ANAHEIM, Calif.--If there were ever any doubt about the success of Starcraft II, its fans blew that out of the water today when they just about caved the Convention Center ceiling with cheering as Blizzard developers Chris Metzen, Rob Pardo, and Dustin Browder took the stage. The three were on deck to chair the Starcraft II Gameplay Panel, a session that trod some familiar storyline footprints and threw a few new elements into the mix.
The panel began by explaining that Starcraft II is attempting to break the mold by being both a real-time strategy game and a way of storytelling. To do this, the team has introduced new gameplay mechanics to help further establish the lengthy backstories of Starcraft universe characters. Today's session marks the first time Blizzard has spoken publically about the single-player component of the game, which will see you take on the role of returning character Jim Raynor and will take place in familiar locales for those familiar with the events of the first game. We began our adventure following Jim on Mar Sara as he sat alone in a bar drinking. A few moments later, new character Tychus Findlay entered, and while much of it was explained beforehand by the panelists, there's a very obvious moment of both recognition and uncomfortableness when the two interact. The history between them is a bit sketchy, but when Tychus offers Jim a chance to make some coin by stealing alien artefacts, the two manage to come to an arrangement.
It's here in the bar that the location itself is part of the storytelling vehicle for Starcraft II. By simply hovering the mouse over and then clicking objects such as notice boards, the jukebox, and a television perched over the corner of the bar, you're given information, including a wanted poster of Jim Raynor, a music track, or a live news feed from broadcaster UNN. In the cutscene following the mission to recover the first of Tychus' artefacts, a news report details a Zerg landing at a nearby mine. This is where we saw our first live Starcraft II gameplay demonstration by the panel, and it consisted of a classic "hold out" mission where you'll need to stay alive for 20 minutes until reinforcements arrive. Naturally it's not as easy as it sounds, and wave after wave of Zerg are slaughtered as you move your troops into nearby bunkers in groups of four. In the interest of time, we warped ahead to the end of the scenario as still more Zerglings attempted to force their way into the fortified base. Just as all seems lost, another newcomer, Matt Horner, makes an appearance and pulls you and Tychus to safety. Once aboard you're free to roam around and click at will, in the process unlocking information on the current situation and backstory and through the use of the Star Map exploring a flat plan of the available planets with missions you can attempt.
At any time you'll be offered two to six missions with objectives to further the overarching story through victory or objectives to unlock new friendships by lending a hand. One example shown was called Saviour, which charges you to answer a distress call from a nearby planet. While you may opt to ignore these side quests, they do provide additional allies and in turn access to new planets that can be explored. The team at Blizzard made it clear on more than one occasion that they're committed to providing a unique experience by letting you choose your own path and branching storyline. They did confirm that each game will feature only a single ending for all players regardless of choices made.
It was at this point that Blizzard announced the news that the game will be split up into three separate products. This means that when Starcraft II ships, it will include only the Terran campaign--Wings of Liberty--made up of somewhere between 26 and 30 missions. Zerg: Heart of the Swarm and Protos: Legacy of the Void are planned to follow, though no information was given as to their estimated time of release. Like the Terran campaign, Heart of the Swarm will feature a single identifiable persistent character, Sarah Kerrigan, while Protos will follow Zeratul.
We'll bring you more information on Starcraft II and its single-player campaign as it comes to hand. Stay tuned for our latest hands-on preview.