One of the highlights for me at PaxEast was having the opportunity to get some hands on play time for Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty. For those of you who may be unaware, SCII is the follow up Real Time Strategy game brought to you from the folks at Blizzard. Love them or hate them, Blizzard doesn't disappoint in the creation of a quality game. There is a general fervor surrounding any Blizzard release. I don't think I'm alone in this line of thinking, and I certainly wasn't alone in my desire to get my hands on this game.
Fortunately for me, I had a little inside knowledge where SCII would be displayed. This insider info allowed me to make my way to the prominently displayed NVIDIA exhibit. Both the representatives from NVIDIA and Blizzard did an outstanding job of controlling the masses. As such, I stepped up to a keyboard and began.
It's been almost a decade since I'd sat down with the original Starcraft, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. There were the obvious enhancements to graphics, this game looked stunning. The design of the landscapes and environmental effects are a direct result of ten years of computing progress. Additionally the landscape has a thee dimensional aspect added. You will be able to pan and tilt the screen for an added perspective. Most elements of the games have an animated feature to them. The buildings go through an actual building procedure, which are certainly worth checking out. Just make sure you aren't playing another person while doing so. I was enthralled with the visual effects to the point of almost ignoring my opponent. That did not end well. Well enough of how good the game looked since that was to be expected. Onto the game play.
Through a technical difficulty, or me just hitting buttons without asking, I managed to get a glimpse of what the SCII Log On for the Battle Net may look like. Players will have their choice of race, Terran, Protoss, Zerg or a random race option. From there, players can choose a one on one game or a multi-player game. More on that to come, since the booth handlers quickly got me into actual game play. As I mentioned, it's been a decade since I seriously played Starcraft. I figured it's a Blizzard RTS, how bad can it be? Well I was in for a surprise and I certainly hope the official game comes with a tutorial. I personally don't remember the original game moving so quickly. For the most part the game plays as I remember. I suppose if it's not broke don't fix it.
While I had hoped to get a crack at the Protoss or Zerg, I was relegated to the default role of Terran. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I started with a Command Center and a handful of SCVs ( the Terran "bee"). I quickly set them to mining nearby crystals and set one to cap a gas vein. It was during these beginning actions that the structure animations were made clear. In the past, these actions just seemed tedious. Now it seems like a little choreographed piece. I'm sure after doing it for the 100th time it will get dull, but just enjoy the show for now. Once there were enough resources gathered, I set to creating Barracks in order to get some troops on the screen. One detail that differs slightly from the original is that created troops can be directly sent to task once they are active. For example, Terran Marines can be sent directly to a neighboring bunker rather than waiting near the barracks and awaiting orders. This hint was told to me by a Blizzard official, since I didn't actually survive long enough to witness it myself. I was told I would be playing against the SCII AI, and that it wasn't that aggressive. WRONG, either it's the most aggressive AI Since Brianiac or I was pitted against a human opponent. Either way there is a lot of rust for me to knock off to be completive in this game.
With the advent of the 3-Dimensional tiered environments, players can choose the high ground to set up their command. It sounded like a solid idea until I realized that there were a large amount of troops aregifted with the ability of flight. I found this out the hard way as a horde of Terran Reapers seemingly ignored most of the terrain in order to wipe me from the face of whichever planet we were on. The Reaper is apparently one of the new troop types available in SCII. The Terrans aren't the only class gifted with the ability to ignore some of the terrain. In fact through watching the tournament players later in the weekend the game seemed to be dominated by air unit support as opposed to ground forces. I'm sure there is some balancing involved with troop types and look forward to playing SCII at length. There must be some benefits to all units in the game or they wouldn't exist.
Unfortunately I didn't get anywhere as much play time as I would have liked to demo this game. I would have loved an hour, but I settled for the fifteen minutes I was able to manage. There was a tournament the next day, but my lack of practice really didn't qualify me for much more than a human speed bump. I did however get to observe some of the other races in action. This game has taken great strides in making each race have a "feel" of their own. Rather than just being the same type of troop with just its own skin. For example the Zerg truly look like an overwhelming horde when they begin to swarm over their enemies. Some great examples of these revamps are on display at the Starcraft II website.
There's no denying that a solid computer can enhance the way a game both looks and runs. It was fairly obvious that the machines were running NVIDIA graphics cards. The rest of the machines were the Maingear Shifts. I apologize for not getting the full system specs, but for those truly interested I'm sure I can find out. Full system requirements are pending the closer release date.
The short story on Starcraft II is that if you enjoyed the first one, you're going to love this one. Anybody out there playing the Beta or had a chance to play a demo? Share your thoughts with your fellow readers in the forums.