LGR – Darkspore and the Problem With Always-Online Games
Spore was such a divisive title among many gamers when it launched in 2008.
There was no shortage of love for it’s creature creation and customization systems,
but there was plenty of criticism for it’s shallow gameplay and oversimplified take on evolution.
Nonetheless, three years later we got Darkspore. A follow-up game that isn’t really a follow-up at all.
“A new breed of Action-RPG”
And, according to the back of the box, it boasts a full single-player campaign, as well as online co-op and PVP!
Sounds awesome! Let’s check it out!
As of March 1st, 2016
Darkspore is the latest in a growing army of online-only games that have been unceremoniously shot in the head and left in a ditch.
Even for it’s single-player mode, an internet connection is required.
Which is marketing speak for “We’ve got your money, screw you!”
Even if you still have the disc with all the data on it, you can’t play the game you paid for because of EA’s always-on DRM scheme used here.
All this stuff in the box, it’s now useless. A lifeless corpse that exists only to remind you of how short-sighted and apathetic toward history the gaming industry can be.
“So if you can’t play it anymore, what’s the point in covering Darkspore now?”
Well for one thing, archiving is something I care about deeply. So if anything, I can preserve a bit of gameplay footage to show you what’s been lost.
Beyond this, I want to do my part to let publishers know that there are some of us who will not stand for this crap.
As I have said many times before, a big reason I love to collect games is for the artistry of the medium.
I treat each game on my shelf as a piece of art, with each one standing as a testament to what can be done when a group of creative human beings come together and do something fascinating with interactive stuff.
Whether the game is good or bad is beside the point in my mind.
Everything deserves to be preserved because there are valuable lessons to learn and personal experiences to be had with all forms of gaming.
In short: killing a game like Darkspore is an assault on history and I do not agree with it.
And I’ve got to imagine, the people that were working on this game in the past are pretty annoyed by this,
I mean, they can’t even show their kids someday like “Hey, I worked on this thing!”. No. It’s gone!
More on that later, but
Now onto the game itself, which starts with a shiny Maxis logo.
Oh, and by the way, EA shut THEM down too, so it’s a reminder within a reminder of how callous publishers can be.
After this, you’re given a log-in screen, which of course doesn’t work anymore but thankfully, I remembered to record this the day before it shut down.
You’re then tossed into a small tutorial level
showing you the ropes by letting you wander around a space that looks pretty terrible, compared to the rest of the game.
I never understand why this happens in some games.
You’d think they would crank up the detail to the max in the very beginning to psych you up to play the rest of it, but… Anyway…
Once you get past this and into the actual experience, it becomes more clear what you’re in for.
If you’ve played Diablo or Torchlight or Sacred or Path of Exile or pretty much any major ARPG in the past 20-ish years,
then congratulations! You’ve played most of Darkspore already.
It’s a bog-standard Action RPG with pointing and clicking and hacking and slashing.
Use the mouse to kill things! Use hotkey abilities with cool-down timers! Pick up shiny loot to Git Gud!
And level up your characters to increase their stats.
So far, so average.
However, there’s a twist in terms of free-form customization on offer
which you should expect for a game with “Spore” in the title.
Unfortunately you cannot create your own characters, or “Heroes” as it calls them.
But you can customize their look, somewhat, using the same tools used in Spore.
There are slots for things like weapons, defense, offense, headwear, footwear, and frilly details,
so the parts you loot can be dropped into these slots and placed anywhere on your hero.
This is a fun little feature in an Action RPG and I really wish more of them did this.
If only because of the potential for abusing it and creating spiky demon dongs and glowing nuclear nipples.
It leaves a bit to be desired in terms of character specialization though, because, each hero comes with a predetermined skillset.
And there are dozens of them to choose from. Including: freaking mechs!
Which is always a welcome addition in my book!
As you level up, you’ll gain the ability to create multiple squads of three heroes each
which is vital due to the way enemies are presented.
Before each level you’ll be shown the types of enemies you’ll face
with some doing double the damage to certain hero types,
so having a variety of specialized squads is key.
‘Cause otherwise you’ll enter an area and be promptly wiped out by low level minions.
