Thursday, September 16, 2010

Review Day: Starcraft II

There are no spoilers in this review.

The original Starcraft from the late 90s was Kelley Corbett's drug of choice after his discovery of beer and before his discovery of World of Warcraft. Starcraft II is essentially an evolved extension of the original -- easier on the eyes with new units and interfaces, but without anything incredibly innovative added to the mix. In this case, it's a decision that works, and anyone who liked the original will probably find something to like here (unless they have passed away in the intervening decade).

Starcraft is a real-time strategy game, where you build and control a number of units from a top-down perspective and order them around to reach various mission goals, such as "destroy the enemy base" or "gather 10,000 resources before your opponent". There are twenty-six single-player missions with well-calibrated difficulty levels that will easily keep you occupied until you've had your money's worth. The plot which ties it all together is AMAZING, if you're 12, but it's enough to make each of the missions feel worthwhile.

Gameplay is easy to adapt to if you've played any game like this before, and the game even comes with built-in key mappings where all of the actions are tied to a positional grid on the keyword (for example, the QWERT row). This has always made more sense to me than the "memorize the first, or maybe the second letter of the action, and then hit F to Fire, except when F is already taken so you hit I" approach.

Also new to the mix from the Warcraft world are Achievements: bonus accomplishments obtainable for bragging rights on your online profile. These achievements are more more attainable and less tedious than their WoW counterparts, but you'll waste just as much time trying to collect them all.

The other giant chunk of Starcraft II is the multiplayer aspect. I usually don't care about this as much because I have the skills of toddler when not playing against a computer but my limited exposure has been enjoyable. Blizzard made the wise decision to maintain a separate collection of units in multiplayer, so that future balance changes won't affect the single player game, which also makes the single player units feel more powerful and fun to play with. There's also a full-fledged map editor which puts the Warcraft 3 map editor to shame and requires a Ph.D to fully understand.

The main failure of Starcraft II is the new, possibly improved battle.net. For a network that's trying too hard to be Facebook-like, they made the worst possible social design choices. battle.net is hard to navigate, full of menus and submenus and horrible sound effects and animations (see also, most Flash-based websites). It's tedious to maintain a friends list, and even more tedious to meet up with friends to play games, especially since they made the puzzling decision to drop chat rooms from the interface. Instead, little chat windows pop up all over your screen, one for each person you're chatting with. Thankfully, they dropped their original system of tying your account to your REAL NAME but there are still annoyances like having to be connected to battle.net to play single player (and thus, having to tell eighty people that you just want to play with yourself for awhile), and not having a way to be invisible. The final infamy is the fact that my handle of choice is one letter too long for their system. I thought 12-character restrictions went away with ColdFusion.

Other than battle.net, which needs a catchy fail name like brittle.net, this is a well-polished, enjoyable package. The graphics and sound are top notch, and all of the little touches you would expect from a Blizzard game (like /dance making marines dance) are present.

Final Grade: A-

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tagged as reviews, games | permalink | 2 comments


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