Darkspore Updated Hands-On - Band of Heroes

Single-player, multiplayer, and player versus player--we cover it all in our latest hands-on session.

Though it may share the same name as 2008's Spore, Darkspore couldn't be more different from developer Maxis' all-encompassing strategy game. This hack-and-slash action role-playing game shares more in common with the likes of Diablo and Baldur's Gate than anything else. We recently had the chance to hop in the beta and click our way through some of the campaign, both in solo and cooperative play, as well as get into a little player-versus-player action.

The tale of Darkspore began with the Crogenitors. These intergalactic troublemakers were scientists and researchers who traveled the stars experimenting on whatever species they could find. Their ongoing mission: to breed the ultimate soldier. Naturally, this backfired on them pretty fast. After happening upon an unstable new strand of DNA, dubbed "exponential" DNA (E-DNA), the Crogenitors decided to juice up their warriors even more--making them harder, faster, and stronger--until they finally broke. From their remains came Darkspore, beings who kill fast and breed fast, and soon, they blanketed the entirety of known space. As one of the last remaining Crogenitors, it was our charge to team up with the AI, HELIX, and breed up a couple of heroes to go save the galaxy.

Our first hero was Blitz. Fresh off the evolutionary assembly line, Blitz was a fast melee hero who excelled at gutting enemies with a pair of nasty claws. Right away, it was apparent that Darkspore isn't straying far from genre conventions; you click to move, click to attack, and click to have fun. Clicking on any patch of terrain sends your hero to that spot, and clicking on any enemy orders your hero to attack. While melee combat was very straightforward, ranged combat added a little extra excitement. Against a ranged opponent, a simple click isn't always the best solution. Most ranged attacks come in the form of slow moving balls of energy, and if we were nimble, we could duck and weave in between the shots to get to our assailant. However, it didn't help that most of these shots came from tiny, insectlike quantum darkspore who would then teleport away when we got close.

Each hero has its own special abilities.

Thankfully, Blitz had just unlocked his second ability, ride the lighting, which allowed him to teleport to where our cursor was pointed and deal damage upon entry. Heroes have four abilities assigned to them; the first being their standard attack ability. The second two are hero-specific spells--in Blitz's case ride the lighting and electron sphere (basically a large fireball)--and the fourth is a party spell, which any hero in a squad can use. For Blitz, it was plasma wreath, a shield that shocked those who got too close. The stages themselves followed the typical layout of narrow bridges and pathways opening into larger arenas where packs of minions were waiting to be mowed over. As in Left 4 Dead, each of these stages has an AI director who dynamically spawns in packs of minions for you to battle based on your level and number of co-op companions. Across the game's six planets, each with four sectors, you'll never slaughter the same pack of baddies twice.

The only thing were concerned with was loot--and lots of it. And it just so happened that the darkspore were (un)willing to oblige. Loot comes in all shapes and sizes, such as DNA (your intergalactic currency), weapons, and armor. If up to three of your friends are along for the ride, loot is divided up automatically based on a random die roll regardless of who picked it up. Massive black obelisks were also scattered throughout the level, an infrequent gift from the AI director, which contained even more loot and, occasionally, a healing item or two. Once Blitz hacked through a world's worth of critters, we arrived at the end-of-level swarm. These swarms were our favorite part of the journey because they distill the action down into a few frantic waves of carnage. For the lone Blitz, it was a touching victory, with ride the lighting saving our butts on multiple accounts.

You can customize your heroes in a variety of ways.

After we survived the swarm, it was time to return to the ship to make an important choice. We could either end our current play session to try our luck at getting a rare item or we could take our chances and continue on without having the opportunity to equip any of the new items we'd collected. Pressing forward would mean that the next stage would be more difficult than the last, and if we failed, we'd forfeit any chance of getting the prize. But, if we succeeded, our chances would greatly improve. Ultimately, we decided not to yield to the temptations of avarice and enjoy what bounty we had--even if we didn't win a pair of ultrarare shoulder pads.

