The Release of Darkspore...for the loot whore in you...

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Loot whoring should be it's own genre as far as I'm concerned.  Games like Diablo, Titan's Quest, Torchlight, and others will live on forever on my pc getting reinstalled now and again to provide that thrill of finding more and better loot for your characters.  Those of you waiting for Diablo 3, Grim Dawn, or Torchlight 2, still have to wait awhile though. Darkspore has recently been released and offers to fill that niche that's been left vacant in the recent seasons.  Darkspore, by the guys at Maxis, tries a few things out in the genre that haven't really been done, basically because of the engine the game is running on, but also because it seems to work out quite well in the overall. 

First off, if you're looking for story, you may want to look elsewhere as Darkspore's story is easily forgettable.  Even when between levels, you're getting a summary of what's going on and this isn't something you'll remember.  Something to do with darkspores taking over and causing havoc and you need to take them out.  That's all you really need to know for that component and while some may get upset by this, it's either you care or you don't.  Maxis isn't going to change anything for you.  The music on the other hand is quite nice.  It's kind of sci-fi"ish" if you can understand that.  There really isn't any "battle" music as you're taking on hordes of darkspores, just the relaxing vibe of the background music as you progress through the different levels. 

The game runs on the same engine that Spore came from and from the overall look of the game, that's easy to tell.  The traits that Darkspore takes from Spore work out quite well for this genre.  As I said before, this is a loot whoring game that'll provide you with tons of loot at your disposal.  That loot though consists of weapons, different style hands, feet, offense and defense components, and then detail parts.  You might be thinking, "Different hand styles?" And that's where Spore comes into light as you'll be playing "Heroes" that you can outfit with different hands, feet, weapons, shields, wings, etc to make them your custom creature.  While everything isn't quite replaceable, you'll definitely be hard-pressed to find another of your exact creature that has been made by someone else.  Because not only will you find new and better loot, but you can also change out the color of your creature into hundreds of different color schemes that make your hero your own.  There are 100 different heroes to unlock, however there's about 25 unique style heroes with 4 variations each.  Those variations being one of the five different genetic types: Plasma, Quantum, Bio, Cyber, and Necro.  And then those are split into classes including: Sentinel, Ravager, and Tempest.  Because of these variations, there can be healers, tanks, aoe destroyers and more.  It's pretty cool with the amount of variabilty. 

With the ability to have all these heroes available, you'll be creating up to 3 squads of 3 guys to take on missions to find loot and kill hundreds of Darkspores.  If you want to rock 3 plasma guys, or 2 bios and 1 tempest, or whatever, you can.  But each mission, ahead of time will tell you what enemies you'll be facing, as far as genetic types and if there's plasma enemies in the level and you're playing as a plasma hero, you'll take twice the damage from them, so there's a bit of strategy as well.  There's approximately 24 missions altogether, with missions per planet and a boss at the end of each mission, with a larger boss at the end of each planet.  There are also three different difficulty levels per missions, but you can only move onto the next difficulty level after playing through all 24 missions on the previous one.  You can play a mission solo, or with 3 other players, who have their own squad of 3 heroes, so the combinations and strategies can really light up the screen.  Each hero you have has 3 abilities at their disposal.  Well, one is their main attack and two unique abilities to that hero.  And then, depending on what grouping of genetics you took together in your squad, you'll have 3 other abilities that all three members of your squad can use.  It sounds like a bit to learn, but once you in the mix, it comes pretty easy.  The cool thing is, with playing with other people, you can mix the abilities together to create some devastating combinations to unleash upon the Darkspore.  Each piece of loot that is drop and picked up will go through a "roll" from each character and be deposited into their stash until the end of the level.  Sorry to say, it doesn't let you change your gear on the fly, but I haven't missed that quite yet.

One cool feature of your heroes though is that you don't necessarily grind XP for your heroes' level.  You grind gear.  What I mean is that your heroes' level is dependent upon the level of the gear they're wearing.  So, when you finally level up overall, XP from each mission for your overall level, and have the ability to unlock a new hero, you don't have to worry about leveling up that hero to make them useful.  You just give them your recently found gear and their level is determined by that gear.  While playing for a bit, this has become a welcome change for sure as the new heroes you find aren't useless when you get into later missions.  While you'll still be rerunning missions for better loot, it won't necessarily be to level up all your characters.  And one feature that Maxis has implemented is the "chaining" of missions and the reasoning for this is for better loot.  In a sense that when you finish a mission with at least one hero alive, you get a "roll" of a level item accordingly to your level, however, if you choose to forego that collection and move on onto the next mission, after you complete that mission, you'll be able to "roll" for more items instead of one and this will continue to increase chances of higher level items.  Chaining can be quite fun, but also puts on the pressure, because if you or your multiplayer team die in that next mission, you lose all that loot, so there's quite a catch, but yet quite a reward 

