Summary: Tired of people regurgitating the same old StarCraft II info? I am too. Here's what we know.
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.
This is precisely why attention becomes a resource. Anyone expecting the AI to assist them, to play for them, to handle the micromanagement and create efficient formations of units to deal damage with is promptly going to get his ass handed to him. At best, you can expect your marines to continue to run single-file to the enemy base and if you're lucky, the AI will send them all in if they spot an enemy unit. They won't focus fire, take cover, or use abilities.
Thus the game creates pressure – do you intervene in that battle with all your attention, do you queue up some more buildings or units, do you send your reserve force into the enemy base, do you go scouting for his expansions or build one of your own? With a small screen and limited battle AI assistance, your attention is of the utmost importance and that's what the game rewards – how you divide your attention and how efficient you are in dealing with whatever you've decided to focus on.
The units are relatively large and relatively few in number, which means that they are important. Also, it's likely that there will be a fair number of spells/abilities (hopefully not as many as in WC3). This will heighten the importance of paying attention to battles and thus make it risky to focus mostly on production, like you might in C&C or Age of Empires. Proper use of Psi Storms and Yamato Guns in StarCraft made the difference between winning and losing. In WarCraft 3, there were more spells but they generally weren't as powerful, which caused the game to lose some of that balance between micro- and macro-management.
Game balance will continue to be the different-but-equal (not equivalent) style we saw from StarCraft. Blizzard has declined the option of designing a fourth race and chosen to continue with the Zerg, Terrans, and Protoss. They all have vastly different philosophies and styles, with no two units performing in even remotely the same fashion, yet each race has similar capabilities in the end.
There are going to be some re-tread old units (marines, zealots, mutalisks, and zerglings at the least), but generally we expect there to be at least as many new units as old. Certainly the videos show primarily new designs. From the videos we can also confirm what we expected – that balance among units will follow the familiar rock/paper/scissors motif.
This is actually somewhat of a concern at the moment, actually. In vanilla StarCraft, the rock/paper/scissors style was really not that extreme. In some cases it was clear as day: that the Reaver or Siege tank would plow through Zerglings and Marines at a butcher's pace, or that scourges were the best units to take down a Battlecruiser efficiently, but there was a lot of gray area for the most part. Take hydralisks vs marines. It wasn't quite rock vs scissor or rock vs paper, nor was it rock vs rock. It depended on the upgrades available to each and the numbers of each before it was clear in what situations one would counter another. Hydralisks generally had the advantage, but it wasn't overwhelming as with Lurker vs Marine. However, with the Brood War expansion, we saw far more in the way of clear counters. Lurkers were clearly meant to defeat M&Ms (marines and medics). Also, the new air units in Brood War (Valkyrie, Corsair, Devourer) were “air support” units, designed to clearly defeat the old light air units of the enemy but be weak to their stronger air units.
Now on the surface this isn't bad at all. It creates balance and causes the player to think, but the counters are so obvious and so strong that it doesn't permit a short-term micro solution to a long-term macro problem. With some good tactics and numbers, Zerglings could defeat Marines where normally they'd be at a disadvantage. Hydralisks were this sort of jack-of-all-trades unit that didn't dominate its opposition but also didn't have any clear counters. It left a lot of room for upgrades, numbers, and micromanagement to decide battles with/against Hydralisks. We hope that Blizzard doesn't get caught up in the passion for clear counters to every unit and leaves some gray areas in.
One very strange thing from the videos was the Protoss Mothership. This is absolutely unlike any other Blizzard RTS and straight out of Command and Conquer or Homeworld, to be honest. Super units generally do not work well in a tightly balanced RTS and it's surprising to see Blizzard of all companies embrace one. It's unknown whether or not Terrans and Zerg have their own super units, or even if the Mothership will make it through the coming months (or years, after all, this is Blizzard -ed.) of development.
Blizzard has made controversial choices in the past – 2D Diablo II, three unique races for StarCraft, making a MMO with World of WarCraft, and so on. In every situation, their choices have paid off for them, at least in the short run. Moreover, a lot is subject to change before the game goes gold – I'm sure we all remember the early StarCraft screenshots, or the features cut from World of WarCraft. So, in that respect, the individual details are never sure.
What is sure, however, is that this is StarCraft 2. It will almost certainly have a traditional economy, unlike Homeworld/Dawn of War/Company of Heroes, it won't have a huge focus like Supreme Commander, and it will require significant attention to battles, unlike Age of Empires. There are certainly some cool new developments and units, possibly some interesting choices with balance, but we wouldn't bet on anything revolutionary. That just isn't Blizzard's style. StarCraft 2 will be to StarCraft like Diablo II was to Diablo.
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