Hopping into Darkspore for the first time, I was hoping for something kinda like Diablo. What I got didn't disappoint, and in fact had some unique twists to the formula. Of course, the Diablo style action RPG is a hot market right now, with Torchlight enjoying a lot of success on PC (and soon Xbox Live), numerous DoTA clones rising, and Diablo III itself on the way, so the fact that Darkspore stands out as a unique experience in itself isn't something to ignore.
The basic controls/gameplay of Darkspore don't need much explanation. You will move with the left mouse, and attack with the left mouse. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 on the keyboard activate abilities for whatever hero you have out, and Q, W, E switch heroes. Anyone who's ever played an isometric action RPG will quickly adapt to the controls, and those who haven't won't need long to get accustomed to the simple scheme. It's a time-tested, effective, and fun method of control that allows for precision and strategy without unnecessary complexity. "If it ain't broke don't fix it" certainly applies here.
One way in which Darkspore does differentiate itself from its genre is it's actually structured in a series of about 80 15-20 minute missions. This is in opposition to the standard action RPG design, in which you generally have an overworld and dungeons. Of course, this may turn off intrepid explorers who like the standard rogue-like format, but it also allows for those who don't have the time to play in short bursts. This also compliments Darkspore's "always online" design. While Darkspore can be played with 1-4 players, it's really most interesting when played in co-op, and the difficulty scales to make the 4 player experience a much more hectic and interesting venture than the singleplayer one.
Of course, there is more to Darkspore than the basics of its genre. Every player in Darkspore commands 3 hero characters, and can switch between them on the fly. These characters function a lot like Marvel vs. Capcom. Not only can they be "tagged in" when necessary, each of them offers a support move to whichever hero you're currently using. This allows a pretty wide variety of strategies and an incredible variety of potential teams. Because each hero has his own "type" and the different types react differently with one another, there's a lot of strategy in how you build your teams, and how your support moves interact. Heroes who are not on the field also gain the effect of any healing and energy recovery items you pick up on the way.
Our Darkspore demo concluded with a look at the editor, which lets you equip armor and enhancements, and some PvP. The editor is the Spore editor, although because the developers wanted heroes to be recognizeable (think DoTA), you cannot edit the basic character himself. There are plenty of articles of equipment which can be equipped, resized, and painted, however, so you budding artists out there can rest easy that Darkspore will leave you with plenty of ways to exercise your creative talent. I enjoyed manipulating the armor I had found in the demo level, and can easily see myself getting lost in trying to make my hero as cool looking as possible. The game is also visually pleasing in general, and it's clear the developers were going more for art than power. They said the game should run on most 4 year old computers.
The PVP is pretty standard fair, but is obviously more appealing to those who got into DoTA. All the abilities and rules of swapping heroes and using support powers apply, and those who are familiar with DoTA combat strategies will feel right at home. These battles can get pretty intense, and although we were only able to play 1v1 in our session I imagine that 2v2 would be even more entertaining and strategic, requiring support and healing. Those who never understood the appeal of DoTA in the first place will likely be lost (and beaten).
I had a blast playing Darkspore. It does a good job of giving a fresh feeling to an old concept. Hopefully the game is successful and the online community is active, because it is a game dependent on multiplayer, but it's certainly a game to look forward to.