While the name of the game does share the word "spore," one thing that Maxis wanted to make clear was that this is not a sequel or an expansion pack for the PC game Spore, which was released two years ago. The idea for Darkspore spawned before Spore was even finished, and the new action role-playing game is meant to leverage the powerful editor that was created for Spore. Darkspore is a hack-and-slash RPG that is similar to Diablo but with a sci-fi theme instead of the traditional fantasy setting. We went down to EA at Redwood Shores to get some hands-on time with the game and found it to be easily accessible and quite fun when played with up to four players cooperatively online.
The area we were placed in was called Cryos, a planet with floating ice fields over plasma. Before visiting any new planet, you'll be able to check out what kind of non-player characters are going to be there and what kind of abilities they have. Each planet is vastly different from the others, so it's crucial to see what you're going up against and pick the best team to bring with you. We were able to play cooperatively with three other people and had our three creatures already picked out for us. Instead of playing through a game with just one hero, Darkspore focuses on a collection of heroes, so that you have plenty of variety and can create the best possible team before checking out a new planet. As we saw in our previous preview, the game will have five different creature types, each with its own resistances. Every hero that you play as will be unique, as you can customize it based on all the pickups you get as you progress through the game.
The controls are really easy, and if you are at all familiar with hack-and-slash PC games, then this should be a no-brainer. To move your creature, you left click anywhere on the ground and attack by pointing and clicking vigorously on an enemy. Numerical hotkeys are lined up for you to use your special abilities, which are unique to each creature. We played around with a stun attack, chain lightning, and a bubble shield, which came in handy when we faced the world's boss. You have an ammunition bar that drains, so you can't spam these abilities forever. Some of these abilities can only be used if all the members of your squad are alive, so it's important to pay close attention to your health. Using the Q, W, E keys, you can quickly swap out members of your team when your health is running low--but be warned that some foes can use an ability that prevents you from switching. As you pick up healing items, your entire squad will heal together, so you'll be as good as new in no time. There is a major focus on loot in Darkspore, so as you slash your way through, there will be plenty of items to pick up and catalysts to buff your heroes.
Our squad was like a balanced variety pack. We had one creature with long strong limbs that was a powerful melee fighter, a multiple-legged creature that was fast and nimble, and to round out the party, a flying buglike member that attacked from a distance. This came in handy when we faced the boss, which would constantly summon little critters that left a trail of flames in their wake. It was crucial to work together with the other players because the boss had a tendency to send its lasers after one person. Another thing to pay attention to is what kind of creature you're fighting against because you may need to swap characters if you're facing an enemy that is resistant to a particular creature type.
While our time with Darkspore was brief, we did get a feel of how the game will work. As far as control goes, it's fairly straightforward, making it accessible to a wider audience. There seem to be plenty of things to do that we haven't been able to fully explore yet, like finding out what kind of power-ups we can pick up and play with and customizing our own creature. We'll be sure to update you with more information as soon as it becomes available. Darkspore is set to ship sometime next year.