BlizzCon 2008: Starcraft II Hands-On Impressions

We get hands-on with Starcraft II and explore the "old is new" theory with this familiar-looking game.

ANAHEIM, Calif.--Throughout the years, Starcraft seems to have become less of a game and more a part of scheduled television broadcasts and a pathway to celebrity status in Korea. 2008 marks the 10-year anniversary of the launch of the original game, and what better time than now to reinvigorate the series by mixing things up while retaining the known and loved aspects of one of the most iconic real-time strategy games of all time? We went into our hands-on session with Starcraft II unsure of what to expect. Would this be an entirely new experience and take players on a wild tangential ride into the depths of new space? Or would it leverage on the years of goodwill, storylines, and solid game design to create something familiar and accessible? Turns out it it’s the latter, and we couldn’t be happier with the outcome.

The first and most obvious thing we noticed when we put on the headphones and wrapped our hand around the mouse at the demo kiosk was that it had been a while since our last game. Despite the fact that Blizzard took the wraps off some key aspects of the single-player campaign and dropped the bombshell news that the product will now ship split into three separate campaigns at staggered intervals (to better flesh out each campaign as its own story), we were unfortunately still only able to get hands-on time with a multiplayer build of the game. We chose the Zerg and kicked into the action with a fellow member of the games media. Even with all the years between games, it came flooding back in an instant. The sound of crystals being harvested by your drones and the burrowing of Zerglings into the Creep was a real nostalgia hit, and the reuse of many of the classic audio samples for these actions only further drives home the familiarity. Keyboard shortcuts and build orders might not come so easily, but the play remains the same at its core--build and defend. You’ll still need to send your drones off to farm resources, create Extractors over Vespene gas nodes, and get your economy ticking over. It’s tough to make comments as to the availability of these resources as we did very little map exploration during our game, but our start point included more than enough of both types of currency to get us up and running. As always, ensuring you have an efficient supply chain of resources being delivered is key and allows you to get on with the real action of building units and attacking others.

Starcraft II's combat follows the same dynamic you're used to in its predecessor and will see you building ground and air units to defend your base--in our case Zerglings and Hydralisks--before you kick out an Overlord or two if you wish and fortify your immediate surroundings against incoming attacks. Ironically, while we played as the usually aggressive Zerg faction, we were more interested in getting reacquainted with researching, scoping out the new tech tree, and pumping up our resource reserves to notice the other player moving in for the kill. That player sent waves of Protoss Zealots to our doorstep straight off the bat. The battle was bloody (and surprisingly long given our mediocre preparation), and although we held out as long as possible, it resulted in a situation of attrition with us being pushed back to just outside our starting zone after suffering heavy unit casualties.

Starcraft has always had a unique and rich art style, and we’re pleased to report that this tradition remains intact in its sequel. You’ll still enjoy the same eagle-eye view and playfield scroll speeds as the original, with a nifty addition in the ability to scroll your mouse wheel and get up close and personal with your units and the battlefield if you so wish. Animations appeared fast and fluid, and there was no discernable frame rate slip even once we began to amass several squads of units onscreen at once. Environmental textures also looked great with clearly defined topography indicating raised and lowered ground--handy for telling you where to put your air defenses. The game’s new graphics engine gives it a crisp look further enhanced by lighting effects, such as the glow of a Protoss Pylon structure and the slashing of Zealot blades.

We don’t doubt some will criticize Starcraft II for its perceived lack of innovation based on what we’ve seen so far, but we’d gladly forgo risk for the sake of playing to known strengths than attempt to reinvent the wheel for the sake of it and fail. From the lore and gameplay panels held at this year’s BlizzCon, it’s obvious the development team is keeping much of the old but also introducing new ways to convey aspects, including story and character development. Based on what we’ve seen so far, Starcraft II hits the nail right on the head and reboots the series like a well-timed Stim Pack release. In usual Blizzard fashion it’ll be out when it’s done, but we’ll be following this project all the way to the finish line with much interest.

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Discussion

79 comments
balrogthane
balrogthane

One thing I wanted to see was new unit size relationships.... I guess that would involve to much messing with the formula.

SpunkyB0B
SpunkyB0B

Ive always said that they should just remake SC 1 with a new graphics engine and that will keep me going for another 10 yrs :) Looks like they have done this and more so its all win win for me

mongoose90
mongoose90

Obviously it is perfectly feasible both to resurrect an old game with grace and elegance providing a rich, enjoyable, and updated version of an old favorite, and strike out into new territory with boldness and skill. It all depends on how well either approach is carried out. However, I do think that innovation is, in gaming as in other things, risky, so I'm glad to see a new game like this reinvigorating an old heritage.

