StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty

StarCraft 2 Installation Screen
After almost 12 years waiting this was a welcome screen.

I have been playing the beta for StarCraft 2 for a bit now but have not had a chance to write about it until now. After waiting nearly 12 years for this game to come out I’d hope you could forgive me for being too busy playing it to write about it.

StarCraft 2 Battle.net Login Screen
This is the refined login screen to play StarCraft 2 on Battle.net

While I mentioned in a post about Command & Conquer 3 a couple years back that I felt many of the real-time strategy games had kind of evolved to re-skins of previous versions, at first glance that is what one may think when they first fire up SC2. Many of our old favorite units are in fact in SC2 and re-skinned such as the Protoss carriers, Terran siege tanks, Zerg ultralisks etc.

But there is much more to this game than a simple re-skinning, even though I will admit I am in absolute awe of the graphical beauty of this game especially with all the video options at ultra, I am going to focus more on the newer stuff.

The first major change you will see right from the beginning you can see Blizzard built this game around the online experience tying into the company’s flagship online gaming platform, Battle.net, which they originally introduced way back in 1997 for the original Diablo. Battle.net has since evolved to be the platform for all of Blizzard’s titles including World of Warcraft and now SC2.

Battle.net in it’s current incarnation serves as an authentication and matchmaking platform as well as competitive arena, but I expect to see many more changes unveiled over the coming months.

The matchmaking as it currently stands I am guessing is not as good as it will eventually be as the system gets more data to work with since most nights there are typically only 3,500 players or so on in the beta. So far I have found it quite poor at finding suitable matches for me based on skill. I have had 2v2 matches where my team was shown to be favored and we get blown out and other matches where the other side was favored and we decimated them.

Battle.net Friend Interface
Add a friend on Battle.net - you can add them by their SC2 name.identifier or their Real ID (which is often an email address)

Blizzard’s intent behind the new Battle.net seems to be leading toward making it into a full-blown social networking platform for players of their games.

For one, when Battle.net 2 as it is being called finally goes live, players of all Blizzard games will be able to chat across games. You could be in a skirmish match in StarCraft 2 and whisper a friend who is raiding Icecrown Citadel in WoW.

They have also mentioned that you will be able to unlock achievements, badges, emblems etc for your profile (similar to XBox Live) so the truly exceptional competitors will be able to display their accomplishments.

I wonder if they will eventually do something with StarCraft 2 profiles as they have done on the World of Warcraft armory where you can look up a particular player on the armory web site to see their achievements etc, and even subscribe to an RSS feed if you are one of those obsessive stalking types.

Profile Screen
Profile Screen showing ranking, achievements, recent match history, etc.

In the first StarCraft forming up a custom game with a group of friends required you to create the game and set a password and have everyone join up and then you can start it up. StarCraft 2 is not so different but a changed a little bit. Someone can invite multiple people to a “party” that can join games as a group and play as allies, teams, free-for-all etc.

Once invited by a host to a game you end up in the game lobby screen where players pick their races, the map, and the handicap and you are set. If someone in the game does not have the map, it downloads it to them and on the loading screen for the game it will show which team/player is favored and who is downloading the map if anyone is.

Game Lobby
The game lobby screen - select race, unit color, handicap, and map.

Right now my only complaint and it is a minor one is that the Battle.net interface still does not seem very friendly. Some of the options due to it being beta are ghosted as unavailable, but then some of the options that are currently accessible are not quite straightforward. Many sections of the user interface do not have text labels, but are rather generic looking icons that one has to mouseover to determine what they do. I imagine over time and familiarity it will become second nature but I found the user interface to be the one thing that really needs improvement.

Gameplay while similar to the old StarCraft seems to be less around the rush and more about resource management. Yeah if someone is slow and does not build any offensive units early on you may get them with a rush, though on some maps this is not too easy as the only land access to a base may be blocked by debris that actually has to be destroyed (and has a decent amount of hit points to boot.) While I have found that it is much harder to be rushed than previously, defensive structures such as cannons, turrets etc seem to be less effective than in the past.

I remember a common Protoss strategy I had in the original game was to use cannons to lock in someone. I’d create some pylons and cannons near a resource field close to their base to keep them from being able to build there too easily. I have tried that strategy in SC2 but so far found it ineffective as even a handful of decent ground units can rip them up.

Protoss Forces
My protoss forces mounting for an assault. Someone is going to get OWNED by this lol

Some folks will likely beg to differ, but I honestly do not see any racial balance issues. Blizzard has done as usual a fine job keeping the playing field level. Any unit that can be perceived to be overpowered usually has some counter. And some of the units from the original StarCraft that were quite potent have been nerfed since then such as the Protoss carriers which now hold only four drones as opposed to eight (post-upgrade at Fleet Beacon) which was kind of a bummer. Anyone who has played Protoss will tell you how much fun it was to send in a dozen fully upgraded carriers in to decimate an enemy base.

One thing I wish I could write about is the single player campaigns, but unfortunately they are not in the beta at this time. Part of me hopes they do not put them in beta so that they will be a surprise. I am sure they will be quite enjoyable.

In the mean time I am quite enjoying the multiplayer skirmishes on Battle.net. Should you get beta feel free to add me, Griggsy.sctwo.

Cheers,
–Jon