Tuesday, May 22, 2007

StarCraft 2 Preview

[source: ActionTrip.com]

I'm sure you'd all agree that a developer like Blizzard needs no introduction. Neither does their renowned franchise StarCraft. The recent announcement finally exposed a wave of media and information on StarCraft 2, a real-time strategy that's destined to continue the classic from 1998.

What we have here is, basically, a lot of bugs that need to be squashed.

They just keep coming...

Taking Korea by storm, Blizzard's announcement soon echoed throughout the world, probably reaching the eyes and ears of every geek this side of the universe. Before long, the facts were right before us, so let us take a closer look at what the game is all about.

One of the first things Blizzard confirmed at the press conference in Korea is that StarCraft 2 has been in the works since the company released Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne in 2003. Since then, the developers were carefully tweaking and improving upon the game, waiting for the opportune moment. And, as everyone knows, they were also busy with developing and maintaining World of Warcraft (but with a separate, dedicated team).

The single-player campaign in SC 2 features a completely new chapter in the StarCraft storyline, taking place exactly four years after the events of the Starcraft expansion pack - Brood War. As the main story unfolds, you'll get to experience the game through the perspectives of three factions: Terrans (the humans), the swarming alien race called the Zerg and the mysterious Protoss. Every race is governed by a capable leader. Officer Jim Raynor is stepped out as one of the greatest Terran leaders. The Zerg, on the other hand, have their own skilled champion, named Kerrigan, who was once a Terran soldier until she got "infested" by the Zerg. And finally, the Protoss are guided by a "dark templar" called Zeratul.

This time around, you'll march through many uncharted regions and worlds, such as Bel'Shir, the new Protoss refuge, which fell into ruin following the Zerg invasion. Next off, players will be visiting the deep-space Terran base of Braxis Alpha and even recognizable locations like Char, the home planet of the Zerg.

Gradually, you are introduced to all the crucial characters and races. Apart from the Terrans, Zerg and Protoss, another important alien race was mentioned - the enigmatic Xel'Naga. Apparently, their role is essential to the plot. For one thing, the Xel'Naga helped both the Protoss and the Zerg grow into what they are. (Freaking Space Naga bastards. I knew they were building a rocket ship at the Coilfang Reservoir. - 2Lions)

Blizzard was careful not to let any details slip in relation to the single-player narrative. So, at this point, I'm afraid that's all we know about the story and characters.

The meat of the game, of course, lies in the mix of its impressively designed units. Battles are going to require quick thinking and knowing when to make the right move - which units to send against a specific type of enemy, which unit is best suited for a certain type of terrain and so on. The demonstration of the game introduced us to cool new units, such as the huge Protoss Mothership. Slowly advancing across the map, the Protoss Mothership demonstrated its capability of fighting against multiple enemy aircraft. At the same time, it was equipped with powerful rays that kept vaporizing every opposing unit on the ground. Opposing factions are strengthened by their own powerful units, which, unfortunately remain under wraps at this time.

Gifted with the ability to manipulate time and space, the Protoss continue to bewilder their enemies. They use gateways, structures that are capable of opening a spatial rift to transport armies from the base directly into the middle of a distant battlefield. This requires a considerable amount of energy and it can only work if it is powered by the so-called psionic matrix, which, in turn, must be formed by a network of pylons or phase prisms.

There also appears to be a decent unit balance at play. It's going to be up to gamers to combine the unique abilities of all the units, in order to overcome the enemy. Another important point is Blizzard's firm resolve to stick with the traditional gameplay mechanics from the original StarCraft. Factions base their strength on carefully planned out battle plans and, naturally, on sheer unit numbers. More importantly, unlike WarCraft 3, StarCraft 2 will not feature any hero units to boost unit power and help shift the course of battle in your favor. Instead, several other tactical opportunities were shown. For example, similarly to EA's C&C series, players may wipe their opponents clean off the map with the ability to execute powerful nuclear launches.

While they are meticulously designing every aspect of gameplay, the developers are also striving to convey an epic atmosphere, allowing for huge battles and large skirmishes with as many as 300 units onscreen at once.

Behold, the Phase Prism!

This is our rock, so be gone!

As for the graphics, it's obvious, judging from the footage and screenshots, that the designers, animators and programmers, once again, did what they do best. Character artwork as well as the creature designs are excellent and boast the traditional Blizzard coolness. Though it's definitely too early to say for sure, but from what we could tell StarCraft 2 sports a sound frame rate even at this stage, with solid number of highly detailed units on the screen and an equally impressive backdrop. As usual, the splendid graphics are accompanied by first-rate sound effects and a catchy soundtrack that fits perfectly into the in-game ambiance.

Gamers packing next-gen PC graphic cards will be disappointed to learn that Starcraft 2, in its present state, does not support DX10 graphics. However, it does carry all the benefits of DirectX 9.0, such as the Pixel Shader 2.0, HDR lighting, etc.

Blizzard is planning to include a map editor to ensure a growing SC community. Not much is known about multiplayer features, other than the fact that the game will allow online matches via Battle.net.

Presently, the renowned developer has around 40 people working intently on StarCraft 2 and from what was revealed thus far, the game seems to be coming along just fine. They also didn't want to point to any specific release dates. Instead, they prefer to leave things open, saying the game will be out "when it's done."

It's comforting to know that they are taking their time and that the core team isn't pressed with any strict deadlines. What's more, they are concentrating on PC version exclusively, with no plans to bring the game to consoles at this point.

While the dust still needs to settle from the recently held press event Korea, we are eager to bring you our E3 coverage in July, at which time we expect to have a closer look at StarCraft 2.

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