Starcraft II Updated Hands-On

We get our hands on Blizzard's latest strategy game, from the show floor of the publisher's 2008 Worldwide Invitational.

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty

PARIS--While the big announcement at this weekend's 2008 Blizzard Worldwide Invitational was the announcement of Diablo III, strategy fans had plenty to cheer about because the show floor contained a section specifically devoted to Starcraft II. Hundreds of PCs were on hand, allowing attendees to be among the first in the world to play this highly anticipated sequel, and judging by the attendance in the Starcraft II section, it seems attendees weren't disappointed. We had a chance to spend some time with the game as well, and though there wasn't a lot that was new in the game since our last look back in May, every chance to play Starcraft II is an enjoyable one.

The show floor demo featured three single-player modes (each against a different faction), with the single-player Zerg battle set to easy difficulty and the vs. Protoss and vs. Terran missions set to medium difficulty. There was also a multiplayer mode that pitted players against a random opponent from somewhere on the show floor LAN.

Though it had been a while since we'd played the original Starcraft, jumping into Starcraft II was an immediately familiar experience. We spent the majority of our time with the Terran faction, and while the tech tree seems similar to where it has been for a while, Blizzard was quick to point out (during an afternoon press conference) that the tech trees and units for the game are still in flux. A case in point was the Thor unit, which is a massive mech and is one of the largest units available to the Terrans. In our May look at the Terran faction, Thor units were being built by SCV; in the build here in Paris, Thor units are now pumped out from the Factory, along with other ground units, like the siege tank.

As Blizzard senior art director Sam Didier explained in the Starcraft II press conference, the Thor unit has undergone some significant changes since its inception. For example, early in its implementation, the Thor had a lockdown ability, similar to that of the siege tank. Now, the Thor can attack both air and land units but does not lock itself down when attacking. According to Didier, the Thor's final capabilities, like many Starcraft II units, still need to be locked down and will undergo more development as the game continues to come along.

We were surprised to see our vespene gas reserves deplete so quickly during our matches. As Blizzard explains it, it's an intentional choice that adds another degree of macro management to the game. In effect, you quickly run out of the two gas reserves you begin with and are forced to explore the map and expand your territory. That said, like every other aspect of the game, how quickly vespene is mined is still to be finalized. While we can see how it encourages exploration, it can also be frustrating to watch as two vespene reserves are depleted while plenty of crystal is left for mining.

Visually, Starcraft II is a treat regardless of which race you're playing as. The 3D engine that runs the game is impressive indeed--modern enough to render the different faction units with a tremendous amount of detail, while staying true to the game's clean, bold design. When you zoom in to check out the details of your units, you get a feel for the amount of care the unit designers have taken with each unit. The construction animations alone are impressive--as your SCV builds up a barracks, your Zerg larva morphs, or your Protoss probe warps in a forge, there are lots of little details that are sure to elicit a smile.

The game's sound is coming along nicely too. Though some units share the same voice track (such as the siege tank and the marauder), all of them portray that same sense of humor that has come to be a hallmark for Blizzard (we're especially big fans of the Thor voice actor, who does his hammiest Arnold Schwarzenegger impression in the game).

It seems that Starcraft II has lots more evolution to complete before it's ready for primetime, though we can safely say that the game we played on the show floor today was a lot of fun and was true to the original's spirit. We look forward to bringing you more reports on how the game is shaping up in the coming months.

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