Back in our ship, we now had the opportunity to upgrade Blitz and recruit some new heroes to our team. Individually, your heroes don't collect their own experience or gain levels. Instead, all the fighting and bloodshed feeds into your Crogenitor level that then determines how many abilities and which heroes you can access. A hero's individual level is determined by the fancy threads you choose. Because Blitz was essentially naked, we headed into the character editor and hooked him up with a new pair of claws and some spiffy shin guards. Outside of the weapons, all of these items could be turned, tweaked, stretched, and otherwise modified using the original Spore's extensive creature creator. What might be a simple tail for one hero, could be twisted into a sweet pair of devil horns for another. Once we had our gear in order, it was time to hit the paint shop. Here, we could choose from a variety of textures and colors, as well as a pair of ominous-looking robotic paint hoses that would spray down our hero with a fresh coat of awesomeness. We went with a red and gold color scheme reminiscent of Iron Man.

Collecting DNA lets you buy items and weapons back at your ship.

Each piece of armor also occupies its own armor slot. This means at some point that the bat wings you worked so hard on are going to be outdated by superior equipment. Does this mean it's time to suck it up and trash them? No. In this case, you can head over to the item shop and have them stripped of their stats and made into accessories; same great look, just no great points. Because Blitz was still living in space poverty, he didn't have this luxury, nor did any of his new friends. Our return to the ship had unlocked Wraith, a necro sentinel (aka a zombie tank), and Sage, a bio tempest (aka a walking tree with a healing gun). Each of these heroes came with its own unique abilities, including squad abilities, which, when combined in combat, allowed things to really get interesting.

In total, there are 25 alpha heroes. These are the basic, core heroes who have their own backstory and abilities. Then, there are 75 beta, delta, and gamma heroes. These are variants of the alpha heroes with the same type and class but with different abilities. Perhaps you want your heroes to all be extremely specialized in one area or you want hybrid heroes to cover all the bases. These new abilities won't crossbreed into other classes or races; they are only meant to complement, not completely change a character's role.

These party abilities opened up a brave new world of combo potential, with Sage's strangling briars snare proving to be the most useful for the team. For instance, Blitz could use strangling briars to snag a pack of lesser foes, which slowed and damaged them, before teleporting in and dealing the finishing blow. Wraith's party ability, ghostform, was a great defensive asset to the team as it made the caster incorporeal and immune to damage for a brief time. After blasting our way through a few more sectors and racking up ton of new gear, we recruited Goliath, a cyber sentinel (aka robot death machine), to our team to give Blitz a breather.

Next, we decided to head to the player-versus-player arena and cut our teeth on some three-on-three combat. Playing the PVP felt akin to a simplified style of Defense of the Ancients. Sure, there aren't any towers to defend or minions to kill, but the ebb and flow of the fights themselves was similar. You never want to stand still and always want to be moving in and out of range of your opponent, depending on which of your three heroes you're currently using. For our team, it was all about baiting the enemy into range of our snare and unloading on him with our two heavyweights. Most arenas will feature some sort of environment hazard, which can work for or against you.

PVP is divided up into one-on-one and two-on-two matches, and each match lasts three rounds. If you want matches to count toward your rank, you're going to have to bring a friend because only the two-on-two games will apply. In between rounds, the loser has the option of switching out his or her team with another to better counter what the opponent just played. Heroes who share the same type, such as two necros, will deal double damage to each other, and all heroes will have a similar body shape depending on their class. Sentinels are big and hulking; ravagers are small and nimble; and tempests are tall and skinny. You may not know what tricky spells these characters have hidden up their sleeves, but based on their looks, you at least have an idea.

There are hundreds of ability combos out there for you to experiment with.

After going three matches in the ring, we decided to call it quits. Overall, Darkspore is shaping up to offer delightfully simple pleasures; its complexity grows out of your team combinations and the interplay between teams and your co-op allies. And while this game lacks the ability to build heroes from the ground up, the developers have been allowing community members to try their hand at building enemies for the game. Thus far, this has been a huge success, with thousands of entries received at every request. It's also something the developer plans on supporting after the game's launch. Grab a friend and get ready for Darkspore on March 29.

