Fangirl Plays Spore, Part 5

Recently I started re-discovering games that I always wanted to play, but never got around to it. Spore is one of them, and I am tracking my first experiences with the game for fun.

Once more, I went back to the Nepius (I finally looked up the name of my insect race!) to see what would happen to them along the way. Unfortunately, my efforts to keep them “in the middle” between aggressive and religious were thwarted by the evil Carax! Since all of my neighbouring tribes already hated me for no reason, I really had no choice but to fight instead of converting them with music….. which meant the Nepius ended up as a military dictatorship in the Civlization Stage, too.

Now I have to correct some of what I said in my last post on Spore. I finally figured out that instead of designing everything, I could also chose premade buildings and vehicles. Not a perfect option, but a time-saving one. Plus, some of the premade stuff gives you new ideas! Additionally, I found the button that lets you copy the textures from one building or vehicle to another, which also sped up my city-building process. By the way, did I mention that you can compose your own hymn?! It’s pointless, really, but I had fun with it. Also, I complained that my planet looked ugly. Well, as it turns out, that really just depends on the planet. This one had blue grass mostly, and a green sea, which made it look real funky at sundown. Fangirl appeased!

It was actually great fun playing as a military race. Conquering somehow just makes more sense this way. When I started with this planet, I raised the difficulty to medium, I think, and even though it’s still extremely easy, the game became a little bit more challenging and fun this way. Playing with the Prine, I totally forgot about my “special abilities”: Depending on your alignment (of course), your civilization has several cool powers they can unleash upon another city. With the Nepius, the temptation was just too great, so I actually nuked another city before invading. But in the end, the Stage is still rather boring to play, especially the second time. I think in the end I’ll try one more playthrough on the hardest difficulty setting just to see what changes… but I keep hearing that the Space Stage is where it gets really interesting and great, so let’s have a look!

It took me quite a bit longer to finish this part of the review, since there is suddenly a lot more to do in the Space Stage. It’s still limited like the other Stages, but it’s fun for longer. Let’s look at it in detail.

The final stage of Spore begins as all the others do: You design a space ship! I had absolutely no idea what to tape on it, though. There are no functions to fulfill any more, so you can design it whatever way you want, without being obliged to add an entire orchestra to the hull. So far, so good.

My first exploration of this Stage was really fun. Hint: be careful when you get close to Epics (the really large creatures) with your spaceship. The WILL breathe fire at you. And attack your cities!

What I loved about Spore so far stays true: Exploration is gold. The weird planets and hilarious creatures I came across always made me want to fly further away from my home to find more weird planets and creatures. Other space-faring races all have their own funny personalities and voices, and I especially marvel at the abnormities the Spore-internal name generator occasionally spewed out. Draagurzl?! Really?

Oh, and I finally found out what happens to races that don’t develop arms. They just carry their stuff with their, erm.. beaks?

As usual, you can interact with others either diplomatically, or just wipe out their civilization and conquer the galaxy. Or a mixture of that. A strategic balance might actually be of importance here: Other species will add one of their ships to your fleet if you become their ally. As you (now the captain of a space ship) rise in rank, the size of your fleet grows. So if you’re interested in a fleet of 4 to 5 ships, you better make some friends soon.

The quests you get are pretty samey – collect this plant, examine that species – but sometimes they produce rather funny diplomatic incidents: One other species wanted me to check out the rumors whether there were truly intelligent, space-faring aliens on the nearby planet Eos.  I was to bring them one sample citizen to study. And I was like “…bro, that’s MY FRICKIN PLANET.” Thanks for the insult to my face, and get subjects for your weird experiments from somewhere else! Okay, well, I did complete that quest in the end… they were paying really well! What’s the life of one Prine…. oh, er, moving on.

Becoming rich takes a little longer than before. Not because it’s hard to get money, but because everything you need to buy is so frickin’ expensive! Basically, you build new colonies to harvest spice and sell it. It pays to colonize planets with “rare” colours of spice on them, and then just go around all the other planets, peddling your wares.

With your coin, you purchase all sorts of upgrades for the ship, especially new engines to boost your range. You need to return home frequently to re-charge them for free, or pay for it on an alien planet. Furthermore, you can equip your ship with bombs and bigger bombs, or “friendly” functions like a brain-washing ray …. which doesn’t sound that friendly, really…. or corn circles! Woo, let’s try that!

I iz talented

According to the tool tip, I can “improve relations” with another non-space-faring race through corn circles. Curious, I would have thought they might scare them instead. Well, it doesn’t matter, since I could see absolutely no use from them. Honestly, they look pretty and nothing changed. Sad :-/

Another funny 2001: A Space Odyssey allusion is the big black monolith you can buy. This actually has an effect, though: Placed by a colony in Civ Stage, it rapidly speeds up their development to the Space Stage. Afterwards I think they liked me more because of it, too.

But the coolest thing, by far, is the option of terraforming. Only it isn’t? I was really looking forward to this, and then was a little disappointed. The different tools are collectible items spread throughout the entire galaxy. I know this motivates exploration, but JEESH. I’ve been playing this Stage for hours now, and I still haven’t found all the tools. The ones I did find, though, are the weird ones, of course. I can create a sea that looks like gears and a beach that looks like a chocolate bar, but I can’t make a normal river yet?!

