When I sat down to play Darkspore at a preview event last week, I’ll admit that I didn’t really know what to expect. Sure, I knew it was an Action-RPG in the vein of Torchlight and Diablo, but my Press Pack boasted of an experience that would be a “new breed of Action-RPG” — how could I prepare for something so new and different?

When reading about Darkspore, there’s one thing you really have to know: in terms of gameplay, Darkspore is not related to Spore. Not in any way, shape or form. Think of them as mutual acquaintances — business partners, perhaps. They went to college together, had a few laughs, and then, one drunken night, Spore told Darkspore all its dirty secrets: the answers to Life, the Universe and Everything.

Darkspore wasn’t really interested in the majority of what Spore had to say — there were a few cool ideas, but none that really stuck. None, that is, until Spore brought up the idea of the Creature Creator. “Look,” it cried drunkenly, “check out how cool this is! You can create all your own creatures, and they’re all individual and unique! Isn’t it awesome?” “Why, yes,” Darkspore thought to itself, “yes it is.”

And that’s all that carried over from the 2008 Will Wright-led project. Darkspore is a brand-new IP, with a brand-new take on the Action-RPG genre. Late last week, I was invited up to the EA Offices in Guildford, where I had the opportunity to spend time with the soon-to-be-released title (coming March 29, 2011) in both its single and multiplayer modes.

Darkspore Hands-On Preview Gameplay

The story of Darkspore follows you, a Crogenitor, awaking from a deep, long sleep. You were chased by an evil army known as the Darkspore, but saved by HELIX — an AI who’s kept you safe for eons. Now that you’re awake again, your task is to create a team of Genetic Heroes and lead them into an epic battle with the Darkspore.

So far, so typical — Darkspore isn’t going to win any awards for its story’s originality. It sounds like a million other games on the market, and you’ll probably find yourself skipping through most of its cutscenes. Where Darkspore begins to differentiate itself however, is in its unique loot mechanic.

In any Action-RPG, the loot mechanic is a pretty important. As you play through the game, your character levels up and you gain access to a range of new weapons, abilities, etc. If the loot mechanic is well-implemented, it’ll make you want to keep returning to the game — you have to go back, in order to grab even more bad-ass gear. However, this is where Darkspore begins to differentiate itself from the competition — collecting loot not only allows you to physically alter the look of your mostly aesthetically pre-determined character, but the loot itself levels your character.

Confusing to explain, but easy enough to understand in practice, the leveling system in Darkspore operates on two core principles: you have a ‘Crogenitor level,’ and ‘Hero levels.’ The former is increased as you travel through the game, defeating enemies to earn experience; the latter is increased by equipping new body parts — ie. the game’s loot — and customizing your character.

This is where Spore’s influence comes into play. As you kill enemies throughout the levels and pick up loot, you can attach the loot to your hero’s body via the Creature Creator. Unlike most other Action-RPGs however, you can’t do this instantly — you have to wait until the end of the level before you can begin to upgrade your character and play around with your new gear. It’s an annoying feature, and one that will be not be adjusted for the final game according to our interview with Mike Perry, and it defies belief in the single-player campaign. Surely, if I’ve just picked up a totally sweet piece of loot, I would want to equip it immediately? Unfortunately, that isn’t the case in Darkspore.

Continue to page 2 of Game Rant’s Darkspore hands-on preview!

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