ANAHEIM, Calif.--After quickly blazing through a couple of matches of Starcraft II today right after BlizzCon's opening--because we're just that excited about the game--we hunkered down to spend some more quality time with the terrans, one of the three factions returning from 1998's original real-time strategy classic. The terrans always seemed like the most well-rounded of Starcraft's races to us, next to the zerg's swarm-like tendencies and the protoss' weird psionic abilities. It's important to note that Blizzard is simply trying out new ideas with Starcraft II's design, so anything that we played in today's demo may have gone straight out the window by the time the final game hits shelves. But so far, we're intrigued by the many new units and abilities that Blizzard has added to the terrans' repertoire.
Of course, basic units like the marine and the medic are back, though you'll immediately notice the firebat is missing. Other units haven't been completely removed so much as replaced by new, improved versions. The old goliath mech has given way to the new viking, which acts just like a goliath--until you research and enable its transformation ability, which turns it into a jet that can get it across otherwise impassable barriers. Another unit which has no respect for variable elevation is the reaper, which you hire from a bar with a female night elf dancing on top of it. These mercenaries build almost instantly, since you're just hiring them instead of training them, and in addition to being able to jump up and down to higher and lower terrain, it can now throw a timed bomb and escape the area before it explodes. We saw a large group of these reapers all throw out bombs at the same time to do massive damage to an enemy base before beating a hasty retreat.
The terrans have quite a bit of air support in Starcraft II, at least as it stands right now. The predator is a new flyer that can only attack other aerial units, but it can also take on an intercept mode where it will attempt to shoot down incoming enemy fire (presumably things like missiles). Everyone's favorite the battlecruiser is here again, but this time it won't simply default to the incredibly powerful, single-shot Yamato cannon like it did in the first game. Sure, the Yamato is still here, but this time you'll get to choose how to specialize each individual cruiser, between the Yamato and the new plasma turrets. The latter will produce a flurried cluster of beams that can decimate ground units, from what we saw of them.
The banshee is a basic fighter that can attack both air and ground units, and it can cloak as well. Then there's the nomad, which can't attack directly but has a lot of support abilities. It can instantly repair a mechanical unit for a large amount of hit points, primarily, and it also has an electromagnetic pulse weapon that damages the energy of any enemy units nearby. Lastly, the nomad can lay down a damage suppression field at a target location that significantly cuts down the amount of damage dealt by enemies within the field.
But the Thor is probably our favorite unit on the terran side so far. This absolute bruiser of a mech is so enormous, it currently must be built by an SCV rather than being produced at the factory. The Thor stomps around like an oversized viking, trashing air and ground units with its main guns. You can also research an upgrade for the Thor which gives it long-range artillery strike capability, and though the mech must become stationary to deliver this attack, you'll get an attack similar to a siege tank's siege mode in terms of destructive force. Currently, the Thor does have one nearly crippling weakness: It has to stop and turn on an axis, and rather slowly at that, in order to change direction. Skilled micromanagers will be able to dance quicker units around the Thor and hit it from behind without fear of counterattack, so if the Thor's movement remains like this for the final game, you'll want to bring along a defensive contingent of smaller units when you trot out this big daddy.
The Thor and the improved battlecruiser may be the most visually impressive new terran units, but terran structures have actually received a surprising number of upgrades and new abilities. You'll now be able to salvage most buildings and recover their full resource cost (which results in the destruction of the building, natch), but once you've issued the salvage command, you can't cancel it. Supply depots--the terran equivalent of the farm--have also taken on an important new defensive role. These buildings can be lowered below ground level, which is represented visually with a trap door of sorts opening up, and the entire structure literally lowering itself into the ground. This will allow you to build a solid barrier of adjacent depots and use them as a blockade around your base, while still allowing you to lower them and allow your own units through. This won't be a catch-all defense against rushes, though, since the smallest units, like zealots, marines, and zerglings, will now be able to squeeze through the cracks between even fully adjacent depots.
Like in the original Starcraft, a building's unit production queue still tops out at five. But the terrans have received an interesting new ability that they can apply to barracks, factories, and starports which will let them maximize their production capability--at the expense of some advanced technology, that is. For each of those buildings, you'll be able to build one of two add-on structures, the reactor or the tech lab, to extend their functions. A reactor will essentially give you two production queues on the same building, so you could have two marines building at the same barracks at one time, for instance. There will still be some limits--you can only make one siege tank at a time, since it's so big--but this will still seriously help in situations where you need a lot of units, but building another barracks or factory is cost-prohibitive.
The tech lab, on the other hand, is a more traditional unit enhancer that will enable you to research extra functionality to your units. These aren't just frivolous add-ons, though; the barracks' tech lab will give you the marines' stim pack ability and upgraded armor, while the factory's tech lab will grant access to such necessities as the siege tank's siege mode, and the new viking's flight mode (which lets this bipedal robotic attacker transform into a flyer for aerial assault). Both the tech lab and the reactor are quite cheap to produce; currently, each costs well under 100 minerals and vespene gas. They're also interchangeable; if you build a tech lab on a barracks, you could lift off that barracks, land a factory in its place, and the tech lab will attach itself to the factory automatically.
We noted an interesting new feature for the starport which allows you to turn it into a starbase. This basically makes it look like a gigantic starship (much larger than a battlecruiser), and functionally, it becomes a mobile unit producer. You could park your starbase just out of range of an enemy base and pump out aerial units for an assault. Finally, the command center itself is quite a bit more capable this time around. Instead of building a comsat station add-on as in the original game, you can now convert the building directly into a surveillance station to gain the ability to do a satellite sweep, which again lets you reveal a small part of the map for a few seconds. But you can instead upgrade the command center to a planetary fortress, which looks exactly as imposing as it sounds. This upgrade will give a sizeable boost to the building's armor level, and it will add a mean-looking gigantic cannon to the top of the fortress to give it proper defensive capabilities.
On the surface, Starcraft II certainly looks a lot like its predecessor. But our in-depth gameplay time with the terran faction today at BlizzCon indicated just how much the designers are doing to revitalize the gameplay within the three existing factions. We're looking forward to seeing what similar changes are made to the hive-like zerg, which Blizzard says it's just now beginning to work on. We'll bring you any and all coverage on Starcraft II that we can obtain between now and its far-off release date.