Darkspore does have a couple of nifty metagaming ideas thrown in. For example, after completing a level, you’re presented with a choice: Go back to the home base screen, level up, equip new loot, and get stronger… or go right into the next, more difficult level for a bonus multiplier in loot rarity and frequency. But, if you die, you lose it all. It’s kind of a double-or-nothing deal, pushing you to push yourself. And to that end, this game really wants you to play with friends — constantly ramping up the challenge on lone wolves until it becomes very difficult to go it alone. On the plus side, it’s easy to hook up with other players; on the minus side, interaction and real cooperation is virtually nonexistent. I never spoke one word to my two random teammates, let alone chained combos or specials or anything. The main thing you get from working with other guys is that they take on some of the workload. It’s necessary because of the single-player difficulty level, but it isn’t going to rival, say, Portal 2 or Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light for real co-op gameplay.
Although there’s an interesting sci-fi story, Darkspore doesn’t have much of a personality. While the campaign is long and surprisingly challenging, there aren’t any NPCs to interact with or side quests beyond fulfilling a handful of bonus objectives. There isn’t even a way to replay cutscenes. It’s also hard to get too invested in your characters when you’re switching between them all so frequently.
There are a few major bugs, like one that made my characters inexplicably unable to attack or move. There’s also the issue of requiring an constant online connection. To the game’s credit, it will place you at your last position if you lose connection with the game server, but it doesn’t pause the action while you’re out of commission – not even in a solo game. So, if you happen to be fighting a boss or fending off a horde of beasties, your hero is likely to be wiped out before you reconnect.
This system is clearly intended to promote strategy and diversity as well as risk-taking, but all too often it means sighing resignedly, returning to the Editor and laboriously upgrading your squad or assembling a new one. As the game progresses, you unlock the option to have additional squads to hand, which mercifully frees things up, but it leaves a slightly bitter taste in the mouth. Is the game artificially withholding key features like this (other ‘upgrades’, play modes and even player-versus-player are treated similarly) until several hours in, purely to create a veneer of evolution?
The solo campaign is compulsive enough, built as it is upon the perennial allure of splatting monsters and collecting items with bigger numbers. But as the game wears on, it increasingly feels like a treadmill. There’s some aesthetic variety to the levels, and a slow trickle of huge bosses fitted with interestingly brutal powers of their own, but behind that it’s the same experience recycled and not blessed with the sense of escalation and place that helps the Diablo games rise above their simple mechanics.
I’ve played the Darkspore beta, and while I had good intentions, I just didn’t get hooked like most people are when they play – it’s not that its a bad game or anything – I just don’t have a lot of time to dedicate myself to gaming as I just have too much on my plate at the moment. However, I’ll revisit this game when I have free time as I had very fun during the beta period!
If you are already playing, then perhaps the following article from ZAM will help you out with sharing PvE and PvP tips!
Remember to check your objectives tab on the bottom center-right of your screen. Getting gold medals in objectives increases your chances of getting rare loot after the level is complete, so you should always be going for gold!
Sometimes objectives are time-based, but they often end up being the last “hidden” objective, so you don’t know that you’re being timed until the middle of the level. If you’re going for gold medals, your approach to the level should be based off of fulfilling your objectives quickly without distractions.
Don’t be afraid to run away! If you’re low on health against a boss or some enemies, remember that you’re not obligated to stay in their face, taking all the hits. It’s possible to “kite” a boss with some ranged heroes by walking in circles and occasionally turning around to take a pot shot.
Use your squad switches to create powerful combos. At the early levels, I loved walking into crowds with Revenant, using his area-of-effect fear, switching to SRS-42 and then doing a missile barrage on that spot. There are hundreds of other great combinations you can use in PvE, and they should become an integral part of your strategy.
There are some really great things about Darkspore. The vast amount of customization options and the simple but fun battle system kept me interested enough to overlook the poor execution of story. However, a broken competitive multiplayer system and a single-player experience that forces you to excessively replay level after level in order to get powerful enough to continue make it obvious Maxis needs a little more practice developing games that aren’t simulations.
Darkspore Lead Designer Paul Sottosanti knows numbers. Turning down a Harvard acceptance to study Computer Science and Graphical Design at another Ivy League school, Carnegie Mellon, Paul did a stint on the Magic: The Gathering pro tour before going to work at Wizards of the Coast as one of the folks in charge of game balance for the immensely popular collectable card game.
But when Maxis presented a chance to work on Darkspore, Paul couldn’t turn down a title that had more legs, pun intended, than its predecessor. “The Spore editor was so awesome – the best part of the project by far – that the idea of taking that and building an RPG around it sounded amazing to me… I couldn’t not join the team at that point.” Paul made his entrance as a systems designer and, with the help of a couple interns, designed and balanced every hero and enemy ability (as well as the reward systems and overall tuning during the three year lead-up to launch), working his way up to Lead Designer in the process. So he’s clearly the right guy to talk to regarding the nuts and bolts of the game.