StarCraft 2 is a dear old friend returning after a decade's absence, now toting several mutant limbs and a rather fetching moustache--instantly familiar and comfortable yet fresh and exciting all over again. I jumped straight in and felt I could well have been playing StarCraft for the first minutes, making probes and gathering resources while I began building up.
The new units are the change which jumped out at me most. Whether completely original--such as the jetpacking Terran Reapers--or replacements for units from the original StarCraft--the Hellion flamethrower buggy, for example--all feel complete within their own rights and fit well into the lineup.
Environmental obstacles shake play up a little too, with destructible rocks used to block passages while visual barriers such as dense smoke or tall grass conceal units. There are also 'watchtowers' which grant sight within a large radius. They could add a lot of strategy for high-level players and for the rest of us, it's a nice bit of spice.
The biggest change seems so far to be the an increase in the number of available abilities and options. The Protoss Stalker, for example, serves to replace the Dragoon but is bolstered by a new 'Blink' teleport upgrade while Zealots' passive moment speed upgrade now also grants an active 'Charge,' adding a small but welcome extra level of interaction and control. On the home front, the Zerg Queen picks up several base-boosting abilities such as spawning extra larva at a hatchery, while Terran production structures can be upgraded with either a Tech Lab to produce advanced units or a Reactor to build two units at once. There are scores of other similar small additions, simply giving players more to decide upon and do.
Presentation is slick, as one would expect from Blizzard. The graphics are attractive, clear and perfectly suited to the task, with the classic StarCraft slightly stylised look. The soundtrack also follows StarCraft's lead, though the Zerg now have even darker ambient-industrial and the Terran western elements are played up to produce some fine twangy space-rock. Unit sounds are as enjoyable and quotable as ever.
Only multiplayer and AI skirmish modes are currently available, with 1v1, 2v2 and FFA on offer. Players are first offered five beginner matches, played against other beginners on maps where the bases are initially sealed up behind destructible rocks--meaning you can safely acclimatise to the game without facing rushes off the bat. You can skip the beginner matches, in which case you'll still face ten "placement matches" before the Battle.net matchmaking is able to find suitable opponents for you.
All feels very much like a sequel to StarCraft. Warcraft III's influence can be felt in how more units have more active abilities but there's no doubting this game's heritage. Considering how brilliant SC was, this is a very good thing.
StarCraft 2, then, is a video game I'm quite bad at but hugely enjoying. Those of you lucky enough to also be playing, how are your experiences so far? If you're still waiting, what are you most looking forward to?
The StarCraft 2 closed beta launched yesterday. The US and GB clients are available direct from FileShack, though you still need a Battle.net account with beta access to play. StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty is slated for release on PC in mid-2010.