BlizzCon 07: Starcraft II Initial Hands-On Impressions

We ripped through a few matches of this upcoming strategy juggernaut just moments after BlizzCon's opening bell rang.

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ANAHEIM, Calif.--Blizzard's sprawling biannual fan event Blizzcon is scarcely three hours old, but we've already gotten several matches of StarCraft II under our belt. The main convention hall contains rows upon rows of demo machines running both single- and multiplayer versions of the game. Scores of eager attendees are at this very moment queuing up to be among the first in the world to get their hands on this enormously anticipated strategy sequel. We wasted no time ourselves in hauling tail to the front of the line and jumping on a kiosk to try out the single-player demo before getting our derrieres served to us on a platter by experienced Starcraft players in the multiplayer game.

Only the Protoss and Terrans were playable in the BlizzCon demo.
Only the Protoss and Terrans were playable in the BlizzCon demo.

Blizzard is offering the protoss and the terrans as playable races in the BlizzCon demo, though the insectlike zerg are nowhere to be seen. There's also no glimpse of the game's storyline in either sample mission, both of which simply start you out with a partially constructed base and the missive that you must destroy the other race's nearby base. The single-player demo is limited to 20 minutes, which wasn't enough time to build up through the entire tech tree on either side, though we did get to see a wide sampling of units so far for both the terrans and protoss.

As longtime Starcraft players ourselves, we felt an immediate sense of familiarity when we sat down at the demo's controls. Everything from the graphical interface and the cursors to the speed and smoothness of the map scrolling felt exactly like vintage Starcraft. So there ought to be literally no learning curve whatsoever--aside from learning the intricacies of all the new and modified units--for anyone who's spent some time with the original game. Quite a few of the original voices for familiar units, such as the SCV and marine, are still present in this demo. The terran and protoss background music is also present. We expect these will change in the final game, but we were pleased to hear some familiar voices as soon as we began playing. The voice work of the new units that we've heard so far is of precisely the same style and quality that you'd expect, if you played the first game.

There have certainly been some nice tweaks made to the game's interface, though again, everything looks and feels overwhelmingly like the original Starcraft. Setting a production waypoint will indicate a visible line to that waypoint whenever the building is highlighted (which we don't remember from the original game, though our memories can admittedly be a bit rusty). Unit pathing seems more intelligent now because units will move out of the way to allow other moving units a direct path to their destination, rather than forcing the moving units to route around the stationary ones. And of course, Blizzard has already noted the ability to select as many units as you want at one time. This simply causes each unit's portrait in the lower status window to scale down in size, and we must have had 40 or so units all moving in a destructive mass at one point, which was awfully satisfying.

The multiplayer demo we tried briefly proceeded exactly as you'd expect if you've ever played a Starcraft multiplayer game. We started off with five SCVs and a command center then had to build up a base with our ally against two other players, who wasted no time rushing us with zealots and marines in the first 10 minutes of the game. Yep, it's the same old Starcraft. But from what we've seen of the new units and evolving tech tree so far, we're looking forward to devising some new defenses and strategies to keep the dreaded rush from taking us out in the future.

Tons of enemies and lots of detail make this a stunning-looking game.
Tons of enemies and lots of detail make this a stunning-looking game.

According to the Blizzard mission statement, Starcraft isn't as big on graphical complexity as some other recent strategy games. For that reason, it's already running as smoothly as butter in high resolution, likely 1680x1050 on widescreen monitors on the demo machines here. (Admittedly, those machines have beefy, two-slot video cards--likely GeForce 8800s--and a massive amount of memory because all four DIMM slots are visibly filled.) However, don't take that as a negative; this is a beautiful game. The units and terrain were already showing off as much detail as you would want out of a strategy game like this one. Signature Blizzard touches, such as a highly polished interface and animated unit portraits--now in full 3D, also rounded out the impressive presentation. Look for new video of the game to hit GameSpot during BlizzCon to get a new look at the game for yourself.

We've barely scratched the surface of Starcraft II so far. For instance, we've had a blast laying waste to our foes with massive new units, such as the protoss mothership and the terran Thor, which is an enormous mech with stationary artillery capabilities. But we've also noted some interesting changes to existing units, such as the terran battle cruiser, which can now specialize between air and ground attacks, as well as the terran command center, which can now add on some impressive new defenses. We wanted to give you our initial impressions of the game before dashing off to a demo of the new World of Warcraft expansion, Wrath of the Lich King (look for a live blog of that at 1 p.m. PDT), but we plan to give the Starcraft II demo plenty more attention at BlizzCon. Look for in-depth gameplay information on each race very soon.

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