“Once a regular meal of the hardcore PC gamer’s diet, the humble dungeon crawler is gradually making a comeback. The surprise smash that was Torchlight in 2009 proved that the click-heavy, loot-filled pastime can still have a place in today’s market, and with Diablo III still seemingly far away, Darkspore could be launching at the right time to fill the void. Although sceptics might rubbish a game born from a cutesy God-sim, conceptually and structurally it brings a few new ideas to the action role-playing stable to make it worth a look.
While the genre is traditionally steeped in fantasy, Maxis’ latest takes a more contemporary approach in its setting. Akin to recent blockbuster sci-fi franchises, Darkspore arrives with a fully crafted universe filled with backstories and diverse planets, all fighting against relentless, mutated virus consuming its many alien races. The damage, however, is already done - you play a Crogenitor, a member of a long-dead race woken up from cryogenic sleep to discover that the Darkspore has practically taken over the galaxy. With the help of an on-board AI piloting your drifting spaceship, you construct heroes from the fragments of DNA remaining on board and send them on missions to stop the mutated army from total domination.
It’s comes with a dark, moody and strikingly different feel to the family friendly Spore that we all know, and compared to its peers in the genre, it’s structurally different too. While the likes of Diablo featured a familiar hub world and dungeons to return to, Darkspore adopts a simple arcade-like structure, with each planet featuring four missions that end in a boss battle. Each stage is perfectly suited for quick game sessions, lasting around 15 minutes in length with simple, linear layouts to abide to. The gameplay itself is also cheerfully straightforward, requiring players to reach the teleporter at the far end of the area once you’ve taken out enough enemies, and occasionally, sticking to a single zone to wipe out advancing hordes. Elsewhere there’s the standard co-operative play online - for up to four players - as well as two-on-two PvP to put their warriors to the test.
Those who spend their opening minutes of a role-playing game stressing over their permanent class and race choices will be happy with Darkspore’s multi-character approach. Instead of focusing attention on a lone hero, here you can take three heroes into a mission - out of a gradually unlocking roster of 100 - which can be called into battle at any time. Not only does it boost the existing range of attacks at your disposal, but it helps with the occasional difficulty spike; although it’s an easy-going game, it’s eager to flood the screen with a few dozen insectoid creatures at a moments notice, or unleash bosses with numerous overpowered attacks, so having those three health meters to swap between is helpful in itself.
It wouldn’t be a dungeon crawler without its love of loot, and it’s here where Darkspore offers another interesting twist. Rare finds are awarded at the end of the mission, with their chances of exclusivity boosted by completing each of the three simple objectives; keeping your party alive, finding three obelisks and defeating all enemies. You can choose to cash out and take the item, or gamble and go on to complete the next stage - populated with far harder enemies - to double your booty. Of course, dying means you’ll lose the lot, and since the game is at times tough already, it’s a big risk to take. But for those well acquainted with the genre, such a challenge is no doubt a welcome one.
Loot is also where the Spore part of Darkspore comes in. New weapons and equipment can be slapped on to your hero using the franchise’s Creature Creator onto a position of your choosing. Aside from colouring your champion in a range of colors and patterns, there is little else on offer in terms of customisation. Fun as it is to plant all available accessories and helmets onto an alien’s face, it lacks the customisation and the home-grown feeling of seeing your creation come alive like it’s predecessor, especially since these customisation options aren’t easily noticed on the battlefield. Of course, equipment boosts both a hero’s stats and their level, so it’s worth ducking into the editor on a regular basis for that alone.
Because of this, Darkspore may enter a marketing quandary upon release. In terms of gameplay, tone and customisation options it offers little in similarity to it’s namesake, despite the stylistic familiarity of the creatures that populate it. It is, however, a very interesting take on the dungeon crawling setup, one that’s quick to jump into for newcomers and others optional challenges for others. Those looking for an easy-going simulation game will be in for a shock, but it could keep those waiting for the next Diablo busy until its eventual release.” - Matthew Reynolds from digitalspy.com