I’m not going into a lot of detail here as I’m sure there’s something in the beta agreement that says I can’t share much, but I will give my general impressions of the gameplay and such that you may have already seen, but not experienced as yet. This information is subject to change as the beta is still on-going but please have a read below to find my thoughts on this edition of the StarCraft Saga.
One of the things I noticed right away, as would any of us I’m sure, is how completely different the UI seems to be. Upon closer inspection though, I think you’ll find that the OLMP interface is really just a nicely integrated Battle.net match console. The interface is cleanly laid out with a noticable upgrade in resolution, which I am so very, very happy about, and you also have access to the game options from here for your personal settings. All this is similar to the original starcraft, but instead of having to access the main menu or navigate to some other location for settings, it’s all done in one place. I can see available matches, sign up for practice league, create a game, etc. I can also practice against the AI if I’m even too chicken to hit up the practice league, which I am right now. I didn’t want to take a possibly really long time to get acquainted with the game and it’s new spiffiness while wasting someone else’s time, so I did it using the AI.
One of the first things I did is to max out the graphics and other visual settings as high as I could and still try to play the game. On my system, a Core2Duo with 4GB RAM, Nvidia graphics with 512MB, and Windows 7 X64 Ultimate, i noticed a lot of lag, not even on-line mind you. (Everything was set to “ULTRA” at this point, not high as that was not good enough for me) So I played for a bit, and then a funny thing happened. StarCraft 2, the game, told me my computer was slowing down performance and to make some changes. Mind you these changes weren’t specifically identified, but they did suggest the obvious, “turn down your graphics settings”. Which I actually promptly did because I could tell I was just whacking myself. So I changed the resolution from 1680×1050 to 1440×1050. Damn, I still got the message. Well, I conceded the point and turned down stuff from Ultra to Medium and played nice with the system, and still turned my resolution back to 1680×1050. At this point the game was definitely playable and I didn’t have any real issues to speak of graphically, and it was still quite a magical experience. The map elements include animations of the environment that just look awesome. Dust, clouds, birds, fog, chasms which shoot lightning bolts, animals, etc. It was pretty cool just to be able to see it for myself on my own system. (Geeeez I hope the Mac version comes soon so I can try it on the iMac without having to boot into Windows!) But I digress.
The actual HUD at the bottom will also be very familiar to the veteran StarCraft player as all of the same elements are there, but instead of having a lot of unused graphic space, it’s pretty much all used for something now. Very much like the latest Command and Conquer 3 and 4 player HUDs, but now we have more StarCraft specific information. Oh I’m so happy just thinking of it. I always hated all that unused space in the original StarCraft. That said, we have some additions to the whole screen environment too. A link to the “Main Menu”, which the menu itself can still be accessed via hot-key, is now present on the screen at all times, but I believe that the “status ribbon” can be turned off anytime via the Options in the Main menu. Status alerts also pop up on the left side of the screen with both icons and hover over messages to describe what the icon means. There are even audio messages to go along with them when clicked which, if I’m not interested in reading, is a bit of help since I’m probably just paying attention to the action on the screen behind the HUD anyway.
One other thing about the UI that I also liked was that the map wasn’t simply black. It was greyed out so as not to show you who’s where, but you do get to see if the opponent might be using Sensor Towers and will be high-lighted with a colored ring to denote the space where sensors can detect. I don’t know what to make of this just yet, but it didn’t seem to matter to the massive throttling I gave to my AI opponent. 🙂 That computer didn’t know what hit it.
Let me mention the unit information too. You all have seen the new units for the Terrans on StarCraft2.com but playing and using them is quite a treat. The FireBats are gone of course, but you still have the Ghosts and Marines. What’s in between is the differentiator between SC1 and SC2, just right off the start. The Barracks now can’t just build any unit so long as you have an engineering bay and Armory, you actually get to upgrade the barracks themselves with one of two options and that determines if you can pump out lots of marines (2 queues in one barracks) or if you can create more advanced units (Psycho and Armored). Think of them like the addons for the Factory. Only in this game, you get two addons for the factory too! One helps deliver faster smaller vehicles and the other allows you to deliver advanced vehicles (the Thor and the Siege Tank) Man is the Thor fun. Takes a long time to build, but if you can get them built, charged up, and deployed to a location without any major damage, they can really tear things up. I won my game against the computer with one Thor and a bunch of Siege Tanks. I can’t wait to try this against non-Terran competitor and see how this works.
I really could go on forever about this, but those were my main likes about the match I played. Another thing you can do is upgrade your base in one of two ways as well. Satellite accessory or Defense accessory. The Defense one is nice because if your opponent sends in a someone to snoop around, your base can defend itself a little bit. You’ll need to build missile towers though in-case they send in a flying vehicle. Maybe obvious, but I just don’t want you getting the wrong impression about this new upgrade. It only works against terrestrial enemies, no flyers.
I found it pretty easy to make money during my game. Not too much of an issue, pretty normal as to what you’d expect drones, SCVs, etc to do. I also enjoyed the fact you can call in a harvester of sorts as a Terran. It only lasts a short amount of time, but can collect more than SCVs can and can be re-called after the recharge period is up, so if you need to accelerate cash flow, that’s an idea who’s time has come. I bumped from 700 to over 2500 during the harvester’s time. That was pretty awesome to me. Also, the economic status is viewable and available during replay, along with many other real-time metrics, to help you figure out which thing you need to focus on to help you succeed next time. Blizzard *really* thought a lot about the player, and now I can see why it took so long. They did an awesome job on how to interact with the game, each other, and I’m expecting the single player campaigns to just be ridiculous.
So far, it’s just plain fun. Feels like StarCraft, sounds like StarCraft, but this isn’t your father’s StarCraft. It’s new, certainly more exciting than the first one, and the folks at Blizzard have given us a lot to work with as far as the platform for mods and default game elements. The sound track is a lot like the original but new, and updated. Has that Fresh Beta Smell. So I’m impressed for now to be sure, and I look forward to putting in more time on this game and reporting back about the different aspects as I uncover them by playing the different races as well. Thanks Blizzard for making such a simply great game with lots of improvements. Oh yeah, you can now play in windowed mode too!