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Darkspore - hands-on

We werequite intriguedwhen we saw Darkspore the first time – with Diablo III so far off, it’s nice to see a similar (yet unmistakably different) dungeon crawler come along, with the added bonus of it being sci-fi instead of the usual fantasy. Now that we’ve gotten a hands-on with it… well it’s hard to tell at this point, because clearly the game is so huge in scope that a mere half-hour with it can’t really encompass what it’s aiming for. Still, we’ll do our best with what we played…

Above: When in doubt, fire a laser beam

We didn’t do any creature customization, which will surely be a big part of Darkspore’s appeal since it uses Spore’s creature creator. We also didn’t get to see more than a handful of heroes – understandably, considering the game will sport hundreds of heroes to collect, customize, and arrange into squads. What we did get a nice look at is the way squads work and how co-op fares, and this is important because Darkspore very much wants you to play alongside friends.

The main planet we played on, which hasn’t been revealed before, was Cryos, a snowy waste that also has rivers of lava running through it. There’s some mystery to how this works, but we didn’t quite see what it was beyond hints that technology somehow plays a part. We used a pre-made squad, but players will be able to set up their squads any way they like, and it will be crucial to choose a good squad, because the game’s AI director changes what types of enemies it will throw at you every time you play a planet, and certain heroes will be strong or weak against certain enemy types. Luckily, the game tells you ahead of time what enemies you’ll be seeing, which means you can tweak your squad before committing to the mission.

Above: Darkspore is not without its pretty colors

Down on the planet, we trekked alongside two other players – so we had three heroes on screen at once, but we also could swap our heroes out for our individual squad members. You always only control one hero at a time, but you basically teleport one hero out and replace him at any time – the only limitation is a cooldown. We tried out our buff brawler guy with powerful melee attacks, then swapped to our caster hero for some long-range bombardment and life-stealing abilities. Perhaps what was most fun was the agile hero that could teleport at will – blinking all over the place and slashing up enemies with claws was a delight.

The game also takes another cue from Left 4 Dead besides its AI director: it has special enemies that immobilize one player, and the others have to come to their rescue. This, combined with hero abilities that provide passive buffs in an aura, along with various healing abilities, ensures that the game promotes cooperation. As a new player, the action frequently became confusing for us, and we had a hard time telling what was going on. We imagine that after some time that won’t be an issue – we just needed to learn the visual cues to distinguish players and enemies.

Above: Here, one player is immobilized and needs help

We also got a chance to fight a fiery boss monster that pooped out little goblins that traipsed around the area leaving little trails of fire behind them, creating a maze of burning danger. It shows that the game is more than just picking the right squads and upgrades and then clicking through your abilities' cooldowns – it requires quick thinking, smart maneuvering, and recognizing when to make a tactical retreat.

Above: Mr. Big Boss himself

We’re hoping to see some of the hero-collecting soon, but really with hundreds of heroes to discover, there’s no way we’d be able to see more than a small portion without hours to play. One thing’s for sure: the game is pretty and polished-looking. It’s brimming with details, animations, and sparkly particle effects. It’s also easy to pick up and play, but will take time to peel back the layers of depth. Its success will depend heavily on reaching its intended audience – we’re betting Diablo lovers will gobble it up, but are they even aware of its existence?

Aug 18, 2010

My new approach to play all games on Hard mode straight off the bat has proven satisfying. Sure there is some frustration, but I've decided it's the lesser of two evils when weighed against the boredom of easiness that Normal difficulty has become in the era of casual gaming.