SC2 Week: Singleplayer hands-on

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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 the first time we got to play through part of the singleplayer campaign.


StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty Hands-on

As release looms, we test out a trio of new campaign missions

On my last visit to Blizzard’s office, I played the first seven missions of the StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty campaign. Each had a unique gimmick, such as rising and falling lava, that made it a unique experience. This time, I returned to play the next three—including a Protoss side-mission—plus a couple of Blizzard’s new challenge modes.

“Welcome to the Jungle”
In the first, Raynor has to help his ally, Gabriel Tosh, score some Terrazine gas from the Protoss world of Bel’Shir.

Starting from a small base in the bottom-right corner of the map, I had to venture out with Marines, Marauders, Goliaths and Diamondback Tanks (a long-range laser hovertank exclusive to single-player) and retrieve seven canisters of Terrazine from 11 geysers scattered around the terrain. Protoss religious fanatics expressed dissatisfaction with my plans and dispatched drones to seal the geysers.

My first try ended badly due to overconfidence. After picking up the first four canisters with only light resistance, I sent SCVs to gather four batches of Terrazine at once. At least three would make it back to base, right? Unfortunately, this triggered a massive counterattack of Zealots, Stalkers and Scouts that destroyed the SCVs and their escorts and smashed through my base defenses. Oops. The second time I spent a little more time building up my forces and hired War Pig mercenaries (beefed-up Marines with unique models) before making my grab for the Terrazine.

“The Dig”
Next, acting on intel from Tychus Finley, Raynor’s troops land on planet Xil with a small force in search of an ancient artifact. My troops immediately met with Protoss resistance and were reinforced with Siege Tanks to crack the enemy Photon Cannon defenses. I assumed control of a substantial base left behind by a previous, ill-fated expedition, plus a massive laser drill that immediately began chewing through the layered doors of an ancient vault.

I just had to hold out until the laser punctured the doors, which looked easy enough until blips appeared on my radar indicating heavy Protoss units, like Archons and Colossus walkers, were heading my way. Turning the laser drill away from the vault, I pointed it at the heavies, popping them like soap bubbles. The mining ray saved my bacon, but the more I used the drill’s power for defense, the longer it took to finish drilling.

This was the stand-out mission of the new batch—even though there have been two other defense missions, the laser drill was a fantastic and unique addition.

“Zeratul’s Memories”
As promised, Blizzard is delivering a handful of Protoss missions as well. In this one, Raynor experiences a “flashback” about the Protoss leader Zeratul’s search for clues about the ancient Xal’Naga race; I controlled Zeratul as he stealthed his way through Zerg-infested territory. This was a puzzle mission—I had to make extensive use of Zeratul’s teleportation and stasis powers to evade and disable Zerg stealth detectors, such as Spore Crawlers, in conjunction with a squad of Stalkers that could knock down flying units. As hero missions go, it was a good one, and a good primer for learning to effectively use stealth to avoid detection.
Challenges

I tried my hand at two of the nine challenge modes that Blizzard hopes will teach players to compete in the harsh multiplayer arena. In “Psi Assault,” I was given control of a Protoss force of six High Templars and nine Sentries—spell-casting units with little or no direct attacks—to hold out against attacking waves. This is definitely a great way to hone micromanagment skills, which are absolutely essential for making use of some of the more powerful units.

Another crucial skill is knowing how to cast abilities like the Stalker’s Blink teleport with your eyes closed—the mission “Harbinger of Death” is designed to teach you just that. I directed a large Protoss army, exterminating as many Zerg as possible in a short time limit. The catch: Clickable buttons on the UI are disabled, forcing you to use keyboard commands for all unit abilities. As a closet UI-clicker, it took me a few attempts to get a respectable score, but in the end, I returned home to await the release of the full game with my head held high.