User Review: StarCraft II multiplayer (part 2)

If you haven’t checked out his earlier StarCraft II related pieces, there’s Confessions of a StarCraft addict and the first part of his multiplayer review here…

The hardest part of talking about a multiplayer experience is where exactly to start. I racked my brain to come up with a way to explore the topic while being comprehensive, understandable and entertaining. I decided to break it into bite-size slices [Nachos: And even still, we split it into three!] and explore the different parts independently.

BattleNet Two trendy-decimal-point Zero

Battle.net is the matchmaking service that has been employed by Blizzard since the release of the original StarCraft. It was good, functional and refreshingly stable. It has served as a faithful workhorse for the Blizzard team for 13 years through a series of games: Warcraft III, the re-release of Warcraft II: Battle.net edition and, in a modified approach, World of Warcraft.

It was functional, but much like a Clydesdale, it wasn’t flashy or sleek. It didn’t shine or make loud noises like GameSpy and it didn’t change its moods like freaking Yahoo. It certainly didn’t sashay around the room like Steam… that sexy minx that catches the eye, leads you away and then doesn’t exactly work the way you dreamed.

That was Battle.net. Ever faithful, never changing. But this is StarCraft II, and so here comes Battle.net 2.0.

Battle.net 2.0 is the same and yet very, very different. There are a lot of things I like and only a few I don’t about this service.

Pros

Partying up:

Partying up is now a core of multiplayer gaming. As with the Xbox LIVE system, Battle.net allows you to create a party with your friends. When in a party you can join games/leagues as a team or create games to play amongst yourselves quite easily. It also allows for multiple people, all playing single-player, to chat simply by hitting Enter then Tab to change to ‘Party chat’.

This supposedly includes the ability to party or chat with people across Blizzard games, including World of Warcraft, however I didn’t have the opportunity to test that functionality.

Sex appeal:

There are a lot of people out there who don’t care what a person looks like on the outside because it is what’s on the inside that counts. I agree with that concept in theory, but I call bullshit on it in reality. Either way you want to have it, Battle.net 2.0 is a fair amount of functionality rolled into a very pretty package.

Slimming down:

Everything has been made ‘easier’. For those that haven’t dared to go where anyone but Korean’s fear to tread (i.e. StarCraft Battle.net in the last five years), the old monster can be a little overwhelming.

First of all, all the games are in languages that do not use the Romanic Alphabet so all you see is a string of unintelligible characters as game ‘names’. Second, trying to join a league match is a folly that most people only commit once after they get their insides stomped out by a person whose name is 20 Ascii characters in length.

StarCraft II and Battle.net 2.0 have changed to stop this from happening in order to get everyone into the league scene. League play is now rated. I myself am placed in a Bronze League with 100 other dilettantes. To play in my 1v1 league I simple hit ‘1v1’, select my race and hit ‘Find game’. It finds me a game with someone roughly my own skill level and away I go. Very, very easy.

Similarly, if you don’t want to play a ranked match you can press ‘Join game’ and up comes a list of games of varying types.

Unlike last time, the players don’t get to ‘name’ their game (there goes my famous ‘BGH, BEER SUPPLIED’) and, instead, you get a simplified list of 1v1s, 2v2s and so on. Next to the number of players you will see the name of the map. That is all you see. Under each listing will be ALL games created of that type and of that map. So when you double-click to take you (and your party) into the game it simply slots you into the next available game: easy.

Team selection:

Everyone who played the original StarCraft will know the utter ire when you happen to land on the wrong team. Changing was more difficult than it had to be. Now the game creator has the ability to drag and drop players into slots making team creation an absolute breeze.

Every game you create is automatically locked. It stays that way until you open it to the public. Again, this is a step up from having to scramble into position before the public found your game in the Battle.net of old.

AI difficulty settings:

Some people don’t like it. I do. In my opinion it is a functionality that StarCraft could have used. It allows you to cut your teeth and try things out against increasing difficulties. I have even found certain Hard and Very Hard computer-controlled opponents acting in ways I hitherto thought only humans could (e.g. micro management, selective attacking, etc.). Something else very encouraging is that my friends and I have yet to run into a bugged-out AI player that is only building resource gatherers (a bigger problem that some may realise from the original game).

Facebook integration:

Searching for mates using your Facebook friends list is genius… there, I said it. Someone had to. It is AWESOME. All I had to do was type in my email, my password and suddenly I had a fully populated list of friends who all play StarCraft II.

Cons

Partying up:

One thing that I hate is that being in a party makes it a lot easier to chat but it stops you all doing your own thing. An Xbox LIVE party has the option to play with each other, or not, as the party members choose. Not so when you’re in a Battle.net 2.0 party. You can either all play single-player or all play together multiplayer. If you want to play multiplayer by yourself, or just with one mate, you have to leave the party.

When even Microsoft can get it right and Blizzard gets it wrong… well… just wow.

Voice chat

It’s there but it doesn’t really work, yet. I have no doubt that they will patch it but it would have been nice to have it working properly out of the box. Currently, we use Skype instead.

Real ID

This current system makes it nigh impossible to make friends online. To even find someone as a friend in StarCraft II (outside of the aforementioned Facebook functionality) you have to either have their email address, which is probably not going to happen on a chance in-game meeting, or know their gaming name AND their ‘identity number’.

Why, I ask? I should be able to send a request to be added as a friend to anyone. I mean, all they have to do is say no, right? Blizzard, say I am wrong. Who am I to argue? Your GODDAMNED CONSUMER!

For those wondering why I am a little sore about this, the ‘identity number’ is not shown in-game and most people don’t seem to actually know theirs and, since there is no way to send messages (that I have found) to specific people once you are not in the game with them, they are lost until your next chance encounter.

Just silly.

Lack of IRC chat:

One of the best things about StarCraft was the ability to create chat rooms that anyone could join (as long as they knew they were there). That function was stripped from Battle.net 2.0. It is, however, coming back (thankfully) and should allow for a more community feel to StarCraft II that is presently lacking.

Rating

Battle.net 2.0: 8/10

The party up problem, the occasional lag without network latency option and lack of IRC lets it down.

Gameplay: 9/10

It’s StarCraft. Nuff said. There are things I don’t like, but they mostly relate to me losing so I would feel like a pussy for listing them here. I would have given it a 10 but they are still patching some problems and glitches and so they still have to earn it.

AI and Leagues: 8/10

I have grouped these together because they are two new features. Leagues could go under Battle.net 2.0 but I wanted to keep the matchmaking side away from the actual gaming side.

The AI has had a relook and it’s quite advanced for multiplayer action. Unfortunately, it is also a ladder where the rungs are hugely far apart. Move from Medium to Hard only when you have SMASHED Medium difficulty computer opponents or you’ll be sorry.

Leagues are a little simplistic at the moment and also a bit unbalanced, however, with even the most hardcore player in my league having only played 50 games, I can understand that the system needs more data to get the finetuning right.

Overall: 9/10

Polished and beautiful, a pleasure to play.

Lack of LAN support: -1

Total Score: 8/10

Well done Blizzard, just a few patches to go.

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