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'StarCraft II' Hands-On Impressions: It's Really Good

bleahy
37 Comments

Posted August 4, 2007 - By bleahy

Blizzard… heard of them? They have that World of Warcraft game with millions of players? Long before WoW they made another game: StarCraft. Made 10 years ago, SC was a huge hit worldwide, but especially in Korea, where it has established itself as a legitimate sport.


The game is so popular in Korea, that Blizzard rented out an Olympic arena for the announcement of SC II (and a tournament). The Koreans got the first chance to see the game, but we got the first chance to play it. A lot of Koreans made the trip and promptly kicked ass in the open-gaming anyway.


Well, the sequel is finally on its way and I got a chance to play it for the first time at BlizzCon 2007 along with the rest of the world. Hit the jump for TheFeed’s hands-on preview. Keep in mind, everything that was shown at BlizzCon was pre-alpha and all subject to change.

 

Blizzard is maintaining that there will be no new race for StarCraft II going against the usual RTS sequel-standard of adding a new playable faction. We’ll be getting the Terran, Protoss, and Zerg again, but when you get your hands on StarCraft II you’ll know why.

Blizzard has succeeded where so many companies fail with sequels. They have managed to retain the entire feel of the original. When I loaded up the game for the first time it brought back all the great (lonely) memories of playing StarCraft 10 years ago.

At the same time, once I started playing the game, I realized how much new stuff they had added. There are so many new units, abilities, and buildings that it’s going to take a while before players figure out the best use for everything. The tech trees are massive!

I have no doubts that this game will be an incredible success and most likely the fastest selling PC game of all time, taking the record away from Blizzard’s other game, World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade.

Zerg was not playable yet, but I got a lot of time to re-familiarize myself with the Terran and Protoss, play a few AI skirmishes, and get destroyed by other BlizzCon attendees in multiplayer. Here’s a look at the new game/UI features, the Terrans, and the Protoss:

 

Gameplay/UI

•    While the graphics are definitely updated and look great, it retains all the feel of the original StarCraft. Fans of the series will instantly be able to pick the game up and play. All the hotkeys for returning buildings/abilities are the same. These aren’t likely to change as Blizzard wants to make the transition to StarCraft II  for pro-gamers as easy as possible.
•    Many UI features from WarCraft III show up including an idle worker notification and tabbing across mini-groups to micro unit abilities.
•    Every building, upgrade, unit, and ability has the time it will take to complete in the tool-tip.
•    Still cannot zoom out farther than the default camera. No Supreme Commander-style playing here.
•    Second level tech upgrades (weapons, armor) require another building to research. Terran Level 2 upgrades require a Shadow Ops building and Protoss Level 2 upgrades require a Templar Archive.
•    Building Queues are still limited to 5 units at a time, but unit selection is currently unlimited.
•    Control groups are indicated on the UI with the number of the groups, amount of units in the group, and predominant unit type in the group. This is a screenshot of control group 1 with 5 Zealots:

 

The Terran

The Terran are the humans of StarCraft and chock full of space-marine goodness. There are several new units and the tech tree is extremely complex. I expect that the tree will only simplify as Blizzard continues to develop the game.

 

Here’s a quick run-down of the new units/buildings/abilities for the Terran:

•    Supply Depots – These can now submerge allowing units to walk over them. This is useful for blocking paths and selectively controlling when units can pass through them. There is no penalty for submerging them.
•    Sensor Tower – Provides Detection for spotting invisible units and allows defensive towers to gain detection.
•    Salvage – An ability that destroys a Terran building and returns 100% of its resources to the player. This ability cannot be cancelled.
•    Viking – A new unit similar to the Goliath’s from StarCraft. They begin as ground units, but can be upgraded to gain the “Fighter Mode” ability and switch to an air unit (that can only attack air units). This lets a skilled player switch these units on the fly depending on the situation.

Vikings in Fighter Mode

•    Merc Haven – A new building that allows the Terran player to purchase Reapers. They take a few seconds to hire and there is a 25 second cooldown before another one can be hired. The building can queue up to 4 Reapers. With multiple Merc Haven’s setup, a Terran player can crank these out extremely quickly when the need arises.
•    The Reaper – I probably had the most fun with this unit. These are basically Marines with jump jets, but they get DC-8 charges, which are throwable mines (on a cooldown) that take a few seconds to detonate. The enemy player can shoot the mines first, but if not, they explode and do a lot of damage. Combined with the jump jets, these guys are perfect for raiding resource chains and expansions because you can jump in, throw mines, and jump out. One or two well placed mines will take out an entire group of probes/SCV’s in one shot, crippling the economy of the opponent.
•    Shadow Ops Building – This building, along with a Merc Haven, is required to build Ghosts and contains the Ghost upgrades. The Cloak ability is researched here. Terran players will also be able to load up one Marine Drop-Pod and one Nuke per Shadow Ops. These are then launched by Ghosts.
•    Ghosts [Marine Drop-Pod] – Once loaded up at a Shadow Ops, the Ghost can instantly drop this pod that deploys 6 Marines ready to fight. Each pod takes 80 seconds to create.
•    Command Center [Planetary Fortress] – This upgrade to the Command Center gives it more hit points and defensive turrets, making it the perfect upgrade for an expansion.
•    Predator – An air unit that can shoot down enemy air fire.
•    Nomad – A support unit that can repair other air units in the air.
•    Thor – A huge walking mech that is built directly by an SCV. This unit is perfect for destroying bases and heavily armored targets, but moves extremely slow.
PROTOSS:

