StarCraft II is the 10-year-overdue sequel to the eminent StarCraft, history's most successful Real-Time Strategy game. Everyone from Korean Pro E-Sport gamers to MSU honors dorm students have been looking forward to SC2 for more than a decade.

Photo of my copy of StarCraft II Collector's Edition

"I bought the Collector\'s Edition, which includes a behind-the-scenes DVD that told me nothing about game design I didn't already know."

 

Blizzard put off making a sequel for so long…why? They believe StarCraft was such a masterpiece, it could not be improved, and protecting brands is Blizzard's #1 priority. Lame cash-grab sequels can be brand murder; they wanted Terminator 2, not The Matrix Reloaded. Blizzard even scrapped a First-Person-Shooter set in the StarCraft universe dubbed StarCraft: Ghost because it was not up to its rigorous standards. So does StarCraft II deliver?

In short: yes. The basics remain – three races (Terran, Protoss, Zerg) vying for intergalactic dominance, real-time strategy, and massive sci-fi battles. As I understand it, Wings of Liberty is installment 1 of 3 featuring the Terran race. Indeed, Blizzard will collect full title sales x3 from customers for StarCraft II (instead of the usual twice evidenced from StarCraft: Brood War and Diablo II: Lord of Destruction). StarCraft II sports a huge graphics improvement, more units, a better campaign, more integrated online experience, and sick movie-industry-quality animated movies. The UI has been massively improved, removing many clicks. Most notably, you can select and hotkey an infinite number of units. Indeed, "attack-moving" with all your units is a couple clicks. Competitive StarCraft, defined by click-efficiency, rejoices that strategic thinking gains ground here.

Single-Player Content

The 29-mission long campaign mode is much improved with a deep achievement system (integral to all modern games) that incentivizes retrying missions. Jim Raynor (This is Jimmy!), Sarah Kerrigan the Queen of Blades, and Zeratul return as the three race's main characters and plot drivers. There are two distinct "leveling" systems – one you simply spend money to upgrade units, the other you must make a choice of one technology (say, Bunkers with automatic guns) which forgoes another (Bunkers with +2 capacity). Most early missions unlock a new Terran unit (and the well-designed mission objectives showcase the new unit). The storytelling is mostly through the realtime in-game engine (I always like when games do this, like Final Fantasy III/6), which can render a convincing Jim Raynor drinking at a bar, among other things. The real treats are the full-rendered animated movies with some incredible details (including Hydralisk saliva)! Obviously, Blizzard has been paying attention to what single-player gamers like and incorporated every trick in the book. There must be 200 individual "unlocks" that remain greyed out, waiting for you to complete them, lighting them up. For some reason, players can't walk away from an unlit completion task. Upon completing the campaign, this gamer found the whole experience on par with God of War 1/2/3 but a significant step below Mass Effect 1/2. To be fair, God of War and Mass Effect have the best story-driven single player content in the business. God of War has the best presentation of all, but no other game captures the player's choices and interest the way Mass Effect does. Granted it took BioWare many titles to arrive at the winning formulae Mass Effect employs. In SC2's favor, its single player content is inferior these industry giants, but neither has SC2's multiplayer content.

Multi-Player Content

I've played the Cooperative options extensively and "Comp Stomp"ing certainly has its merits. I imagine I will get curb-stomped against real players, however, and not have fun. Becoming a game designer, I pick gaming choices with extreme precision and in truth I think I'd enjoy more Devil May Cry. I'll mention that the integration is crazy-powerful; being "logged into" SC2 almost feels like a PlayStation Network or XBox Live environment – there's even a "import friends from Facebook" button. Social networking is humanity's most powerful and alluring technology, and it's still being explored.

New Features

From a game design perspective, my favorite new mechanic is what I call the "semi-flying" units – the Stalkers, Colossus, and Reapers that can disobey some terrain but not all, with my personal favorite Colossus (you'll recognize them from Spielberg's "War of the Worlds"). Each race has a new macro mechanic – fast build times for Protoss, fast larvae or creep for Zerg, and a super-SCV or scans for Terran. There's a noticeable bottleneck of vespene gas, meaning you'll be making mineral-only units (Zealots/Marines/Hellions/Zerglings) all game just to spend your abundant minerals. There's some blatant Mass Effect mechanics in the SC2 campaign. WoW is a collection of the very best MMORPG mechanics from EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, and others and super-polished. Even the hauntingly-mesmerizing Diablo is a graphical NetHack, a super-polished version of the best dungeon crawl Rogue-like games. There is nothing wrong with this – if the goal is to make the game as polished and safe for the brand as possible, innovating new game-genres like Magic: The Gathering did is going to be inherently unpolished.

Conclusion

In summary, Blizzard did do their sequel justice, but in the way they are good at – they steal all the very best gameplay mechanics, storytelling avenues, and tried-and-true features and simply polish it to oblivion. Blizzard titles are pretty, fun, and safe.

Working in the game industry, you come to truly appreciate the seriously great games in human history. Stuff like The Legend of Zelda, Magic: The Gathering, Super Metroid, and Mass Effect that are unbelievably far ahead of their times and will influence games henceforth. The kinds of games move the industry forward large strides.

This gamer CAN'T WAIT to sink hundreds of hours into Diablo 3. That's my kind of game.