If you're unfamiliar with Darkspore, get up to speed with our Darkspore preview of the game's campaign component. It's basically a Diablo-esque dungeon-crawler which uses some technology from Spore.
Each player brings a set of three characters into battle. The contest then becomes juggling each of your character's life, energy, and abilities as you fight to eliminate all three of the enemy's baddies. Switching between characters comes with a lengthy cooldown, but it also breaks any crowd-control effects, adding some depth.
I squared off against one of the developers and the match quickly got intense. Since each creature provides a global ability, skill combos can be quite powerful. My fire-based tank creature was able to deal area-of-effect damage around himself, but my chrono-based creature provided a teleport ability for use at anytime. I could throw on the fire shield, teleport next to my opponent, and use a stun ability to surprise my foe with a lot of damage from attacks in the fire. He could use a creature swap to escape the stun, but would probably still take a good bit of damage.
It's not the fastest-paced game on the block, but it was really fun to play. It feels a bit like a DotA game or Diablo III's new arena mode. It requires intensive micromanagement. Since the game is largely based on damage types and resistances, fielding the right creature is key.
Matches will be played in rounds and the losing player is given the option to change up their "deck" of creatures and skills if they find themselves utterly shut down by the enemy's setup. Unfortunately, the creatures I was given had no loot so I was not able to see how items will change the playing field. I was told, however, that Maxis will attempt to find matches based on player skill and an overall value of items, but everything is still being balanced.
Just like with the campaign content, I still feel a bit of dissonance with Darkspore. There is a great amount of depth being put into this title, but I still feel like I'm watching a Saturday morning cartoon. I think the integration of Spore technology will end up hurting more than helping with Darkspore.
Darkspore is scheduled for release in February on the PC. A beta test has also been announced.
I like that robot.