The first phase of the Starcraft II Beta wrapped up on June 7th, and I was privileged to be a part of it. Blizzard has done a good job with the minefield that is continuing a classic franchise. I was and still am a fan of the original Starcraft, and so was looking forward to the sequel. Quite simply, the Beta was a big part of why things got quiet on this site for a little while.
One big concern with a game like this is whether or not the creators remain true to the source material of the original. I can’t speak for the content of the single player portion, but the units seen and heard in the multiplayer matches bring back memories. Sure, a few of the originals have been replaced, but that makes only a few, and their replacements fit right in. While I still hope they add updated versions of original Starcraft tracks, the present music is excellent. I even liked listening to the music by itself.
The gameplay of Starcraft II… is the same classic Starcraft gameplay we remember, and even polished up a notch or two. I’m more for team games than for solo, and I had a blast during many a team match with friends, including 2v2, 3v3, and 4v4. As in the original, there is a lot of unique and subtle strategy, with great potential for the invention of crazy and wonderful plans. Quick and precise unit control is rewarded heavily, and each race brings an entirely new set of units, abilities and strategies to play with. Over the course of my play, I noticed a number of fairly common strategies, but I liked the fact that there was enough variety to allow attacks and counterattacks that were new and difficult to predict. Coordination with teammates expands this potential exponentially. Especially during the heavy combat portions of a match, all the players are rapidly sucked in, and marching through the enemy base after a well-timed attack on his defenses (or around them!) is extremely satisfying… it really brings out my love for explosions. That reminds me: the graphics, now 3D, from lighting to reflections to explosions and effects, are great. It looks like Starcraft, but with a huge graphical lift. One gameplay item with which I was a little disappointed was the addition of Spawn Larva and Chronoboost abilities given to the Zerg and Protoss races, respectively. The presence of these abilities makes unit production require periodic attention to really compete, making these races less accessible to new players. I didn’t care for it, so I played Terran much more. Unit balancing issues are still arguably present, but that’s to be expected from a beta.
Battle.Net 2.0 was a mixed bag. There is an abundance of great features, like matchmaking, parties, map preferences, achievements, unlockable portraits and decals, and so on. For the most part, the matchmaking was adequate but I occasionally found myself matched with players who were one or more whole league categories above me, which led to quick and decisive beatdowns of my team. There were also a few nasty design decisions, to which I’m hopeful Blizzard will attend. Custom games are listed by map, rather than individual match – players are automatically assigned to the first match, leading to unscrupulous folk hosting games which are never started, and clogging the entire process. More well known is the fact that the staple LAN support has been forgone in Starcraft II, a decision which I heavily oppose, along with many others across the Internet. There were a few more, but you get the gist of it.
These types of issues pop up here and there, but the will of the people was voiced loudly on the beta forums, and I have high hopes that Blizzard developers will take necessary steps. I had a great time with the beta when it was up. I don’t say it about many games, but this game makes the short list of games which I truly look forward to.
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