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Well after being a bit disappointed by Spore a few years back, Darkspore was definitely not on my radar. After getting addicted to the beta a bit I have to say Maxis took the Spore franchise and really switched it around to make a relevant fun gameplay experience. When I say relevant gameplay I mean the pve campaign is a classic hack n' slash get loot ala Diablo style thing and the pvp is well, its being pitched as a real DotA or League of Legends type of thing but its a lot less involved since its just a deathmatch style of those games.
Now going back to the pve gameplay, there is a twist to it, it's not just plain hack n' slash. Before you enter a level you can choose which three hero team you'd like to bring, usually depending on what element the enemies are and which heroes are stronger against that type. The teams of three are put together entirely at your whim, and as you progress through the game you'll be able to unlock 100 different heroes, each with their own unique 5 abilities. One ability being a passive buff, one being its standard attack and three being stronger abilities that will cost you power (mana). Finding a good combination of heroes together is encouraged as one ability from your two currently inactive heroes will be on your skill bar.
Now while I am a big fan of loot collecting in games, the loot system in Spore really needs to be looked at and reorganized. Items have a lot of criteria, such as only being usable on one hero or one type of hero. I guess I should mention there are three types of heroes in the game: dexterity, strength, and mind based. You'll find many other stat modifiers on the various items, and with all that said there is no real inventory management system to keep all of these types of gear seperate. You have one big inventory and even though it holds a couple hundred pieces of gear you'll find yourself out of room and wondering what to get rid of quickly. The problem with this situation is that you don't know what kind of gear you'll need for future heroes as your continually unlocking and needing to gear up new heroes.
I admit I haven't been paying attention to the talking voice you'll randomly hear but I have no idea what the storyline is about. With the myriad of monsterish looking heroes which you don't exactly form a bond with and the cartoonish graphics the world is presented in, you don't exactly look for a deep story in this type of game anyways. Currently I've played through the 3 available worlds, (each world containing 4 sub-levels) and from the looks of it there will be three more available in the final retail game. I'm hoping there are plans to expand this, because even though there is a lot to do regarding character selection and gearing, but I can see how the repetitiveness of grinding the last level might be a problem. I think the difficulty system from Diablo II was perfect for this genre, allowing people to start the game over on a harder difficulty, and offering newer, more powerful versions of gear for you to collect. I have no idea why other games in this genre haven't followed suit.
Currently in the beta there is one system they have in place which I must commend them for. Whenever you play a level you get a special item at the end, the better you did during the level the higher chance you have at a more rare item. Now you get the option to not collect your reward at the end and instead go right to the next level and risk either losing both rewards if you fail or will be awarded a higher chance at a rare item if you complete the level. This system works even on the last level so players can go to the last level currently available and after completing it go to a harder version of that level. Unfortunately there is a bug in the game at the moment which creates incredible game breaking lag if you try to do any more than four levels in a row.
I guess I should mention before I wrap this up that in lieu of the powerful character creator which was the focal point of Spore, you can not only equip different gear on your guy to change his look but you can also manipulate the gear and place them anywhere you want (except for shoes). You also can change the color scheme and pattern on your heroes, and in an online game, every bit of personalization is appreciated.
Darkspore is set for release on April 26th on PC for $49.99