Blizzards insanely large RTS took forever to come out and had quite a history to live up too. The plot of Starcraft was all well and good but the reason the series is still relevant today is the fact that the game is well balanced enough to basically be a professional sport, and actually IS in Korea. To say that Starcraft 2 had some high expectations is quite the understatement. How’s it stack up?
As Starcraft 2 approached release, Blizz was riding high. World of Warcraft has about 11 million people playing it, all of them paying monthly fees, and Starcraft 2 is a sequel to a TWELVE YEARS OLD game that had the PC gaming scene buzzing like nothing since the….well, probably since World of Warcrafts last expansion. Judging from the absurdly high sales of Starcraft 2 upon its launch (1 million units day one) Blizzard is basically building an empire at this point.
It is impossible to discuss Starcraft 2 without talking about Battle.net, the online platform Blizzard has put behind all of their games. I’ll get the actual gameplay in a little bit, but to truly understand what Blizzard is trying to accomplish, we have to delve into the whole social networking aspects of it.
The part where I say “all of their games” is important, because Blizzard is clearly trying to get you involved in all of the products they have out or will be putting out, most notably World of Warcraft, Starcraft 2, and the upcoming but as of yet unknown release of Diablo 2. The keystone to this whole thing is the “Real ID” system, recently patched into WoW and built into Starcraft 2 at launch. It’s the natural next step from adding somebody to your friends list. Instead of their character name, you see the real full name of the added friend (yes, this does require approval from the potential friend, so real names just won’t be floating out there for anybody to see), what they are currently doing (browsing menus, playing campaign, in a 2v2, etc), and even what game they are playing. So yes, if your playing Starcraft 2, you can see that your buddy is playing World of Warcraft, on his pally alt, and running Lake Wintergrasp, all from within Starcraft 2. AND you can send him messages in real time, in a function very similar to an IM window. The type of gamer (like myself and judging from Blizzards numbers, tons of people) that has friends spanning both those games all of a sudden has a totally social reason to log on beyond just wanting to play the game. The interface is slick, adding and talking to friends is easy, and it very covertly encourages more time spent playing Blizzard’s games through ease of communication with your buddies. The system echos Microsofts Xbox Live with the ability to create a party and queue up games as a group or viewing a friends profile to compare your achievement score.
So all of this is nice from a people perspective, but hey, you are a gamer. How’s the GAME? It is pretty fantastic.
The singe player campaign is both cliche and refreshing from a story point of view. I’ll be honest, I didn’t remember most of the first Starcrafts story, but a helpful summary is shown while the game is installing that sets the stage for the events about to take place. All you really need to know is Kerrigan, now a human-zerg hybrid (Zerg = big angry space bugs) with the ability to lead the entire Zerg swarm telepathically, is super pissed that the leader of the human empire, a guy named Mengsk, abandoned her on a zerg infested planet in the first place. The player is put in the shoes of one Jim Raynor, who used to date Kerrigan and is also super pissed that Mengsk abandoned her, so he’s leading a rebellion against Mengsk’s empire, while still secretly having the hots for zergified Kerrigan. The cliche parts comes in because there is nothing in this story that isn’t kind of the normal sci-fi stuff. Empires, dangerous alien races, rough and tumble cowboy style rebellion leaders with hearts of gold, all that kind of stuff. The refreshing part comes in because there is no other company making video games right now that reaches Blizzards level of polish. Yes, we’ve seen this story before, but never with these kinds of production values. The campaign of Starcraft 2 practically plays like a RPG, with an upgrade and leveling up system, people to talk too, choice of which missions to go on, and sweet sweet CGI cutscenes.
One of the most controversial things about the game is how the single player campaign played out. The first Starcraft featured all three playable races, Terrans (humans), Zerg, and Protoss (super smart space aliens with tons of units that shoot lasers) each having their own campaign missions, about ten a piece, and the story weaving its way through all of them. Starcraft 2’s single player campaign is told only through the point of view of the Terrans via Jim Raynor (there is a sprinkling of one of the other races in there which is justified well, for the record) and thus Blizzard was hearing “YOUR ONLY GIVING US ONE THIRD OF A GAME FOR FULL PRICE?!?!?11” calls before the game even released. While I wasn’t one of those freaking out (because I’m sane!) I did share a concern about how exactly Blizz would put this together. After having completed the campaign I can say very confidently that there is ZERO reason to feel ripped off or think Blizzard left out parts of the game. The Terran story actually takes longer to playthrough than the originals three race campaign anyway, and enables the game to focus the storytelling on one set of characters and events, making the narrative easier to follow and easier to get invested in.
