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It's been over a decade in coming. Starcraft 2. Probably the most anticipated and definitely the most hyped title of the last couple years. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill. It's interesting the road that Blizzard/Activision has chosen to go down.
I'm going to get this out of the way right off the bat: Starcraft 2 is fun to play. Starcraft 2 is beautiful to see. Starcraft 2 continues the story that we were left hanging in the middle of back in the 90s. The cutscenes and production values are top notch, which is what we've come to expect from blizzard as long as we've known them.
Now that that's all out of the way, I can start griping uninterrupted.
A lot of people say that instead of Starcraft 2, it should be called Starcraft HD. That's what it feels like. The game is a lot prettier and fully 3D, and despite the addition of new units and situations to the game, it still plays exactly like Starcraft 1/Broodwar. The units still clump the same, behave the same, are ordered around the same. Unlike the transition from warcraft 2 to 3, Starcraft 2 does not have the option for your units to move in formation (they just all clump and move the exact same way they did in starcraft). There's the same amount of moderate micromanagement, the same resource gathering, the same... well, everything. It feels like a pretty polish job on a new starcraft 1 expansion.
Now, that can be good or bad, depending on your perspective. The original starcraft definitely had its merits - there was a reason why it sold so well, and why in Korea, to this day, they still have professional Starcraft Leagues where players can pull down 6 figures... from playing starcraft. This sequel is probably the least jarring sequel I've ever experienced - an expert at Starcraft 1 will find no real new learning curve to starcraft 2, as no inputs or tactics have really changed all that much. It will make the Koreans pretty happy, I'm guessing. But for those of us who long ago moved on from Starcraft to Company of Heroes, Dawn of War, and Supreme Commander, it feels like going back down to the minor leagues. The genre has grown and developed since 1998... evolved. Cover dynamics have come in to play, new gameplay modes and victory conditions, epic changes in scope and scale... but starcraft 2 remains stubbornly loyal to its roots, and it feels like going back to read Dr. Seuss after you've spent the last 10 years reading Tolkien, Heinlein and Tolstoy. Sure, it can stir good feelings of nostalgia, but it's a bit bland.
If you've got steam shooting out of your ears at this point, just go back and read paragraph 2 again. It was fun to play, I guess I was just expecting something as revolutionary again today as the first Starcraft was in 98. Perhaps that's my fault for believing the hype. But the blame for that hype rests firmly on Activision/Blizzard's shoulders.
So those were the design decisions that I found "interesting." Sticking to the formula of what worked in SC1, not breaking out into any new experimental paradigms, for better or worse. Now we get into the business decisions... most of which are the reasons why the amazon ratings for Starcraft 2 are pretty much evenly split between 5 stars and 1 star. Bobby Kotick, head honcho of Activision/Blizzard has made it no mystery where he stands when it comes to gamers. He sees them as cash cows to be milked and discarded. He has no love for video gaming. If you needed an example of the stereotypical businessman who cares about nothing but the bottom line, you need look no further than Bobby Kotick. If he could find some way to legally kick you in the crotch and take your money from you while you twitch on the pavement, he would form a business empire around it. His influence is clearly felt in the business model for Starcraft 2.
There's no LAN play allowed, for one. The game is absolutely, positively, inseperably married to the battle.net service. Plainly, Blizzard was in mind to curb piracy AND to force every single person who wanted to play multiplayer to buy their own copy. I can't speak to how successful the latter has been, but judging from statistics on torrent sites, there's still been quite enough piracy to go around. Despite that, however, Starcraft 2 has been the fastest selling strategy game in video game history. Tell me again how the PC gaming market is dead, Mr Video Game publishers?
Battle.net "2.0" also doesn't let you play with people outside your region. If you live in australia or europe and want to play with an american friend, you're pretty much SOL. Features from previous battle.net games are missing, to the annoyance of many. Also very unsettling is the idea that adding "friends" or posting on the official forum reveals your real life information to the not so tender mercies of the internet. Maybe you don't care if your name is John Smith, but people with unique names or who are revealed to be "a girl IRL" might find themselves unduly harassed. Now, Blizzard HAS decided to back off on this requirement... for now. The uproar was just too overwhelming I guess, but I personally do not feel comfortable that they might not do something else similar in the future and NOT back off from it, considering their recent track record of bad ideas and disregard for their customer base as individuals (to which anyone who has ever tried to get support in World of Warcraft can attest).
But, by far the most egregious sin of B/A and Starcraft 2 is the pricing and the division. Starcraft 2 only comes with the terran campaign. It costs 60 dollars. We've been told that the other two campaigns will be made available later as for-pay expansions. Can't you hear Bobby Kotick wringing his hands and smiling? In my opinion, it is NOT a good thing that games have been becoming shorter and shorter over the last decade. Probably the most blatant example of this are the notoriously short single player campaigns of the Modern Warfare games. These days, 9 or 12 hours of single player content seems to be the average, and that's just sad. Remember how many levels there were in Doom 2? Remember how long you spent on Starcraft 1 and its expansions? It's more than a little disappointing to find that the only concept that Starcraft 2 has adopted from its contemporaries is diminished length of content. And don't give me "multiplayer," every game has that (or should), and it doesn't count any more than the ability to make custom maps - it's players making the game longer and more interesting, not developers.
So let's sum up my impressions of Starcraft 2: Expensive, content starved, fun but dated gameplay, flashy and pretty visuals, no LAN, and a dash of invasion of privacy thrown in.
All in all, I'd have to say my recommendation for this game is to wait until it all comes out in a battle chest, then wait for that battle chest to hit the bargain bin. You waited 12 years, you can probably wait a couple more. Not that you ever listen to me.
Yahtzee refuses to review Starcraft. I expect to have my review of Starcraft 2 done by next week.
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