about everyone. Solo-focused players will be able to play through the single player campaign, killing and looting to their heart's content. Social players will be able to hop into the same campaign and play cooperatively with a friend. The competitive spirits among us can enjoy heart-pounding yet tactical PvP matches. Or, if you just want to fool around in the creature creator, as I'm sure many of you do, you can do that too. Will Maxis be able to pull everything together and deliver as compelling a product as we hope they can? I sure hope so, because if Darkspore is able to deliver on all fronts it should really be something entertaining. I can't wait to find out.