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Beta Report – Darkspore

Currently in an ongoing weekends-only closed beta, Darkspore is an action RPG with a few unique twists.  Obviously, when you play any action RPG, you’re going to draw comparisons to the defining franchise of the genre: Diablo.  Darkspore is definitely not Diablo, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth playing.

The game’s biggest selling point is probably its core element: the squad system.  The player selects three heroes to comprise his “squad” before going into a mission.  From there, he plays as one hero at a time and can change between the other members of his squad on-the-fly at will.  As you progress through the game, you unlock new abilities for each of your heroes; some of which are shared abilities that can be used by any hero in your squad.  It’s a unique concept that takes some getting used to, but the squad system is a pretty interesting idea with good execution on the part of the developers.

 

Multi-player gameplay is offered in both the form of cooperative and competitive.  In fact, although it’s possible to go through the story by yourself, the game’s really designed for the multi-player experience.  At the time I ventured into the world of Darkspore, the PvP arena wasn’t yet available, but it has since been added to the beta.  One obvious flaw I noticed with the game in its current build involved what happens when a party member drops from the game.  There’s no re-connect function if your internet drops out or your game inexplicably crashes, so your friends are left to fend for themselves if such a setback occurs.  Add to that the fact that difficulty scales based on the size of your party and doesn’t change in the event of a dropped player, you end up with a game that can be a lot more challenging than it ought to be (particularly when you end up soloing a beast with a snare ability that can’t be broken without the assistance of a friend; a beast which wouldn’t have spawned had your friend not been with you at the start of the game).

That, however, is about the only circumstance under which the game ever feels even remotely difficult.  Probably the biggest flaw with the PvE portion of the game is that it’s just too easy.  No matter what your squad composition is or how many players are in your party, it seems to be far too simple to waltz through every level.  Given that you effectively have three lives to complete a level, thanks to the three heroes in your squad, the game’s actually even three times easier than it appears to be; the only times I experienced death were in the aforementioned dropped teammate situations.  In fact, I never once for a second feared that a situation might be too much for me to handle, no matter which hero I was using.  Ultimately, the game’s difficulty meter could stand to be cranked up by about ten notches.

 

And, finally, although it advertises its character customization using the same engine as the Spore Creature Editor (which I’m sure is part of the reason for the name “Darkspore,” though the two EA games otherwise share nothing in common) as one of its best features, the character customization isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  You’re given a choice between a list of heroes that, at the moment, is around twenty or so and climbing, and then you can tweak various aspects of those characters to make them more unique.  Cursor your mouse over a creature’s tail and scroll the mouse wheel up and down to change its size.  Drag and drop power ups collected throughout your gameplay onto the creature to add a third eye or some shoulder pads or something and choose any place on the creature’s body to have them displayed.  And give your creatures a custom paint job so that everyone knows the reptile in the hot pink scales is you.  Okay, so maybe there’s something to be said for the customization options, but it’s not quite as in depth as you might expect.  The characters’ abilities are all preset and can’t be changed, so even if you hate how hideously disgusting your molten lava monster looks, if his skill set suits your play style, you’re gonna have to live with it.

Sign up for the beta at beta.darkspore.com and start checking your inbox.  Getting access to this one shouldn’t be too difficult, as friend codes are already going out to current participants in droves.  As it is in its current build, I’d say the game is definitely worth playing while in this free testing period, but without some seriously ground breaking improvements, it’s not something I’d recommend investing your hard-earned cash in after it releases at the end of the month.