The Grox in Spore: Space Stage

spore space stage

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The Stars are not infinite, but they may as well be

We are not kidding you; in Spore, there is literally thousands of star systems in-game. As players, you start out in a single planet. But as you get past the initial ship-navigation tutorial, you will learn that the universe of Spore is so much bigger includind the dreaded Grox we cover later in this review.

The first step out of the planet.

This is also the largest phase of the game ? the spore space stage. It promises players more gameplay content that can be found in all four previous stages combined and so much more. Take our word for it, EA certainly delivers. The space stage is basically a whole game in itself, complete with its own set of rules and goals. Of course, you will find plenty of game factors that have been influenced by your decisions in the previous stages.

As expected, the space stage opens with a new building phase: your space-ship. You can make anything you want. Checking out the entries at the Sporepedia, players have made ships that run the gamut from typical UFO-style craft to ones that looked like hotdog sandwiches on wheels. As with the buildings in the Civilization phase, this is all about the visual effect. For the most part, we recommend with sticking to a style that you really like to see. After all, for the entire duration of the Space stage, this ship is what you will be seeing most of the time. Do check out the creature outfitter too, as new accessories are now available.

Take the helm and head to the stars.

While the previous stage was all about uniting a planet, this stage is all about conquering the universe ? or as much of it as you can. So far, no player has managed to take over every single star system (without cheating or as rumored, even otherwise). This is simply because of the sheer size of the game. When starting Spore, players get to choose among a few starting planets in a galaxy that look a lot like our own Milky Way. What you do not realize at that point is that the galaxy is more than a menu screen: it is the super zoomed out shot of the entire game universe. This is something you will realize at the start of the space stage. During the tutorial, players will learn to zoom out, do so, and do not stop. The effect of seeing the view from planet side all the way to seeing all the thousands of stars form the Milky Way is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

The galactic map: thousands of stars, and you can visit them all.

Now onwards! To the Task of Taking Over it All

As with the rest of the game, Spore?s Space Stage allows you to take various paths to victory. You can make friends and allies, or make enemies and destroy those that stand in your way; and as always, you can expect to be doing a little of both. Your immediate star systems will provide you with a few neighbors to interact with. First time players are recommended to stick with the initial missions that your home planet provides you with in order to familiarize yourself with the basics of interplanetary interaction. Once you have become used to diplomacy, you can choose to decide how you would want to approach other races.

A typical star system with a star and planets; often, a civilized race can be found as well.

As expected, there are pros and cons to each approach. With a positive diplomacy, players are able to trade, establish trade routes and acquire extra ships from allied races. However, these allied races will expect you to come to their aid when they are attacked by pirate ships or when they are in the threat of an ecological disaster. This is a little annoying when you are already working on a different mission and an ally suddenly calls for help. The emergency calls feel urgent the first few times, but after the first dozen or so, it is not uncommon to find the burden to be irritating.

spore eco disaster

You start wondering why so many creatures get space aids.

Despite that, there are plenty of positive factors to having allies. The first is that you have trading options. While your own colonies will also buy spices from you, alien races tend to have good rates as long as the spices you are selling are rare. More importantly, they sell items at much lower rates than any of your own colonies. In fact, when it comes to trading, players are discouraged from buying from their own planets (though repairing and recharging is always cheaper at your own colonies). While slightly more expensive, allied planets also allow you to repair and recharge. This is very useful if you have travelled quite a distance from your empire and a return trip would be counter-productive. As stated, allied races will lend you an extra ship should you have the extra space, the total number of ships you can have will increase as you progress in the space stage.

spore battle fleet

Having a fleet means winning battles faster.

Also, expanding your own empire is easier with an alliance. You can establish trade routes with other races and after a while, the other race will offer you a chance to buy the planet (the lesser colonies in a planet, the cheaper it is, so establish trade routes to systems with T1/T0 planets with only one or two colonies). You can enhance the planet at a later time. Do note that this strategy is good for late game and expanding your own empire is better done by placing colonies in unclaimed star systems. The cheapest price you can buy a star system for is 500,000 Sporebucks, so be sure to have plenty of credits saved up before you start buying planets.

spore: esstablishing trade routes

Establishing trade routes also expands the inventory of items sold by planets.

Choosing to be peaceful and diplomatic is easier with races that either have a neutral alignment or those that are already leaning towards the positive (some races are just naturally nice, cheerful and welcoming). These races make good potential first allies as their missions are usually easy and in most cases, will not force you into a war with another race. Be careful making allies with races that seem warlike ? should they ask you to attack another race (destroying turrets, abducting citizens, etc), it is possible that you can have a war on your hands. Always save before visiting another race to ask for missions, when they give you one that runs the risk of war, you can reload the game (so as not to receive the penalty for failing or cancelling a mission) and ask again since Spore?s game engine randomizes the missions you receive.

