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Peeling back the final layer of StarCraft II

Expectations. In some ways StarCraft II can never hope to live up to them. After 10 years we’re expecting several moons on several sticks, and for the multiplayer to be more than simply a refined and classier StarCraft, with shinier explosions and prettier Zerglings. But that’s exactly what Blizzard is delivering. It’s the biggest case of “if it ain’t broke” in recent memory, and we’re thankful for it.

Their beloved RTS has, after all, become the national e-sport of an entire country, and the familiarity found in its online play isn’t necessarily a bad thing – StarCraft remains one of the most balanced and finely tuned gaming experiences available.

At the other end of the spectrum, StarCraft II might just be the most exciting single-player PC game in recent memory. It wasn’t the multiplayer side of StarCraft that drew many to the series to begin with. It was Kerrigan’s harrowing betrayal and subsequent transformation into the Queen of Blades, set against a gritty space saga where soldiers talked with country accents and cigars hung from their mouths as they incinerated onslaughts of Zerg.

The multiplayer aspect of Wings of Liberty may be rigidly fastened to its heritage, but the single-player campaign is bursting with fresh concepts and high production valuesthat will raise the standard for storytelling in RTS games. But, according to StarCraft II’s creators, this hasn’t been picked up by the beta testers.

“I feel like there’s a lot of players using the beta as a demo for StarCraft II,” says lead developer Chris Sigaty. “But the beta’s not intended for that in any way. It’s focused on helping us get that balance right for release.”

Sigaty took our allotted interview into overtime to discuss what he strongly feels is one of StarCraft II’s greatest accomplishments: “We randomly invite people in, they go and play the beta, and they come away judging the product as, ‘Oh, it’s just this hardcore thing.’ But this single-player campaign is our best effort yet of bread-crumbing a player through a very casual experience, if that’s what they want it to be. Or as casual as real-time strategy can be: better tutorials mean better abilities to teach the player what they need to do if they want to step into the multiplayer game.”

The importance of splitting the single-player campaign into a trilogy becomes apparent: StarCraft II isn’t just about telling an epic story too small for one retail package, but also about delivering an RTS game that anyone can pick up and play. Especially in this console-centric era, RTS games seem to have been branded with a scarlet letter by mainstream gamers. StarCraft II is looking to rectify that stigma by being to resource gathering and attack-moving what World of Warcraft is to questing and sexy elves.

“If there’s a message we’re trying to give here, it’s to those people who are going into the beta and finding it’s hardcore: that’s just a small part of the StarCraft II package. I think ultimately we’ve struck the best chord yet with the game, giving a little bit of everything, or a lot of everything, for everybody. We know that there are a lot of gamers out there that enjoy the single-player side, and don’t want to go out there and fight.”