I’ve been fortunate enough to have nerdy friends who, like me, remember a bygone era of StarCraft-ing back in high school (and blocking the phones via dial-up modems for hours and hours on end…good times, good times). As such, we have all stumbled across beta keys. While I haven’t had ample time to really delve into the SC2 world (school + hardware woes + GSoC = little SC2), but I would like to share a few thoughts.
Interface. Lots of tweaks here worthy of praise. First, it retains a familiar feel from the original StarCraft, but is flexible enough to accommodate new buildings and features in this rendition. The specified build times for units and structures is amazingly useful, and even the fact that most of the key bindings are set up on specific sides of the keyboard makes for smoother play (especially for you 300+ actions-per-minute sickos beating the crap out of me).
Graphics and Animations. Not as impressed as I thought I’d be, even with a Radeon HD 4890 and all the settings pushed to their maximum. The health bars are kind of weird to me, coming off as cartoonish (as does everything else, to some extent). Some of the animations are pretty cool – nothing feels more gratifying than watching a fleet of Protoss Void Rays progressively dial up their weapon against something like a Terran Command Center – but others are disappointing. In fact, using that same example, the ensuing explosion when the Command Center goes up in flames is awfully anticlimactic. So feel many other unit death sequences.
Strategy. Plays a much, much greater role in this game than it did in the original, and thus far I feel conflicted about it. On one hand, having a solid mix of units is far more crucial now than it was previously. In the original StarCraft, it was commonplace to build 25 Siege tanks, 15 carriers, or 108 Hydralisks, then damn the torpedoes and steamroll your opponent. That tactic will fail miserably here without other units to cover each other’s weaknesses. On the other hand, elements of WarCraft III and other micromanagement-heavy games are definitely felt, particularly with the numerous new special abilities. Since units are so much more specialized, it is much more important to know their weaknesses and how to exploit them. This obviously appeals to many millions of gamers, but as for me, the jury is still out.
Battle.net. Holy carp on a shtick, this is awesome. It’s been completely redone, and if the level of detail and organization in the beta is any indication, this is going to be one spectacular online gaming forum. The leagues are all well-separated and only become more accurate with time, the training leagues are ideal for n00bs (like me, even though they are occasionally trolled by folks with waaaay too much skill looking for an easy win), and the rewards system is pretty awesome, even though it’s just icing on the cake. It does a phenomenal job overall of matching skill levels so the number of one-sided duels are minimized.
Other. Little things: the queuing of research upgrades (awesome), the ability to select more than 12 units at a time (awesome), the further differentiation of races (though I hear Terrans are a tad overpowered, particularly since they can build ledge-hopping Reapers practically out the gate), improved waypoint management (awesome, especially being able to select all your workers at the start, click a single mineral, and they ALL GO TO DIFFERENT MINERALS. so awesome), new special abilities (Protoss Warp Gates = AY MAY ZING), and many, many others.
All in all, I think it’s a worthy successor to the original StarCraft. I think it was overhyped and couldn’t live up to how it was being advertised, but it’s still a solid game (even in beta form), and the writers at Blizzard are some of the best in the gaming industry, so with solid gameplay and a mind-blowing storyline, I suspect they’ll be releasing yet another gem of a game to go along with their already-impressive CV.
Remember: official release date is July 27!