"Hell, it's about time."
On Saturday, May 19, 2007, Blizzard Entertainment announced the much anticipated sequel to their incalculably popular 1998 real time strategy game, StarCraft (much to the chagrin of Diablo fans worldwide). The announcement was made at Blizzard's World Wide Invitational gaming tournament in Seoul, South Korea.
Now, before reading on, you have to understand a little something about South Korea. StarCraft is something of a cultural phenomenon there. High profile matches are shown on television and the top players are akin to our sports stars. One such player, SlayerS_'BoxeR', real name Lim Yo-Hwan, also known as the "Terran Emperor", reportedly makes the equivalent of $390,000 a year. And this is a game released nearly ten years ago.
So you can imagine the excitement when, after a seven day teaser campaign at Blizzard.com, StarCraft 2 was revealed in front of a crowd of (literally) tens of thousands of South Korean StarCraft devotees.
Big Shoes to Fill
The original StarCraft was released on April 1, 1998 to extreme anticipation. Although the RTS genre had been well established with games such as Dune II, Command & Conquer, Total Annihilation, and Blizzard's own Warcraft and Warcraft II, StarCraft was seen as nothing short of revolutionary. While previous games typically used factions largely mirroring one another, with perhaps small differences high up on the tech tree, StarCraft's Terrans, Zerg, and Protoss were fundamentally different from one another, even down to core gameplay mechanics. Playing the three races almost felt like playing entirely different games.
In spite of the extreme variance between factions, the game was so perfectly balanced that no faction had a significant advantage over another. With the right strategy, a Zerg player could defeat a Terran, a Protoss could defeat a Zerg, Terran could defeat Terran... any combination was possible. This is what made StarCraft great.
In addition to incredible faction design and balancing, StarCraft shipped with a 30 mission single player campaign (ten missions as each faction). The campaign had a rich storyline featuring the rise and fall of empires, the rebirth of a fallen hero, and a civil war in which the player finds themselves allied with a mysterious exiled force.
Later that year saw the release of StarCraft's only expansion pack, Brood War. Brood War introduced new units and technologies for all races while maintaining the perfect balance between them. It also continued the storyline, culminating in a cliffhanger left unfinished for nine years.
StarCraft was extremely well received. It has sold some 9 million copies worldwide (3.5 million in South Korea, a country of 45 million), and can still be found in stores at $40. It won many Game of the Year awards and maintains a 92.3% combined rating at Gamerankings.com. (Brood War ranks at 93.2%.)
It is clear then, that a major concern in StarCraft 2 will be that it cannot hope to live up to its predecessor. Fear not, for the developers have already addressed this concern. The core gameplay will be very similar to StarCraft, with even further differences among the factions. No funny hero units and creeps a la Warcraft III. The same resource management we're familiar with. Just pure, unadulterated, StarCraft.
Everything You Loved About StarCraft and More
Being in development since 2003, StarCraft 2 appears to be quite far along, currently being playable in multiplayer by all three factions. Thus, when the announcement finally came, there was quite a bit to show off.
From what we've seen so far, StarCraft 2 will hold true to everything that made its predecessor great. Despite the all new 3D graphics engine, the style seems very similar to StarCraft. Unit and level design also seem familiar. Fans of the original should know their way around the game with no trouble at all.
That is not to say StarCraft 2 will be a simple graphical update of the original. Each race will receive new units and updates to gameplay mechanics. New units will come at the expense of old ones, as Blizzard has stated that the total unit count for each race will remain the same as it was in Brood War. This was done to ensure that no units go underused, which could easily happen with too much to pick from. Naturally, staples of the series will remain. Protoss Zealots, Zerg Zerglings, and Terran Marines are all making a return appearance. Most of your other favorites will be there as well.
StarCraft 2 will also feature an epic storyline taking place approximately four years after the events of Brood War. The original's Jim Raynor, Zeratul, and, of course, the Queen of Blades herself, Kerrigan will return for the sequel. It has been confirmed that the Xel'Naga, creators of the Zerg and Protoss, will feature in the storyline.
You Must Construct Additional Pylons
Soon after the announcement, Blizzard released an extended gameplay trailer focusing on the Protoss and some of the new units available to that faction. Here's some of what Protoss fans have to look forward to:
- Zealots: The backbone of any Protoss force is the Zealot. These warriors equipped with psi-blades are coming back with a new ability. They will now be able to charge their enemies, quickly closing the gap between themselves and any ranged fighters. Being melee only fighters, this will give the Zealot an essential new tool in taking on enemies with guns.
- Immortals: Since the loss of their homeworld Aiur, the Protoss have been unable to produce the popular Dragoon. Taking its place in the new game is the Immortal. A four-legged mechanical walker like the Dragoon, Immortals have a new ability which makes them extremely valuable. Their hardened shield will activate against any powerful attack, leaving them relatively unharmed. This will make them perfect against Terran siege tanks and their powerful cannon. However, small attacks doing less damage are devastating to the Immortal, as this will not activate their hardened shield.
- Stalker: The Stalker could be thought of as a "Dark Dragoon". These Dark Templar war machines are not terribly strong, but have the ability to "blink" instantaneously to anywhere in their line of sight. They can use this ability to chase down fleeing enemies, or jump up steep terrain, surprising the enemy.
- Phase Prism: The Protoss shuttles of yore have been replaced by the Phase Prism. These transport ships transform Protoss units into pure energy, storing this signal in a crystal matrix until needed. In addition, the Phase Prism has the ability to create an energy field around itself, mimicking a Protoss Pylon. The energy field of a Pylon is what allows Protoss units and buildings to be constructed nearby. Thus, the Phase Prism can be quickly deployed to replace a destroyed Pylon, or sent with a small force to quickly establish new bases.
