Darkspore is a bit like classic action title Diablo, with a twist: Instead of concentrating on leveling up a single character, you're working to level up a team of heroes, three of which you bring on every mission.
While Darkspore can be played alone, the developers hope that gamers will take on missions in groups of four players, cooperating as they work their way through the game.
Darkspore was created using the robust creature creator and procedural animation engine developed for Spore, but that's where the similarities between the two end.
Because the game uses the Spore engine, players can customize their characters much more than with the typical game. That also means placing the items you get in battle anywhere on a creature. Armor placement, in particular, has a surprisingly high degree of freedom.
The game includes three classes and five fighting styles. The classes fall along the typical archetypes found in role-playing games. The Sentinel is a very strong, melee-centric character similar to a tank class. The Ravenger is like a rogue with very fast movements and the ability to dodge off-setting how fragile they can be. And the Tempest is like a mage or priest, specializing in area effects and healing.
The game's different types of characters change the way a character attacks and defends.
The Necro is all about death and the supernatural with powers like the ability to drain health or terrify enemies. The Cyber is a tech creature that can build lasers, bombs, turrets and traps. The Bio uses the power of plants and animals and has attacks like poison, disease and a "root shield." The Plasma uses fire and lighting to do a lot of damage and perform stun and chain attacks. And finally the Quantum bends space and time to attack with abilities that allow them to warp time, speed up or slow enemies down and pull and push enemies.
The combat has a fairly straightforward resistance system. If you're attacking someone of the same class as you, then you do half damage. That's it.
As with games like Diablo, a big part of Darkspore is about the loot. But in Darkspore you don't just collect items and power-ups, you also collect new characters.
You then form these characters into squads of three, which can be selected to drop into a mission with.
My play through of a mission opened on the planet of Cryos. As with Plants Vs. Zombies, the mission screen gave me a sense of what sorts of creatures I'd be encountering on the mission. The idea is that you can use that information to better decide which squad you want to bring into the mission.
Enemies are randomized, so they're different every time you play a mission, I was told.
Once on the mission gameplay feels very familiar. The isometric view shows your character and the characters of the three other players around you. You can also see the surrounding terrain and nearby enemies. I moved my creature with a mouse and clicked on enemies to attack.
Each character has a default attack and two special attacks, used by pressing 1 or 2. The character also has three special abilities drawn from the rest of your squad. These three abilities, used by pressing the 3, 4, or 5 buttons, never change in a mission. But the two special attacks depend on which character you have selected at the moment.
While playing through the game you can at any time press a button to switch to one of your other squadmates. The switch occurs as a sort of teleport that wipes whatever magic or poison effects you might have on you at the time and temporarily blows back nearby enemies. Because the act of switching characters can be so powerful, that ability is on a timer, preventing you from constantly switching characters as you work your way through the game.
The game felt a bit like playing Diablo in space. Because I played a single mission I wasn't able to get a sense of the game's storyline, but the mechanics of battling through a mission were fun and addictive.
Once finished, the missions screen comes up and breaks down your stats. The game then asks you if you want to stop with the mission and collect a single high level piece of loot or if you want to risk continuing to the next mission and perhaps get more, better loot.
In my case, the game was offering a single level 14 items, but said I'd receive two level 21 items if I survived through the next mission. If I died I'd get nothing.
I can see this risk and reward system for staying and playing turning Darkspore into a very addictive game.
And there were some other neat things the developers told me about built into the title.
The game uses an artificial intelligence director to help adjust key moments in the game and the difficulty and quantity of enemies on the fly, an idea taken from shooter Left 4 Dead.
As with Diablo, Darkspore has a variety of loot items that range from common to rare. At the end of a mission, once you decide you want to take the loot, the game tells you your chances for getting rare items and then tells you what you've received.
You also earn DNA and experience points. DNA is used for adding parts to your creatures. You can also trade parts online through the web.
Judging from my time with the game in Germany, Darkspore is the sort of game I could see myself playing and playing a lot.