Darkspore Preview

Earlier this month, we reported that there would be an action-RPG game in the Spore franchise revealed at Comic-Con 2010. That game, Darkspore, was announced earlier this week at Electronic Arts' Studio Showcase and I was able to check out a demo of the game.

nope Darkspore is a Diablo-like, loot-focused action RPG that puts up to four players in charge of three genetic heroes at a time in a squad. Though only one hero per player can be used at any given time, players are free to swap them in and out almost instantly. This means that up to a total of 12 heroes can be in any one game so coordination with allies is key to victory.

The game relies heavily on resistances and counters. By presenting the player with a variety of enemies resistant, immune, or vulnerable to certain types of heroes, squad selection and micro-management are required to get the most out of a battle. Each hero will also come with a single ability that is usable by any heroes in a player's squad. This creates combo possibilities. For example, one fire-based hero could create a flame shield that would damage nearby enemies. By using another hero's teleportation ability, the player could teleport into the middle of large groups of enemies to deal area-of-effect damage.

Though the character customization tool is the same tool from Spore, this is not a Spore game. The characters are unlocked by the player as templates to be customized, but have distinct looks and abilities. You will not be creating creatures to use in battle, customizing how and where items appear along with many cosmetic upgrades. It isn't anywhere near the complexity of Spore, but should offer players enough flexibility to personalize his or her heroes.

Loot, as I mentioned, is a major focus of Darkspore. Items will provide bonuses and follow the traditional magical/rare/unique system of the genre. You will probably be getting just as many "parts" for your creature as actual items, which ties in to the game's genetic engineering theme. It is central to the game's chaining gameplay system. When you attempt a level, you may cash out with the items you found along with bonus item(s) or keep going for better items. If you continue, the game will get harder, but the loot will get more plentiful and powerful. Die, and you'll lose that bonus reward. During levels, players will come across temporary buffs that will be key to keeping a chain of levels going, but these will disappear if the player cashes out.

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The game utilizes an AI director to keep the experience fresh and tuned to the number and strength of the players in the session. Although each world will revolve around a specific type of enemy, other baddies from the cast can be pulled in to diversify the experience. Monsters can be equipped with special attacks like shooting portals that will teleport the player away from them, requiring the use of ranged heroes to defeat.

The look of the game is not quite as cute or young as Spore, but it definitely isn't as dark as a series like Diablo. It should appeal to gamers of all ages, but the characters themselves will most likely skew a bit younger. Controlling a squad of heroes representing different powers and elements is closer to Pokemon (an intentional touchstone for the development team) than to a traditional RPG where the player assumes the role of a single character.

When the rumor first broke, I was extremely skeptical of a Spore action-RPG, but after having seen Darkspore in action, it is on my radar for next year. There seems to be a good amount of depth in the game's systems. While Spore definitely disappointed in the gameplay department, this title looks to be fast-paced, challenging, and something to keep an eye on.

Darkspore is a PC game scheduled for release in February 2011 from Maxis and Electronic Arts.