Darkspore is Spore.
And Darkspore isn’t Spore.
Maybe you know the history. Will Wright spent over five years working on Spore, a costly multi-tiered, multi-genre sandbox game, before he left EA to create other projects. Spore was Wright’s magnum opus. But the hardworking team tried to do too much, and the game suffered from it – the critics said it lacked depth, and it sure took a long time to install. If you loved Spore, you forgave its weaknesses. If you hated it, you dwelled on them. After the master designer’s exit from EA, Spore branched out with expansion packs. And for kids, there was last year’s entertaining Spore Hero.
Now comes Darkspore, EA's upcoming action role-playing game which shares with Spore its undeniably amazing Spore Creature Creator to make hundreds of genetic heroes for the game. Why do you need heroes? You’ve got these malicious aliens called Crogenitors and they’re zipping around the galaxy willy nilly, causing mayhem by genetically transforming matter. They have unleashed something evil called Darkspore which is making everyone’s life miserable by mutating every being it comes in contact with.
In Darkspore, you're a wanted man, but you’re also the god of heroes. You’re Rip Van Winkle gone exponential – you’ve been snoozing for 1,000 years. Now you’re awake, powerfully reanimated, and you have the daunting but compelling task of creating a squad of heroes to stick it to the jerks of the universe who are wrecking everything.
You’ve got a lot to do. You’ll create hundreds of monstrous-looking heroes by choosing from thousands of body parts. There seem to be just as many non-playable characters in the game against which your squad of three will use some really inventive powers such as sending your enemies into a dimensional rift. They won’t go there forever, though, only for a few seconds. And if your squad is swarmed and badly injured by enemies, one of your heroes may choose to use the ability to plant a Tree of Life, which restores health.
There’s so much action going onscreen that the game looks like it can be unforgiving. But according to the developers, even if you lose, you’ll still get some experience points. You’ll level up in traditional RPG categories like health, power, strength, dexterity, mind, critical rating, dodge rating and reflection rating. Also you’ll find Obelisks along the way, which act as treasure chests full of loot.
EA demoed three kinds of monstrous heroes (basically the RPG classes) at the event. They’re each brightly colored, so you can find them easily onscreen. The colors are also codes for their abilities. Zrin, the Sun Fist, who’s red orange colored, is reminiscent of Marvel’s The Thing -- if The Thing were on steroids and oozed lava from his pores. Zrin melts and incinerates enemies. Vex, the Chrono Shifter, is a royal blue colored creature with swords on his wrists. He can multiply attacks on enemies and warp time to slow them down. Sage, The Life Forester, is a sneering green beast who can call up evil vines to ensnare a group of evildoers. His Rejuvenating Blast can also heal your heroes.
You can play Darkspore online with up to four players in what seems like a mix of, say, Diablo 3 (hotkeys let loose your various cans of whoopass like the warping of time), Plants vs. Zombies (you see what evil is heading your way before it gets to you) and Left 4 Dead 2 (because of the fancy A.I., you’ll supposedly feel like it’s a brand new game every time you play).
There was no hands-on time with Darkspore since it’s still fairly early in the development cycle. They’ve also planned a player versus player element that wasn’t yet shown. Gamers will likely be able to create enemies with the Creature Creator as well, possibly via contests, before the game is released. The question is, will this ability to create baddies be part of game once it’s released? At this point, the graphics still need to be tweaked to display greater detail in the enemies and especially in the environments. EA plans to publish Darkspore in February 2011, but the early state of the game makes one thing it could be more like mid-to-end of 2011. We'll try to have faith though.
Yet Maxis definitely has something good here, something that shows the breadth of Will Wright’s initial creation and the rabid, rampant imagination of the new developers who yearn to release an action RPG of a different color.