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Discussion

82 comments
VenoMut
VenoMut

If you are creating a new top-notch game based on Diablo and Baldur's Gate series, then I'm playin it!!!

Delrothness
Delrothness

I just started playing the beta for this game and it's really fun. It feels like a mutated version of Diablo, but in a good way. It's a little similar, not exactly like it. I really like the look and feel of the graphics. My only gripe so far is the extremely confusing layout of the inventory/editor screens. But yeah, it's definitely a really fun and addicting game so far. It hasn't gotten repetitive yet which is definitely good but time will tell.

twistyanddark
twistyanddark

It seems to me that once gaming companies realized they can not top Diablo 3, they decided to milk our waiting hype for it. If last year was the rts one, then this year is the co-op one. And of course Blizzard will be the last one to release for obvious reasons.

bmwagner_phd
bmwagner_phd

Once again it sounds cool until the limitations are slapped on. Sure you can make your heroes look different but outside of items and cosmetic changes we all play with the same toons. The potential for this type of game is extraordinary. Combinations of different DNA causing unforeseen changes in the toon. The limits would only be the imagination of the developer. Unfortunately it seems that limit is low.

SpecPT
SpecPT

just heard about this game and i'm already looking forward to it. maxis has never let me down and this looks great!

joecrabs77
joecrabs77

What happened to Spore? It had endless possibilities when it was originally launched. Now someone who's probably never played a video game is choosing the fate of Spore...either that or my fellow man is to stupid and just likes fighting games. I know i won't be buying any more Spore games. Congrats EA...or Maxis...or whoever is to blame for this FUBAR

gho5ty
gho5ty

so is this online offline wah a RPG looks good.

DP1130
DP1130

Cool! Pre-Ordered the game. This is going to be a fun game. Love the hack and slash genre. They can be a ton of fun. Looking forward to this one.

dnk778
dnk778

The prob was that m comment was too long but I got absolutely different error message. Damn you programmers!

dnk778
dnk778

Damn censorship, 10 minutes figuring out how to place comment, no result at all. Damn.

dnk778
dnk778

In original SPORE, you had to create either good-looking or functional creatures. The gap between these two

dnk778
dnk778

Why I can't put my comment here?

astralislux
astralislux

Is Maxis deliberately trying not to do anything creative?

megakick
megakick

this could be fun. its' light years a head of the diablo 3 release 2 rofl

Fundai
Fundai

I also wonder if they hired Parka boy to make enemies for them...

Fundai
Fundai

Maxis has allways seemed to me like the all around company: I figure they can do most things. I just want to know where you can find the creator to make enemies with PLZ!!!!!!

M14Ok
M14Ok

Meh the only cool part will probably be the customization of characters.

xeysz
xeysz

@people saying Maxis has no experience with Action RPGs A lot of people working on this game worked on Diablo 3 prior to joining Maxis. We all know D3 has been in development for a decade, and it's only obvious the same people don't spend 10 years working on a single game. Some of the developers also had a large role in the development of Diablo and other non-sim games. evidence: http://darkspore.tumblr.com/devteam

Dazza102
Dazza102

Hate the spore IP now, and I doubt Maxis can release a bug free game. So don't bother with this game.

Skullcandy
Skullcandy

This game looks incredibly boring.

Ex-Ware
Ex-Ware

looks nice Im definetly trying it out

rioleo
rioleo

World of Sporecraft -_-

MooncalfReviews
MooncalfReviews

Did anyone play Evo on the SNES / S Famicom? Looks very much like this.

Pr3acher
Pr3acher

@ropumar since Big D3 will be available in 2012, this is as good as any other arpg to kill time till then. Unless of course you don't wanna re-run some Titan Quest. Hrmmm... Also, I love how every guy who says smth bad about diablo gets instant -10. God that game will rock ass.

unbentonslaught
unbentonslaught

Looks kinda cool, but I have a really bad feeling that it will get boring after a while...

zone161
zone161

Diablo clone + a failed and hated Spore IP. I bet it'll sell like crap.