Speaking of minions, I was thoroughly impressed by the variety in enemy designs and their unusual selection of abilities.
Even among the levels that look pretty much the same as previous ones at first glance,
you’ll still run into creatures that are 100% unique to that level.
Combined with the impressive diversity in planets and locations to explore
and you’ve got a recipe for a game that does it’s part to try and keep you engaged.
Even when the gameplay itself gets really monotonous.
And MAN is it monotonous!
As much as I approve of the array of creatures and locations,
the grind of slaying your way through each level grows tiresome just a couple of hours into the 16+ hour campaign mode.
Barring a few exceptions, every level plays exactly the same.
Start off in an area with cannon fodder enemies,
wipe them out, teleport to the next area within the level,
kill off some slightly harder enemies,
teleport to the next area,
kill off a horde of enemies that spawn in waves alongside a boss maybe, and there you go!
Apply those new parts you got, buy a new ability or two and repeat another 20-something times until you’re done.
And while there’s a LITTLE strategy in swapping squad members on the fly,
the actual combat strategy rarely goes beyond activating your abilities as often as possible and holding down the mouse button.
All the campaign comes down to is a linear selection of instanced maps with no penalty for failing any of them.
If you die, so what? Just replay that instance and try again until you get it.
And that’s my biggest problem with the gameplay of Darkspore.
I never felt connected to the world, the story, or even to my heroes.
I couldn’t even tell you what the “Darkspore” is in the story without looking it up on a wiki.
It just never compelled me to any mental level whatsoever.
It’s weird because when I isolate the experience from moment to moment it seems fun enough,
with the gory combat and the curiosity of what kind of monstrosities and pretty level design may come up next.
Yet, taken as a connected experience
it feels devoid of purpose with no substantive of control over your destiny and no reason to replay it.
In fact, it doesn’t even LET you replay it! Since once you’re done, it’s just… Done!
You can’t even delete or restart your game. You have to log-in into another account to do anything more.
And other than that campaign that you can’t continue, all that’s left is PvP,
which I can’t even show you because there was no one online to play with.
Yeah, it’s kind of fitting that the overall experience of Darkspore was just kind of… There…
In the same way that the box is now just kind of… There… On my shelf, taking up space.
The Darkspore experience leaves a sour taste behind.
Not only because the game wasn’t particularly great,
but also because of the message it leaves:
[read that text above]
Think about the current crop of games that you can only play online, even in single player.
Games like: The Division, Titanfall, Star Wars: Battlefront, Elite: Dangerous, Destiny, etcetera, with more of them coming out all the time!
Once their servers go down, that’s it! Game over!
Unless the publishers decided to patch them for offline play, which rarely happens.
And yeah, there’s always a chance that someone reverse engineers the code or sets up virtual servers, but there’s no guarantee that’s even possible.
And we shouldn’t even be having to rely on that anyway!
I know there are financial reasons to take down servers from a publishers perspective but,
making it so we don’t even have the OPTION to play a game we paid for offline, that just seems spiteful.
Paying customers should not have to fight to keep the games they bought!
Yet the idea of games as a service is a growing and lucrative trend these days, so
expect to see more and more tombstones of your favorite games over the coming years
You see, Darkspore may not have been a masterpiece but it didn’t need to die either
and the people that paid good money for it don’t deserve to be treated this way.
And if you agree with the sentiment, then might I recommend this video by my buddy Ross Scott of Accursed Farms.
He’s got some fantastic things to say on the subject
and has even begun a crowdsourced initiative to actually try and do something about it.
Seriously! Go give it a watch, and maybe try to do a little research yourself!
And perhaps throw your hat into the ring of action if this pisses you off as much as it does me.
And to the game publishers out there: PLEASE! STOP. KILLING. GAMES!
Well that was my video on this topic, like I said, go check out Ross’ video if you’d like to hear more.
This is just really concerning, from a historical perspective if nothing else!
And the consumer perspective is definitely valid. It’s just stupid all the way around, so… Screw this, man.
ANYWAY! If you enjoyed this video, why not check out some of my others that I have made!
I’ve made a video on Spore and some other stuff that’s linked here so click those
or just watch every Monday and Friday whenever they come around!
And as always,
thank you very much for watching LGR.