You’d be forgiven if you assumed Darkspore might be similar to 2008’s Spore; after all, the titles are similar, and both games were created by the same developer. Well, let go of any preconceptions: this spin-off may have some elements in common with the game that spawned it, but it is structurally quite different. It’s also rather good. Darkspore is an online-only role-playing game in which you and up to three buddies (or strangers) slice and dice your way through factory corridors and forest pathways en route to an end boss. Your goal: collect as much awesome loot as you can. And you’ll need all you can get, for as you level up, you gain access to more and more heroes and group them into squads of three creatures each. This “catch ’em all” mechanic is one of Darkspore’s main draws, though there are a few other twists on the traditional action RPG formula that keep it from feeling like a simple space-age Diablo clone.
That isn’t to say that Darkspore feels totally fresh, however. There’s too little context for all this hacking and slashing: it’s all grinding for levels and loot, with little sense of purpose. That might sound like a damning flaw, but some hours in, the game hits its stride, throwing greater challenges at you on the battlefield and balancing the dungeon crawling with the satisfaction of maintaining the look and equipment of up to 100 different heroes. These elements don’t fully compensate for the missed opportunities, but they’re enough to make for dozens upon dozens of entertaining hours in front of your monitor.
Make sure to note the “online only” bit. Though you can play on your own, you must be online and signed into the game in order to play. Once signed in, you enter a game hub and a chat lobby, where you can find other players to group up with while futzing around with your inventory. The first time you sign in, a tutorial gets you quickly up to speed, putting you in control of a nimble little scamp called Blitz. Blitz, like all of Darkspore’s heroes, is a creature that would have been right at home in Spore. Some of the game’s heroes look like insects; others, like robots; and still others, like the monsters your childhood self imagined might be hiding under your bed or in your closet. In any case, Blitz is easy to get a handle on: you click to move, you click to attack, and you press a numeral key to perform special attacks. In Blitz’s case, he can teleport forward for a quick, stunning attack; deliver a flurry of slashes with his claws; and surround himself with electrical globes that zap nearby enemies.