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StarCraft II Post-Week Review

By Samuel 'DarthBotto' Horton
Feb 25, 2010 08:36


ImageThe StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty beta phase has now been in motion for one week, setting the stage for a complete initial review.

Now that the StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty beta has seen a week's lifespan in the eyes of the general public, it is only appropriate to bring forth an initial review to share some of my initial thoughts. Though we may be in the earliest stages of the beta phase and the very rationale of a beta phase regards an incomplete product, what Blizzard Entertainment has given to us not only provides us with relief, but gives us the ideal window of opportunity to review. Therefore, a week of public existence places the upcoming title in the perfect position to give early impressions. Now, it is with great pleasure that I present to you yet another game review from SK Gaming!

Gameplay

After playing matches with every race variation possible, I have concluded that the gameplay of StarCraft II is a hybrid setup composed of StarCraft and Warcraft III elements. This actually is quite more specific than simply retorting that the game functions as a real-time strategy game with basic functions. Beyond such simple comparisons is the fact that nearly every aspect of the gameplay has been borrowed from previous Blizzard Entertainment titles.

Thankfully, for the sake of its home franchise, the majority of the game functions in a similar fashion to the original StarCraft. What should be the most recognizable aspect of StarCraft II is its high-paced style that does not exist in Warcraft III to the extent of StarCraft. Resource harvesting seems to have been accelerated to such a large extent that barely any time passes from when a harvesting unit leaves its hub to when it returns. This, however, calls for heightened production of structures and combat units, which happen to be produced very rapidly. Because of this, players are given the incentive to leave their comfort zones and enter the battlefield very quickly. Obviously, rushing will prove to be much more prominent in StarCraft II than in Blizzard Entertainment's past real-time strategy games.
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A major characteristic of StarCraft II that seems to be heavily derived from Warcraft III is micro-management. Practically every combat unit in-game features vital characteristics that heavily influence the outcomes of battles. For instance, the Immortal features a very heavy shields that easily prevents massive damage from heavy artillery units. However, smaller melee units and light projectile units can cause heavier damage than a siege tank at close quarters. Besides the physical cosmetics that exist, it is the abilities that are the most-heavily derived from Warcraft III. Unlike the original StarCraft where most units relied upon a combination of positioning and brute force, the majority of the units in StarCraft II are provided unique abilities that require extensive micro-management while on the battlefield. This may prove to be more difficult in StarCraft II, as it is a game that is based heavily upon large-scale battles that do not play a key role in Warcraft III.

Obviously looking to branch off beyond the original StarCraft and to ensure that the gameplay is not identical, some other elements have been expanded upon. The resource nodes now play an expanded role, as vespene geysers have doubled in number and new forms of enriched minerals have been introduced. Furthermore, the depletion notifications are more vocalized and are actually tracked with individual mineral formations. This actually can become quite tiresome when all your mineral fields are running low and you get to enjoy the dramatized voice informing you seven times in a row about your minerals getting depleted. If any vocalizations are necessary, it would be to inform the player about their vespene gas. However, because vespene gas is much more abundant in StarCraft II, the warnings do not normally signify a great threat to the player's well-being and can be easily remedied after being informed.

Balance

One of the attributes that the original StarCraft is known for is its amazing balance amongst the three races. In fact, StarCraft's races represent the pinnacle of gameplay balance that can scarcely be seen in other games. Unfortunately, StarCraft II has not reached the levels of balance that its predecessor achieved. Specifically, the zerg stand as an imbalanced race currently, with overpowered small tactile units like the Roach easily causing havok; a fact that does not fit well with the resource and food costs. Because of these inconsistencies, StarCraft II has started out as an imbalanced game. True, it is a balanced game, but not quite to the great extent that allowed its predecessor to achieve its high levels of success.

However, this is an issue that may be addressed in later stages of the beta when balance patches are released. Like the other aspects of the game, the balance of the races has yet to be set in stone. However, this game's balance is definitely well-done and has already proven to work well in mixed-race matches. Aside from few unequal units, such as the Roach, combat unit interactions make for great experiences that really show for the effort Blizzard Entertainment has put into its latest title. With the few balance issues remedied, StarCraft II could very well match its predecessor in its high-quality balance scale.