The Protoss were already heavily shown in Korea and in the time between the announcement and BlizzCon, so I won’t bore you with a full unit run down, but here are some tidbits on the mechanics of playing Protoss in SC II.

•    Zealot Charge and Stalker Blink must be researched first.
•    Stasis Orb – New flying unit that slows a single enemies attack and movement speed.
•    High Templar – Templar’s have a Force Field ability that blocks off an area of terrain and is impossible to cross for a short amount of time. The Psionic Storm ability returns. These are also very slow moving units.
•    Dark Templar – Built directly from the Gateway once the player is able and starts with the cloak ability.
•    Phase Cannons – Can turn into an energy form, move, and re-deploy anywhere in pylon power (this includes pylon power created by Phase Prisms).
•    Gateway [Warp Gate Upgrade] – We all saw Blizzard demo the Warp Gate and show a bunch of Zealots warp to a Phase Prism in the announcement gameplay demo, but here’s how they currently work. Players can toggle the Gateway from Gateway to Warp Gate for no cost over 3 seconds. The Warp Gate can then warp in any unit that is buildable from the Gateway in 5 seconds for the full resource cost. The Warp Gate then has a 30 second cooldown before it can do anything else, including turning back into a Gateway. To achieve what Blizzard showed in the first movie, a player would require a Warp Gate for every Zealot, the resources to do it, and some fancy clicking.
•    Archon – Combination of two High Templars, two Dark Templars, or one of each. Their strong lightning attack has returned and they have an energy burn ability.

 

So now that I’ve told you about the two playable races, how does it play?

The answer, very well. The game was really smooth, though it was running on Dell XPS gaming rigs. The AI is as brutal as ever in combat and makes use of unit abilities more than it did in StarCraft. When attacking a Protoss base, the AI would use Phase Prisms to re-power their Phase Cannons after I had destroyed their Pylons.

They also use the new Blink ability on the Stalker effectively, using it both to retreat and quickly jump into battle. Outside of combat, the AI was not very aggressive. It did not make attempts to expand or mass large forces to mount a large offensive. I suspect it was toned down for the demo.

As the Terran, I was able to easily crush Protoss bases using a combination of Siege Tanks, Vikings, Marines, and a few Medics. Using my ground units, I was able to protect my tanks as they shelled Pylons and Phase Cannons. This plays a lot like StarCraft, but using the new Reaper unit, at the same time as my forward attack I was able to jump a small squad in behind their base and quickly destroy all of the enemies Probes with their DC-8 mines.

I expect Reapers to become one of the favorite units of Terran players as they are extremely versatile at sneak attacks, quicks strikes, and taking out Protoss Immortals. Playing as the Protoss, however, was a bit more difficult. Like StarCraft their units are stronger, but cost more. This makes it hard to mass units like the Terran.

Playing against the Terran, the AI used the Stim Pack ability and Siege Tanks’s effectively as well as a variety of units. It was especially good at utilizing the new Viking unit to counter an air assault that I tried. Overall, it was much harder to attack the Terran AI. The combination of Siege Tanks and Missle Towers made it very hard to penetrate by land or air.

Using Warp Gates and a Phase Prism, however, I was able to quickly supplement my front lines with fresh units. I was even able to warp units into the back of the Terran base using this method. Phase Prisms and Warp Gates will definitely offer skilled players many creative solutions to problems like infiltrating bases and destroying expansions.

Against human players, I didn’t do so well. It’s been a while since I played StarCraft seriously and there were a lot of players there that still play it today. Multiplayer games were up to four players and I played two 2v2 games. One as Protoss and one as Terran.

I won’t bore you all with the details, but let’s just say that TheFeed did not represent. It was, however, really interesting to watch players with actual skill play. By the afternoon, the skilled players (people who had come to Blizzcon with absolutely no interest in World of Warcraft) were already using some advanced tactics quickly and effectively.

If I was able to figure out some unit combos against the AI, imagine what good players were doing after a few hours with the game. It looks like this game will have no problems convincing the hardcore StarCraft gamers and everyone I talked to said that they thought the game was amazing.

I’ll be happy to answer any questions you guys have about StarCraft II, so let me know what you want to know. Meanwhile, here are a few new screenshots:

'StarCraft II' Hands-On Impressions: It's Really Good
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