"Darkspore's" player-vs.-player modes are best tried once you've gotten familiar with the single-player and cooperative game.

Blogger’s note: I got the chance to check out a bazillion in-development games in March and early April, but some real-life events prevented me from writing up everything as quickly as I’d like. One of those games, “Darkspore,” is due out today, so I bumped it up to the top of my to-do list. The Internet is chock-a-block with reviews today, but I didn’t want to let the day pass without posting my initial impressions of  what I played and saw last month.

Other than dalliances with games in the “Civilization” series, I haven’t been much of a PC gamer for the past decade, thanks to my owning a string of underpowered PCs, Macs and, now, a laptop that’s powerful enough to run most games, but not much fun to game on. I was worried, then, that I’d have a tough time picking up “Darkspore,” the hybrid of hack-and-slash role-playing game and “Pokemon”-style collectathon from Maxis Games that launches today.

Despite having played an unhealthy amount of “Diablo II,” I lied through my teeth and said I was generally not too familiar with action RPGs. Better to look like a prodigy than to oversell oneself.

This was a mistake. Before too long, I was slaughtering everything in site on the relatively easy level of “Darkspore” the developers set me up with.

In other words, if you’re worried about “Darkspore” being less accessible than previous Maxis hits like “Spore” and “The Sims,” don’t be. While the core gameplay might be a little more gamerish than some Maxis fans are into, it should be relatively easy to pick up.

At its core, “Darkspore” is a game about collecting and tricking out “heroes,” little creatures that do your bidding and come in five general flavors: Bio, Necro, Quantum, Plasma and Cyber. The Bio hero I played with looked like a giant tree and excelled at healing my squadmates. The Cyber guys look sort of like robots, while the Necro heroes can siphon life force from those around them. The Quantum enemies can manipulate the space-time continuum, slowing down action or teleporting around the battlefield. Lastly, the Plasma characters are like offensive mages, slinging fire and electricity to burn and crackle their foes to death.

Like its progenitor, “Spore,” “Darkspore” also features a robust character editor where you can outfit your heroes with the loot you find, as well as customize their appearances. The developers at Maxis touted the millions of different combination you could come up with to trick out your characters before sending them off to war.

In addition to supporting cooperative play through its campaign, “Darkspore,” which requires an Internet connection to combat piracy, also features player-versus-player battles that support up to four players total. Before you hop online, though, you’ll probably want to spend some time in the single-player campaign acquiring heroes and familiarizing yourself with the action. In my preview, I felt pretty good about my prowess versus the computer but faltered mightily when put up against an action-RPG veteran.

My failure wasn’t because the game is tough to control, however. In general, you’ll need to use the mouse and a handful of numerical keys to battle. It’s just that it takes some time to familiarize yourself with your fighting force and learn which attacks are strongest against which enemies. Less experienced players may want to transition from the single-player game to cooperative play before trying the more challenging PvP modes.