It's a new Spore game, albeit one focused on combat. It's described by publisher Electronic Arts as a "sci-fi action-RPG," but you might describe it as "not really what you were hoping for from Maxis." Still, the studio Will Wright built (and later left) seems to be trying its best to work the idea – an idea it's had since wrapping the original Spore, we're told – into something that will satisfy a more hardcore, multiplayer-focused PC gamer.
To that end, Darkspore will let up to three players traverse "several" planets cooperatively, and while there will be PvP in the finished product, Maxis isn't providing details just yet. The basics will be the same whether going in solo or as a team: You'll be able to choose from a number (again, no specifics yet) of pre-created melee, ranged and support creatures that can have their stats and abilities augmented by equipment.
That's right -- although based off of Spore (but running on a brand-new engine) the game won't have you controlling your own creations. The Creature Creator does return, however, and is used in customizing the placement of the various upgrades.
As you can probably tell, Maxis isn't venturing very far from established territory with Darkspore.
When choosing to beam down from your starship to a planet, you will see a lineup of enemy types that you'll encounter. This gives you and your friends enough information to decide which three characters from your collection you'll want to deploy. The trio can then be switched between on the fly, albeit with a brief cool-down period afterward. The idea is to use the characters' various abilities strategically against what the Left 4 Dead-inspired "AI director" decides to toss your way.
Darkspore's player creatures also have certain abilities that, in multiplayer, can be used by everyone playing. Creatures with a "haste" ability will automatically make nearby players move faster, for instance.
As you can probably tell, Maxis isn't venturing very far from established territory with Darkspore, although it is a relatively unexplored space for the developer. This can either work in its favor, should it use its fresh set of eyes to spot unique new gameplay possibilities, or work against it if -- as is the vibe I'm getting now -- it decides to stick pretty close to familiar genre conventions.