StarCraft II Multiplayer First Impressions

StarCraft II is a game that StarCraft players have been waiting for over ten years to get their hands on, ever since the original launched back on March 31st, 1998.

StarCraft II is a game that StarCraft players have been waiting for over ten years to get their hands on, ever since the original launched back on March 31st, 1998. The operatic sci-fi RTS was known for its in-depth and exciting single player campaign and the multiplayer that still today, 12 years later, has a thriving community of players and tournaments around the world. StarCraft II has a lot to live up to in the modern era, however, where games are a dime a dozen and attention spans last only so long.

A Protoss base in high gear.

The beta gives us a great insight into how well the game is built for its number-one staying power: multiplayer mode. Multiplayer is currently the only available mode in the beta and IÂ’ve given it a good playthrough since Blizzard sent me one of the coveted beta keys. As my readers know, I am a chronically cynical person. I always look for faults in a game, but with SC2 IÂ’m unable to come up with any complaints I didnÂ’t have with SC1 (which all involved the interface).

Even then, most of those complaints have been remedied.For instance, you can now group up with other players without issue. The netcode (how your computer responds to the servers) is zippy and IÂ’ve yet to experience any kind of the lag like I did in SC1. Games are fast to join, downloads are done in a snap, and map selection allows you to veto out maps you donÂ’t want to play (similar to Warcraft III). Even the way the game controls the units is remarkable, which is something IÂ’ll go into more detail about later on.

The first thing I came to notice was the amazing interface. Gone are the days of spamming some obscure game name and having everyone pile into it as fast as possible. Now you can party up, talk over VOIP, coordinate in party chat, and then hit a custom game or ranked ladder match without much fuss. Warcraft III did introduce playing ranked matches with people in chat butSC2 drives it home with the ability to join any kind of custom game out there. This will be a huge plus when SC2 gains custom maps as popular as DotA  (Defense of the Ancients) is for WC3.

Let’s discuss ranked matches while we’re on the subject. The ladder system has been revamped and now you’re placed into different types of ladders based on your overall skill. This means that you no longer have to suffer painfully if you reach that level where everyone is better than you and you do nothing but lose forever until you de-level a bit. I do have concerns that players will tank their ratings to bully up on those in the tin ladder (much like in SC1 where people ran bots to get losses so they could appear “newbish”) but I’m sure Blizzard will make it as fair as technologically possible.

Terrans exterminate a Zerg infestation.

Of course, the interface is only part of a game. The actual gameplay is what’s important. and Blizzard’s polish shines so brightly that you can forget that your playing a game in beta.The gameplay is very fluid and serves as more of a revamp of SC1 than an entirely new game. The new maps are visually appealing, built for competitive gameplay, and are fair.  Novices get to play with rush protection built in for them while experts can hit up the new lost temple and play the game the way it should be played. Island maps are still unbalanced, but that’s just the nature of the game.

Many of your important tactics carry over, from tanks on cliffs to cloaking/sneaking and ruining the economy of your enemy. My favorite thing is the improvements made to chokepoints. For those that aren’t in the know, blocking a chokepoint is a force multiplier. Whatever force you have behind the blockade to the entrance of your base is strengthened by the fact that they cannot die while your enemy can.  There are many improvements to this tactic. The biggest is allowing supply depots to simply burrow into the ground allowing your troops to walk over them. This adds a layer of strategy and convenience to Terran players in particular.

Meet the races of Starcraft 2...

Terran Protoss Terran

What they are...

Think Starship Troopers meets Dukes of Hazard meets Seven of Nine.

What they are...

A mix of E.T. and the Predator, complete with energy weapons, shields, and a rough childhood.

What they are...

The skeezy house down the block that the cops are always visiting, under 500x magnification.

Trademark strengths...

  • Most balanced between ground and air; arguably the easiest to play.
  • Movable buildings, including some that burrow underground (supply depots)
  • Dropships that heal ground units.
  • Good recon (reapers, ravens) and ranged artillery (siege tanks, ghost nukes)

Trademark strengths...

  • Drones aren't consumed or occupied while structures "warp in"
  • Very strong air units
  • Good stealth and instant line-of-sight teleport (the "blink" ability of Stalkers)
  • Capable and durable (if expensive) ground units

Trademark strengths...

  • Quickly spawning droves of disposable units
  • Ability to build resource gathering expansions faster than any other race
  • Strong tier 2 air units
  • Best tier 1 ground unit (roaches)
  • Most straightforward of all races.