Tentaculat
Tentaculat

"but we’d gladly forgo risk for the sake of playing to known strengths than attempt to reinvent the wheel for the sake of it and fail." Really? So if a game comes out nowdays called "Evil space mutant" and it's an exact copy of Starcraft but with better graphics, you'd give it the high score you'll give SCII? No, you'd say it's unnoriginal and outdated. But this one has "Starcraft" on the name so it somehow makes it better? Please, at least make a better effort to hide the fact that you are either a fan of blizzard or they are giving you extra cash for hyping their junk. If I still wanted to play Starcraft I would, but I don't, the RTS games have evolved a lot since then, and SCII doesn't have any of the "new" things you would think as basic nowdays in RTS games. No destructible enviroments? No cover? No squads instead of single units? Hell, no units that can do something as simple as move and shoot at the same time? No thanks.

Jonoc33
Jonoc33

Rockutd, no you won't. Wings of Liberty will come with a disc for the single player campaign and a disc for multiplayer. The multiplayer will most probably be a separate client. Then when the next two sequels come out they will just be addons for Wings of Liberty adding on to the storyline.

Arctic-c
Arctic-c

So I guess you guys really approve of how Bethesda "revolutionized" Fallout 3 huh? I thought it was plain rubbish.. Graphics for the sake of it.. No depth.. Shallow main story.. And NPCs with little or nothing to say or do most of the time. They should have simply turbo-charged the Fallout Tactics engine and loaded it with layer upon layer of intricate, driven storyline, and character development. What a shame.

mikeydumbo
mikeydumbo

honestly. starcraft 1 was great as it was the perfection of a unique and innovative gameplay mechanic, the idea of having BALANCED but unique sides. now you want to keep to the same old? games have been evolving over the years. the standard of good and perfection has changed, and the bar has been raised. starcraft was the greatest game of its time, and has become a classic. however, do you see ONLY pong, space invaders and pac man on the shelves? no. the world has changed and the standard must move along. starcraft 2 is now just a variation of a 10 year old perfection, and as far as what i can see from how they reduced the uniqueness of the thor, the queen and the mothership, they're actually going backwards. i'm disappointed.

MTHoodlum423
MTHoodlum423

I got to be honest. I'm not that excited about SC2 anymore. Between the split with three games and sticking to pretty much the old... its not on the top of my list anymore. Starcraft was the best RTS for years, but over the last three years or so we have gotten amazing RTS's. Dawn of War and Company of Hereos own the original Starcarft. It has been almost 11 years. Think they could have been a little more creative. I am sure it will still be a fun game, but its still kind of sad. I think I will wait for Dawn of War 2 instead.

maahin3
maahin3

starcraft was awesome . starcraft2 will be twice as good

weirjf
weirjf

A new game based on the old awesome formula? Count me in! I'm sure that most people have come to realize by now that "revolutionary" and "innovative" does NOT equal FUN.

OptimusAKC
OptimusAKC

I agree with Antpile. I think they are trying to cater to the slightly older demographic who played this game when it first came out or just the ones sick of the same old RTS. I have played many, many different RTS games and most of them have some little changes that set them apart from the others in way of gameplay, graphics or whatever. But when it comes right down do it, they are all the same games usually, build and attack, build and defend, blah, blah blah. So if blizzard comes out with a game which focuses most of its energy on the story or campaign mode, I'm all for it. I would like to see some new units and new tech tree stuff, but in regards to a whole new gaming experience that could possibly ruin the game, no thanks. Besides the best part about Starcraft multiplayer was not that it had some mind blowing innovative gameplay but the perfect balance between the different races and the many different strategies that could be used. Thats what made it an aweseme game.

A-myrtaj
A-myrtaj

Just don't make the Zerg be the best(in number) again. I would luv some dragon balls that could revive Tassadar, he was my fav character, especially the voice. And I don't think it's about the price, they just don't want us to wait another 1 or 2 years to play starcraft, they want a boom with starcraft, warcraft and diablo, I guess.

rockutd
rockutd

Yea i agree its becoming like half life 2.But how is the multiplayer aspect gonna work out.After all ,that is the most impt aspect for me.So does that mean we need 3 CD keys to play B-net???Nice profiteering by Blizzard.

