Darkspore – Day 1 Of Beta Testing

PS. This entry is dedicated to my buddy Mark.  Together we have conquered dungeons and overcome challenges only 0.17% of the population today can relate.

For many years, I have identified the web address Darkspore.com with Mark’s personal site.  I vividly remember it was one fine afternoon, when I was waiting for the traffic light to turn green in front of Somerset 313 (which was still under construction), Mark messaged me saying that he has sold his domain name.  Right there and then, I guessed that a new game was in the making, due to a strong association to another game called “Spore“.  I was right.  Darkspore is indeed a new game based on Spore.

EA Game has sent me a beta key to try out the new game.  Of all the beta testing I have participated, this beta testing is surprisingly smooth, with a decent level of features available to play.  What is Darkspore?  It is sci-fi based action role playing game with an option to engage other players online to play with you.  You could – I suppose – solo your way through the leveling and gearing.  But the game rewards better XP (experience point) if you choose to play with others.  I have tried out the campaign mode (or the co-op mode).  I have yet to tried out the PvP mode (player-versus-player).  Subjected to final changes as the game is still under development, you start the game with two heroes, who look like those strange bug life form coming from the Spore universe.  Upon completing the tutorial, you get to pick one more hero to complete your squad of three.  Each hero can fulfill one of the three roles: tank, damage, and heal.  As you level, more heroes are unlocked for you to recruit into your squad.

“This is the arsenal screen.  The three heroes on the left are my current squad.  As for the line of heroes on the right, some are available for my picking.”

For this day one of beta testing, I have picked a squad that has a tank, a damage, and a heal.  To be honest, all the bug-looking characters look the same to me.  Hardly something I can identify with, but I was eager for some good action.  So I have headed to the navigation screen and selected a multi-player option.

“This is the navigation screen.  As you level up, you can pick harder challenges, which come with better reward I suppose.”

Matchmaking is not the only way to form groups.  I have tried out partying with players on my friend-list too.  I am not sure how the multi-player matchmaking algorithm works.  At times we have a group of two.  At times we have a group of four.  Darkspore comes with a chat window as well.  Since I am familiar with other MMO (massively multi-player online), I felt at home with the lobby and party chat.

“This screenshot was taken during the actual game play, with a party of three.  Bottom center is the action bar.  Bottom right is the squad of three.”

The game play involves a lot of mouse-clicking, which is simple enough most of the time.  Left click is to move to a spot and right click is to move and attack.  Each hero comes with a health bar and a power bar.  Abilities that consume power can be accessed through the action bar at the bottom of the screen.  The beauty of this action role playing game – in my opinion – is the option to switch heroes in the mist of the battle.  The tank can charge ahead and take the punishments from the enemies.  The damage class can focus on bringing down the enemies fast, from near or far depending on the hero’s nature.  And the healer can stay at the back making sure that the party is safe and sound.  Loots are rolled automatically as the party members walk over the items on the floor.  The currency of the game is DNA, which is useful from equipping my heroes to buying weapons and upgrading the ship and etc.  At the initial level, the game appears to be generous on the potions that refill the health and power bars.  These potions can be found as enemies or structures are taken down.

“Boss fight can be relatively intense.  But if everyone knows what they are suppose to do, it is quite trivial (thus far).”

Fortunately so far, I have grouped with players who know what they are doing.  We stayed together, switched heroes as the situation called for, and helped each other when one of us was trapped.  Range attack can be avoided, same applies to the enemies who may stand out of the line of fire or area of effect damage.  Each campaign so far involves maps of multiple stages.  Portals to the next stages are open once the obelisks are found.  Once we have completed a campaign, there is an option to collect the reward.  Or, continue to the next campaign and aim for a higher reward if we succeed, lose it all if we fail.  During this beta testing, I was only able to continue two times.  To go beyond, my ship needs to be upgraded.  I noticed that the chances of rolling a rare reward is tied to how well I have performed during the campaign.  As in what the exact formula is, I have no clue at the moment.

“This is the editor screen, whereby you can equip your heroes, or even change the color and shape of this bizarre looking bug.”

At the end of each campaign (or a series of campaigns), you can customize your heroes, from the look to what he or she (or it?) uses.  I realized after spending some time of playing the game that my heroes level up as I equip better items onto them.  How does that reconcile with the overall XP and level of my squad, I do not know.  Items can be equipped to all my active and inactive heroes.  The item stats can be overwhelming, even to the seasoned players.  I have struggled quite a bit on what should be given to which hero.  Fortunately, some items are specific to a single class.  I can imagine as I collect more heroes, managing the inventory could be quite a task.

“This is the inventory screen.  Useless items can be sold for DNA, the currency of Darkspore.  DNA can be used for upgrades.”