Some of the ‘normal’ landscaping tools you can buy (expensive!), but only once you’ve collected certain achievements. You just have to go around doing stuff. Tons of stuff. Once in a while you’ll be rewarded for it.

I have to admit, the achievement system is what kept me going as well. I do like that in games in general, somehow, and it works in Spore, too. Yet once I reached the highest rank and had explored half the galaxy, I wish I could have just had all the tools I wanted, instead of endlessly searching for them.

Part of terraforming is also the mission to make planets habitable. Atmosphere generators and heating plants cost money, though, so until you have the built-in tools for your ship, this is a very expensive undertaking.

I get the feeling, the game designers once more wanted players to make ‘strategic’ choices here: You can either pay an arm and a leg to terraform a planet or you can create trade routes, which allow you to buy up another planet after some time. Of course I wanted both, which constantly strained my finances.

Soon, there comes a time in the game where you wish you had taken notes. When your universe used to look like this:

And a few hours later, you have this:

Oh. My. God. The longer you play, the more confusing the universe becomes. And this is an early screenshot. I’m not saying this isn’t realistic. All I’m saying is: give me some TOOLS to deal with this, game, please!

Why are there no planet names, unless I hover over a galaxy? In some quests, I had to manually search for star systems, one by one hovering over them to see if I had the correct one. There are only eight or so colours for alien species, so if you go explore beyond your comfortable home, you’ll soon have three “Green” species, and you don’t know which one was your friend again! Even more annoying is the fact that there is an endless supply of sausages-with-eyes for non-intelligent species slots (I finally signed up with my Origin account *shudder* and the game automatically downloads other players’ ingenious creations…) but there seems to be a lack of space-farers. I ended up with two identical ape-species of different names but the SAME COLOUR.

That’s when you get messages like “Alert! Our allies, the Waghrutzliks-Empire is under attack and needs assistance! Go help them immediately!” And I’m sitting at the edge of the galaxy, looking at a blob of colours, wondering just who the heck they were again. Oh, and hovering over a solar system gives you the system name, the planet’s name, but not the species’ name.

Yes, there are notifications and quest trackers and a little button to trace your way through the galaxy, but that’s just not enough! Don’t even get me started on wormholes! Once you go through one of them, you’re invariably lost, even with the tracking function.

There is no tool to easily overview your trade routes, to cancel or renew them. You have to fly to the specific planets to do that. For that matter, I have no idea what the trade routes actually do. They don’t automatically provide money, but I think they lead to the exchange of spices between the planets. Beyond buying a planet eventually I have no idea what the point is, really. They kind of improve relations. Also, I can only have a limited number of them, but I don’t know why or how many.

There is no overview of all your planets, how many colonies you have, what they produce how fast. I just had to fly around all the time, picking up spice and selling it. If I hadn’t taken notes during this process, I would have been entirely lost.

I just don’t understand why there is no development in this! After three hours of selling spices manually, I think I got the gist of it. Why don’t the trade routes actually pick up the spice, sell it, to provide a steady income? You know, what trade routes normally do? I thought I represented my species, my empire! But actually I am treated as an independent agent, who has to go around selling spice for hours, and occasionally drops in on the home planet for some questing.

After playing a strategy game for a while, I expect the difficulty level to rise; I expect to automatize certain processes to concentrate more on other matters, like diplomacy. But in Spore, nothing ever changes, except you find more planets, more species, with more quests.

Also: the beaming. I have this neat little tool on my space ship to suck stuff into it. Apparently, the makers of Spore loved this tool so much, they made it essential to the gameplay! Quests to pick up stuff – use the beamer. Find a relic? Beamer. A new tool? On the surface of a planet, ready to beam up. Steal some spice? Beam up the crates. Fighting a battle and destroyed an enemy ship? BEAM UP A PILE OF COINS.

I got so annoyed with this. Especially because you can’t just click stuff. No, you have to beam everything into your cargo hold veeery carefully. Don’t let go of that button, even if the planet is exploding beneath you, threatening to tear your fleet apart. Steeeady with that beam button!!

The only “story”-element that kept me going was the ever-present threat of a very powerful species named the Groxx, who kept invading my allies’ planets. This was the “main quest” for most of my playtime: Find the mysterious Groxx. I thought there would be something special about them, but when I eventually reached the center of the galaxy through a wormhole (which was pretty cool, I admit), the Groxx turned out to be just another hostile race. I tried doing a quest for them, but they still declared war rather quickly. And then, nothing… no more “main” quest, just more collecting spices, staying out of the Groxx’ way, building colonies.

I will definitely play some more Spore. I had tons of fun with it, especially exploring things, taking pretty scenic screenshots and writing this review. This was also a new experiment for me, since this is the longest, and first, blog-series I’ve written. I may not have said all there is to be said about the game, and arguably I might have picked a better game to look at in so much detail. But, like Black & White, this is just one of those games where I had really high hopes, and received something very different from what I expected. It was fun, but summarily, a little too limited to really satisfy either the creative or the strategist. It fascinated me because it could have been more.

Final thought: This will probably never get a sequel, but it’s one of those games where I believe a sequel could just be the thing this great idea needs. Some improvement, some modding, some more flexibility – I am sad to see that Spore came so close to becoming something really awesome, but then kind of petered into a casual cutesy thing. If I were mean, I would call it “Baby’s First Strategy Game”; But I’m having more fun with it than I care to admit, so I’ll just be quiet and collect some more spice.

See you round the Galaxy!

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