The year was 1998 and Blizzard was releasing its hotly anticipated newest Real Time Strategy, StarCraft.  They knew it was a great game and they knew it was going to be huge, but I doubt they ever really anticipated the effect the game would have on the industry.  How many games consistently made it on the December sales list multiple years in a row?  Game life is measured in weeks and if you’re lucky, months.  Not for StarCraft, a professional sport and a game still going strong a decade past its release.  Now, 12 years after the release of the original we finally get the sequel to the story that many of us desperately wanted.  But let’s get to the point, is it worth the money?  Simply – Yes.

The same… and yet so very different.

Blizzard understands that the franchise is an exceptionally strong one with a massive passionate fan base.  Drastically altering the game play would be detrimental and so they’ve elected to keep things very similar to the original game.  A side by side screenshot makes it very clear that not only are both games very similar but that the art has been drastically updated – so much has changed and improved in 12 years!

The original and the updated. They may be called “stalkers” now, but they’ll always be goons to me.

Multiplayer

Multiplayer has always remained my haven, my home, the place I spent 5 glorious years of my life.  However I’m the oddity – I went to tournaments, played at massive LANs at a friend’s house, and minored in StarCraft at my college (though my college still is unaware that I had a minor).  Multiplayer is still the same glorious game that it was back then with some changes, but I’m glad to see that the major components to the game are still fully intact.  The balance will be an ongoing process as it is with every Blizzard game, but hopefully we’ll see some changes in the future.  Why?  Because people still only create Ultralisks as a way of telling the other player just how much they suck (the ultimate put down).  And sadly templars have a beautiful ability that is easy to avoid and can’t attach to a unit, so combined with their slow movement… well, they’re simply not useful.  I’m not suggesting that we return to “Warcraft 3 v1.3: Caster Domination”, but they could use a little help.  Macromanagement on the field seems worth much more than micromanagement at the moment!

Updated with less phallic symbols

Looks the same and yet so much cooler.

Even more disgusting than the original but I can’t take my eyes off of it.

Single Player

Before I start this section I will simply be frank with you: I never finished StarCraft or StarCraft: Brood Wars Single Player Campaign.  Yes.  I played the game for over *5* years straight and failed to finish the campaign.  The whole “playing with friends” and “mercilessly destroying the dreams of my opponents” was too much of a draw for me to settle down and just play the single player.  However, the single player in StarCraft 2 looks much too interesting for me to skip with upgrades, achievements, gorgeous cinematics (covered below), and interesting mission design.

However, I do think it’s a bit odd that you have to log into StarCraft to play the Single Player Campaign.  I do understand that it’s about piracy and other odds and ends, but in the end I’ve known more people who chose to play Starcraft because they played their friend’s game on LAN and loved it (more on LAN below).  Oh, and one final thing – if you’re expecting the single player to teach you to play online, I’d suggest instead trial by fire instead.  Learn a cookie cutter build and practice against the A.I. first if you must, but really the most you’ll learn is from playing other people and just watching replays!  The single player has many units that are not available in multiplayer and the upgrading system won’t help you in multiplayer.

The concept art is absolutely stunning.

Cine… wow

As always, the cinematic team has completely outdone themselves and created absolutely gorgeous movies.  The team has obviously grown in size and ability.  The number of cinematics in this game is easily three to four times as many as any previous game and they are absolutely stunning.  Don’t take my word for it though – the picture speaks for itself.  And if the picture isn’t enough, the thing I love the most is that my friends can message me during a cinematic and it actually shows!

The picture is worth many words, but only one comes out. “Wow” *falls over from forgetting to breathe*

Critters Go Pop

Even though Blizzard has been acquired by Activision it’s nice to know that their quality and pride in their games has not diminished.  It may seem small and minor, but it’s those final touches that really make a game special and memorable long beyond other games have come and gone.  And I smiled, giggled, and otherwise was thoroughly excited when I clicked on the Lyote multiple times until he exploded.  Ah, some things haven’t, and shouldn’t, change.

Exploding things is still fun. This will never get old.

Sound

The sound is what you would expect of a high class game, but I admit most of the time I don’t listen to it because I’m caught up in the amazing game play.  It’s wonderful in that you can listen to it for hours and it doesn’t detract at any point from the game play and yet offers very important cues to alert the player to major events.  In Single Player I spend more time listening to the music and it brings back memories and is quickly working on making more (especially music in the hub – I laughed a lot at the country twangs).  My favorite game music still goes to Act 5 City Music for Diablo 2 because the sweeping orchestral was the absolute best I’ve ever heard (I’d load the game and sit in the city just to listen to it), but Starcraft’s songs are perfect for the genre and game.

Watching this in action as the tentacle goes through all the holes in the ground is disgusting. Then there’s the “squishing” sound that accompanies it…”

No LAN Support!!

This is a big negative about the game.  Gone are the days of 20 people in a single house, wired to a network, playing StarCraft and killing each other while actually smack talking face to face in a friendly manner.  I understand the issues of piracy and other problems, but I’m hoping they will reconsider their position on LAN in the upcoming expansions.  Though I admit there is one thing I won’t miss from LAN parties – a bunch of drunk guys sleeping together on the floor and having one snuggle you in his sleep.  Ew.

No Chat Rooms

I miss hanging out with my old friends in StarCraft and had looked forward to possibly chilling out with them in Starcraft 2.  Unfortunately, since I fell out of touch with them and I don’t know their RealID, there’s no good way for me to actually talk to them!  Without that level of personal interaction and guild building that the original had, the social aspect of the game is much lower than I had anticipated.  So in the meantime if those guys from PGL 4 are around (such as Jolly, Kain, Montaro, Grrrr…, and many others), well, I miss you!  I still remember Olive Garden in NYC during the Battletop Competition and that restaurant trip during PGL4.

Conclusion

As expected, Blizzard has done a wonderful job creating a gorgeous game that will be enjoyed by millions for years to come.  For Real Time Strategy lovers like myself who enjoy a vast array of strategy and tactics, this is the next major era for us!  Now enough of this article, I’m off to play some StarCraft.  I hope you’ll join me!