StarCraft II Hands-On Preview

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is as close to a sure fire hit as they come. Its predecessor is still played heavily online, was revered as the best game of 1998 by many outlets, and has been called one of the greatest games of all time by some fans. Despite all of this pressure, Blizzard has painstakingly creating a follow-up that the company believes will ring true to the franchise, while also changing enough to be considered its own title.

After firing up the demo, I was briefed on the current situation surrounding Raynor, a favorite character from the original Terran campaign. A beautiful cinematic cutscene sets the stage, with Zerg popping up everywhere as we enter the bridge of Raynor’s ship. SC2 ditches the disembodied talking heads of the original game, instead substituting fully rendered characters that roam the bridge. In the new briefing room, players can chose to converse with shipmates for added story or tips, or can dive right into the mission select screen to pick their poison. No longer are we limited to a completely linear path, as StarCraft II allows players to choose missions freely using the same inventive system that Relic Entertainment employed for Dawn of War II, a boon for storytelling in the genre.

The mission objectives in the demo were varied, offering two vastly different paths. As a Terran ship looking for funds, we could either aid in evacuating a colony from the approaching Zerg threat, or attempt to swipe some precious Xel’Naga crystals from behind the collective back of the Protoss and Zerg armies. The former is a glorified escort mission – slow moving units included – while the later is a time-limited collection mission.

The game itself played exactly as one might expect StarCraft II to play. The missions had us building armies and holding off the ravenous enemy just as we did a decade ago. In sticking with Terran tradition, using choke points, the high ground, and other tactics lead to a smoother victory over the incredible numbers of the Zerg and technical prowess of the Protoss. Choking and sight advantage were a must during the escort mission, allowing the colonists safe travel up the road as the Zerg swarm was forced to deal with my traps. The crystal expedition was more of an exercise in offensive strategies and baiting, as I suckered the enemy away from their defenses for an easy kill. It’s nice to be able to utilize a diverse set of strategies so early on in the game.

Mastering the needed skills to accomplish these goals would have been difficult in the previous engine due to its archaic user interface. Thankfully, Blizzard has updated the UI to allow smoother unit control, easier building procedures that allow you to queue units and structures, and larger groups that are easier to control. The changes are subtle, but the power that results from these minute differences are felt.

Blizzard’s production quality was apparent everywhere, not just in the gameplay mechanics. The developers spent a good deal of time adding a ton of graphical hotness to the title. Be it death, attack or idle animations, the physics of fire, ability special effects, or even the fantastic music and voice acting, the title is chock full of spit shine. Even the story is riveting, sporting twists and turns from the get-go.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty will be the first of three titles in the StarCraft II brand. Previously expected in 2009, the title has slipped to 2010 as Blizzard continues to perfect Battle.NET 2.0 – the game’s matchmaking service. Be sure to check out our StarCraft II interview for additional details.

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