I have fond memories of playing Warcraft II at LAN parties, struggling to get the network connection just right to allow the games to sync up with one another.I will forever remember the multiplayer setup screen theme music of Warcraft 2, with its crescendos and feverish tempo which only served to heighten the adrenaline rush of a successful connection and subsequent beat-down.
That was almost a decade ago, and Blizzard, you've come a long way, baby. I had an opportunity to sit down with the StarCraft II beta this week, and as jaded a veteran of the boom and rush as I may be, I find that it not only meets but also exceeds my expectations. Notably, StarCraft II is for the most part a graphics revamp of the original game. The tactics are still there - the tried and true zerg rush, turtling with Protoss, the pesky Terran penchant for bunkers in all the wrong places.
But Blizzard has gone further. The multiplayer interface is divine in its simplicity. Gone are the clunky machinations of uncertain matchmaking. You click, it finds you a game. The interface itself presents a seamless transition between the game and Battle.net. The prompts are informative and nearly everything takes place from one integrated, elegantly laid out screen. Multiplayer matching is wholly painless, a welcome evolution from the days of router forwarding and IP exchanging.
My first few matches, I found myself gravitating towards my old faves-- Protoss boom, Zerg rush, staples of any old school StarCraft player. It surprised me how quickly I fell back into the old build order. After amassing what I thought was a sizable force on one map, I set out to blast my opposition's resource gathering outposts. Too late, I happened upon a plateau covered in photon cannons guarding a gold-colored outcropping of minerals.
I was obliterated in short order, and learned a stern lesson that while some things stayed the same, there were new elements to consider. Golden minerals are worth far more per chunk than regular blue ones, and so tend to provide the owner with a massive boost, although it paints them as a giant target. Another feature worth looking out for are distractions and stealthy environmentals like smoke, which can hide enemy units. Xel'Naga towers, activated by proximity, can reveal large swaths of territory among other functions.
Auto-cast is a much welcome addition, and players who lose too many buildings find themselves revealed on the map to prevent the lonesome supply depot hidden in a corner from denying a victory. From what I've seen so far of the game, StarCraft II is set to be a quality sequel deserving of the title. Fans of the original StarCraft will find comfort in being able to jump right back in with a healthy smattering of new units and strategies to employ.
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