Gameplay is easy enough.  Basically moving your character with your left mouse button and then having your three squad members linked to Q,W, and E buttons, where there's a short cool down between changes during the mission.  And then you have buttons 1-5 for your abilities, so it doesn't take much to have quite a lot of fun.  Playing with others can also give you free passive abilities when around other players online, which are shown in the lower right hand corner of your screen.  And things you can change out during the mission involve these little crystals that give bonuses to your character, ie: Your hero gains +8 to strength or 10% time on cool downs of abilities.  These stick with your as long as you chain missions and can be found throughout the different levels and can be interchanged whenever.  You have 9 slots available for these crystals, however, you will need to unlock with DNA pieces that you pick up during each mission.  DNA is used to unlock more crystal slots, buy weapons for your heroes if you'd like, and also for general upgrades as far as raising stat caps of heroes or available squads.  There's quite a bit of different components to keep you playing.  And no worries if not one brought a healer in the level or your healer died, because while every hero has both a health and energy bar, they can be replenished by health and energy that is dropped by enemies when you kill them.  Like how Diablo 3 is going to be when it releases.  However, you can't rely on this feature to keep you alive singlehandedly, because you still need to use some strategy as health or energy will not always drop.  But a nice feature is that each hero of your squad has their own health and energy bar of their own, so if you switch during the mission, you'll have more energy or health, more than likely.

One last thing I'd like to add about the multiplayer component.  Maxis has done quite a significant job, which I hope other developers will follow suit in for the future.  This game requires an internet connection, whether you plan to play alone or with a group.  When you log into the game, you're put into a lobby of 80 people of varying levels.  When you choose to play the campaign, you can either go solo or go into matchmaking after picking which mission you want, based upon how far you are in the game itself.  If you decide to play with others, matchmaking will put you into a game, usually pretty quick.  Longest I've had to wait is about 20 seconds, however it does the best it can.  Say you want to start on 3-3, well, sometimes it'll put you in a group that's going into 3-1, however, due to the fact that it's really just a loot-filled game, this hasn't been a problem for me yet, but it may bother some as not everyone will keep chaining together missions and will choose to collect their loot after the first level, but you can progress on your own after the rest have left and the A.I. will act accordingly and it will adjust for the different size parties that are running the level.  For me, the multiplayer aspect has gone really smoothly, with groups of 2, 3, and 4, and starting a friend's list and playing with people you've played with a few days ago is quite easy. 

There is also a PvP component to the game for your heroes, but I have to be honest, I haven't put any time into it.  I believe there's 1v1 and 2v2 as far as I've heard, but again, that's a part that I haven't put in any time into yet.

Overall, there's a lot to this game.  Some people and reviewers call it shallow, but after spending a good amount of hours with the game, I can't agree with that statement because there's a lot of different components to keep track of, including the different heroes, genetics, equipment, abilities, crystals, etc. and then there's the different abilities.  The game may seem easy in the beginning, but when you start getting into 2-1 and beyond and your group that you're playing with isn't equipped correctly, you'll notice pretty damn soon because your parties will be getting wiped and that's still on easy difficulty, but don't let that discourage you.  There is a bit of a learning curve to this game, but once you understand it and realize what heroes need for their respective setups as far is gear is concerned, you'll feel quite powerful in the right squad. 

For those of you who are waiting for Torchlight 2, Diablo 3, or Grim Dawn, and want a different style of loot filled game, you might want to check this game out.  There's a lot there for your money or if you feel like $50 is a lot for what it's asking or if you've been reading some reviews and don't agree, wait till this thing goes on sale for a few bucks less, but don't miss it.  It's a good, solid game with a lot to offer.  I think the $50 price tag is worth it in this respect, especially with how well the multiplayer matchmaking component is so well implemented.  No one knows when Grim Dawn will be out, although it's looking nice and Diablo 3 could possibly come out by the end of the year, but I'm not holding my breath.  And Torchlight 2 is something I'll be getting day one, but I'm okay in knowing that this will easily fill my time for the loot whoring aspect till then and know that it offers some unique features to it as well that I won't be seeing in other games in the same genre.


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