Speaking of war, there are times when it is unavoidable. The other approach to interacting is not with words, but with guns: very big guns, as well as lasers, missiles and planet destroying bombs. After all, not everyone is friendly. Some races are just plain mean and aggressive. Most of these will have the yellow-orange frown icon depicting their negative stand towards your race. While they can be ignored, it is often not too long before you start to share similar territories with them and confrontation is all but unavoidable.

spore empire at war

Nobody likes being outside your fence.

The best strategy is to be the first to declare war and do so by dropping bombs on one of their cities and not stopping until the city surrenders (for capture) or it gets leveled into a pile of smoke and debris. Being able to take down one of their planets without much opposition will save you a bit of energy in the beginning; while it will not affect the overall outcome, it does shorten the gameplay time a little by allowing you to fight a little more without having to return to your home system for repairs.

Our tip here is to not have war until you have had a few skirmishes with pirates and have acquired a few weapon upgrades. As previously mentioned, the ship design is all for show. No matter what kind of weapon parts you may have added in the ship editor, all you will have at the start are puny missiles and a weak laser. Upgrading these will mean a lot when fighting another alien race. Also, having bombs is the best way to take over another colonized planet. Once you are all geared up, preferably with one or two allied ships in tow, you can start your aggressive galactic campaign of conquest.

spore space alert

Or you can join in an ongoing conflict, because some races just love war.

In the spore space stage war begins when you either attack another race, you trespass on an aggressive race?s territory for too long (stay in their star system, take artifacts, abduct citizens), or you ignore another race?s extortion demands. Do so once (or enough times for the minor issues), and you will be signaled by the other race with a declaration of war. Hopefully, you would have followed our tip and by the time you receive the declaration, you would have already conquered one of their planets. Remember that just like you, other races expand. So try to find out how many star systems the offensive alien has in control so that you know how long you will need to fight a war.

The worst thing about being at war is that your systems will also fall under attack. Aside from the occasional plundering pirates (which will take 1 spice unit), fending off an invading force can be quite a repetitive task. Like the eco-disasters, this is unavoidable. Left to their own, an invading alien strike force will be able to wipe out your colonies on the planet ? so be sure to defeat them before they destroy your cities. Naturally, if you are at war with a species, you will not be able to trade with them. Having uber-turrets at your colonies can work wonders on invading forces, though you will still need to defend your allies.

As mentioned, bombing is the key to successfully winning a planet-side conflict. Have your bombs at the ready as you approach your target planet and once you enter the atmosphere - pause the game. Take this time to study the world map and see how many cities are in the planet. A T0 planet is likely to have only one colony and conquering it means completely destroying the city (no chance of taking over). A T1 or higher planet may have one or two colonies. Taking over these means having to bring either repair and recharge items or needing to make a return trip to a nearby colony or ally planet for repairs.

spore world in conflict

Planets in conflict are shown on the galactic map.

Once you have studied your target, it is time to start blowing things up. Regardless of the number of enemy ships in the area, head straight for the local enemy colony and start dropping bombs. Do not mind their turrets either, as soon as you have dealt a bit of damage to the colony, the defensive weapons will stop working and all you need to worry about are the enemy ships. If there is only one colony, wait for it to surrender and capture it as soon as the prompt appears. If there is more than one, wait for the surrender icon (a white flag) to be raised and move on to the next. At this point, check your health and energy to see if you need either a refuel/recharge. Rinse and repeat until you win the war.

spore white flags

White flags are the universal symbol of how devastating you can be.

Speaking of winning, there are occasions when your enemy will request a cease-fire and call for peace: always say yes. This will keep them off your back while you manage your own empire (more on this below); do missions and everything else other than resuming the war. While it is still possible to make allies with a race that was once at war with you, the amount of bribes and effort needed is costly. We recommend that you return to conquering them when you can, and breaking a cease fire will not lessen your rating with other races. So yes, always agree to the cease-fire and promptly destroy them while their guns are pointed the other way.

Life at Home

So now that you know how intergalactic politics and socialization works, it is time to get familiar with how things work in your own backyard ? only that your backyard is the span of several star systems as well.

spore many planets

Your Empire, growing big and always busy.

