We Just Played Darkspore (Multiplayer)

We play more of this upcoming hack-and-slash role-playing game built on the Spore engine and try our hand at some head-to-head competition.

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Darkspore is the next game from EA's Emeryville-based Maxis studio, the creator of Spore, and it's being built on that game's technology but as a hack-and-slash action role-playing game in the vein of Diablo. We recently had a chance to briefly try the game out in multiplayer, which lets you bring a team of creepy, crawly critters into battle.

Darkspore's multiplayer focuses on head-to-head competition between teams of up to four players apiece (so, up to eight players in the game at any one time), though the development team feels that two-versus-two and three-versus-three battles have the best feel to them. Like in the single-player game, you can bring a team of three hero characters into battle of your choosing from your ever-growing army of alien creatures, which can belong to one of three hero classes. These include the sentinel (Darkspore's stand-up-and-fight melee warrior); the ravager (the game's stealth profession); and the tempest (a ranged-damage and support class, not unlike the role of wizards or priests in traditional fantasy-themed action RPGs). Characters also belong to one of five "genesis" types: quantum (dealing with time and space manipulation); plasma (fire- and heat-based attacks); bio (dealing with healing and biological weapons); cyber (pertaining to technology and robotics); and necro (dealing with death and darkness-based powers).

Sometimes it's best to run away to live and fight another day.
Sometimes it's best to run away to live and fight another day.

During the course of the single-player game, you'll unlock and amass a huge collection of different hero critters with different classes, genesis types, and most importantly, loot. Interestingly enough, you can carry over all your characters at their current experience levels and with all their loot into multiplayer (though certain items will probably have their properties tweaked and work differently in multiplayer for game balance reasons). Multiplayer takes place on levels that are inspired by the layouts and environments of the single-player game but won't be on totally identical maps. The level we played took place on a molten lava planet, which had a new terrain feature--environmental hazards. Specifically, this map had gouts of lava that would periodically leap out of the ground and damage any nearby characters. Environmental hazards will appear in both the single-player and multiplayer portions of the game and will further affect your strategy because many of Darkspore's heroes have abilities that affect spatial placement or movement. These include a bio-based web spell that can freeze a foe in place over a lava floe or a telekinetic push power that can send your enemy sprawling into another hazard.

We played a few brief head-to-head, one-on-one sessions against some Maxis staffers, and although we barely scratched the surface of the game's depth, we got a sense of pacing in online duels. Darkspore doesn't run quite as fast as Diablo II at its hottest--this isn't to say it's a slow game, but it's not so lightning-fast that you need to keep desperately clicking just to stay alive. The game's not-quite-frantic-but-definitely-not-slow pace gives you time to maneuver your critters out of harm's way while also giving you just enough time to come up with your next move. You may choose to close in for the kill with a melee hero, run for your life, or use the game's switching mechanic to immediately swap out your current hero character for a different member of your team. Switching your character not only lets you avail yourself of your next hero's powers, but it also acts as a last-resort survival measure because your heroes have separate health meters. This means that if your current character is taking a beating and about to die, you can swap in a fresh hero with a full health meter to let your damaged character live to fight again.

And sometimes it's best to just blast the other guy in the face. (That is his face, right?)
And sometimes it's best to just blast the other guy in the face. (That is his face, right?)

Darkspore's unusual hero-swapping system and vast array of different items will clearly offer a ton of variety in single-player, and this variety seems like it'll lead to tons of interesting strategies in head-to-head play. The game will launch in early 2011.

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