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BlizzCon: hands-on schooling with Starcraft 2

Kevin Kelly

During the recent BlizzCon, we sat down and got a ton of time with StarCraft 2, to the tune of roughly three hours or so. The upshot of it all? We were very impressed, and we had our asses handed to us, both in single and multiplayer modes.

Okay, first of all, before I get much further into this I have to say that by "we" I mean "me." I don't want to categorize the rest of the Joystiq staff as sucking at StarCraft 2, but I can pretty much definitely say that as far as this writer is concerned, I'm a complete noob.

Gallery: Starcraft 2 | 95 Photos

I played the original StarCraft a handful of times, but not enough to actually get good at it. And by good at it I mean "learn how how to play." So, I would wildly drag the mouse around and click everything on screen, hoping that it would make something happen. Usually the thing that would happen would be me getting pwned to the nth degree, and I'd throw the game across the room before picking up Riven and trying to work my way through that, even though the game had already been out for two years.

So, when they announced StarCraft 2 recently, I decided I was going to be excited about this game or die trying. When they opened up the BlizzCon floors for gaming, I headed over, sat down, and told them they would have to pry the keyboard and mouse from my cold, dead fingers. Or simply ask me to move. The latter strategy was employed a lot, proving to be pretty effective and rousting gaming bloggers from their seats.

My impression of the game is that it looks freaking amazing. I played it on both the Mac (which were hidden under tablecloths) and the PC (proudly displayed glowing blue neon Dell machines) and they both look incredible. My old StarCraft would run a bit herky-jerky on my iMac (the original iMac ... which seems like it was out back in the dark ages), but it was rock-solid and shiny-glass smooth during the demo. There's a ton of attention to detail in the units, the backgrounds, the maps, the wreckage, and just about any element that comes on screen. When your Command Center is on fire, and SCVs are scurrying all over the place while enemy troops blast your remaining infantry units to smithereens ... it looks really cool.

As far as the units are concerned, I know that the Terran units were all new to show off to us, but I honestly can't remember what's new and what's different from the original games. I know the Reapers are new, and they were the coolest guys to deal with on the battlefield. When you build a Merc Haven ... which is basically a bar, complete with a holographic dancer on top of it, you can create Reaper units. They're rough, tough, throw bombs, scale cliffs, and when you click on them they say things like, "The life of a Reaper is ... exciting."

What really impressed me was how intuitive everything was. I literally played the entire game with just the arrow keys and a mouse ... although maybe that's why I kept getting decimated every time. The units are extremely easy to build, customize (you can add things like Tech Labs to buildings, which upgrade the types of units they can produce), and control. In fact, if you set rally points for units while they are created, they'll pick up contextual actions. For instance, if you rally your SCVs near a vespene gas refinery, they'll start hauling the gas to base. You can also chain your SCVs construction commands, such as 'build a Supply Depot here, and when you're done with that stick a Bunker over here'. It makes taking care of a million things at once just a tad easier.

I played as the Terrans umpteen times before I switched over the to Protoss side, and it seems like they have a lot more going on for them. Blizzard told us they weren't done balancing out the Terran side yet, and those Protoss Colossi can pretty much slice through infantry and buildings like butter. Giant, striding, spider-like units, ftw! Anyhow, it was a tad easier to survive in single-player with the Protoss although I'm sure once the game actually ships that won't be the case.

The single-player mode they made available to us wasn't the immersive Story Mode that they were showing off during the StarCraft panel, but rather just a Terran vs. Protoss map, with the opposite side being controlled by A.I. When we hopped onto the multiplayer machines, that's where the real ass-whipping came into play. Thankfully Blizzard had enacted a 20 minute time limit to all the games, which is just enough time to really amass a force to be reckoned with, but not enough time to move out and steamroll your enemy. Although that didn't stop people from marching over with a few units while all I had was a team of SCVs gathering crystals. Just for the record, SCVs are very poor fighters. Excellent miners, poor fighters. Once, during a 2 on 2 match, my teammate asked me, "What's wrong, dude?! Build a barracks!!!" Oops. People no likey when you don't know the game.

Speaking of multiplayer, that was the real draw of the event. They had roughly 1,000 stations set up (a Blizzard employee's number ... my guess would have been lower, but he was the one walking the lines of computers, so I'm taking his word for it), of which about 3/4s were devoted to multiplayer. This also makes me think the mystery beta key there were giving out at the event will be a downloadable public beta for StarCraft 2, since it felt the most polished out of everything we saw and played. You could select red or blue, Terran or Protoss, and then team up to try and wipe your enemies off the map ... within 20 minutes. Within the first day people were abandoning the massive army buildup strategy and just sending everything as quickly as they could in search of their foes. 20 minutes was just not enough time to make it work properly, at least for my non-tourney playing slow self.

Anyhow, all of this hubbub over SC2 has made me dig my old copy of the first one out of the gaming basement, and blow off the dust, cobwebs, and POG wrappers. Hopefully I'll fare better and be up to speed by the time the sequel comes out, because I really enjoyed playing it. Even during the vicious beatings.

Check out the Terran walkthough videos below for an overview of the new Terran stuff, and be sure to check out our StarCraft 2 gallery, which is full of new screenshots.

Part One
Part Two

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