Each planet has its own share of resources which come in the form of different colored spice. There is no specific spice that is naturally more expensive than others. Instead, the law of supply and demand is followed. In a star system with mostly green and blue spice, and no trade routes to other planets, it is likely that they will buy yellow and brown spice at a higher rate as compared to a planet that has plenty of it. If you choose to sell a bulk of yellow spice, their demand will be sated (for a while) and they will start buying yellow spice at a lower rate the next time you visit. This dynamic galactic economy can be taken advantage of in order to maximize the profit you make.

In order to obtain spice, you must colonize a planet. Colonies are to be bought from the trade store and used directly on the target planet. Always choose a target with a decent terra score rating and a colony position that is close to at least two spice geysers. After setting up the colony (and, if needed, raising the terra score beforehand), visit the planet from time to time to pick up the latest batch of harvest. Colony setups are the same as the cities in the civilization stage, so be sure to balance happiness with production.

spore home planet

Entertainment, house and factory setups help determine spice yields.

A planet?s terra score is basically a rating of how suitable it is for life. At zero, it cannot sustain any life at all and the colony will have a protective shield. At terra core 1, it can contain a basic set of life forms. At terra score 3, the highest t-score, you can bring in any kind of life you find from any system. This stat also determines how many colonies you can set up in a planet, as well as how many structures a colony can have. The terra score of the planet is determined by two basic factors; the overall temperature of the planet, and its atmospheric density. Players have the power to modify these traits.

spore t zero planet

A T-Zero planet can hardly hold life, colonies need a protective shield.

By using a combination of consumable items and energy based ship-tools, you can literally change the face of any planet. There are heat and freeze rays that adjust the overall temperature. There are also tools that adjust the shape and form of the terrain, and the density of the clouds ? both of which affect the atmosphere. Spore may not have a planet editing tool like it has for creatures, buildings and vehicles, but in the course of the game, it is possible to alter a planet to your own specifications.

Altering a planet in the space stage of spore for its terra score is one thing, but there are also other non-t-score related editing tools that are available at the player?s disposal. Coloring tools can be found by exploring different worlds and using the tractor beam to bring in the various tools. There are two basic types of tools: color and object. Color tools target specific parts of a planet and provide you with one color. The ?pinkish sky? tool, when used on a planet, will tint that planet?s atmosphere with a shade of pink. Using ?red seas? will turn a planet?s water system into a shade of crimson. Object tools on the other hand, literally add physical components to the planet such as the ?Crystal? tools which brings large geometric crystalline formations. As you may have garnered, it will take you several play hours to start amassing enough tools to start ?editing? planets to your liking ?as each tool will have to be found manually.

spore world colour 1 spore world colour 2 spore world colour 3

If brown dirt is too common for you, you can turn it purple.

Speaking of things to be found, exploring various star systems will also yield you with a couple more interesting finds. The first are artifacts. These are basically rare items scattered all throughout the galaxy and can be sold to other races for a pretty hefty sum. Most come in a set and it is often recommended that players complete the sets before deciding to part with them. The origins of these artifacts are relatively unknown, but they are considered to be quite valuable by alien races. Be careful when collecting artifacts from colonized worlds as taking such items will result in a negative social penalty.

space tractor beam

Bringing things aboard your ship can be an issue.

The other interesting find would be other races. As we stated, the space stage is set in the galaxy you find in the main menu. This means that your current game is set in the same play-world as the other planets ?you just need to travel a vast distance to get there. If visiting your own creations does not interest you (or if you only made one race so far), you can still find plenty of other non-space-faring races in your local neighborhood of star systems. Players are given the option of taking the role of a benevolent, superior, alien race and providing the tribal or civilization-stage creatures with gifts in the form of crop circles, monoliths and others. These will influence specific tribes and cities to prosper faster than others (with warring tribes and cities, your powerful ship weapons can easily decimate their enemies as well). The game also grants an achievement for promoting another species into the space-stage.

Getting on with the Bigger Picture

Now that you have been given the full run down on all that it takes to manage your galactic empire, how to establish allies and how to defeat those that wage war on you, it is time to get back in focus to your goal: winning.

Taking over the entire galaxy is more of a long term goal, the short term goal is to reach the center of the Milky Way. Yep, in that big bright mass in the center of the galaxy is a special goal that players should aim to reach, and it is not an easy journey. It will require plenty of resources in terms of both energy and health reserves, as well as plenty of upgrades to the ship?s stats, weapons and most importantly, travelling capabilities. At the minimum, a level 3 booster should be bought prior to taking on this task. Our recommendation however, is to max it out at level five.

spore the core

You better prepare well if you plan to make it here.

