Friday, September 12, 2008

More Spore

With the exception of last night, I've been playing a lot of Spore this week. During my second session, on Tuesday night, I made my way through both the Tribal and Civ stages, allowing me to spend a good chunk of time Wednesday night on the Space stage.

I'm still remarkably on the fence with this game, considering I've been borderline obsessed with it this week. I think its goal is the kind of genius for which designer Will Wright (he created Sim City and The Sims, if you're a non-gaming reader) is known. There's a lot to like in each stage of the game and you can really see what they were trying to achieve with it. I'm just not so sure about the execution.

I already mentioned my grievances with the Creature stage. I got through the Tribal and Civ stages with fewer hassles and I did have more fun with those. The Tribal stage is only marginally more engaging than the Creature stage, but at the same time, I think I got through it in about an hour, so there wasn't time to get bored with it. The Civ stage gives you even more to do, as the game really gets to be more of a very basic real-time strategy (RTS). I am not an RTS fan, but the mechanics in Spore are so simple that I didn't mind it. This one took a couple hours to get through, but I was never bored with it.

The real meat of the game is without question the Space Stage. I've been having a load of fun with creating my starship and traveling from star system to star system, interacting with alien races (that are the creations of other Spore players), colonizing and terraforming worlds, and doing a bit of warring. That said, this stage of the game dials the complexity up to 11 by virtue of just how much there is to do and the game is so obsessed with making things sound simple that it ends up doing a really poor job of explaining everything you can do and, more importantly, the ramifications of what you do. I think this "problem" is merely one of overcoming the suddenly steep learning curve, but time will tell.

It's also really poorly balanced, in my opinion. Once I ended up at war with a Civ I was constantly being called back to my worlds to defend them from attack. It gets to the point where you can hardly advance at all because your home civ or your allies are always pestering you for something. And when you're at war, it appears that the only way to get to peace is to pay off your adversary with a ridiculous amount of cash (Sporebucks). Cash that, if you're taking a beating, you're unlikely to have. And because you can't lose (if your last planetside city is destroyed a new one spawns in a new location) it's not hard for you to get completely pigeon-holed. If that happens, it's *a lot* of tedious work getting your empire back on its feet again.

Ultimately, I've read your goal is to get to the center of the galaxy, but that even then there is no "ending" per se. I'm not sure if I'm a fan of that or not because I wanted to get to some kind of end point before starting again with a new species. Given the uphill battle my poor Two-Eye creatures face, I may just have to put them aside and start anew. I get the feeling the game will present a very different experience now that I more fully understand all the mechanics of it and I'm anxious to find out if that translates into making it more fun or more tedious.

(NOTE: Keep in mind when I note how quickly you can get through the first four stages that I've been playing on Easy. When I start a new species I'll dial up the difficulty a bit more and see how that changes things.)