Altaireed
Altaireed

@Delius He was (probably)talking about Baldur's Gate:The Dark Alliance 1 & 2 which were both(basically)Hack and Slash games,and pretty good ones too if I may say so:)

Delius
Delius

"This hack-and-slash action role-playing game shares more in common with the likes of Diablo and Baldur's Gate than anything else." Um... What? Baldur's Gate is as far from Hack and Slash as it gets. I'm sorry, when the author makes an opening statement like this I can't take anything else he writes seriously. He obviously doesn't know anything about the hack and slash sub genre.

fatherofsol
fatherofsol

I'm not interested in this. looks like a ludicrous attempt to be fun. diablo 3 is going to be far superior.

S3nd41
S3nd41

I hope this doesn't fail as badly as Spore did.

ropumar
ropumar

why would anyone playe this after diablo 3 launches?

ram_rob
ram_rob

the best part of spore was the creature creator and if they make that a big feature in this game it should be quite fun, although personally I hope they make a spore 2005 demo again, but playable. from what I saw of spore they spent more time changing it and making it simple than complex and awesome. I like spore, but as many have highlighted it didn't have the depth in gameplay, I hope this does

packers91
packers91

I thought Spore was a good game

Blank2k2
Blank2k2

Using the name Spore probably isn't the best of names to use considering how much of a major flop it was, and if that wasn't bad enough it looks like a slightly tweaked/rounded off version of the graphics engine used in spore too, This one isn't going anywhere good. I despise EA for what they've done to Maxis!

Akijo
Akijo

Bah I hate click N' go games, so pass :P

contraigon
contraigon

This is going to be one of the most epic games in the history of EVER! It's killing me to wait to be accepted to the Beta Testing. I CAN'T WAIT 'TILL THIS GAME COMES OUT!!!!!!!!!!

AceCometh
AceCometh

Nicw work. visually pleasing. as long as it's fun, thought.

Bradock666
Bradock666

will it be paid?? (or something like that)

Gabriex
Gabriex

This game s going to be awesome ! It's really funny that so many people say it's going to be an epic fail. I mean, come on, and RPG version of Spore ? Stripping an item of it's abilities and adding it as a decoration ? This is just awesome, It's going to rock ! Although, I have to agree with only one thing. It doesn't look like Diablo... Diablo is old, this is isn't. It brings new gameplay elements to gaming, so get over that more-than-10-years-old game and open your mind, because this is new, innovative, in one word, this is awesome ! And don't get me wrong, I love Blizzard, I'm not one of those "anti-blizzard" dudes, I love World of Warcraft and I think they're really good at what they're doing, but after the epic fail called Starcraft II ( yeah, you have to buy three separate games just to play the same 11 years old game with improved graphics ), I really doubt Diablo III will be any better, I mean, it's already been delayed for so many years... Jut think of how many times they had to change the graphics engine and all the stuff... I really think Diablo III is going to fail, and this is going to be EPIC, so tehnically, this has nothing in common with Diablo... NOTHING !

LokiHero
LokiHero

I really don't see any way this can be just a fantastic game. Good? That's completely possible, it would just mean Maxis, a studio with zero experience in this genre, perfectly executed their concept. The alternative is that it is going to be godawful bad. I can almost guarantee that the customisation features will feel tacked on to everything else, the combat will feel "frenetic" instead of "punchy" (there's a difference). What Maxis does best is expanding on the Molyneux Creed. I don't look at this and think, "I can do anything any way I want!" This makes me genuinely worry for Maxis.

HoboJoe6
HoboJoe6

Looks good, but I'm not convinced yet.

Sharjar95
Sharjar95

So diablo and spore had a baby, the question is how in the world did they meet

FlashCharge
FlashCharge

At least this is a new twist on things. Has at least caught my attention and will follow this game now.

h3rb
h3rb

Spent a little time in the beta this weekend... I had my reservations about this title, but it's shaping up pretty nicely. It is a lot of fun. It's like taking DoTA style heroes, and dumping them into a Diablo-esque play style... The only thing that worries me is that everything seems to be done in short, linear stages "1-1, 1-2, etc" and there doesn't seem to be any procedural level generation or exploration in there... That could change of course.