There were a surprisingly large number of MMOGs to be seen during the all too brief three days at E3 2010, the vast majority of which are solid entries into the genre. A quick glance at our lengthy list of coverage from the show floor reveals that not only is the genre entering a new period of expansive growth, but that the ways in which MMOGs are played is heading in some interesting new directions as well. Many booths went so far as to provide both a gamepad as well as the standard keyboard and mouse setups for their playable demos. This is due in part to a slight shift away from the tried and true stand back and auto attack formula prevalent in the vast majority of earlier titles, with the player’s ability to take aim and land attacks on their target manually stepping up to take center stage.
But as all PC gamers will tell you, while a gamepad is nice for grab and go gaming, it’s still not the best solution for certain types of games like first person shooters or real time strategy where you need absolute control to stand a chance. This holds doubly true if you intend to play on a competitive level or have hopes of ever seeing your name bumping the highest limits of various leaderboards.
It’s in this sense that the hardware we choose to interface our favorite games with becomes equally important as any other system spec for playing newer games. As such, I was pretty excited about one of my E3 appointments that deviated from the MMOG demo crowd and allowed me to check out Razer’s recently announced lineup of StarCraft II gear. Don’t be fooled by the branded merchandising though, as this new hardware packs a solid peripheral punch regardless of your pro level status within the game.
Before I get started on breaking down some of the cool new features of the Spectre mouse, Marauder keyboard and Banshee headset, however, I think it’s worth mentioning what my current setup is at home. Basically put, I will admit a certain bias when it comes to Razer products.
In my current setup I use the Razer Lycosa keyboard and DeathAdder mouse, and with the keyboard in particular I honestly couldn’t imagine using anything else. I not only spend a hefty amount of time gaming on my PC but an even more gargantuan chunk of time writing on a daily basis. So without even getting into features like the customizable hardware profiles or fancy backlit keys, I have had a secret love affair with the Lycosa’s low profile, non-slip rubber keypad ever since picking one up nearly two years ago. Simply put, it’s like typing on butter, only thankfully not quite so messy.
So how does Razer’s newest product line stand up? Do the new StarCraft II gaming peripherals offer more than a cool new themed chassis? Having used and even recommended their products many times in the past, not to mention having spent a fair amount of time playing the SC2 multiplayer, I’ll give you a rundown on Razer’s newest branded creations below and let you be the judge.
Heading into my appointment, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that none other than the President of Razor, Robert “Razerguy” Krakoff, would be showing me the new StarCraft II product line. Throughout his presentation I could tell that he was not only enthusiastic about these three new peripherals, but about working with Blizzard to help insure that each of them contained plenty of features not just for gamers in general, but specifically geared towards the SC2 enthusiast as well. In fact, Robert explained that pro level StarCraft players helped design all three products, so you know that the included features weren’t just random, arbitrary decisions or that the Spectre, Marauder and Banshee aren’t just standard products with a glowing SC2 logo slapped on the surface.
Spectre Gaming Mouse
Starting off with the Spectre gaming mouse, Robert walked me through some of the unique features that not only make these a solid performer regardless of your interest level in the upcoming RTS, but more importantly the ways in which they were specifically designed for optimal performance if you have aims of taking the SC2 leaderboards by storm.
Flipping the Spectre over reveals a small adjustable slider which controls the button force adjustment for left clicking. While a seemingly simple thing, I personally think this will be incredibly handy as it will allow for on-the-fly adjustment rather than having to dig into the on-screen driver menus.
Speaking of the interface, it’s also worth noting that all three items (mouse, keyboard and headset) can be accessed through a single window rather than needing to bring up each one individually. This will no doubt prove to be more of an upfront benefit, unless you’re one of those gamers who constantly tweak the various settings for their hardware to achieve maximum performance.
I’ll only give a brief mention to this here, as the APM lighting alert system truly shines brightest (pun fully intended of course) with the Marauder keyboard. Basically though, you’ll have the ability to set custom game alerts which are mapped to the various illuminated areas on your mouse. A common use here will be to track your actions per minute as you play. So you could set the sides of the mouse to glow yellow at the start, then red once you reach 100 APM and green at 200 APM as an example. This is small, but powerful feature for the more competitive players out there for sure.
Marauder Gaming Keyboard
Due to a case of being in the right place at the wrong time, I wasn’t able to directly interact with one of these bad boys unfortunately. As it turns out, Blizzard was paying Razor a visit at the same time and the demo keyboards were all squirreled away behind a closed meeting room door with them. That said, I can’t really make any direct comments on key responsiveness, ergonomics or the like though I can at least attest to the fact that having used my Lycosa for countless hours each day for almost two years I know that Razer makes some of the best keyboards out there currently, gaming or otherwise.
The biggest thing of note on the Marauder though, is that this is where the APM lighting system begins kicking ass and taking names. In a nutshell, it allows you to create up to 16 custom alerts, each using a different color or even lighting source on the keyboard if you so choose. For example, you could set the SC2 logo, side lights or even keypad backlights to flash red when your units come under attack.
The other feature worth mentioning here is that the Marauder allows you to record unlimited macros on-the-fly, with a total of 10 different possible profiles. In other words, you can create essential macros directly from within SC2 rather than doing so via the driver menus. Personally I can’t wait to see this particular feature in action, as I genuinely dig storing separate profiles on my Lycosa but haven’t necessarily been a fan of having to do so through the driver menu if I opt to switch out a single keybind here or there.
Banshee Gaming Headset
Just like the Spectre and the Marauder, the Banshee headset also features the new APM lighting system, though I’d imagine it will see far less use since your focus will hopefully be on the screen and not checking a nearby mirror to see which color your ears are glowing. This feature will likely be a staple during tournament play though, as the APM alerts can more readily be seen by spectators or even other players should they be curious to see where your current APM is at compared to their own.
Otherwise, the Banshee headset is a lightweight, though pretty solid unit. One thing I like about it is that you have the option to adjust various settings for each ear directly on the headset, not to mention that I’m a huge fan of gaming headsets that fully enclose your ears. To me, this tends to be much more comfortable over longer periods and also helps block out unwanted ambient sounds so that you can keep your focus on the game. This is extra important if you’re ever gaming with someone who speaks a bit too quietly in voice chat, especially since proper communication in a game like SC2 (or any online multiplayer game really) will often be the difference between winning and taking a virtual dirt nap.
That’s a Wrap
While the new StarCraft II line of peripherals from Razer may be custom built for optimal performance in Blizzard’s upcoming RTS powerhouse, all three products will no doubt be just as viable for everyday use. For example, while most SC2 players won’t necessarily actively use the two thumb buttons included on the Spectre mouse, having used them extensively on my DeathAdder at this point for everyday tasks I couldn’t imagine using a mouse without them.
Razer has earned a positive reputation with gamers over the years for making some of the absolute best products on the market, and from what I was shown that will continue to be the case with its newest product line. Look for these bad boys to drop shortly after the launch of SC2, and in the meantime be sure to check out the rest of Ten Ton Hammer’s exclusive E3 2010 coverage!