- Phoenix: The Phoenix light fighter replaces the Scout in this incarnation of StarCraft. It has the ability to overload its weapons, firing in all directions at any nearby craft. However, for a short period after using this ability, the Phoenix shuts down, becoming immobile and unable to attack, leaving itself extremely vulnerable.
- Warp Ray (or Warprey): These ships are equipped with a single, large laser cannon. Damage from this cannon builds slowly when focused on the same target for an extended period of time. This makes the Warp Ray ideal against tough, slow moving targets and especially buildings. However, due to the low starting damage, they are vulnerable to weaker enemies. In the gameplay trailer, Warp Rays are seen attacking a group of Terran Marines. While one or two strikes from a Zealot's psi-blades are enough to kill a Marine, the Warp Ray's cannon focuses on them for several seconds before doing any significant harm. This gives the small guys ample time to take down the Rays while suffering little damage to themselves.
- Colossus: These massive four-legged walkers can dish out huge quantities of damage to numerous enemies. In the gameplay trailer, one is seen killing some thirty Zerglings in a matter of seconds by sweeping its twin lasers over the swarm. The Colossus's huge size allows it to simply walk over sheer cliffs, bypassing natural defenses.
- Mothership: The Protoss Mothership represents the ultimate power in their armies. It will doubtlessly require an extreme commitment of time and resources to construct, and each Protoss player is only allowed to possess one at a time. The Mothership will be able to deploy a "time bomb", creating a bubble around itself inside which time itself slows to a near stop. In the gameplay trailer, we see Terran missiles stopping in mid-air as they approach the Mothership, dropping harmlessly to the ground when the time bomb is through. In addition, the mothership will feature the "planet cracker" weapon, a devastating rain of lasery death to any units and structures directly beneath the mothership. Finally, the Mothership has the ability to create a small black hole which can devour entire fleets of enemy ships. These abilities are in addition to its large compliment of powerful lasers. Truly, the Protoss Mothership will be a force to be reckoned with.
In addition to the new units, Protoss forces will now have the ability to instantly transport their forces anywhere within the influence of a pylon. Combining this with the mobile pylon effect of the Phase Prism will allow the Protoss, with some coordination, to make incredibly quick strikes and surprise attacks anywhere on the map.
Additional Supply Depots Required
While the content revealed thus far focuses on the Protoss faction, there has still been a lot seen about the other factions. First, let's take a look at the Terrans.
Marines, Siege Tanks, Ghosts, and Battlecruisers are all back, appearing largely unchanged from their StarCraft counterparts. Siege Tanks still deploy into a powerful fixed artillery unit, and Battlecruisers still have their powerful Yamato gun. Ghosts can still cloak and target nuclear missile strikes. More abilities for these units may be revealed in the coming months.
Most Terran buildings will still be able to lift off of their foundations and move about the map, at what appears to be a faster speed than before. In one of the trailers released so far, we see a brief shot of a group of Protoss Colossi assaulting a Terran base. In this scene, the Terran missle turrets, previously only able to attack airborn units, are shown firing at the ground unit Colossus. This may simply be due to the height of the Colossus unit.
One new unit of the Terran armies has been revealed. The Reaper infantry unit is equipped with jump jets allowing it to swiftly fly over steep terrain.
Spawn More Overlords
Even less is known about the Zerg than the Terrans, but a few details have nonetheless surfaced. Zerglings and Mutalisks are returning and the base ground and air units. Zerglings will have the new ability to morph into Banelings, which can sacrifice themselves, exploding and splattering enemies with a highly damaging acid.
Joining the Zerg are the new Nydus Worms. These giant tunneling worms serve as either transportation or unit generation, shown in the trailer erupting with as many as a dozen Zerglings.
The strength of the Zerg will again lie in overwhelming numbers. In one shot, we see hundreds of Zerglings swarming over a Protoss base. While the original game suffered from poor unit pathing, often causing swarms of Zerg to move across the map in single file, Zerg in StarCraft 2 will truly swarm over terrain and enemies, moving in a giant unstoppable mass.
Luckily, StarCraft 2 will not be a Windows Vista only game. Unfortunately, this means it will likely not take advantage of updated DirectX 10 graphics effects. However, it will be fully playable in both Vista and XP, taking advantage of DirectX 9 effects. It will also see a simultaneous release the Macintosh platform, which is typical for Blizzard. Naturally, it will ship with powerful editing tools, allowing players to create custom maps and scenarios.
The graphics engine will reportedly support battles of hundreds of units on screen at once, making StarCraft 2 a game of huge armies clashing with one another, as opposed to the small skirmishes of Warcraft III.
The game will have three speed settings, allowing new players to slow down the gameplay while still letting StarCraft veterans speed up the pace to something they're more comfortable with. Multiplayer matches will, depending on the skill of the players and the speed setting, take as little as 15-20 minutes.
When It's Done
In true Blizzard fashion, StarCraft 2 will be released "when it's done". No other word on release date has been mentioned, although it has been confirmed that the game will not make store shelves in 2007. If I had to guess, I would put release around Spring 2008, just in time for the 10th anniversary of StarCraft. With how far along the game appears, this seems possible. It is, of course, pure speculation, but seems to make good sense.
Until then, we have only to wait and watch as the trickle of information about the game comes out. In the meantime, dust off those StarCraft and Brood War discs, it's time to get lost in StarCraft all over again. En Taro Adun!