"Combining elements of Diablo, Magic: The Gathering, and Pokemon, amongst others, Darkspore is a product that appears simplistic on the surface, but gets nuanced the more you learn about the minutia of its gameplay options. While the goal is to make a game that anyone can play and enjoy, the more hardcore portion of the audience will have a lot to look forward to as well, as Darkspore most definitely is an “easy to learn, but hard to master” sort of title. Nothing epitomizes this more than its player versus player component, which I was fortunate enough to see for the first time recently.
OK, so you’ve never heard of Darkspore – it’s alright, I forgive you. Darkspore is an upcoming action-RPG from Maxis, the creators of Spore, The Sims, and a host of other PC gaming hits. You control a squad of three heroes, playing only one at a time, and switching between them on the fly in order to deal with the situation at hand. These heroes can be either a tank-like class, a rogue-like class, or a caster class, and can be modified by being one of its five “colors.” The colors are important because some are more or less vulnerable to others (electric heroes don’t hurt other electric heroes as well, for instance), adding another layer of strategy to each encounter.
While the bulk of Darkspore is a cooperative or single player campaign based around killing a host of monsters and gathering genetic components to modify your heroes (this is a Spore game, after all), its multiplayer looks promising for players who long for a more competitive experience. PvP will focus around teams of one to four players and throw them into arenas where they do a “best of three” style match. Each level has been crafted so each round should only take between two and three minutes, meaning players won’t get stuck in a match they’re hating (read: losing terribly) for very long. Not that losing is the end of the world, as after each round the loser gets to pick a new set of heroes to take into battle.
Darkspore’s PVP is a delicate dance of timing and tactics, and looks like it’ll please PvP MMO players especially. Because the heroes are made to balance against one another, players have to constantly adapt their strategy based on what set of three heroes their opponent brings to the round,. Each hero has a series of offensive and defensive abilities on a cooldown (much like an MMO), as well as one power they can share between all the heroes. This means that you might make a set of heroes where all three gain the ability to heal or teleport, changing the way that the entire group is used.
On top of managing and perfectly timing the use of offensive and defensive abilities, players also have to consider when to switch around their active character. Switching characters pushes back nearby enemy players, as well as grants temporary invulnerability to the user. Thus on top of being a strategic tool because it allows players to bring additional abilities into combat, it can also serve as a stun or interrupt for opposing players, or even push enemies into level hazards.
Yup, that’s right: each arena in Darkspore’s PVP has environmental hazards, adding yet another element for the player to manage. In the battles I played these were simple spots on the floor where fire would occasionally shoot out, but I could see how these could easily factor into hardcore strategy in high level play. I can imagine players picking characters for their set who have knock backs or stuns, using these to push their opponents into fire, or maybe even using the fire as walls to slow their opponents and buy time for them to get off a particularly lengthy healing spell.
Darkspore is still a long ways off, but, from what I’ve seen of the PVP and campaign play, there’s something for every sort of PC RPG player. Loot junkies can jump into it with their friends, poring over items in order to maximize their stats; PvP fans can tweak sets of characters and work with teams to see what sort of intricate combinations of abilities, heroes and colors make a devastating team. I don’t envy the balance work that Maxis is going to have to put into Darkspore to make the PVP work, but it looks like it could come together to be something special.” - Anthony Gallegos, IGN