I don't like writing fluff-piece previews almost as much as I don't like reading them, so all this below is informed speculation based completely off what Blizzard has shown of the game. There was no consulting of press releases for the proper Marketingspeak term for the game engine or any other features.
For starters, the game demo videos available on YouTube are recommended viewing: official commentary video 1
and official commentary video 2
. Try to ignore the hype about graphics and physics, focus more on the gameplay.
It's StarCraft II
This may come as a surprise to some people, but this is StarCraft II. It's not going to be Company of Heroes, it won't be Age of Empires, and it certainly isn't going to be Supreme Commander or Homeworld. Anyone expecting anything else except fundamental StarCraft gameplay is going to be sorely disappointed.
How can we be so sure? First, let's understand that StarCraft II will be a multiplayer game. It was announced in Korea where it's played constantly for its multiplayer, Blizzard also said that multiplayer will be developed first and singleplayer built around that. With this focus on multiplayer, we know they won't compromise the core gameplay for the sake of fancy new features like AI taking cover or a “lite” economy. Keeping this in mind, we can look at the gameplay.
Let's go back to the videos. What do we see? The first thing that doubtless strikes the veteran RTS player is the close-zoom camera. The perspective is much closer and the units much bigger than in any other RTS out there right now, Company of Heroes included. Just like StarCraft was.
Why would Blizzard do this, why not use the scalability of a 3D engine to zoom out and let the player control more units and see more of the map? Precisely for those reasons – because Blizzard wants player to have limited focus, to make his attention a resource. Having a big, huge, zoomed out map not only permits the player to more easily divert his attention to multiple tasks, but it also takes away from the importance of individual battles.
The player's focus is a resource. You can pay attention to your economy and build more units, or you can pay attention to your armies and use them more efficiently. This is a design choice and a decision the player has to make, it's part of the challenge/reward mechanism and is a vital component of StarCraft's appeal.
There are two games out there that dominated pro gaming competitions for years – one is Quake, the other is StarCraft. Both are old-school and hardcore games, but not in a bad way. Though few newer gamers understand why, each game was popular because it ruthlessly punished mistakes. The second-best Quake player in the world would be lucky to get 2 kills for everyone 10 the best Quake player got. Not because the best player was that much better, but because the game so mercilessly exaggerated skill differences. The same goes for StarCraft, though not to the same extent.