By August 5, 2010

StarCraft II: Carrier Has Arrived

The first StarCraft computer game was released by Blizzard Entertainment in 1998. StarCraft was a real time strategy game, wherein players controlled troops and buildings from an isometric “god-like” perspective. Units and buildings were purchased from resources mined by workers. In the multi-player modes, every player started out with one home base and a few workers. How the game progressed from that point was up to the different strategies of the players.

The object of the game was to eliminate your enemies’s forces. Multiplayer games could range from one human player vs one computer player to up to eight players duking it out. You could play in teams, in a giant free for all, or set up teams and switch in the middle of the game to screw over one of your pals at random.

There were three main races to choose from, which was an innovation at the time. Most RTS games offered two sides; StarCraft offered a rock-paper-scissors approach that demanded different tactics depending on what race you were facing. Players could choose from the zerg, which were a hive-mind alien species that used cheap soldiers to swarm their enemies; the protoss, a high-tech and highly-evolved alien species that featured expensive, high-quality soldiers; or the terrans, humans-in-space that were stuck right in the middle of the quality vs quantity spectrum. These core differences plus the flexibility of unit selection and army composition added a variety to the game that allowed it to survive way beyond its expected prime.

The game became a major success, particularly in South Korea, where it became a professional sport with paid championships. While I never got close to that level of skill, I played StarCraft for about four straight years. I would reinstall the game every year or two and play for a few months. It was a great break from the massive multiplayer online role playing games that ate up a lot of my time back then.

Rumors of a sequel took off in 2002 when Blizzard released WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos. There was a secret demo mode wherein players could control units from StarCraft as rendered by the WarCraft III game engine. Talk flew about StarCraft II being released. Little did we know we’d have to wait another eight years after WarCraft III for a true StarCraft sequel.

It was worth the wait.

The Same, Only More Simple.

At its core, StarCraft II is very similar to the original. To me the biggest change in multiplayer is that StarCraft II took a lot of the drudge work out of the game. StarCraft had a lot of trivial things to manage, like having to keep track of what all of your workers were doing so they weren’t sitting idle. StarCraft II has an “idle peon” indicator on the screen to let you know that you have worker bees slacking off on the job. Clicking on the idle peon icon cycles through your workers so you can put them back to work.

Another improvement is how StarCraft II handles special abilities for each unit. For example, the terran worker unit is called an SCV, and one of its special abilities is to repair terran mechanical units and buildings. In StarCraft you had to click the repair icon (or type the “r” key) and then tell the SCV to repair specific units or buildings.

In StarCraft II, you right click on “repair” and the SCV will automatically repair things within a certain area. The same goes for the medivac unit, which heals terran ground units, or the Protoss carrier, which will automatically make interceptor planes to destroy your opponents. I can’t tell you how many times I built a fleet of carriers and forgot to manually build interceptors.

The value of these changes — and to me it’s the most fundamental difference between StarCraft and StarCraft II — is that players can now concentrate on the things they like about the game. For me, it’s the freedom to create more units and expand my bases. For other players, they are now free to manage each fighting unit individually to maximize their effectiveness during a battle. Regardless of how you like to play, we don’t have to worry about mundane maintenance tasks any more.

The Same, Only More Complicated.

The other effect of this change is that there is a lot more “serious” stuff to do. There are more buildings. There are more units. Units can do more stuff. There are more attributes to units, further pushing the rock-paper-scissors aspect of the original that made it so different every game. Even new abilities like the Protoss chronoboost or the zerg queen’s larvae spawning make the game more complicated, but not necessarily in a bad way.

If you have split your attention among seven applications running on your computer, five open Web browser tabs, two instant messaging programs all while texting on your mobile phone, StarCraft II may be for you. There is so much to do that really good players advise newcomers to just concentrate on one thing per game. Make workers. Don’t run out of “food.” Scout.

The “blink” ability of the Protoss stalker unit is a good example. Blink allows the stalker to teleport a short distance. First you have to research the ability at the cybernetic core building. You control what stalkers in your army use the blink ability, and when. Sometimes blink is used to put units on the front line to the back of your army. This allows damaged stalkers from the front line to continue to fight without being killed. Some players use blink to warp their stalkers on high ground past their opponents defenses. Some use blink to warp their stalkers into a mass of their enemy. This technique is very effective against the Protoss carrier, as this allows the stalker to more easily target the carrier instead of a swarm of interceptors.

That’s just a very short, minimalist treatise on the use of one ability on one unit. I play Protoss the vast majority of the games, and my skill set still does not include blink. There is a lot to learn about StarCraft II, and then there is even more if you want to master the game.

I like this aspect of StarCraft II, as it rewards the ability to multi-task. I think multi-tasking is a very important skill to cultivate. StarCraft II also rewards situational awareness and the ability to change your plan on the fly. I know it’s just a game, but those are important skills that may help you in other walks of life.

Something For Everyone

Don’t feel like mastering the hardcore applications of blink, infected terran, transfusion, or any number of other abilities? Do you dislike the idea of playing against a human opponent? Are you not very competitive by nature?

No problem — StarCraft II has a game mode for you.

While I have yet to play the single player campaign, there is a storyline in StarCraft II that carries over from the original. There are several missions to run in the single player game, and most reviews indicate between fifteen and twenty hours of play. There are also “challenge” missions in which you must defend structures from a computer controlled opponent. If you have friends that play StarCraft II, you can team up to play against the computer. There are several difficulty levels to choose from, and you can adjust the number of computers you play against.

StarCraft II: Helping You to Help Yourself

One of my favorite features of StarCraft II is the replay system. Every game you play besides the campaign and challenge modes are saved to your computer. Replays can be shared among different players, or uploaded to a Web site to be viewed by anyone.

Replays are important because it helps you learn. You might learn what you did wrong. You might learn what an opponent did right. You might see a totally new strategy or tactic that you never thought of before. There are some very entertaining and educational commentaries about replays, and their opinions help me learn. Replays have been critical to my progression as a StarCraft II player.

Conclusion: StarCraft II Was Worth the Wait

I waited 4500 days for the sequel to StarCraft to arrive. The cost of the game — $60 USD at launch — is a small price to pay for the range in game play options and the continuing evolution of on of the world’s most popular computer games.

Strongly recommended.

Posted in: games, review

1 Comment on "StarCraft II: Carrier Has Arrived"

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  1. the Accountant (tm) says:

    And elemental is coming out this week –

    Could be good, I have hopes. I haven’t hit the starcraft 2 yet.