Starcraft II – PC Game Preview
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty from Blizzard Entertainment. PC Game Preview.
The original StarCraft, a PC game by Blizzard Entertainment that was released in 1998, quickly became the Cadillac game for online multiplayer real-time strategy gaming. Blizzard has finally announced the highly anticipated StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty will hit shelves July 27, 2010. Many fans, and the gaming community at large, are waiting anxiously, wondering if this sequel will capture the same balanced online play that originally immersed players in a world of lightning-fast competitive gaming.
Multiplayer gaming is enhanced by an integrated Battle.net that offers matchmaking ladders that pair players up with other players suited to each other’s skill level. While playing the beta, I really enjoyed this new feature. After I played a couple of matches using the matchmaking ladder, Battle.net started setting me up with players who offered me very competitive play. Battle.net is further enhanced with leagues and other features that seem to make the previous century’s multiplayer support system very outdated and archaic.
Be warned though that StarCraft II will be Battle.net only—absolutely no LAN play. The creators of the game justified this decision by stating that removing LAN will allow Blizzard to enhance the multiplayer experience for the Starcraft II player allowing game play to reach another level. What is certain about this situation is that with removed LAN, players will not be able to pirate the game and simply play it over a LAN connection or Hamachi.
Actual game play is similar to the original RTS with better 3D graphics. The strategy is somewhat primitive compared to newer titles like Company of Heroes or the Total War series. However, different tactics have made their way onto the battlefield, giving StarCraft II an element of strategy not reached in the original.
The game’s three famous races return: Terran, Protoss, and Zerg. Each has a unique feel with different and balanced strategies. The Zerg’s force comes from overwhelming numbers, the Protoss feature quality over quantity and the Terran embody mobility and deception.
The Terran race gives the player a playbook of hit-and-run strategies that the other races don’t have. Mobility is key with this race! Not that the other races aren’t mobile in their own unique ways, but Terrans have a higher level of tactical flexibility due to their unique mobile units. Even most Terran buildings are mobile, with the ability to launch into the sky and then land in new locations. One of my favorite units, a jet-pack infantry called "Reapers," can quickly jump over walls and maneuver around obstacles to attack resource-gathering drones or high-cost buildings. Terrans also have an air unit called "Vikings," anti-air fighters that can morph into a mobile gun battery. They make excellent raiders, as they can easily fly into an enemy’s base, transform into a killing machine to take out high value targets, then transform back into an air fighter and fly off, escaping retribution.
Terrans have units that can cloak such as the "AH/G-24 Banshee" a futuristic helicopter that devastates buildings and ground units. You can maneuver a fleet of these lethal sky hunters, cloaked, into a weak area of the enemy’s base and devastate everything below. When the enemy tries to counter your attack, simply retreat a safe distance and re-cloak . The "Ghost"—probably the most famous Terran unit in the original game—returns with a new ability to snipe enemy units, allowing the Ghost one-shot kills against an enemy’s valuable ground forces. Of course the Ghost can still cloak and potentially can rain down nuclear Armageddon on your opponent.
The Protoss wield powers that truly dwarf the other races, but their more powerful units cost substantially more resources and time (very valuable in this RTS) to produce than the other factions. Their basic unit, the "Zealot," costs twice as much as the Terran "Marine," and the Zerg get four "Zerglings" for what the Protoss must pay for one Zealot. Though the Protoss Zealot is powerful and can easily take on two Marines or four Zerglings, it is limited in what it can do in side roles, as Zealots are far too expensive to employ as scouts like the cheap Zerglings and can’t attack air units like the Marines do.
The flagship of the Protoss fleet is the Mothership, a unit that both symbolizes and embodies the power and might of the Protoss. The Mothership is a flying saucer/prism that rains death on ground units and cloaks any other friendly units within range. It can open up black holes that suck enemy units into a split in space and time. The Mothership is very vulnerable to anti-air air units, though. I know this from having lost a Mothership (Extremely expensive!) due to its inability to protect itself from air units. The game designers originally gave Motherships anti-air capabilities but removed this ability to keep the unit from being extremely overpowered.
My favorite Protoss unit is the "Colossus," a giant robotic vessel that was obviously inspired by War of The Worlds. Colossus is large, extremely mobile, agile enough to walk over walls and other obstacles, and it can crush shields and force fields with its skinny robotic spider legs. It wields duel thermal beams that cut through armor and structures and turn infantry and other bio matter into dust. In StarCraft II units that are on a higher elevation gain an advantage with more dominating fire and also give other friendly units a larger and clearer line of sight. The Colossus can easily be positioned on high ridges to give it more lethal fire while providing friendly units an LOS advantage. The Colossus’s large size has one drawback—anti-air weaponry can fire on the land-based giant but it can’t attack air units.
The Zerg are a race of ever-evolving, genetically splicing organisms that morph themselves into incredible bio-organic structures and vicious warrior drones armed with sharp claws and teeth and the ability to spit acids, spread infestation parasites—and did I mention their armor-piercing spines? The Zerg’s best strategy is to go for overwhelming numbers. Zerg units are poorer quality compared to their Terran and Protoss counterparts but are extremely cheap and quick to build.
What slows the Zerg down is that for every ten mindless drones spawned they need an overlord to control their mutated offspring. Also, only three Zerg units can be produced at a time from any given hatchery, and building additional hatcheries requires significant time and resources. To speed up production, a new unit, the "Queen," can help the hatchery produce more "larvae" as well as help expand your base’s "creep" (bio matter that covers the ground to allow you to build the Zerg structures). The Queen can also help repair structures that have been damaged. But don’t be fooled by her name—she’s anything but ladylike. She looks like a mix between an octopus and a scorpion, with huge teeth and long, spear-like spines for fashion accessories. Besides being a nurturing unit that helps build and maintain a base, the Queen is more than capable of impaling a Marine or Zealot trying to get at her baby worker drones!
In the original StarCraft only the Zerg could be efficient and successful at rushing (a strategy whereby the player sacrifices economy to spawn multiple weak units in an attempt to overwhelm an opponent early in the game), but now with more balanced game play every race can rush successfully. While playing the beta I was overrun by every race, while playing every race, and vice versa. I found the Terran and Zerg easier to rush with, yet I feel the Protoss can defend against rushing more easily.
"Wings of Liberty" is the first of three installments to StarCraft Il and will offer only the Terran campaign. The other two races will receive their due in "Heart of the Swarm" (Zerg Campaign) and "Legacy of the Void" (Protoss Campaign). StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty does offer full multiplayer capability, although if you wish to play the campaign all the way through you will have to buy all three installments. The vanilla StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty will cost around $60 while the Special Collectors Edition requires an investment of about $100 dollars. Remember, each of those installments only offers a third of the campaign.
Despite the price and no matter what criticisms this game receives, it will be a must-buy for most hardcore fans of the legendary prequel StarCraft. If you enjoyed the original, then I urge you to buy the sequel: StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty seems to recapture that special magic of its esteemed predecessor.
About the Author
Nuccio Africanus is the alter ego of author and famed Total War player John Nuccio, who was given the infamous nickname by his Latin teacher, after demolishing said teacher in a battle of Rome Total War. The defeated academic remarked that Nuccio’s tactics were second only to the legendary Roman General Scipio Africanus himself. The alter ego took on a life of its own in Total War series forums, where Nuccio Africanus is widely known for his threads and blogs on strategy gaming—as well as for his humorous antics. The self-proclaimed demi-god is working on a children’s book as well as a board wargame that will hopefully be published in the near future.
Images by Blizzard Entertainment.