BlizzCon 07: Starcraft II Hands-On -- The Protoss

The noble protoss are playable at BlizzCon, and we got a taste of their single-player gameplay on the show floor.

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ANAHEIM, Calif.--Blizzard has two massive areas devoted to hands on with Starcraft II on the Blizzcon showfloor. The highly anticipated sequel to the classic RTS is being shown in two flavors, single player and multiplayer. We'll be attacking the demo in chunks as Blizz has opted to show off a meaty chunk of the game. The single player demo is a timed 20 minute level set on Shakuuras, pitting Terran and Protoss forces against each other. Protoss are charged with obliterating the Terran forces while the Terrans are tasked with wiping out the Protoss.

The demo features three difficulties, easy, normal, and hard. We picked normal and the Protoss and hopped in. The demo features a brief real-time cinematic that offers a quick flythrough of the Terran base and fills you in on your task of wiping out their forces. Once that's done you're at the Protoss base and ready to go. We immediately scoped out the tech tree by hitting F12 and sussed out exactly how to build the new units. The basics of the tree were faithfully laid out according to the original game with new structures added to the mix to accommodate the new units added to the Protoss forces. We snapped a pic of the tech tree to give you an idea of what it currently looks like, though bear in mind many people will greatly obsess over every detail in the game so it will likely change to some degree.

This is the Protoss tech tree in Starcraft II as it currently stands.
This is the Protoss tech tree in Starcraft II as it currently stands.

The Protoss forces in the demo start out with a batch of nearly all of the basic structures up, requiring you to build the last two and the full suite of advanced structures. Although the tree is in line with what was seen in the original game, there are some notable absences such as the shield battery and arbiter tribunal. New structures included the null circuit, dark obelisk, phase prism, and twilight council buildings which all tied into the new units. We tried our hand with as many of them as we could build and were intrigued by what we played. Null circuit buildings are one part of the equation to let you summon the observers to be constructed. The dark obelisk allows you to make dark templars, and phase prisms let you do create the mighty colossus, a killer land unit shown previously. The twilight council lets you create immortals. In addition the stargates let you summon the new phoenix and warp ray craft as well as the old standby, the carrier. The mothership has been tweaked since its Korean debut where it was presented as a unique unit. You can now summon more than one which comes handy. The downside is, if you're not careful, you'll lose it fast.

Overall the Protoss handled well and surprised us. In the demo they seemed faster and tougher than we remember them. The zealots are tough and handle themselves well on the battlefield. The larger ground units, stalkers and immortals, were powerful against certain units and ably stood their own. The templars, once powered up via the various upgrades you'll order up for them, are powerful adversaries. The dark templars and their natural cloak made them key for sending out to the various observatories on the battlefield to help widen your field of view. However we have to say our heart belongs to the colossus, carrier, and mothership combo. The colossus is a devastating land unit that cuts through ground troops nicely. Our personal favorite from the original game, the carrier, still kicks much tail. As before you could trick it out with a max of eight interceptor vehicles that shoot our and blast anything around it. We're especially taken by the auto casting option for the interceptors, allowing you to keep your carrier fully stocked. The mothership is pretty slick, offering some devastating attacks that take out pesky structures like Terran anti-aircraft batteries, with ease. However, as all the units in the game, it has its vulnerabilities. For example, it doesn't appear to deal well with mobs of terrain infantry. As we noted in our earlier general hands-on, there have been a number of tweaks to the game that have improved the game's overall handling which has helped the Protoss feel that much more polished.

The visuals in the game, though not final, are shaping up to be a smart shift to 3D for the series. The various units are looking great thanks to a detailed transition to 3D for all the units. The various Protoss ground units look sharp and are enhanced with various effects for their shields and, in the case of dark templars, cloaking fields. The larger stalkers, immortals, and the ripping cool colossus. The aircraft are equally cool with an impressive array of animated elements and effects for shields and weapons fire. Overall the look of the units and structures is in line with the aesthetics of the previous game but given a stylized twist for the jump to 3D that works well.

Audio in the demo was faithful to the excellent effects and audio heard in the original. We didn't scrutinize every single Protoss effect but our overall impression was good. The returning effects and the new ones mesh well. The added filters and effects beef everything up and give the action a good amount of kick. We're especially pleased by the sharpness of the weapons fire and the various sound bytes from all the units and forces which make the destruction and mayhem all the more satisfying.

Based on this tiny snippet of the game StarCraft II appears to be well on its way to ably updating its classic predecessor. So far the game is retaining the feel of the original, albeit with some very slick tweaks and additions, while adding a cool, stylized look. Best of all, the game's speed isn’t an issue (which was a concern of ours when we heard about the shift to 3D). As fans of the original we're excited by the promise the game's displayed. The gameplay is walking a fine line between being faithful to the original while still feeling fresh and the visuals keep the action stylish but don't bog down performance. If you're a fan of StarCraft this is all good news. Well, except for the fact that Blizzard's giving their "it will ship when it's ready" line for the game's release. In any case StarCraft II appears primed to deliver some blistering hotness when Blizzard unleashes it. Look for more on the game from Blizzcon and in the months to come.

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