In Summary

Darkspore is indeed a fast action game and it seems pretty easy to play.  Those who love online hack-and-slash games would love this one.  Each campaign seems to only last 10 minutes or so (It may get more tedious later, I do not know).  In between campaigns, there are cut scenes too.  Personally I am not that immersed into the storyline, as yet.  The videos remind me of Perimeter’s, with the same monotonous narration of some alien stories.  And I am finding it difficult to relate to the heroes who look so bug-like.  I think Darkspore is one of the games whereby the more time you spend in playing, the better your arsenal of heroes will become.  This game may well be a good stop gap before Diablo III is released.

It is Diablo III – So the Wait is Over?

I seldom blog about video gaming but this one is big.  The Diablo franchise has a new installment, and from one video I have watched, it’s a quantum leap.  The graphic is jaw dropping and we can now realistically interact with the environment such as the collapse of the structures as we battle.  The control for the battle seems engaging.  Check out one boss fight and I bet you have not quit seen something of that scale before.

I always try to seek a balance when I blog, a little something for everybody.  From the business point of view, Blizzard Entertainment – a division of French Vivendi Games – is one gaming company that I admire deeply.  Why?  They don’t have many games and they only have three major franchises – Starcraft, Warcraft, and Diablo.  They are not inventive but they enhance and implement the genre so well that all that they create are legendary, a huge gap for the rest of the companies to close.  Starcraft is a 10 years old game and it is still played today.  Recently, it is announced that Starcraft II is on its way.  Warcraft has gone through a cycle of 3 installments and the MMORPG spin off (massively multi-player online role playing game) is a worldwide success taking the genre to a height that never has seen before.  10 million worldwide subscribers (Cynthia and I included) and it is a four years old game still going strong.

Another great thing I admire about Blizzard Entertainment is that unlike other gaming companies that are pressurized to release games even when the games are not ready for the shelves, Blizzard has the reputation of non-committing release dates.  They will only release the games when they are ready.  On top of that, they are not hesitate to can a project (like the venturing into the console gaming platform) if it doesn’t turn out right.

There is a pending merge of Vivendi Games (1 billion in revenue) with yet another giant Activision (3 billion in revenue) and the new entity is going to be called Activision Blizzard Inc.  Now, I do want to own some of their shares.

Below is the cinematic teaser and if you like what you see, don’t miss the video that demonstrates the actual game play (click here and then click onto “Play Gameplay Vidoe” on the right).

Hellgate London

“London is in ruins and now Asia must respond”, so it says on the pamphlet. I do not hesitate (especially when Cynthia is out-of-town) and am ready for the challenges ahead. I arrive at Russel Square and the garden square is no longer what it used to be – now a piece of wasteland. From afar, I can vaguely see the British Museum in ruin. Or is it my imagination? The year is 2038 and it has been 18 years since The Invasion. Once again, the survivors of mankind are united and determined to stop the demons from altering and assimilating our world into theirs. We have to close the Hellgate fast.

How I love role playing games. It comes with such a compelling storyline that makes people feel as though they are doing something virtually significant. Before you dismiss computing gaming as a total waste of time, you may wish to know that gaming moderately can enhance one’s analytic skill, problem solving skill, reflects, and etc. It is scientifically proven. Military develops games to train the soldiers. I even read that in one hospital, a group of surgeons are asked to play at least a certain number of hours of a I-forgot-which-one-but-certainly-not-a-medically-related-game a week in order to improve their performance.

Though I have the bad reputation of not being able to finish any game (except Sam & Max!), I think I may actually like “Hellgate London” and have a high chance in completing the game (think moderation!). It has the element of a traditional role playing game whereby you can personalise the ability of your characters. You are rewarded by the demons you vanquish in terms of experience points, currency, and items. But it doesn’t have the tedious battle controls like many role playing games do, which is good. And it also has the element of first person shooter but with a slower pace, lesser surprises, and you can actually dodge a fireball coming your way because it is kind of … slow. That is good as well because you can access the situation and take position accordingly to minimise damage upon you. You can virtually blow up anything lying around you – be it as boxes or gas cylinders. The explosion scenes are modeled well. Oh, did I mention that you will never run out of bullets? The graphic is fascinating even with my rather dated machine (AMD X2 4200+ and 6800GTS in SLi). The game play hardly lags in enclosed areas though in open areas (awesome graphics by the way as I can see buildings in smoke, the red phone booth, and abandoned police cars everywhere), my machine struggles to provide me with a smooth game play. Time to consider a new graphic cards I am sure.

And “Hellgate London” plays like some of the Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Games as well. Kind of reminds me of the World of Warcraft with regards to the quest system. There are also fraction points to gain (each tube station is like a mini-community and you have to gain their trust). The pace of “Hellgate London” is in between tradition role playing games and first person shooter. Most monsters I have seen so far can be easily killed with one shot or two. Except bosses of course. The boss fight can be entertaining especially when you see it charging after you and you have to keep firing at it while retreating (i.e. clear the area before the boss fight). The game is played in real time. Hence no saving and reloading it like many others. I love that because it feels so much more real.

Okay. I shall stop writing such a long blog and go back and save London … sleep. Think moderation!