Set in the 26th century, the game revolves around three species fighting for dominance in a distant part of the Milky Way galaxy. Released in 1998 for the PC (1999 for Mac) Blizzard’s game set all kinds of sales records and is widely known in jest as “the national sport of South Korea.”
Why it’s taken twelve years, an expansion pack (Brood War) and a console version (2000, Nintendo 64, yes really) and a cancelled Playstation 2 Gamecube Xbox Xbox 360 expansion game (Starcraft: Ghost) to get around to a true sequel is anyone’s guess.
Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty is finally in beta and we’ve been testing it pretty thoroughly since the initial invites went out, lest we miss something. We’ve played against the AI, we’ve played against other players (most of whom are oddly quiet) and done it in every combination of races and maps imaginable. Read the impressions after the break.
Blizzard’s experience with World of Warcraft and its expansions have taught them how to handle a larger player base than the previous Battle.net system could handle and it shows.
Matching making is quick and easy and setting up a game takes almost no time at all. It’s no wonder Blizzard has decided that the Battle.net system will be its standard for all online multiplayer and some distribution in the future. Think of it as Blizzard’s version of Steam.
So let’s get this part out of the way first – The most disappointing thing about Starcraft II as a whole is that the whole thing is actually three different games. First is Wings of Liberty (the current beta) that will have you playing as the exiled humans known as Terrans.
Part two (B?) will be Heart of the Swarm, where you’ll play the Zerg, chitinous alien beings, as inspired by Warhammer 40,000’s Tyranids (of the table top variety, though more readers will know them from their appearance in Relic’s Dawn of War series).
Part three (C?) will finally let the story [maybe] conclude with Legacy of the Void, where the psionically advanced alien Protoss will finally get a shake of the storyline stick.
That simple fact is maddening to people who actually liked the story in the first place. Blizzard’s release record isn’t exactly awe inspiring. The “it’s done when it’s done” mentality lets them release great games, but it also makes it seem like most of their staff has spent YEARS doing nothing but World of Warcraft patches.
Why World of Warcraft patches? Because they clearly weren’t working on Starcraft II.
Honesty is necessary here – the beta does not inspire confidence in the innovation occurring at Blizzard. Real-Time Strategy has come a LONG way since 1998 and other than a graphical upgrade, Blizzard could still be developing in a time when George Michael was getting arrested in bathrooms.
It’s the same game as before, just with a fresh coat of paint.
Some might say that’s a good thing. It’s not. To take twelve years to bring a game to release and not change the way its played? It’s just disappointing.
You still have to have dozens of gatherer units collecting minerals and vespene gas in order to do anything at all with troops. The basic commands for units are almost unchanged. Hold, patrol, attack, stop. Where’s burn? Pursue? Why can’t my units think for themselves on occasion?
Most annoying, I still have to build supply depots in order to USE my resources. Yep, exact same game. This is not how real war works.
After the tweaking of resources in Relic’s Dawn of War series (strategic points and power generation, no gathering) and the total up-ending of the idea in their sequel – going back to the tired-but-true system is just maddening.
The races all feel unique, by and large. The Terrans aren’t exactly quick and their larger units are devastating. The Terran Thor, apparently voiced by the Governor of California is particularly cool.
The Zerg have cheap expendable units and focus strongly on combat instead of ranged attacked. Their little units are a far better use of time and resources than their larger units.
The Protoss are interesting in that even their most basic unit (the Zealot) is a heavy hitter by the other races’ standards. Their air units are by far the most efficient with their time, but take lots of time to build.
This predictability and lack of innovation isn’t the worst thing in the world – with familiarity comes a certain degree of fun. Blizzard hasn’t done much to correct abusive strategies or balance of the first game. The races all play exactly the same as they did the first go around.
Like the first game, Protoss are the most fun to destroy things with, the carrier-rush is great fun when you’ve maxed out the fighters on each (oh and if you bring a mothership along, they’re all cloaked too!) but so is sending three or four Thor units into the enemy base as a Terran.
There’s a hefty helping of new units for all of the races but some have been removed (Blizzard says that many are still available in the single-player campaign, which is good because Firebats are AWESOME) with no explanation. There’s also some weird things like two Dark Templars forming a normal Archon, not a Dark Archon like in the Brood War expansion.
Then again, it’s a beta test and these things can change, but how much really will from this point? Going by current beta test trends (and Blizzard’s in particular) very little. This is fine-tuning in the extreme and likely has more to do with testing the Battle.net servers than the game itself.
All-in-all the beta for Starcraft II shows some promise, it’s fun and will undoubtedly be a success, but the longevity of the game outside of hardcore circles is shaky. It simply doesn’t offer enough variety, changes or new concepts to a very old, very tired genre.
Few players actually remember the original Warcraft and to many, Blizzard is nothing but the company they pay to enter Asteroth on an alarmingly frequent basis.
With the resources of Activision and mountains of cash behind them, I expect better and more than what we’ve got on our computers now.
Here’s hoping parts Heart of the Swam and Legacy of the Void change things up a bit, because right now Starcraft II is nothing but fan service pure and simple.
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