Monday, August 9, 2010

The Wait Is Over

Blizzard finally released the first part of Starcraft 2 at the end of July, some 12 years after the Brood War expansion for the original game. It's not doing too badly for itself; I read that it is already the best-selling PC title of this year, that it is the fastest selling strategy game ever, and it has a pretty impressive metascore so far. I've had a chance to give it a try this last week.

I'm impressed with the layout of the single player campaign; when I read that Blizzard wanted to separate it from the multiplayer, to make it more objective based, I thought they were going to go the same route as Relic did in the campaign of Dawn of War 2 and make a series of those "dungeon crawl" missions. However, most of the levels still allow base building, but they manage to throw in an unique variable into each of the levels to change it up from the norm. In addition, they've used the disconnect from multiplayer to include a whole range of units they couldn't balance effectively for competitive game. It's a really good way of handling the campaign.

I'm not sure I'm too big a fan of the storytelling, though. Jim Raynor shifts unconvincingly between goofy and driven, the news reports it plays between missions are heavy-handed and the whole atmosphere seems a little... lightweight. It's not Mass Effect, certainly, but maybe it was never meant to be. I'm about 12 missions into the campaign, so it is probably unfair for me to pass judgement on the whole storyline yet, but I do feel it is a bit slow, that it lacks the urgency it needs. There is a simple reason for this; the game is too drawn out. Blizzard decided early on to split Starcraft 2 into 3 games, so they've had to bloat the campaign to make it full-length. There are too many side missions, and the game doesn't drive the importance of these to the main threat of the Zerg invasion. I think the campaign of Chaos Rising was only 10 or 12 missions in total, but that far into Starcraft 2 I feel like things are still building up. I'm not sure I agree with Blizzard that they had too much story to tell for just one game, I think they've just got used to doing things slowly so they can continue to sell to people.

In the campaign, the desire to get more units and move the story forward, combined with the unique aspects of most of the missions, keeps you going, but the basic gameplay itself feels like a throwback. I still believe the original Starcraft to have been the best RTS ever, in terms of how good it was for its time. It had a great setting and a strong story, but these elements are subjective, it was also revolutionary to the genre. It was probably the first RTS with completely differentiated races, going far beyond what Command & Conquer had done. By comparison, Starcraft 2 seems very conservative. It still only has 3 races, and it doesn't really have anything fundamentally different from what the original had, over 12 years ago. The genre has moved forward, but Blizzard have elected not to. They can probably argue that they didn't want to fix what wasn't broken, but I agree with a recent Penny Arcade post which stated that there is "a safety in thought and deed here that borders on cowardice." The game is brand new, after an extremely long development period, yet it already feels old in certain respects.

I haven't tried much of the multiplayer yet. My first attempt at a co-op game was crippled by lag despite having only two local players, which must have been a server-side anomaly. I've had 3 1v1 multiplayer games, in the training league which slows the game down and protects your base with barriers that need to be destroyed. The first two games I was building away steadily when a couple of Battlecruisers floated in and crippled my defenses (which was particularly annoying as I used to hate the turtle and battlecruiser swarm tactic in the first Starcraft). The third game I decided to try that same strategy for myself and just mine furiously until I could deploy battlecruisers; I would have been zealot-rushed if it wasn't for the novice map's protection of the base entrance, but eventually I did manage to build 4 or 5 battlecruisers. My opponent, however, had built almost a full screen's worth of Protoss stalkers, and they eventually overwhelmed my base. While I'm clearly still very bad at the game, in all 3 cases I felt like I was out-built rather than out-fought.

There's an impressive amount of polish in the game, as one would expect when a game takes many years and reportedly $100 million to make, but I would have liked to have seen a little more from it. Perhaps Blizzard were worried that to make too many changes would endanger the inherent "Starcraftiness" of the game. Whatever the reason, they've picked their market deliberately, and so far it seems that market is entirely satisfied. Sadly, however, I'm not sure I'm part of that market.

No comments:

Post a Comment