First I would like to apologize for not writing this article last week. I meant to write it on Monday, but started my new internship that day and came home incredibly tired. But I digress.
The topic at hand is Starcraft 2, the Beta. Let me preface this by saying that I don’t have a beta key (so please send me one so I can find out how wrong I am!). Overall, I am very excited for Starcraft 2. I’ve watched hundreds of games on a variety of channels (see the previous blog post for a bit more information on them), and the game looks great. There seems to be a lot of strategy involved in the build orders and unit counters. The races each look and feel distinct. The transitions from early to mid to late also look like they are smooth.
For the most part, the balance looks pretty good. Blizzard is of course constantly making changes to the units and will continue to do so even after the game comes out. Also, being that I can’t actually play the game yet, I will withhold my full judgement on how difficult the various counters are to execute.
That being said, I get the impression that there are a few problems with the game. Some issues that I’ve noticed with the game so far are as follows, in no particular order:
1.) Unit colors. As a spectator, the color of same-race matchups can be hard to discern. This is particularly bad with certain green / cyan / blue colors, and also particularly bad with the Protoss Zealot armies, or with certain Zerg units (even worse if they’re on the creep). This can be alleviated by toning down the graphics of the game, turning off the special effects and turning the graphics to a 2002 level. Still, it’s a little sad that the unit colors are hard to see.
2.) Clumping. This one goes with #1: the units tend to clump up and move as a giant blob. While this obviously has balance issues (related with splash damage, particularly), it makes the units difficult to count and determine. The greatest offenders are the smallest units: Zerglings and Marines. I think that increasing the collision boxes by a small amount may help with this and combined with #1, make spectating Starcraft 2 games more exciting.
3.) Unit Compositions. Perhaps it is just because the game is new and players haven’t figured out the best balances, but it seems like the compositions of armies can be a single unit (type) or two. The worst offender of this was with Zerg armies prior to the Roach "adjustment" in Patch 8; in Zerg vs. Zerg battles 80% of players went straight to Roaches and pretty much stayed there. If the battle dragged on, a few Hydras would be mixed in. The Terran M&M (Marine and Marauder) ball is somewhat in the same boat, though not as bad in my opinion as it often be supported with Medivacs (MMM) or occasionally Siege Tanks. Overall, I think that as players get more experience under their belts and Still, it seems like the army should include more unit variety.
4.) Lack of new mechanics. Okay, to me this is the biggest issue with what I’ve seen with Starcraft 2. It is less an explicit thing and more just a gut response. It can be boiled down into this: I feel like Blizzard has played it too safe with the development of Starcraft 2. Okay, maybe that was a bit explicit.
This is not to say that all innovations are always good; in fact, they can go wrong pretty easily. Probably the worst offender of this that I have played recently is C&C 4:Tiberium Twilight and its unit caps. I get what EA was trying to do with the game, but I find the multiplayer lackluster compared with previous C&C games, and doesn’t feel like a C&C game anymore. It fell too far from the C&C tree and is only a mediocre game because of it. I think that Starcraft 2 suffers from the opposite problem: it is too close to its forebear.
The original Starcraft was revolutionary. It had three sides (compared with Warcraft 2 and Command and Conquer [the original and Red Alert], which had two sides each) with wildly different art and unit mechanics. Warcraft 3 built upon that model by having four sides and the introduction of heroes. It was a much different experience than Starcraft, and even further from Warcraft 2. And all of those were great games: they took what their predecessors had done and built upon it. I guess I just don’t get that feeling as much with Starcraft 2. I do like the new macro mechanics with each of the races (Spawn Larvae, Mules, and Chrono Boost for Zerg, Terran, and Protoss respectively), multiple building selection, etc., but overall just feel like SC2 could’ve added something, something more substantial than one more button to press every 30 seconds.
I am going to give Blizzard the benefit of the doubt; as I said, I haven’t actually played the game. It looks great and I’m sure that I’ll be on Battle.net soon enough getting destroyed in the Copper league and the use-map settings games that are sure to come up (but so help me, if my buddies force me to play more DotA, I will nerdrage on them).
And that is just the multiplayer component. The singleplayer component is extensive: around 30 missions for the Terran campaign alone. The other races will get their own campaigns in two expansions (Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void). It is my guess that the two expansions will add in something new (apart from new units and missions, I mean), so that the complete SC2 product will be a great successor. I’m just a little nervous that the first release isn’t doing quite enough to add to the genre.
Overall, I think SC2 will be a great game and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of it (or the beta! *nudge nudge wink wink*!).
Until then, I’ll be toying around in Mount & Blade: Warband (report forthcoming) and a brief relapse into Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning.
So, until then, cheers!