If your interest in Darkspore is as a sequel of Spore, you will be disappointed. It is not the next generation of Will Wright’s most recent effort. Darkspore is not big on innovation, and isn’t looking to revolutionize or create a genre. What it is, however, is chocked full of fun.

Darkspore starts with a cursory overview of the story (Darkspore bad, Crogenitor good, you Crogenitor)- and that’s about as much as you’ll need as the generic scyfi plot exists simply to set the plate for the game’s action. The plot continues to progress through cutscenes in an effort to tie the missions to the narrative, but they are neither noteworthy nor necessary. I found myself reaching for the escape key to skip them after the first few to get back into the thick of things.

In the thick of things is where Darkspore really shines. A clever, if somewhat simplified approach to the traditional hack-n-slash genre, Darkspore’s main innovation is the introduction of squad-based play. After the beginning tutorial, you gain control of a squad of three heroes who become your Darkspore-smashing landing party. Upon touching down on a planet, you proceed to cut through various enemies Diablo-style, collecting color coordinated loot along the way. Speaking of loot, your hero’s level depends solely on it so you aren’t locked into specific heroes at any point during the game - a quick gear switch in the editor and you’re ready to go with your newly activated creature. Later in the game, as you unlock more of the 25 different heroes (not counting the so called ‘genetic variants’ who are just the first 25 heroes recycled with slightly different powers), you can customize your squad any way you see fit. The 25 heroes are sufficiently different in appearance and play-style to give each their own unique feel, and switching among the heroes keeps the gameplay fresh.

There are three classifications of heroes: sentinels are the damage taking tanks, ravagers the melee damage dealers, and tempests, the magic wielding casters. These subsets are further broken down into five different types, called genesises - Bio, Cyber, Necro, Plasma, and Quantum. Heroes do and take double damage from monsters of the same genesis. The heroes are well balanced, allowing players to choose their favorites (Mine are Zrin, a molten giant, Arborus, a tough-as-nails treant, and Goliath, a laser-shooting cyborg). A word for the wise - take at least one sentinel if you’re playing alone.

I found myself happiest when I was hacking my way through throngs of enemies with friends using the online co-op. When you ‘chain’ strings of levels - increasing the difficulty for the promise of better loot - the monsters and bosses become a fun challenge requiring coordination and teamwork.

Darkspore’s graphics are good - but not great. Think ‘an action RPG developed by Maxis’ and you’ve essentially got the idea. The planetary environments are attractive and varied, ranging from scyfi space platforms to planetary forests. The monsters are fairly nondescript blobs with limbs (sometimes) for smashing, bosses excepted.

The heroes are attractive and varied in appearance, and can be edited in a stripped-down version of the Spore editor, the only foreseeable explanation for the Spore tie-in. While some have complained about the lack of functionality, a quick perusal of online forums reveals creative minds are already crafting remarkable creatures, sure to impress their friends - provided they can find time to play after toiling away in the editor.

The ambient music of Darkspore nicely fills in the breaks in the action, and the sound effects from the heroes attacks and abilities provide pleasing aural feedback. The only misstep is the Cortana-like AI who interrupts you mid-mission occasionally to read story related flavor text, more annoying than insightful.

While those expecting Spore 2 will certainly be disappointed, I found Darkspore to be an enjoyable and engrossing game. Fans of the genre will find themselves more than happy with something to sink their teeth into while waiting for the highly anticipated upcoming titles like Torchlight 2 and Diablo III - especially if they bring friends along for the ride.