User Review: StarCraft II multiplayer (part 1)

StarCraft is, as far as I know, the only computer game on the planet that has ever been officially classed as a national sport. StarCraft II has some enormous shoes to fill. What made StarCraft such a classic was the way Blizzard managed to get three very distinct races in almost perfect balance. While there have been balanced games before and since, it is usually maintained by only allowing races to have several ‘race only’ troops, all the while keeping the bulk of the force the same. Not so for StarCraft. Each race has its very own flavour and a completely different way of doing things.

It is this balance that has kept people coming back to StarCraft for 13 years, it has kept it as the top played game in Korea for that long, spawning multiple TV channels and competitions as well as international leagues the world over. StarCraft II would now have to equal the feat.

This was no small task. In order to release a ‘new’ game, Blizzard would have to completely revamp the races while keeping to the same ethos for each. Zerg would have to be quick building, massing and evolving; Protoss, slow to get moving but, like a juggernaut, hard to stop; Terran, turtling whores with an ability for a deceptive depth of tactics. They couldn’t just re-skin the game, they would have to create whole new unit types, which would in turn lead to a whole new level of tactics while, simultaneously, keeping the game balanced no matter what tactic someone came up with.

So did they manage it? Yes, yes they did.

StarCraft II multiplayer is amazingly good. While playing it I feel as I did when I first started playing the original StarCraft… which is a very good thing.

Each unit has its respective counter (see the Challenges in single-player for a quick demo), every tactic its bane. Teaming up with other players allows for yet more tactics: Siege Tanks and Void Rays spring to mind and, above everything, there is the resource management biting at your heels like a junk yard dog.

The nicest thing about playing it is that, sometimes, the old tactics still work! Carriers and Battle Cruisers still rule the skies for the short time they go unnoticed. Zealots can still beat a ‘6 ling rush’ and those ‘6 ling rushes’ are still annoying. It’s all there. But then, a lot of the time they don’t work because someone has been behind the scenes messing around with Reapers, or Marauders, or Void Rays… things that StarCraft experts have no knowledge of. New counters for old plays come out of the woodwork and then it’s back to the drawing board.

My friends and I have taken to analysing our replays to view build orders and upgrade paths. Just over a week into the game and unit combinations are already evolving and taking paths down which, I am sure, Blizzard didn’t imagine they could. It’s thrilling to watch a game like this become what it was meant to be: an evolution.

It’s good. Is it as good as StarCraft though? StarCraft had the benefit of being, well, the first game. It will forever hold a place in the annals of gaming history as one of the best RTS’s of all time. For StarCraft II to surpass it is a massive ask and is 101% subjective. I am going to say “yes, it has,” and I will give a couple of reasons why.

The first is that for a game to follow such a masterpiece as StarCraft—which, as I have previously stated, has an unprecedented and unequalled following in some places—and then to be as good as the original moves me to give it serious props. StarCraft II does this and more.

The second is that, as I said before, the old tactics are still there for you to find them. But they have managed to keep them intact, like a solid core, and they have surrounded them with whole new unit mechanics to allow you to flow into new, untravelled ground.

The third is that they have removed or changed a lot of things which made StarCraft just a little clunky. You can now chain together ANY unit commands, including building with SCVs; you can line up research; you can group buildings; and you can command any number of troops. All of these changes have taken you away from your base and into the fight, allowing for greater micro where it counts, while still keeping your base as your most important asset.

When you add these together it’s a superb successor to the original. It feels like StarCraft. It is StarCraft and, just as BroodWar arguably made the original better, the new units in this one do the same.

Snappy subheading relating to lack of LAN support

However, there is one thing that lets this game down in a major way. The first game was one of the most played games at parlours and private LANs… ever. While I can understand any developer taking some actions to prevent or limit piracy, taking away LAN capabilities from PC gamers would be like taking away swear words from Xbox LIVE gamers: it’s one of the things we enjoy the most about our platform (yeah, subtle).

Blizzard can be forgiven for living in the US and believing that everyone, everywhere has access to high-speed internet. The reality is that for those of us in the hinterlands of the World Wide Web, LAN is a part of our staple gaming diet.

This is not that big a deal, but it is sufficient to knock the game down a notch in my eyes. It is especially bad when, on release, my friend, who was sitting less than a metre away from me, tried to play cooperatively with me and we lagged.

The final part of QuesterX’s multiplayer review will be live tomorrow.

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