The Darkspore beta was an interesting, if very brief, experience. Jumping straight into it this past weekend, I was promptly greeted by an introductory dialogue that set the premise for the game. As it turns out, the universe had fallen to nightmarish creatures known as Darkspores, I'd been frozen and put in stasis for a very long time - a millennia, in fact, and the time to rise against the Darkspores was nigh! The plot is explained quite clearly and the premise is easily understood, even with in-game jargon like "Crogenitors" - a slip of the tongue there would make for a good laugh - and "E-DNA" served like all-you-can-eat sushi on a midsummer afternoon.
With the crash course introduction out of the way, the game promptly loads up a short tutorial with instructions on the controls and concepts of the game. Up to three heroes can be controlled at any one time and control can be swapped between them on the fly. The controls are pretty easy to pick up with spells and attacks assigned to the number buttons on the keyboard and switching between heroes to the "Q", "W", and "E" keys. While it's pretty much stating the obvious, movement is controlled with the mouse, not unlike Diablo, League of Legends and other popular PC games of similar genre.
The campaign can be played by your lonesome or online with up to four players. Before a mission starts, the game provides an overview of the enemy creatures that inhabit the stage and a mission briefing (which can be skipped). There is certainly a bit of variety in the worlds available as well, ranging from dense jungles and forests to crystallized rock formations. Booster items like health and power capsules, as well as catalysts and orbs that grant shared stat-boosters and abilities within the team can found scattered throughout each stage. It's a pretty cool feature that allows for some flexibility when it comes to how one plays the game.
The game has you traversing these worlds in order to defeat the Darkspores, and at the end of each world players will have to face hordes of enemies and a large boss creature. After completing a "world" players will also be given the option of collecting their spoils and stopping or "chaining" on to another world with bonus multipliers to get more experience and better loot. I wouldn't recommend chaining unless you're in a party of 3 or more, unless you have a death wish. Moreover, there was very little latency while playing, although the few times there were, it was pretty bad.
Gaining experience and increasing in level will unlock more heroes for to have fun with, and apparently there are a hundred different heroes lined up to be unlocked. Each hero even has its own backstory, which can be seen in his or her profiles. It makes you wonder how much variety there is among all the different heroes. The game itself controls nicely and is surprisingly fun and addictive. I had to be kicked off just so I could start writing this preview.
One of the bigger and more exciting features of Darkspore is the level of customization. Using an enhanced version of the Spore Creator editor, Darkspore's editor allows you to customize your heroes' equipment to a great extent. You can also edit the default look of your heroes. However, equipping items and weapons isn't quite clear and will take a bit of tinkering to get adjusted. A tutorial on this part of the game would have made understanding it a lot quicker, in my opinion. Unlike games like WoW and League of Legends where players are given item slots that are clear on their purposes, Darkspore requires you to actually drag items on to your hero, some of which aren't quite obvious as to what they actually are or do until I read the descriptions. New items can be picked up as drops or purchased through the ship's shop. However, what's neat is that you can customize each item and how they are placed on your hero.
The game is quite fun and certainly has the potential to become too addicting, much like League of Legends, especially when playing the campaign cooperatively online. It's like a cross between Spore and Diablo. Although, at this point of the game, there really isn't much communication or coordination as players are generally just trying to figure out their heroes' moves. Darkspore is out on March 29 in North America and on April Fools Day in Europe. It's currently up for preorder on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk for USD$49.99 and £24.99, respectively. If you're a big fan cooperative dungeon crawlers, this is definitely one title to look out for.