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 is an online release of our hands-on impressions of the game ten months after the initial announcement, originally in our June 2008 issue.
Release Date: 2008
In the long months since StarCraft II was announced in our August 2007 cover story, there have been only fleeting glimpses of the insect-like Zerg faction. But now Blizzard has not only unveiled the new Zerg, who have evolved the most of any of the three sides since the original StarCraft, but also allowed us to play with them!
(Disclaimer: Blizzard made it clear that the game is still at least six months from release, and nearly everything about it is in a constant state of flux as the development team tests new ideas to discover the best and most original way to balance the three diverse sides against each other. Anything here could change by release, but this is a snapshot of the game as it exists now.)
When taking control of the swarm, the first change that jumped out at me was the new-and-improved Zerg Queen. StarCraft's classic Queen was a high-level support caster unit, but this one is much more what you'd expect from royalty: a formidable defender of the colony. As soon as you build your Spawning Pool, an early struct-ure that lets you hatch Zerglings, the Queen (only one can be alive at a time) can be birthed directly from the Hive. She's an imposing sight, with long claws for swiping at enemies on the ground and in the air, and she still has some potent casting abilities like Toxic Creep (which damages enemies standing in the Zerg base) and a healing power that can instantly restore several hundred hit points to any structure. She single-handedly saved my butt a couple of times, driving off early raids by Terran Marines with help from the base defense structures that she spawns.
Besides the Queen, the first new unit I had access to was the Roach. Like its namesake, the Roach can be extremely difficult to squash—it's exceptionally durable due to a Wolverine-like ability to quickly regenerate health when wounded. After a little practice, I learned to burrow wounded Roaches for a few seconds to let them heal up before rejoining the fight; a little micromanagement can drastically increase their survivability. I found them to be particularly effective at soaking up damage to protect a group of Hydralisks, and they're a nasty addition to a Zergling rush if you're willing to wait for them before launching your attack.
Next, I upgraded my Hive, which allowed me to evolve my Queen into a bigger, meaner version of herself. This unlocked the Deep Tunnel ability, which lets the slow-moving Queen instantly travel to any Zerg base structure, just in time to defend my fledgling expansion base from a Protoss attack. At her mightiest, the Queen can take down an Ultralisk in a one-on-one fight.
As the battle went on and tech levels increased, I made heavy use of the Zerg's new emphasis on units that turn enemy units against their owners. I sent an enemy who'd massed Protoss Carriers limping back to his base by attacking with a group of Corrupter air-to-air units that, instead of simply destroying enemies, infests them and turns them into stationary turrets that fire on former allies until the units are destroyed or the turrets expire. Then I snuck a few burrowed Infesters into a Terran base and spewed Zerg-juice on their command center and barracks, infesting them for a short time and causing them to automatically spawn a dozen Zerg-infested Marines that wiped out their SCV harvesters before they knew what hit them. That'll teach my opponent to forget to build base defenses with stealth detection!
Before too long my Zerg successfully overran the Terran and Protoss enemies with a swarm of Zerglings, Roaches, Hydralisks, Mutalisks, and Ultralisks. It was quite a sight! After spending several hours with the bugs, I'd say it's likely that the Zerg are going to end up being my favorite faction once again. Nothing against the Terrans or the Protoss, but I'm a sucker for a truly unique and drastically different race.
[Boxout] Hopes / Fears
+ Blizzard repeats its amazing RTS design, and StarCraft reigns supreme for another 10 years.
– Changing too much from the original formula risks upsetting the magical balance that made StarCraft the mega-hit it is.