Visuals

Visually-speaking, I would have to say the graphics of StarCraft II are complete and beautiful. I recall that nearly three years ago, immediately after StarCraft II was first announced at the World Wide Invitational, one of my good friends contacted me and referred to the gameplay as, "Sexy. Damned sexy!" This was about a product about one third complete and only a rough sketch. Now, wind the clock forward nearly three years and you have a game that is such a large undertaking that it took six years of development and its division into three games. After taking this perspective in, imagine a finished product that will have come out from those long years of effort. Imagine a product that seems to glow beyond the confines of your screen and represents the future of RTS eSports. Now you have StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty.
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It's true that the development of the details for all the individual units have undergone significant transitions from what was shown at World Wide Invitation 2007. What was originally low quality detail has now become a very distinct look that is specific for each race. The terrans retain a distinctive gritty, devil-may-cry look that continues to play out from the original StarCraft. Meanwhile, the protoss retain the high-tech and sleek look, even with the entirety of its units drastically reworked or replaced. Finally, the zerg seem to have the most improved look the first game. The texturing of the buildings and units appears much more organic and clear, with clear anunciation of flesh sacs and tenticle features with every aspect.

Although promotional artwork for StarCraft II features characters and machines with proportional characteristics, the style Blizzard used while developing StarCraft II has been to have a disproportional style to anunciate individual body parts. This distinct art style holds greater artistic merit than RTS titles with proportional parts with less distinction. However, the individual models have more polygons than World of Warcraft's and thus, holds a high amount of detail. In conclusion, the visual design that is followed through in StarCraft II is exemplary and very fitting as a successor for the original game's art style.

Interface
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The interface for StarCraft II has been improved significantly from the levels presented in the original game. The command key has been expanded to feature additional unit and structure abilities, which obviously promotes an expanded gameplay. The viewing window has been expanded as well, having the menu tab moved to the upper left and the selection box being reduced in height. This setup, however, features more options, with notifications and idle workers appearing on the far left. Furthermore, a chat log and help menu has been added next to the main menu botton, though not resting on a tool bar with added graphics to the likes of StarCraft and Warcraft III. Additionally, team speak has been implemented, with any increases in audio input being visually displayed on-screen. These features definitely add to a more complete experience that will allow for more interactions on a frequent basis.

Customization

I honestly would have to say that StarCraft II has some of the best customization options to date. Whether it concerns technical adjustments or profile personalizastion, the game is bound to give players a very user-friendly experience that may be adjusted to their own personal needs.

As far as adjusting the technical aspects of the game, StarCraft II delivers a very user-friendly panel to alter settings. The panel itself features controls for graphics, sound, voice, gameplay, recording and social features. Considering the vast variations in the current player base's machines, the graphics panel is the feature used most often. With various aspects dependent upon low, medium, high, ultra and extreme settings, the game offers a unique environment for users to play with different machine capabilities. However, the low settings will not likely capture the enthusiasm of users as the visuals appear not much improved beyond the spectrum of Warcraft III's capabilities.

A new customization feature that will be highly influential in the core gameplay is the recording capabilities. Following the integration of voice chat with the release of World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, StarCraft II features extensive audio controls that provide the player with the same social experience featured in Counter-Strike. However, players may want to adjust their setting when first playing, as it will initially use the default audio device and broadcast with a high audio threshold.

Conclusion

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty has been one of the most highly-anticipated titles for a long time. Being one of the first major releases of 2010, the release of the retail version of StarCraft II will likely be one of the biggest releases of the new decade. After extensively playing the beta version of StarCraft II, I can say that the hype for this release has been well-deserved. StarCraft II has been labelled as the successor to not only the original game, but Warcraft III. Besides this natural progression that will most-definitely occur in eSports, the fact that the game is a fine development gives the added incentive for veteran RTS players to make the transition. Although the game is not quite perfect, the feedback from the beta testing community should provide Blizzard Entertainment with the needed incentive to further develop the game in upcoming patches.

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Recommendations for Blizzard Entertainment

* Possibly adjust the build times for units and buildings to levels closer to the first StarCraft. This would mean reducing the build time slightly.

* Further balance the races in future patches. This specifically calls for a nerf to the Roach.

* Remove the notifications for depleting mineral fields, as it is unnecessary and not the same as vespene geysers depleting.

* Possibly rework the vocalization of the zerg voice. This either means having new recording sessions with the current voice actress or having Sarah Kerrigan's voice actress, Tricia Helfer, do the lines.




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