PAX 2008

PAX 2008: StarCraft II Hands-On

| 2 Sep 2008 19:45
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PAX '08: StarCraft II Hands-On

How do you follow up StarCraft?

Sure, every once in a while it's fun to break out an old classic like Super Mario World amongst friends for nostalgia's sake, but games that have the sort of longevity to be played seriously - let alone competitively - more than ten years after their initial release are few and far between. Of those, none of them have enjoyed success and acclaim even close to that of StarCraft: Blizzard's 1998 space-faring RTS stands alone, head and shoulders above the crowd. Gamers might laugh and joke that the game is "South Korea's national sport," but really, when was the last time you saw even a groundbreaking title like Street Fighter II played live on television?

Ever since the follow-up expansion pack Brood War ended in a way that was wholly unlike anything resembling closure, gamers have been clamoring for a sequel, and at last, Blizzard answered. Even though - in trademark Blizzard fashion - concrete details about when the game will release are entirely nonexistent, that didn't stop it from being one of the most popular games on the show floor at this weekend's PAX (that's Penny Arcade Expo for the uninformed) '08. From the moment the floor opened to the instant it closed, the Blizzard booth was packed with gamers eager to get a glimpse of StarCraft II.

I managed to squeeze in a 15-minute session with the game on Sunday morning when the lines at the 12-ish SC2 kiosks were only a few people deep. While all three races were playable, I opted to stick with my tried-and-true Terrans, entering a short skirmish pitted against the AI-controlled Zerg.

The basic building blocks were all in place - I had my SCV workers at my Command Center, there were minerals waiting to be harvested and nearby geysers of Vespene Gas just begging for a refinery. I set to work building up my base - a Supply Depot here, a Refinery there, producing some more SCVs to keep my resource generation up - and found that it was all familiar, it was easy to slip back into the swing of things: this was StarCraft.

Since this was an open skirmish, players had access to what seemed to be the entire tech tree, both Basic and Advanced Structures. Since I was still easing in, though, I opted to start with what I knew, and constructed a Barracks. While I immediately started training a handful of Marines to provide my fledgling base with badly-needed defense, it was here that I hit my first real hurdle of unfamiliarity. I had the Marines, I could see the option to train Ghosts once I'd progressed enough up the tech tree, but the Firebat and Medic were gone, replaced by two new units: the Marauder and the jetpack-sporting Reapers.

As in the original game, Terran players can construct modular "addon" buildings next to their main production structures, though it's been streamlined in SC2. In the first game, each building had its own addons - the Machine Shop for the Factory, the Control Tower for the Starport, etc. In the PAX build, though, it seemed as if they all shared the same two addons: the Reactor enabled players to build two units simultaneously at the adjacent building, while an attached Tech Lab was a requirement to build some of the more advanced units (for example, you can only train Reapers and Ghosts at a Barracks sporting a Tech Lab).

Since each building can only have one attachment, this forces players to choose between either producing less-powerful units more quickly, or having the option to build the more advanced troops, albeit at a slower rate. However, since Terran structures retain the ability to lift off and move around, this offers some interesting strategic possibilities: while in SC1 a Physics Lab would be useless next to a Factory, SC2 presents the option to cycle a Barracks/Factory/Starport with one Tech Lab if the player chooses.

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