Kabals
Kabals

Quote: "We don’t doubt some will criticize Starcraft II for its perceived lack of innovation based on what we’ve seen so far, but we’d gladly forgo risk for the sake of playing to known strengths than attempt to reinvent the wheel for the sake of it and fail." "Gladly forgo risk?" Are you kidding me? Who's paying Mr. Chiappini to write this? Gamespot or Blizzard? If Starcraft had been released in 2005 or 2006 and was an iconic game, yes, I could see you holding to the mantra. But StarCraft came out in 1998. You don't wait 11 years (it will be 11+ by the time its released) to release a game beloved by so many that is simply an addendum to what you did 11 years ago! I've seen the movies, I've seen the pics. They are nothing special. In fact, I'm slightly embarrassed by it. I don't have as much time for gaming as I did 11 years ago when I was in college, but StarCraft was one of those games that we all loved and had endless fun with. If not that much is changing, what is the point? Move the needle Blizzard, you owe your fans that much, and with the money you rake in from WOW, you can afford it. And don't get me started on this crap of releasing this game a third at a time. Can you say "money grab?" Blizzard is trying to fleece its consumers. Try again folks, because this won't fly.

Pascalinours
Pascalinours

hummm... wonder if the episodic-style of game will take as long as half-life to develop... Let's hope not

DJSMITH007
DJSMITH007

Does it really take 10 years to make a starcraft 2...its basically starcraft with better graphics for goodness sake!

angelkadaj
angelkadaj

Can't wait for this game. I was huge fan of the previous one. I want to play it right now.

Antpile
Antpile

Starcraft was and still is the epitome of RTS gaming (and, dare I say it, all PC gaming.) I am glad they are going back to their masterpiece and not changing it up too much. After all, why mess with perfection? As for the episodic content; Blizzard games have always contained excellent stories and background lore. I feel very confident that by giving each race 30 levels and a whole game instead of giving us the normal package with 10 levels each, that we will get the grandpappy of all RTS gaming stories. Trust in Blizzard, they have never let us down before.

Cedoreborn
Cedoreborn

I'm a huge blizz fan, but this whole three different games thing worries me. I wish they would wait and ship a full game that I can play through continuously rather than ship a third of a game, I'll wait for the battlechest

rockutd
rockutd

I guess another in another couple of years it will be out...

rigatchu
rigatchu

I cant wait to see protoss storyline.St

jedifisto
jedifisto

i think wings of librety will be a coooler add to the storyline. i cant wait!!!

dvros
dvros

Just going over the first Star Craft again, reminds me how well thought Star Craft 2 says to be. On other notes, my computer may be 5 years old but I can tell my rig will still be able to play this due to my knack with computers.

daman1616
daman1616

"aside from the blatant unrealistic styles (realism is in games, do some research)." lol and orcs and portals to other dimensions are realistic? I always loved the Starcraft campaign/story but thet multiplayer is where its at. Why don't they just release this game so i can play itt!!

FireWarriorr
FireWarriorr

@Cerebris it makes total sense bullets hitting air units for example, when a mutalisk attaks it comes very close to its target, for example a marine, and bullets can hit a flying target at a not too long distance... of course it should be some penalty against air targets

BigRed317
BigRed317

i liked the hero system in WC3. great to use for custom maps like dota oO

Cerebris
Cerebris

I loved WC3, but to each his own. If they make a WC4 though, I want them to show us what happened in WoW, but in the RTS perspective, that way I can fight the Anh'qiraj and all of those, in the ways I really wanted to. Perhaps they should take a page off of the non-linear route though, and give us the choice to go where we want, with even smaller armies, and more specialized squads, kind of like DoW 2 is going. I think that would be interesting, and though it might be great or not, it could be potentially a majestic idea. As for SC2... ehh, I'm just glad that they took off the cartoony look a degree, though the Zerg look less menacing in their buildings and what not, as much as they look animated. The fact the shields for the marines are gone is good too, but I really want them to stop making bullets hurt air units, it doesn't make any sense... and why is the collosus attacked by air? AIR and SPACE is HIGH UP, not just a few inches above the ground... I never liked what SC did in that regard. But it will probably be a great game, aside from the blatant unrealistic styles (realism is in games, do some research). P.S. I'm all for singleplayer, infact I pretty much abhore the multiplayer parts (aside from a few custom maps, that I'll play in small LAN circles with friends) and I really do hope this campaign is something special. I don't agree on D3 though, after beating the story you can't really keep going through it, atleast I can't with my eidetic memory, since I touch the cd and boom I remember everything that happened and no longer have a desire to play it. I like to play it once, and perhaps even if I know what will happen, just so I can hear the voices and see the scenes again, I'll force myself to play through the campaign every 3 or 4 years... as I've done with most of my games. - Cere.

lostn
lostn

Warcraft 3 reinvented the wheel, and I didn't like it. I'm glad Blizz went back to its roots with SC2. Just give us more of what we loved. If they make a war4, I hope it doesn't go War3's route with smaller armies and RPG quests.

