SC2 Week: Our StarCraft virgin is deflowered

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As part of our ongoing celebration of all things StarCraft, we're hosting a Starcraft smörgåsbord, with a different theme for each of the days leading up to and the week following SC2's release. This article is a part of the "Everything We Know About StarCraft Day", the first of the bunch, and tells the tale of a young man named Evan who had never played StarCraft before who wanders the fields of StarCraft II in our May 2010 issue.

Starcraft II Beta Test

A new player’s plunges headlong the beta, and emerges a stronger player, a wiser man, and a seasoned warrior

This is, shamefully, the first time I’ve ever put my hands on a StarCraft game. But even as someone that doesn’t consider RTS his forte, jumping on the SC2 beta bandwagon has been one of most fulfilling gaming experiences I’ve had in years.

Realizing that StarCraft isn’t simply a system through which Korea extracts pride from the rest of the world has been part of that good experience, but so has Battle.net. Blizzard’s platform for matchmaking is a source of comfort: after 10 “placement matches” of lump-taking, it assigns you to a league of comparably skilled players. I was placed into the Copper league: the tournament of pennies.

League matchmaking isn’t a new idea—other RTS games released in the past few years have their own systems—but it’s likely to help counter SC2’s biggest stigma: the idea that a pro player is waiting to beat you up and take your lunch money the moment you begin.

On that topic, SC2 doesn’t soften the complexity of its inherited mechanics—perfecting an efficient build order and hotkey and mouse agility are still key—but there’s room between investing early in cheap units, like the fast-moving Zerglings, to harass your opponent’s economy, or focusing on tech upgrades to rule the late game, which make you feel like you have some flexibility.

Mastering a build order is a remarkably personal moment in StarCraft II; the first time you develop a routine that’s yours has the same feeling as a go-to “move” in a sport, a maneuver you can deploy reliably. Mine is a rush tactic using Terran Reapers: agile, jetpacking anti-structure infantry that can demolish an enemy that has focused its resources on climbing the technology ladder in the early game.

Being fresh to the sounds and scenes of SC2, Blizzard’s respect for ambience as a tool to create better gameplay was constantly apparent. The starting moments of a game played as the Terrans begin with a Firefly-like western song that immediately sets a casual pace. It’s a tune that understands its own context—this is a time to plan and ramp up your economy by harvesting minerals and gas. By the time you’re rolling out structures, the melody is surging with upbeat guitar twangs that punctuate the sounds of pressing steel and welding made by construction units.

 My main lament is that SC2 isn’t a game that gives you a moment to admire your handiwork—if you stop to watch, your opponent is using that time to launch a counter attack. Check back next month for our massive feature on the game—written by our guys who have played before.