Because of its predecessor's popularity among professional and casual gamers alike, StarCraft II faces a difficult balancing act. A lot of micromanagement might please the hardcore, but casual gamers will probably get tired of each unit asking for direction every time it wants to go to the metaphorical bathroom. On the other hand, if there's too much automation, the game will start to play itself. Casual players may not mind, but pros will wonder where their skill level comes into play.
Browder says they're onto a compromise: “One of the things we loved about the original StarCraft is that there's so much more you could get out of this game [over other RTSes]. It doesn't really matter how much you play—it really doesn't. You can always be better. We're trying to keep a certain level of [StarCraft's] micromanagement so that there's that additional depth for players to experience and explore and learn how to master.”
“Our goal for the unit design is to allow every unit, with the exception of some of the spellcasters, to be something you can just attack-move with,” Browder continues. “I can just say 'you guys go attack over there' and they'll totally take care of business and they'll totally do cool stuff. And we also want to add to a lot of these units a level where, if you really know what you're doing with [it], and you want to spend the time, you can get some extra functionality out of the unit.”
As an example, Browder points to a pair of Protoss stalker dragoons being overrun by Zerglings. You can leave them alone and they'll go down fighting, taking a few bugs down with them, or you can take charge and use their blink ability to keep the Zerglings at a distance while pelting them with laser fire. Veterans, Browder explains, will have to decide whether to make the most of a few units or concentrate on building a huge army. “Everything in StarCraft is about choices you make as a player. It's not about making the one right unit or the one right structure,” he says. But no matter what choice you make, you'll have a great experience.
StarCraft II will be Blizzard's second 3D RTS, built from the ground up on a custom game engine. Each unit model, on average, will contain more polygons than a World of Warcraft player model, and the animations we saw in the early alpha build already look amazing, especially the Zerg nydus worms and Zerglings. Cool touches include inverse kinematics on the legs of Protoss walkers, which makes them appear to actually step over obstacles instead of through them, and debris from destroyed vehicles falls and bounces with accurate physics modeling. Artificial intelligence will receive an upgrade, too—AI opponents will no longer clairvoyantly know where you are, because they'll be smart enough to scout out your base and strategize based on information they observe. The AI improvements will also apply to your own units, so don't expect to see them line up like ants when given move orders like they did in StarCraft.
The devs say it's still too early to make a declaration about StarCraft II's minimum system specs, but Blizzard is known for making games that will run on nearly any machine in order to reach the widest possible audience. The game will, of course, look far nicer on a high-end rig. (If you want an example of the difference this can make, try running World of Warcraft with all the settings on low, then max it out.) For now, the team is only willing to reveal that a Shader Model 2.0–compatible graphics card (GeForce FX series, Radeon 9000 series or better) will be required. As for DirectX 10–only effects, that decision has yet to be made.
Even before we saw the amazingly polished-looking alpha build in action, there was absolutely no doubt in our minds that StarCraft II will be an awesome game. For it to be any less would be the gaming equivalent of Mozart composing a “just OK” symphony or Shakespeare writing a book of so-so soliloquies. (No pressure, guys. Don't choke don't choke don't choke!) The only questions are, Can Blizzard truly recapture the magic? and Will StarCraft II achieve the same legendary status and unprecedented longevity as the original? Will we still be playing it and talking about it in 10 years? (Check back in August 2018, PC Gamer issue 294, for the answer.) And, finally, when do we get to play it? We'll have the answers to these questions (and everything else StarCraft II-related) in future issues of PC Gamer.
If there's one thing Blizzard has learned about keeping a game popular for nearly a decade, it's supporting the mod community—and it says the community is going to be very happy about the StarCraft II map editor that will ship with the game. Promised to be even more powerful than the Warcraft III editor, it's not quite ready for primetime yet, but we're told that a total novice will be able to easily create a full map in 15 minutes. Just imagine what the experts will be able to do!