Separating Single- and Multi-player in Starcraft II
I’m knee deep in the Starcraft II campaign and greatly enjoying it even though I’m not at home and my laptop is not taking the engine well at all. You are not getting a review from me just yet because I haven’t finished the whole thing, but I’ll take this time to talk about Blizzard’s separation of single-player and multi-player modes.
In Blizzard’s RTS games of old, campaign missions would be very similar to multi-player games. You would build up a base and deal with ever-increasing attacks until you were strong enough to attack and defeat the opponent. Single-player maps would only differ in so far as that the opponent started out with complete bases instead of an even footing but was limited in how he could attack you.
Starcraft II missions rarely take the simple form of build base, build arm, kill opponent , but even those that do offer quite the different experience to multi-player. For one, there are various units available (such as the Goliath) that aren’t available to those who play against other players. You also get to improve certain aspects of your army in between missions. These upgrades vary from a pure improvement of a unit’s strength, through changes in functionality up to complete new units for your use. Finally, single-player missions give you a lot to consider other than killing your opponent. Maybe you are on a map with tides of lava that make mining and travel difficult, or maybe you are simply trying to achieve some bonus objective instead of simply winning the game.
I think this separation is a clever move by Blizzard in general. All the new elements make it so that playing the campaign missions really never gets boring because no mission is like another. there’s always a new unit to use or a new twist to the mission objectives to take care of. I would go so far as to say that there are more fundamentally different missions in Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty than in the whole World of Warcraft.
While great for single player, this would be a pretty bad multi-player experience. Multi-player is about learning, about understanding and recognizing patterns in the game, and about formulating strategies to beat your opponent. You wouldn’t want each multi-player match to have some new unforeseeable twist in it. those twists come from your opponents and part of the fun is predicting what twists they will come up with.
Keen wonders why we can’t use all the units available in single-player when playing against others. Simply put, it would be really hard to balance and in some cases take away from the uniqueness that the individual races have. Additionally it would put quite the strain on the players when suddenly scouting a factory doesn’t mean just mean that you’ll be facing either Hellions, Tanks, or Thors but also leaves the option for Diamondbacks and Vultures. The latter two are also a good example of redundancy in the unit selection available in single-player. Both these two and the Hellions are fast skirmishers with slight differences. One can hit multiple units, one can lay mines, and one can shoot while driving but they all do essentially the same style of hit and run attacks.
These new units are fun in single-player because they allow the level designers to design missions strictly around them (such as the train robbery which greatly favours Diamondbacks), to bring back nostalgic units from Starcraft I without having to think about balance, and to introduce transitory units for the campaign. Medics, for example, were probably added to the game because players weren’t supposed to have flying transports just yet at that stage of the campaign. (The replacement for the Medic in multi-player is the Medivac which can both heal and transport units.) By separating the two types of gameplay, the designers could simply throw the medics in there and be done with it without having to worry about the implications for multi-player.
There are disadvantages as well, of course. You might find the Diamondback to be your new favourite unit and then be quite disappointed when you don’t get to use it against your friends. You also don’t really get prepared for multi-player in the single-player campaign, but that’s expected anyway if you really want to make the campaign enjoyable instead of just a set of battles against AI opponents. All in all I applaud Blizzard for this move and at least the core elements of gameplay stay the same in both modes (*cough*DawnofWarII*cough*).