So why is the trip so hard? Aside from the fact that finding the right pathway of stars to follow can be confusing (at some points, the stars are so far apart that you will need to trace back your steps and find a new path), there is also the Grox to contend with.

spore travel range limited

Did we mention that your travel range will now be limited?

The Grox!

The Grox are the single largest threat to any player in Spore. Their ships are strong, fast and highly destructive, but that is not what makes them dangerous. Their true strength comes from their vast ship numbers. When the Grox go to war, they send in dozens of fleets, and even placing an uber-turret defense on a planet will not be able to hold them off.

Destroying or conquering their planets is not a viable option either. They are reported to have at least 2,800 star systems under their control, and there are even rumors that in the course of your game, the Grox may even expand. Expanding or not, that?s 2,800 home worlds to attack, and just taking one down is not an easy task. When a Grox planet is attacked, a defense fleet will rush in. Even if you manage to bring down their colonies (with a well placed megabomb or two), surviving the onslaught afterwards means making a mad rush back to your own territory - which is now likely under a retaliatory attack from the Grox. It is possible to use t-score raising tools on Grox planets (they can only survive in T0 planets), which makes the task a little more expensive but also easier.

If you are seriously considering an attack on the Grox, make sure that all your planets have uber turrets to fend off any enemy attack. You will also need to forsake your alliances by not responding to pleas and cries for help (unless you can really afford to, which the Grox are going to make near-impossible). Lastly, you will need loads of Sporebucks and even more time to spare ? because taking on the Grox in open war is an uphill battle that will see you stumbling down most of the time.

So the big question is, if fighting the Grox is so difficult, why should anyone bother? Here is the answer: the center of the galaxy is protected and surrounded by Grox territory. We will not tell you what will happen once you reach this very special location. But know that for the whole time, the Grox will not stop chasing you and shooting at you.

Now, those who choose to embark on this quest should know that it is a one way trip since it will initiate war with the Grox. In fact, once they declare war on you, it is no longer recommended to save your game. Short of making an ally of the Grox (which has its own repercussions), there is no way for players to enter the space around the galactic center without trespassing on Grox territory ?which is considered an act of war.

Our recommended approach is to take a mad dash to the center, and flying past all the Grox you encounter. It is difficult and hard, but manageable with enough health and energy items. Having some allied ships tag along will help, as they will soak in some of the damage meant for your ships (if you bring allies along, you will want to have some group healing items as well). Take note that even with plenty of health, you will still take a beating. Grox ships fly fast and hit hard.

If you need to take a breather, jump inside one of the many worm holes you will find along the way and hope that it lands you near a race that is naturally friendly or is at least willing to trade (this will allow you to recharge, repair and stock up on consumables). It may also be wise to consider dropping an insta-colony on an unclaimed world which will serve as a respawn point in the event that the Grox manage to destroy your ship.

spore worm hole

Take a breather through the psychedelic rips in the fabric of space.

Eventually, you will find a path of stars that will lead you to the center of the galaxy, and there you will unlock one of the game?s greatest achievements, a special event and a unique consumable item, the legendary Staff of Life.

spore: the grow will follow!

No matter how far you go, the Grox will be on your tail.

Sadly, you will not be able to enjoy the Staff of Life. As we said, a visit to the center of the galaxy means war with the Grox. But you could bring the item along for a while and toy with it (just head out of the center and into the closest wormhole you passed by). The Staff of Life will change any planet into a stable T3 world, all you need to do is to point and shoot. While this sounds quite fun, the Staff of Life is a consumable item and as such, has limited uses. As an in-joke to Hitchhikers? Guide to the Galaxy, the Staff of Life can only be used to a total of 42 times (which, the book states, is the answer to the meaning of life). Had it been an infinite use item or energy based, the Staff of Life would be the answer to defeating all Grox planets.

spore staff of life

Staff of Life in action: instantly turning a T0 planet into a T3.

Beyond the Grox, Beyond the Game

With thousands of star systems to explore, plenty of races to meet and an unending cycle of events, missions and quests to take part in, a trip to the center of the galaxy is hardly the be all and end-all of the game. Despite the fact that Spore has been released for quite some time, it still has a very active community and its sales continue to grow. Indeed, fans still find plenty of reason (and time) to keep playing Spore.

For many players, starting one race is just one aspect of the game. Many continue to create new races and try out different paths in the game ? often with very surprising results. Thanks to the dynamic worlds that the game provides, players are able to find a whole new experience each time they start a new a game. Combining this with the already long playtime that each run promises, Spore definitely ranks as one of the most enjoyable long-term games we have ever played.

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