SC2 Week: The Final Push

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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 was the single largest feature we did on the game. Packed to the brim with analysis, beta experiences, interviews, and tips, we're going to break this one up over a couple articles.


The Final Push

Starcraft II, the return of the most popular PC strategy game in the world, is almost upon us By Rich McCormick

Some of you will be lucky enough to play the StarCraft II beta. Many more of you will not. A good portion of those forced to go without will be howling, denied early access to the eagerly awaited sequel to the world’s most popular PC strategy game. To both these groups of people—the haves, and the have-nots—Blizzard have some news: that beta people are playing? It’s definitely not StarCraft II.

“People are using the beta as a demo,” says Chris Sigaty, SC2’s lead producer, “and that was never really our intention. It was specifically to test our new hardware infrastructure, as well as the balance of the game at the various skill levels.”

Integrated with a revamped Battle.net client, which arranges 1v1 and 2v2 matches between players of comparable skill, this pre-release version is tightly focused. Games against the computer are only available at the incompetent “very easy” difficulty level to allow players to experiment with tech trees and build orders while the AI dribbles and blunders into walls.

Sigaty is very keen to assure me that these features are but one facet of the perfectly cut diamond StarCraft II will eventually become. “We’re trying to direct players, to say ‘hey, go try out the single-player thing, look at our challenges, check out the map editor, go play cooperatively with friends against the AI, or indeed go play this competitive multiplayer.’”

So, good news all around. The lucky few who Zerg-rushed their way into beta access have but scratched the surface; those who were passed over can look forward to a more balanced game that no one has truly played yet.

What will that game be like? Let’s crack open the carapace of StarCraft II, and see what we can find in the gooey mass within.

Designed to both please legions of existing fans and appeal to a new generation of gamers, StarCraft II is described by Blizzard as a “new game for old players.” Its single-player campaigns will be released as a series of three packs, the first of which—Wings of Liberty—will focus on the Terran story. The campagin for the insectoid Zerg—The Heart of the Swarm—will follow roughly 18 months later. The third race—the space-elf Protoss—will get a set of missions to call their own at an unspecified time after that.

The first StarCraft was so stupidly fun as a competitive multiplayer game that it’s been co-opted as a heavily televised national sport in Korea. Is there a danger that these single-player campaigns could prove nothing more than glorified tutorials, a stepping-stone to the multiplayer?

It’s a worry Sigaty has heard before. “Some people are under the impression that single-player is the training ground for multiplayer, and we actually don’t view it that way. We’re taking single-player in very different directions this time—each mission is its own minigame in many instances.”

We’ve seen examples to back this up. In one, a small band of Terran workers is desperate to get offworld before they become soft, fleshy Zerg-munchies. The problem: they’re in the south, the spaceport is in the north, and between the two is a road infested with hungry Zerg.

Who’s bad?
Fortunately, badass Terran space-hero Jim Raynor is in the vicinity. (That’s you.) Facing off against increasingly bitey waves of the swarm, you must provide safe passage for the evacuation convoys.

Some of the forces provided are unique to the single-player campaign. The Firebat—a pressure-suited flame-chucking assault trooper from the first game—has been excised from multiplayer due to balancing issues, in favor of the similarly beefy Marauder. But in the single-player campaign balance isn’t an issue, so the fan-favorite Firebat resurfaces, ready to pump napalm from his dual flamethrowers.

Sigaty tells us that’s just the beginning. “We’ve got a bunch of other things in single-player, like tech purchase and research, and a detailed story mode.”

It’s this story that breaks most with RTS tradition, offering a spaceship-set hub—Raynor’s battleship Hyperion—where players will roam between operations. It’s the home of Raynor’s Raiders, the freedom-fighting mercenary group you’ll lead as noted badass Raynor. The vessel offers conversation a-plenty with other Raiders, upgrades and, most interestingly, the chance to accept or decline missions. Take on worthy operations from characters such as humanitarian doctor Ariel Hanson, for example, and your Raynor will align himself with good. If you just want to get stuff done and steal alien artefacts for your own swag pile, you’ll want to listen to that amoral marine Tychus Findlay.