The RPG elements are really what makes the single player so interesting. In between each real time strategy mission, it becomes a point and click adventure throughout Raynors ship. You can interact with other characters aboard the ship, watch hilarious news broadcasts, or spend some of the credits you earned from your last mission on upgrades for your units and structures. These upgrades can be big game changers, such as gas refineries automatically harvesting instead of needing workers, which makes your economy much easier to manage. This would never fly in the multiplayer matches, but Blizzard very wisely realized that the single player can be a different beast. There are a good number of units that show up in the single player that are never available in the multiplayer because of the balancing issues constantly faced by a game that touts itself as an e-sport. This is not just “oh this crazy unit shows up this one time in this one mission” although that happens a couple times too. Units unlocked early on are trainable for the rest of the campaign, whether its returning favorites like the medic or cloaking fightercraft the Wraiths, or new ones like the Diamondback tank. As sad as I am to not be able to bust out the units while playing others, it’s fun to see something different in the campaign mode. So who cares if you have a giant laser drill that can one shot anything from across the map on a mission. Balanced? Not one bit. FUN? Lots! This kind of thing occassionaly works the other way too, so be forewarned!
So ok, the single player campaign is fun. On the normal difficulty it slowly introduces you to new mechanics, so you learn units and how to build resources as you go. So you finish that, and you think, alright, multiplayer! I know what I’m doing! No, you don’t. You really really don’t.
I am NOT a good competitive Starcraft player. I do not mean to come off as the authority on any of the balancing issues or gameplay strategies. But I know a little bit. But really, I just know enough to be absolutely terrified of playing other live players. After five “placement matches” Blizzard wisely broke up everybody else into divisions (bronze, silver, gold, platinum, diamond) with even sub divisions within those to try to match new players with other new players and pros with pros. It’s mostly a success, but just be aware, especially in early going; there are going to be games where you get slaughtered. The four units you’ve managed to pump out get slaughtered by the eight your opponent has, while you’re left wondering how he got them so much faster. Or how the three terran reapers in your base just killed all 10 of your zerglings without taking a hit and are now in your mineral line blowing away your workers. Units in multiplayer are balanced around counters, as in one units is rock, another is paper, another is scissors. The aforementioned reapers will decimate zerglings, but roaches will crush the reapers. Knowing these counters, and knowing all of them for all three races, is essential to be highly competitive.
So now that your scared to even try the multiplayer, I present the other awesome part of battle.net: custom games! The map editor included with the game is sort of insane. Already, mere weeks after release, hundreds of custom game types from tower defense, DOTA (defense of the ancients, a hero unit rpg type battle), bumper cars, third person beat em ups ala Streets of Rage, or even quiz shows are already available to download for free. Give this game a few months and you will have full on new games using the SC2 engine available due to the extensive modding community. Most of these are relaxing light-hearted affairs that are far far removed from the adrenaline surge that is the traditional multiplayer scene. My point is, you can have a good time playing SC2 multiplayer without ever playing a “normal” game.
Its nice to see Blizzard hit the scene with something other than an MMO again. As much as I love WoW, MMO’s are a different kind of thing and offer a differ experience. Starcraft 2 tells a good story, looks and sounds amazing, and reminds us that real time strategy games and PC games for that matter can be pretty amazing. If you’re a fan of the first Starcraft, a fan of RTS, or really just a fan of extremely well made games in general, get Starcraft 2 post-haste.
(Quick note: Another nice thing about Blizzard is they are pretty friendly to your computer. You do NOT need a brand new $2000 computer to run this game. Even on medium graphic settings the game looks good, and on Ultra it looks pretty incredible. So even if you’re a console gamer and haven’t touched your computer in a while, check out the system requirements I’m willing to bet your computer can run the game just fine. Also, all Blizzard games work on PC and MAC!)
Filed under: Games | Tagged: battle.net, blizz, Blizzard, campaign, CGI, DOTA, e-sport, Elrood, giant laser drill, Jim Raynor, kerrigan, map editor, medics, Mengsk, MMO, multiplayer, PC, pc gaming, protoss, Raynor, real id, reaper, Roach, RTS, single player campaign, south korea, starcraft, starcraft 2, terran, wings of liberty, World of Warcraft, wraiths, xbox live, zerg, zergling |