Preview: StarCraft II

John Funk | 23 Feb 2010 13:00
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With all the races being as different as they are, and all of the different strategies and abilities available to each - let alone the battlefield mechanics like rich mineral fields and Xel'Naga Watchtowers - it's very easy for a newbie to get overwhelmed by the sheer dizzying depth of StarCraft II, particularly given the lack of any tutorial. Thankfully, while StarCraft II doesn't offer very many resources to get you started, there are some very helpful tools to help you get better.

After a match, you can see the early build order for all parties involved, giving you some hints what to try next. The Replay function is hugely improved, allowing you to rewatch a match with a full understanding of what was going on, in order to figure out just what your opponent did and how they beat you (or vice versa). You may need the help of various internet communities like TeamLiquid or StarCraft2Forum to make sense of all that data, but it's there and it's very helpful.

It's a testament to the new matchmaking system and the Replay data that I very rarely feel like I was crushed unfairly, even when I lose a game. My victories are hard-fought, but so are my defeats, and after watching what I thought was a devastating loss again in the Replay mode, it's easy to understand and say, "Oh, that's why I lost, I need to work on X, Y, and Z." I've never steamrolled an opponent, but I always feel like I put up a good fight when I lose - and more importantly, it's always fun.

The game looks great, of course, but it's also impressive just how scalable it is. On my home computer, with everything turned up to maximum, StarCraft II has some wonderfully cool-looking fights (as long as you don't zoom in too much). On my ancient work computer, I have to turn everything down to minimum, but the game still runs fine even on a machine clearly not fit for modern gaming.

It feels strange to be talking about StarCraft II like it's still a beta (even though it is) because frankly, if this were any other game from almost any other company, it'd be completely releasable. It's exciting, it's fun, it's incredibly deep, and (as expected from Blizzard) is polished to a mirrored shine.

From the interesting and entertaining new units to the little tweaks under the hood to make for a better traditional RTS experience to the annoyed response that every unit in the game gives when you click on it enough times, it's clear that the developers haven't spent these years just sitting around doing nothing - they've been making a game that looks like it's shaping up wonderfully.

There's nothing innovative about StarCraft II, and it still has some issues that need working out (as does, but it just works in a way that is a genuine pleasure to behold. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can possibly give the game is this: It's been worth the wait.

Bottom Line: This is StarCraft as you know it - Blizzard hasn't reinvented the wheel. And yet, all the new changes and additions mean that it isn't StarCraft all at the same time. It's fast, frantic, unforgiving and in desperate need of a tutorial, but it simply all comes together to be one hell of an experience. There are still kinks to be ironed out, but StarCraft II is shaping up to be a worthy heir to the legendary 1998 RTS.

John Funk likes to just mass Hydralisks. Sometimes it works.

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