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Published on July 25th, 2010 | by Cameron Woolsey

Darkspore Preview

When I was in High School I played a little card game known as Magic: The Gathering. You may have heard of it. I was never very good at it, always being taken down by the guys who boasted about 500 cards and no girlfriends. Even though my decks were nothing more than a warm up for the other players, I still enjoyed the game. Collecting strong cards and building decks between–and sometimes during–class time was addicting, and beating your opponent felt great (at least that’s what I’ve heard). I have long since retired from card battling (I play Texas Hold ‘Em now. A man’s card game) but Magic is still going strong and (shut up, I’m not bitter!) still captures the attention of many of collectors who love the process of creating a deck designed solely to out-strategize an opponent. Developer Maxis is hoping to capture some of that audience with Darkspore, a PC only stand-alone modified version of Spore.

I should reiterate that Darkspore is not an expansion pack for Spore. It uses a retooled version of the Spore engine for creating your characters, but it’s a far different game. Along with the regular modification tools that Spore fans are used to, Darkspore will also feature–as an example–tools that give players six different slots for weapons and six slots for abilities. Using these new tools, players will be able to create creatures yielding different abilities which work toward creating a squad of three different creatures to take into battle.

A squad consists of three creatures, though on screen only one will be displayed. At the press of a button, players can shift between the three creatures to better utilize their abilities. Figuring out which creatures to bring into a fight is key to success with Darkspore. Each map will feature different types of enemies that can only be damaged by certain abilities. For example, there are creatures that will take the most damage from melee attacks. This is where your tank creature, the Ravager, will come in handy. Yet there will be other enemies that don’t have a physical body in which your Ravager can damage. Having a creature who candefeat these enemies is obviously necessary for success.

Each squad member has a unique ability that players can use during the level. Yet having to change squad members in order to utilize an ability can be a slow process that can cost the life of one or more of the squad members. Luckily, Maxis has designed the game to let players use any ability from any member without having to switch. An example that they demoed was using one of the member’s (I believe it was the Sentinel) ability to “blink,” or teleport a short distance, around the map while still using the melee-only Ravager.

Darkspore utilizes an AI Director which means that each time players start up a level, the enemies will be different, creating a unique experience with every play. Of course, having completely new enemies to fight could play havoc on your squad strategy, so Maxis has designed the game to display the types of enemies that players can expect before they start the level, allowing them to choose the right squad for the job. Players can also create multiple squads (much like having multiple decks) built to handle certain levels. Included is the ability to also exchange squad members with other squads to better prepare for the challenges of each level. But be warned, once the game starts you can no longer exchange squad members; the game will go from level to level, so build wisely.

Darkspore also sports multiplayer game modes, one of which being four-player coop. Communication with your coop partners will be essential in Darkspore. Success or failure can all depend on which squads each player will bring into battle. For example, one player can be all offensive while another can have a support role, healing and buffing the other players. Maxis has also told me that players can expect a full versus mode as well. After all, what good is it to build squads if you can’t show off, right? Maxis isn’t quite ready to reveal more information on the versus mode, but it should be safe to expect multiple versus types like team battle and leaderboards, though I’m just speculating at the moment; nothing official has been announced yet.

Building and maintaining squads is an important element in Darkspore. Much like maintaining a deck of cards, Darkspore‘s website will allow players to care for their squads without ever having to load up the game. I joked during the demo that I could use by Droid to maintain my squad while at work much like how I used to do so with cards back in school and they all voiced their agreement, revealing that it may be possible for players to do just that. Students may once again have a great reason not to listen to lecture. Who cares about the mating habits of sea slugs anyway?

Though Darkspore bears a strong resemblance to Spore, the wildly different gameplay and emphasis on building and maintaining squads set it far apart from it’s relative. Look for Darkspore to hit the PC scene February 2011.
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About the Author

Video game journalist since 2006, and gaming since he was old enough to use an Atari joystick. Follow me: @Cam_is_16bit

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