StarCraft II Singleplayer Hands-On PreviewBy Brian Leahy - Posted Aug 17, 2009
Last month, Blizzard had the press out to their headquarters in Irvine, CA to get some hands-on time with StarCraft II’s first singleplayer campaign missions. After a quick introduction to the campaign’s features and some of the design decisions that led to the creation of these features, it was time to find a computer and boot up StarCraft II singleplayer.
If you haven’t been following StarCraft II, the initial release of the game will contain the Terran campaign, subtitled “Wings of Liberty”, and the full multiplayer component. The campaign, however, will be much longer than a traditional RTS game with over 30 unique levels that progress in a non-linear fashion. It is very important to lead designer Dustin Browder that each mission plays differently than every other mission. Each mission has a hook or mechanic that is not found in any other levels. I can’t speak for every mission, but all of the missions I was able to play were different.
The game opens on Jim Raynor, one of the heroes from the original game, down on his luck and drunk in a saloon on the planet of Mar Sara, which is under imperial control by order of Emperor Mengsk. The opening in-engine cutscene transitions into an interactive environment (think of games like Sam & Max or Monkey Island) that contains objects that offer context and additional story details when clicked. For example, the bar’s TV can be flipped on to see a news report detailing Emperor Mengsk’s installation of holographic displays on planets like Mar Sara that broadcast propaganda. What luck, the first missions tasks Raynor’s forces with destroying these displays and liberating the citizens and workers.
The actual missions are a bit closer to WarCraft III in the way that story is delivered. You’ll run into neutral units that might have some dialogue warning you about some enemy forces up ahead or trigger a scripted event. The gameplay, however, is all StarCraft. Units are expendable and will come in large numbers. The first few missions detail Raynor’s rebellion on Mar Sara, meeting of marine Tychus Findlay, and acquisition of a battlecruiser. After that, the game opens up and becomes a bit more open-ended than you might be expecting.
Raynor can move about the different areas of the battlecruiser such as the armory (used for upgrading units), lab (used to track longer-term quests that yield permanent unit boosts), and the cantina, where players will find a mercenary and other characters that are picked up along the way. The merc can “sell” super-powered units that can be built once per missions from the Merc Haven building. If lost, you’ll have to wait until the next mission to redeploy them.
The tech tree is unlocked as you complete missions, with each mission unlocking and utilizing a specific unit. One mission might unlock the Medic for use that and all subsequent missions, but another could grant the Firebat. Both units, by the way, will not be appearing the multiplayer portion of the game. There will also be upgrades that do not crossover to the multiplayer game as it would make it too difficult to balance. This allows players to customize their army to suite their particular play style. Do you want to sink money into your medics and marines for a powerful biological army or do you want to improve your economic abilities to establish bases and armies more quickly? The choices are yours. Currently, players will not be able to get every upgrade in the game so there will be sacrifices.
As far as mission selection goes, it’s mostly up to you which order you want to approach them. There will be instances where only one mission is available to push the story forward, but it will mostly be based on choices. Certain story missions will require you to make a clear choice between two options, locking the other out and dealing with the consequences of your choice. Missions that are not critical to the main story will never expire or be locked out so you’re free to play most of them the first time through.
Now, let’s talk missions.
In one mission, I was tasked by a doctor broadcasting a distress signal with escorting members of a research team to a nearby space station so they could evacuate before the Zerg infestation overran their facility. I was given control of a base with a Command Center, Barracks, and a few Supply Depots. Getting the economy going and building an army was left up to me. The new unit for the mission? The Firebat, useful for dealing with the swarms of Zerglings awaiting me on the dangerous pathway to the space station. I’m given two potential strategies for safely escorting the civilians by some dialogue. Option one is the most straight-forward: build any army and protect the transport vehicles, escorting it the entire way. Option two: repairing and loading up the damaged bunkers that line the road, building new ones to supplement the defenses.
I opted to build a large army because I wanted to explore the rest of the map between transport runs. Before the mission, I was tasked with locating hidden Zerg chrysalises for a research project that would eventually improve my infantry. All of the missions I played contained bonus objectives like this. Beyond that, the mission was fairly easy. I was playing on normal and my skills from the multiplayer game resulted in a massive army of around 125 units. The Zerg were easily dispatched. Dustin Browder later suggested I try a harder difficulty. Each mission also contains several achievements, which will tie into Battle.net 2.0 and aggregate with any World of WarCraft achievements you might have. All future Blizzard titles, including Diablo III, will include achievements.
After completing the mission, the doctor could be found aboard the Battlecruiser and could be spoken to for more information. Later, she offered up another mission relating to the first one, which had me destroying Zerg-infested buildings near a colony. Tychus brings less morally clear missions to the table that could include stealing Protoss technology to sell it or helping mercenaries mine high-yield minerals on a volcanic planet.
Sadly, the demo ended after a few missions. Luckily, the game’s skirmish mode was still enabled and I was able to spend a few hours playing against the AI in the multiplayer game. I didn’t notice anything majorly different from the build I played in late June, but it was good to play some more multiplayer, even if it was against the AI.
The singleplayer campaign is structured closer to what you have experienced in Relic’s Dawn of War II, but the games are completely different. As a giant StarCraft fan, I may be a bit biased, but this is a Blizzard game through and through. The quality and polish are there, even in this pre-release state. I’m sure it’ll be on my list of potential games of the year for whatever year it releases, as well.