Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Darkspore Beta Impressions

Back in july I made fun of the name for EA / Maxis’ new game Darkspore, calling them out for naming a game after the failure that was Spore. I now had the pleasure to take part in two beta weekends of Darkspore (technically three, but I was out of town for one) and must say the game isn’t as bad as the Heritage suggests.

Darkspore takes a few pages out of the holy book DotA, offering a huge variety of different heroes for the player to collect and play, with each hero having access to only a few abilities. These heroes make and break the game because they have to be very exciting and different within the space of only three active abilities (and a passive) each. Maxis has done a good job with the heroes that are available in the beta so far making them feel different, though I have to say that some seem quite a bit more powerful than others.

Blitz in his natural environment - a sea of blood.

You can take either take these heroes out on  a PvE campaign (bring a friend for fun and profit!) or lead them into fierce PvP arena-style battles. I haven’t tried the player-vs-player part of the game, nor am I very interested in it, so I won’t talk much about that. The PvE features you selecting a team of three heroes to bring into the campaign which you can switch through at your leisure. You only control one of the heroes at any given time, but they each have a so-called squad-ability that each hero in the squad will be able to use. Blitz, for example, is a strong single-target damage dealer with a teleport and a lightning-ball ability. His third ability (the squad-ability) is a lightning shield. You can only use the first two skills while playing Blitz, but you can use the third one on each of your heroes as long as Blitz is in your selected squad.

I really enjoyed exploring the different heroes and especially trying to combine them in such a way with each other (and with the heroes of a friend that came along) for maximum monster extermination. The gameplay seems very fluent and is sufficiently full of carnage to please the action RPG fan in me. The RPG part of the game comes from collecting items with varying stats and effects on them that you can switch around in between campaigns.

Oddly enough, the item management is my biggest issue with the game. You simply get to collect sooooo many items for all the different heroes that it is almost impossible to keep an overview or care really. Things aren’t made better by the fact that this is the point where the spore heritage kicks in. Items get equipped through the creature creator we all know and love, only that the equipment part of the creature creator was never really well executed. Yeah you can individualize the look and feel of your heroes a bit, but it is far easier (for me at least) to note the difference between the “usual” equipment slots and the odd slot system Darkspore uses.

The mission summary often offers the ability to risk the reward for that mission for a better one at the end of the next mission.

Gear selection is also (so far) mostly about selecting the items that provide most of your hero’s primary stat and being done with that. Some items I’ve seen indicate that things might get more interesting later on though. Over all I had quite a bit of fun in the beta, especially playing co-op mode with a friend. The latter increases enemy strength by quite a bit and even introduces a few new enemy abilities that you won’t see in single player mode. I’m not sure whether I’kll buy the game yet, but it certainly looks a lot better than spore. If only they had dropped the creature creator and the name…

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