The races bear a strong resemblance to their original counterparts. Terrans are still the humanoid faction sporting marines, moveable buildings, and fusion power. They are now beefed up with additional air units, flying medics (who can also transport), and strong units known as “Thor” that deliver massive damage and can really take a beating.

An all new leagues and ladders system should make for much more balanced matchmade games.
The insectoid Zerg can still produce large numbers of enemies and have mobile food but now can turn Zerglings into suicidal Banelings and Queens can now produce more Larva from a hatchery. The alien-like Protoss carry shielding and rely on warp technology, but now have Colossus which are capable of climbing walls and attacking or Stalkers capable of short-range warping ("blinking") to get around defenses and chase down opponents.

Of course, the now popular tactic of blocking your choke points goes only so far. With all of the new units you can find a lot of solutions to problems that existed before. Units capable of going up and over cliffs and hugging siege tanks like Reapers, stalkers that can blink and chase, and other units allow for new experiences and tactics to come forth.

Second Opinion

Ethec the SC newb's take...

As one of the uninitiated - those who never played the original StarCraft -I felt like big daddy Blizzard dressed me in lead swim trunks threw me in the deep end of the pool. Without a single player mode or a worthy computer opponent to familiarize you with you with the five points of holy Starcraftism (time managment, resource management, units, buildings, and strategy), you basically learn through being defeated, and not the sort of gentlemanly, "gg" inducing defeats, you'll be ravaged.

Worse, there's plenty of tough opponents that will toy with you like a kid shaking an antfarm - building up to godlike levels but dismantling you by tortuously small degrees, just as soon as you're starting to show some particle of progress. This is their fun, and there's little you can do about it but ragequit, since if you begin badly you can't help but finish badly.

SC2 multiplayer is designed with e-sports foremost in mind, meaning that there's few no random variables aside from starting location on extremely balanced maps. For veterans, the game's formulaic nature (in the early game) and rock, paper, scissors matchups between units in endgame is a blessing, for largely ignorant newbies it's a curse, and a curse whose ill effects you'll have to endure through the 10 placement matches to see which league you have the dishonor of fitting into.

Bottom line, Starcraft was and is a game that rewards experience, knowledge, and furiously twitchy decisionmaking, and Starcraft 2 is no different. If you're the sort of gamer that likes to sit back and puzzle out your actions a la Civ or Empire multiplayer, you'll quickly find zerglings in your base, chomping on your stuff.  If you find yourself in the SC2 beta as a new player, go big, go fast, or go home. But most of all, read up and find a skilled mentor you can latch onto, asking questions as you're learning the ropes.

The thing I love most is how smoothly the game runs. You only need 16 workers to mine a field, more than that will only produce minimal gains (to none) and the extra workers are only for additional bases that you build.  The unit A.I. (not the single player, but the general A.I. that controls pathfinding, gathering, attacking, etc.) is streamlined to the point that it almost makes you want to cry tears of joy. Units don’t fumble around awkwardly or act in weird ways, harvesters harvest efficiently, and it’s like it gives you a clear canvas on which you can paint your battles on.

One thing that SC2 is lacking at the moment is balance between the races. Most units resemble their original counterparts, but some of the new units are far too powerful and far too easy to obtain. This creates games where strategy, tactics, and your ability to click your mouse doesnÂ’t matter as much as how many overpowered units you can pump out and send to your enemy. This is why the beta exists though, so that players can test things beyond numbers and ideas.

Fear not though, as Blizzard has already begun releasing patches to change units around. It’s helping, but nothing short of hard playtesting and lots of observation from Blizzard will help turn SC2 from an OK game into the modern world’s standard in professional multiplayer gaming. A perfect example is the Protoss Mothership or “Yo Mommaship” as many players have renamed it, was nerfed epically in beta patch 2 due to how powerful it was deemed. Most recently, research time for Terran ground unit upgrades was reduced, making these units more formidable against an early game rush and mid-game air.

Overall, the game is smooth, polished, and remarkably brilliant. The issues relating to balance are the only things that stand between it and the gold medal for not only the RTS genre but gaming as a whole. Time will tell if Blizzard can balance everything as smoothly as they did with the original, but as it stands now itÂ’s still an involving and fun game. It has a lot to live up to, but things seem to be on track for it to become the greatest RTS when it releases later this year.

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