Firstly, I have to admit to never having played the original StarCraft. I've played and enjoyed real time strategy games in the past, particularly the Command & Conquer series and the Warcraft games from Blizzard but I never seemed to pick up on the phenomenon that is the original StarCraft game. (I have fond memories of playing Red Alert 2 late into the night with HardwareHeaven’s own Veridian3, though he’s probably suppressed the memory of the time when I beat him with just a single remaining tank after an intense battle.
Secondly, I must confess to being a bit of a Blizzard fan boy. I have played the original Warcraft RTS games and since its launch I've been absorbed in the World of Warcraft MMO. I say absorbed but really, it’s an addiction, being well into double figures with the number of characters I have maxed out since launch. So, understanding how much care and effort Blizzard put into their games I was really looking forward to getting my hands on StarCraft 2.
Finally I’m not at this stage, by any stretch of the imagination, an expert StarCraft player. To borrow a phrase from my favorite shout caster Totalbiscuit “I suck at StarCraft 2”. What I hope to share with you in these blogs is very much a layman’s view of StarCraft 2 and what a new player can expect from the game. By the way, if you are interested in watching entertaining StarCraft 2 replays in high quality then you should check out Totalbiscuits YouTube page
So, since Blizzard made the announcement at the 2007 WorldWide Invitational in South Korea that they were following up on arguably one of their best ever games, my expectations have been running high. Blizzard hasn’t developed an RTS since the last expansion to Warcraft (Warcraft 3: Frozen Throne) in 2003 and it would be very interesting to see what they had learned about the RTS market since then and how were they going to top the original StarCraft games, which are still being played competitively over ten years after launch. Additionally it would be fascinating to see what Blizzard had learned from over 5 years developing the one of the most popular MMOs of all time (World of Warcraft) and could they apply any of these findings to the RTS genre?
My first impression of the game was how balanced it was. It didn’t really feel like a beta, where certain units were so overpowered that they were the default choice. Regardless of how the game was played, as long as playing against someone of a similar skill level, this resulted in matches which are always resolved on skill. It’s also such a beautifully detailed game. A lot of care has been put into the environments and unit design; they all seemed to fit into their races perfectly. StarCraft 2 is also a game which will look and feel familiar to those who played the original thanks to a similar interface layout and evolution of the graphical style rather than complete overhaul.
One of the changes that does jump out when you play the beta over old school Blizzard RTS games is that they have carried over the achievement system which was introduced to World of Warcraft last year. While achievements aren't a new idea Blizzard took them and made them a core part of the WoW experience, and it seems they plan on doing the same with StarCraft 2.
The three races that make up the StarCraft universe, Terran, Protoss and Zerg were all playable in the beta and to make life a little easier on myself I decided to play primarily Terran. Since I only had a limited time to play it seemed that rather than being rubbish at playing all three races if focusing on one, I might just understand them a little better.
Playing Terran is a lot of fun. They have a very strong mix of biologic units and machines and I learned very quickly that the triple M tactic (Marines, Marauders and Medivacs) could prove a very effective as it was used both against and by me with devastating consequences. The ways in which players can build up forces can be varied enormously depending on the type of enemy you are facing and the tactics that they employ. The tech tree is easy to understand however to master the correct build order and to be able to react to what your opponent is doing is where the real skill of StarCraft 2 comes in.
The beta focused exclusively on player vs. player via the Battle.net system. Battle.net is Blizzards custom online play system and all StarCraft 2 players will have to be registered for Battle.net. It’s also tied in closely with Blizzards other games, World of Warcraft and the forthcoming Diablo 3 via the Real.ID system. The Real.ID system is still very new, and in a later post I’ll talk a little more about it, it’s impact on StarCraft 2 and other Blizzard games.
When you start playing there are a number of practice matches that allow players to get to grips with the game, especially useful if you haven’t played it before. You can skip these if feeling confident enough, or are a StarCraft veteran player. You then have to undertake placement matches. These match ups with other players allow the game to understand your skill level and then place you in the most appropriate league. Once placed in a league you can compete with other players to win points and hopefully progress up the ladder for promotion to the next league.
As I previously mentioned I’m not an awesome StarCraft 2 player, so after my placement matches I found myself in the Copper league (the beginners league if you like). Despite that I had tremendous fun in the matches I played. I lost more than I won, however it was all good experience that I hope will stand me in good stead when the game launches properly next month.
Coming soon I’ll talk more about the beta, including the Battle.net and Real.ID system, playing Terran; including why I learned to block and what my hopes for the single player campaign are.
Meanwhile checkout GamingHeaven's StarCraft 2 Press Day Preview here.