Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Ten Good Things About Starcraft II

As promised today’s post will talk about ten good things about Starcraft II. But not any ten good things, oh no, a very specific random collection of what comes to my mind first. If you are interested in criticism (and new to this blog!), check out Friday’s ten bad things about the game. Enough of that though, it’s all fun and games from here on out!

Respect Your Roots

Some have complained about this, but I absolutely love that Starcraft II stays very true to its roots. The game mechanics are very similar to the 12 year old predecessor and even many of the units of old have stayed in the game. Starcraft II is not some kind of re-imagining with lots of innovation for innovation’s sake. Instead the game stays true to game mechanics that have been enjoyed for the past 12 years and only refines them and adds a little here and there. Many games of old didn’t really age well and wouldn’t do well if simply redone today with better graphics but Starcraft is not one of those games.

Actual Strategy

If we look at modern games like Dawn of War II we tend to see tactic games thinly disguised in a veil of strategy with an added pinch of RPG elements thrown in for good measure. Tactics matter in Starcraft II as well as seen in the importance of unit positioning, but without strategy you don’t get very far. It is important where you put your focus in building your base and what units you produce and it is almost equally important to have a plan for the future of the game. Currently players come up with new exiting strategies all the time which in turn cause their opponents to develop strategies that can beat those that just became all the rage. The development of such a metagame – a game outside the game in which you try to preempt your opponents moves with new ones of your own making – is a very important aspect of a successful strategy game for me.

Easy to Learn, Impossible to Master

You can get into Starcraft II easily enough, even if you have never played a strategy game before. Hell, I’d even say if you’d never played a computer game before. You can run the single-player campaign on casual mode and really shouldn’t have any issues whatsoever. From there on there are 3 additional levels of difficulty available (and you can change the difficulty right before you start each mission in case things get boring or too rough) so that the single-player campaign should really provide entertainment to pretty much any caliber of player playing it.

There is a slight bump in the road when you jump into multi-player for the first time from single player and you might encounter too many players that are plain better than you. In general the matchmaking system is pretty good though and it should quickly start matching you up with players that suit your skills better. Especially once the game has settled in a bit and we don’t have loads of experienced players starting fresh this experience should be much smoother. From there on you can pretty much always get better. Even if you are a professional gamer, Starcraft always leaves room for improvement and something to look forward to.

Actions per minute (APM) are a good example of this. The more APM you have, the better you can control both your army and the building of your base at the same time. A mediocre player like me might hit fifty actions per minute while the professionals hit 300, but even they lose focus from time to time in intense moments which is something they surely would like to work on. But APM are not the only thing that you can improve in, just the one that’s simplest to measure. You could improve your scouting and your general map awareness, you could improve the order in which you build your base and find places to shave off a few minerals in order to afford something that you previously couldn’t, or you could improve your knowledge of opposing strategies so that you can respond to them better.

The Balance

I’m sure the game isn’t as perfectly balanced as Broodwar just yet and maybe it never will be, but the balance is already pretty darn good. You see all races being played and winning and the whine threads about race X being overpowered are about equal in number for any value of X. It is incredibly difficult to balance a game at every level of play, but I believe Blizzard has done a fairly good job at it so far. If there are issues, those are mostly on the lower levels of play skill because “lesser” players like me might not be able to utilize the tools they are given very well. As of now, I don’t really see any strategy dominating at those levels either, however, so things are fine in my book.

Races Play Very Differently

Whether you are playing Protoss, Zerg, or Terran makes a huge difference in how the whole game works out. Not only do they have very different and unique units, they also produce those in very different ways. This adds a very important amount of depth to the game even if you are only playing one of those races yourself. You have to know how your opponents function or you will lose for sure. If you do decide to play all the races (which you should) you will get so much more out of the game, even if you never go deep into the intricacies of multi-player.

The Music

I enjoy movie soundtracks from time to time (especially when we’re talking about works by Klaus Badelt, Howard Shore, or John Williams) and the Wings of Liberty soundtrack is right up there with my favourites. Admittedly, influences from Shore and Williams can be found all over the place in the Starcraft II music, but that doesn’t make it worse now, does it? Some of it would fit right into a Star Wars or Lord of the Rings movie and some Firefly influences can’t be denied either, none of which is a bad thing. Blizzard has always been good at copying and improving upon and the soundtrack to Wings of Liberty is no exception from that rule.

Incredible Variety in Missions

I’ve talked about this before, but the missions in the single-player campaign are so varied that it is a real pleasure to play through. Almost never do you simply have to build a base and then swarm your opponent but there are various twists instead. The bonus objectives that most missions have add to this as they distract you from your main goal and reward exploration and unorthodox play. In one mission you are racing a Zerg force into a Protoss base, for example. The straight forward approach would be to push straight into the Protoss base to get to the goal before the Zerg do. If you do that though, you will miss out on valuable Protoss artifacts that are to be found in other places of the map. On the harder difficulties the bonus objectives (and the additional achievements if you are into that sort of thing) add a nice tension between working to finish the mission and working to complete all the bonus objectives.

The Challenges

Challenges are a set of missions with very specific tasks in mind. One set of them hands you a selection of units for example that you have to split into three groups to fight three separate groups of enemies. These challenges are designed to teach you to create unit mixtures that are well suited to counter certain opposing unit mixtures. Each challenge has three completion levels – bronze, silver, and gold – which indicate how well you did. If you don’t know the units very well yet you might have to experiment a bit to even reach bronze status. More advanced players might know the general idea behind countering enemy units but will have to learn how to properly control their units in order to use their superiority well.

Other challenges teach the use of specialist units, fast base building, and using hotkeys to control your units. These are essential skills for surviving multi-player games and the challenges are mostly well designed to teach those skills. Pretty much the only bad thing about the challenges is that there are so few of them.

Look and Feel

This is a bit of a catch-all, but the game just provides such a great atmosphere. From the UI design to the cutscenes and the interior design of the Hyperion, things just fit so very well together. The various gizmos you can investigate that do nothing but tell a little bit of story and the secrets that you can uncover that way (such as why Tychus never leaves his combat suit) add a lot of immersion to those who are interested in exploring. Those who aren’t still get a sleek interface design that just feels right for playing the game and does vary accordingly when you play different races.

The Map Editor

The map editor shipped with the game is, as far as I know, the same that the designers used for creating the campaign and the multi-player maps (as well as the funnily named “Lost Viking” arcade game on the Hyperion). This editor is immensely powerful, allowing not only for the creation of all sorts of interesting strategy game maps (and the obvious RPG spin-offs and DotA clones) but also for things like sidescrollers and even first person shooters. This tool is a haven for the modding community and I sincerely hope that I’ll find some time to dig deeper into it than the shallow look I’ve had so far.

And that’s ten. Got your own good things to add or disagree with some of mine? There’s a comment section right below!

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