Creative
Creative

WoW. SCII is Multilayer game guys. If you want story and your own pace, look some place else. I guarantee you, 75% of people who will buy this game will never even play campaign mode. You start out with MP beta, learn basics there. When you finally get the game, you go straight to battle.net for some MP action; Blizzard designs game with MP in mind.

Zennious
Zennious

My guess is, next year Christmas for the Terran campaign. Edit: Have faith in Blizzard

mgrbgr
mgrbgr

just announce the release date , it's been over a year now. i've bought a new pc last february 4 this title...hope i don't have to buy another one. Hurry up!

pooya_d
pooya_d

Without LAN Multi player it will be boring in a week (after you finished the campaign )......... I hope they underestand how important it is to many starcraft fans

bennae66
bennae66

rts and rpg are my 2 favorite genres. 1st priority is single player. 2nd priority is multi. i dont want my rpg's cluttered with others at all, an rts is great to take online AFTER every mission has been completed. i have skills and knowledge of the game to take online if i so wish. very disapointed with the staggered releases of all 3 parts. i was expecting 1 game and that has put a real dampener on my enthusiasm. id like to think i will still run out and buy it on launch but i really have to get over this episodic content bit first.

kujospam2000
kujospam2000

If you have a good single player, I'll get hooked, but have a good mulitplayer, and I'll keep playing. For me you have to have both, or sorry, I just won't buy you.

cheokdoc
cheokdoc

i hear ya djon! i hate it how the preference is now for multiplayer online. i only buy good single player games as i enjoy playing it at my own pace and always love a good story. i dont see how people can pay $ every month to play a game you already bought for pretty much retail price and do the same hack and slash thing. LAN multiplayer was good fun as it was reliable and was with friends. Online is unstable and usually filled with some really sad people. 3 seperate games sounds really expensive. i think i prefer to wait for diablo 3. a single player game that you can play for a decade!

Djon
Djon

Guess I ain't most people then as I find multiplayer and MMORPGs boring and repetitive and primarily play games for their (hopefully) engrossing single player stories.

p00pz
p00pz

i wonder why blizzard even bothered with SC2 and Diablo 3 single player ... their focus is on MMORPGs now and most people don't care about a single player campaign in a isometric view RTS. Take Supercom and Sins of a Solar empire for example. To most new gamers taking it online is the best part.

Viron_Berserker
Viron_Berserker

you would think vortex, but it's not always the case. Seeing as this is the 10 year aniversary, They might release it before Christmas, if not, April is the best bet. Blizzard is full of erks for not even giving us the buisness quater it is being released in. Christ, what have they been doing with their time?

sandyqbg
sandyqbg

This is getting interesting. But I'm still not too sure about it, having not played the first game. It sounds all too linear for me

realsatan84
realsatan84

i'm waiting so anxiously for it to release...well, splitting into 3 is not a problem for me as long as Blizzard keeps up the quality and i believe that they split it up because it is needed to..no need to cut off and squeeze it all into a dvd...we'll get all the best of STARCRAFT2~

laplac
laplac

splitting the game into 3 doesn't mean only splitting the race campaign but also they will remove some units from Terran to add it when Zerg & protoss expansion come out in other words splitting the game will effect multiplayer so that no one don't want to buy the other expansions to play multiplayer games.

cegmp
cegmp

This game will be bring me back from PC gaming hibernation!

vortex_of_stuff
vortex_of_stuff

sweet. Since they're splitting it into 3 games, it should be released sooner, right?

konradak
konradak

Cannot wait. Will have to invest in a new pc or laptop for this :D

mp5xm8
mp5xm8

I'm really looking forward to the Thor.

Antagonist8503
Antagonist8503

I don't think the expansions will be years apart. The multiplayer will undoubtedly remain the same. I guess blizzard is trying to make the game as epic as possible. It might be a good thing. Think about it, playing one race through a whole campaign that's longer than Starcraft and broodwar's campaign combined? It might be interesting. On the other hand, if it's any shorter, it wouldn't be worth it imo. Part 2 and Part 3 may be only one year apart or even less. I'm guessing they've worked on the all 3 games this whole time and just recently announced that they're going to release the game in this fashion. All I know is, the multiplayer alone is worth the wait. Good old starcraft days are coming back with a fresh kick.

samftrmd
samftrmd

I rather wait fir the final and get it in one shot. This is stupid, some day, you'll have to buy a game 12 times because it has 12 mission.