StarCraft 2 Impressions: My Life for Ire

Observing a Blizzard fan is a painful experience these days. It's like watching a dog being tortured with a bone that's held just out of reach--for years.

They see screenshots. They watch movies. They even get to play the game. "It looks great," they say, ears perked. "It feels like it could be released tomorrow," they write, tails wagging happily. nope And then another year passes. Another set of screenshots. A few more little changes. A couple tweaks here and there. After a while it begins to seem like, if they're lucky, their children might be able to enjoy the game.

The problem is, Blizzard does such a great job of polishing their demonstrations--Diablo III being the most recent example--that we naturally overestimate the state of their projects.

At BlizzCon last year, StarCraft II seemed like it could have shipped by Christmas 2007. Of course, the reality is that we'll be lucky to see it before Christmas 2009.

The content hasn't been finalized yet. The mechanics have yet to reach that perfect Blizzard balance. The new Battle.net isn't close to being done. The sound work has barely begun, and the music consists of temp tracks from the original StarCraft.

But what I saw on the show floor at PAX was impressive nonetheless.

Graphically speaking, the game is in a great place. The colors and textures have been refined from their initial saturation, and now appear appropriately gritty.

As a StarCraft fanatic, just watching Zerg drones collect resources is hypnotic. Every returning unit has been brilliantly translated to 3D, and in motion, they look fantastic. I had no trouble picking them out from the background--they all had as much pop as you'd expect in a game that requires quick unit selection.

From a gameplay standpoint, I hit a few more snags than I expected. A new Vespene gas mechanic had me confused for a while. There are now two geysers per base, but they carry only 600 gas each. You have to order a geyser to be replenished, which costs 100 minerals and puts the geyser out of commission for 45 seconds.

Gone from previous versions of the game are the Queen's abilities to create defensive units. Now more akin to the original StarCraft, Drones can morph into Spine or Spore Crawlers, defensive turrets that are built on the Creep. As with the new Protoss Photon Cannon, Crawlers can be replanted onto any point on the Creep, though they are quite vulnerable when being moved.

Perhaps the most jarring change to the original game's build hierarchy is that of the Hydralisk. The infamous multi-purpose workhorses are now buried in the advanced build menu, unable to be spawned until after an upgrade of the Hive. Now the Roach fulfills its ground duties, the Hydra being more useful in anti-air scenarios--though it can of course still be morphed into the powerful Lurker.

But even with new tweaks and changes to deal with, the game remains instantly familiar. Many of the hotkeys are still identical to those in StarCraft. The UI is still remarkably similar. For a moment, as I carried out a six-ling rush, old Zerg tunes blaring in the background, I almost felt like I was home, playing the finished sequel.

A horde of Protoss, bolstered by a few of the new laser-armed Colossus units, ripped me back to reality a few moments later.

Delusional dog that I am, I can only look forward to getting some more time in with the game. Signs point to October's BlizzCon, and a fresh build, as the next opportunity for Blizzard to throw us a bone.