When I sat down to play Darkspore at an event for Electronic Arts in NYC yesterday, a producer for the game asked me what I know about it. “It’s Spore meets Diablo” I said in a somewhat joking manner. “Not really, “ was his reply in a slightly perturbed manner. After spending some extensive time playing the game and talking to the game’s lead designer it became clear why he was so upset - this game is so much more than just another Action/RPG.
The core of the game is all about collecting loot and upgrading your characters. Instead of having one persistent character that you build and customize throughout the game, you instead have 25 of them at your disposal, with only three at the start. There’s three classes of character across five different types making fifteen unique combinations of character abilities you can use. Now what sets Darkspore apart from any other action RPG I’ve seen is that each mission has you bringing three characters with you - but you don’t control these characters simultaneously - instead you tag them in and out kind of like the recent Marvel vs Capcom 3.
As I clicked and moved my ranged character around the screen I came across a shielded enemy encampment. Since it was shielded my attacks didn’t do anything against it, so I quickly switched into a melee/tank class character that looked a bit like a fire golem and charged in. Switching characters on the fly offers some unique bonuses - the character you sub out slowly generates health back for one. Depending on which characters you choose you also get three shared abilities - so while each character has three base abilities, its their fourth ability that any one of your characters in a squad can use. This becomes crucial for things like healing and the other support abilities.
These abilities are earned by collecting parts and DNA (think gold) scattered from killing enemies and destroying objects on the missions. The item drop system in co-op is a first-grabbed, first-served basis, so make sure you play with folks who play nice with others. While you won’t earn experience to level up, the more powerful parts you earn and attach to your character in the editor increases that character’s level. Your level determines which missions you are able to go on earn more loot and continue the story. The base maps on the missions are all static, but the game’s AI Director will randomly generate certain parts of the maps as well as enemies and defensive structures. It’ll also scale and tweak what enemies are in the levels depending on the number of players present.
One interesting concept I was told about was a mission “chaining” system. Its a risk vs reward system where you can basically buy into doing consecutive missions in exchange for getting better loot. Basically you’d finish a mission and earn X loot, the game would then offer you another mission to go on with a reward of X and Y loot, with Y being a rarer item. If you win the mission you can get both items, if you lose, you lose both. These “chains” can be many missions deep, and the deeper you go, the better the rewards will be. This becomes an even bigger risk when you reach the end of a mission. Why? Because each mission ends with either a giant boss character or a survival style section where there’s a horde of creatures launched at you.