These days, so many PvP games aim for the realms of dark fantasy or epic sci-fi that the genre foregoes any sense of cuteness whatsoever. And, yes, DarkSpore has the word “dark” right there in the title and, yes, it’s essentially a sci-fi game, but if you’re a fan of the Spore franchise, that same level of adorable creature creation persists into this new experience.
While there is a basic single-player campaign in DarkSpore, the heart of the title is a straightforward, action intensive 2-on-2 PvP game. We were shown this portion of the game in detail, although we were assured that the single-player portion will ultimately be robust enough to be well worth your time and will essentially serve as a basic training campaign for the PvP matches you’ll no doubt be engaging in on regular basis. In fact, the single-player game will even clue players into the challenges and enemies before beginning any given level, allowing you to choose the best heroes for the particular mission. Challenges completed and loot gathered in the SP mode will carry over into the PvP arena.
The basic Spore experience of creating and tailoring your own squad of creatures will carry over into DarkSpore. You’ll put together a team of three heroes that you’ll constantly shift between as the battle progresses. New heroes can be both created and collected as the game continues, offering 100 base creatures with 25 types of four basic variants. The strive for balance will be important here and players will have to be smart about picking their melee, ranged, tank and healing characters prior to each match.
Any loot you gather can be applied to your individual characters in one of six categories -- offense, defense, utility, feet, hands and weapons – unless you’re playing as an arachnid-style creature which receives two slots for its legs. Individual characters won’t level throughout the game so much as the player progresses, earning better loot and access to more complex and powerful characters. The loot itself is categorized. For example, “Science” loot consists of Bio, Cyber, Plasma, Quantum and Necro items.
Battles are best-of-three with each player going head-to-head, one-for-one, and swapping out any of their three chosen squad mates at key points throughout the battle. You can switch mid-effect to spread out the damage you’re currently taking or whenever you’re waiting for a given ability to come back online. Every member of your team has an individual squad ability that can only be activated when all three players are alive. If you lose a man, you lose the ability for all three players.
In our short time with the title, the battles were fast-paced and easily controlled. A combination of dragging/clicking the mouse and mapping the number keys will move you character and activate their attacks. Arenas are reasonably sized with the occasional interactive element such a plumes of fire which can deal damage to either yourself or your foes. As with the best PvP games, DarkSpore seems both easy to learn and difficult to master.
Without a look at the single-player campaign, or more information on the character creation element, we were left with a fairly solid, if potentially simple, player-vs.-player experience. DarkSpore should launch sometime in February 2011 and we’ll have more on the title as the release approaches.