PAX 2010: Darkspore Preview

EA only officially announced Darkspore a couple of months ago, promising a sci-fi action/RPG built on the framework of the Spore Creature Creator. Creating weird creatures that lumber into Diablo-style battle sounds like a winning combination.

When I spotted the Darkspore booth on the PAX floor, I headed over to see how it was shaping up in the early stages.

In Darkspore you control powerful creatures, in groups of three. You take these creatures down to different planets in the galaxy, and proceed to fight through hordes of Darkspore–evil creatures infecting the planets.

The three creatures we had access to in the demo were Arachna, Sage and Goliath, each with their unique attack abilities, and also “passive abilities.” Passive abilities are always active, and add various bonuses. For instance, Sage’s passive ability comes in the form of two little Sage-lings that follow him around, attacking anything in his way.

Here’s a little more about each of the creature’s abilities.

Arachna Abilities:
Necrotic Lancet – bolt projectile
Necrotic Burst – spins in circle firing projectile
Lifeforce Siphon – drains health from a target

Sage Abilities:
Rejuvenating Blast – weak ranged attack
Tree of Life – plants a tree that heals
Viruluent Lives – AOE attack that plants a disease

Goliath Abilities:
Energy Slash – Energy sword attack
Cauterize – cleaving energy attack
Zedowatt Beam – piercing energy damage

Shared Abilities:
Soul Volley – soul projectile attack
Strangling Briar – targeted AOE, snares enemies
Arc Wield – electrical melee attack

Each of these abilities are mapped to the number keys on the keyboard, and they fire off immediately. Each ability has a (very brief) cooldown period before they can be used again.

You can switch between any of your three creatures at any time. It’s often strategic to do so, as different enemies require different abilities in order to counter. For instance, if you need to get up close and personal and deal some melee damage, switch to the Goliath and use his Energy Slash attack to take them down.

One additional layer to the combat system is the “Overdrive Meter.” As you fight, the Overdrive Meter will gradually fill up. When it’s full, you can trigger Overdrive, which gives your selected create the Passive Abilities of all of your creatures combined. This is a key mechanic to use in boss fights, or when you’re surrounded by enemies.

One interesting enemy was the Warp Spawner, a Puffer Fish-shaped enemy that fires “warp bubbles,” which warp you to a different location if they connect.

After you clear out a bunch of enemies on the planet, you’ll find your way to a portal, which will transport you to the planet’s boss fight. Bosses in Darkspore are giant, powerful creatures with pretty insane attacks.

For instance, in the demo we saw Lauren faced off against Polaris, the Gravity Manipulator (can you picture two Darkspore parents lovingly naming their child that?). He had big missile attacks, would spawn gravity warps to slow the player down, and he could also teleport.

When you defeat a boss, it means you’ve successfully cleared that planet. You’ll be presented with a choice: cash out and accept the loot reward on offer, or, go “double or nothing” and play through the planet again for a chance at more elite loot. If you die on your second playthrough, you lose everything.

Most of the rewards you receive come in the form of new body parts for your creatures, which you can use to customize their appearance and abilities. Just like in Spore, you’ll gather an assortment of hands, feet, snouts, and so on, which you attach to your creatures as you progress.

The little time I spent with Darkspore was fun, and I’m eager to see how creature customization plays into the experience in the long run.

My one concern was that Darkspore did not pack any real challenge at all. I pretty much walked through the level, just clicking abilities and firing them off at will. I was told that the reason for this was, well, because it’s a floor demo and they wanted it to be easy. Fair enough.

I was then told that when you’re presented with a new planet, you have to strategically make some tough choices and pick the strongest team possible, based on your available creatures. That’s where some of the challenge kicks in. Also, as you progress further into the game, the difficulty ramps way up.

Darkspore launches in February 2011 exclusively for the PC.

You can download our PAX 2010 gameplay footage here or watch it below.

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